Friday, November 30, 2007

What About The Golden Compass?

The rumbling is beginning. Christians concerned for the faith of their children are warning about the dangers of Philip Pullman's book "The Golden Compass" and the soon-to-be-released movie of the same title. Some will ask if this is persecution, an attack on Christianity, and wonder how should we respond as believers.

Christianity Today Movies critic Jeffrey Overstreet has written one of the best articles that I have read on the subject. His call is for Christians to respond with discernment but not fear. He writes, "God is not threatened by Philip Pullman. And people who stop to think through Pullman's story, and how he "refutes" Christianity, will see what a feeble "attack" against Christian belief it really is." To read the rest of this excellent article, click here.

What Would Offend Mohammed?

Just a thought to ponder.... If Mohammed were alive today, I wonder which he would find more offensive: A teddy bear named Mohammed or thousands of his so-called followers demanding that a British teacher be brutally put to death for allowing a little boy named Mohammed to name the bear after himself? Muslims complain that they are being vilified by the media. Maybe part of the problem is that too many of their brothers (like those protesting in Sudan today) give the media such good reasons to do so. Somehow I have a suspicion that Mohammed would tell them all to go home and let someone else worry about his dignity.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

You Don't Speak for Me

Alright, now that we are done with the misguided presuppositions, sentimental twaddle, and naïve gestures, maybe we can move on to something that will bring real peace between Muslims and Christians; something called evangelism.

I am objecting to the statement "Loving God and Neighbor Together" drafted by scholars at Yale Divinity School's Center for Faith and Culture, issued by the first four signatories and endorsed by almost 300 other Christian theologians and leaders, in response to an open letter to Christendom by 138 Muslim leaders in October, calling for peaceful coexistence and mutual understanding.

I don't know who these church leaders think they are speaking for, but they are not speaking for me nor for The Voice of the Martyrs! I am disappointed to see the names of men that I know and respect as signatories; men who ought to know better than to place the pursuit of peace over the pursuit of truth. The assumption in the letter is that the God of Islam is the same as the God of Christianity. This is a denial of Jesus Christ, as Muslims absolutely refuse to acknowledge that Jesus is God. This is the very foundation of Christianity. Deny that Jesus is God and you worship a false god, no matter if there are a few elements of similarity between God's revelation in scripture and the words of the Quran (which is hardly surprising since Mohammed had some exposure to the Bible, yet never once quotes it correctly). Islam is a counterfeit religion, a distortion and denial of the revelation of God in Jesus and scripture.

The letter by these church leaders states, "Indeed, together with you we believe that we need to move beyond 'a polite ecumenical dialogue between selected religious leaders' and work diligently together to reshape relations between our communities and our nations so that they genuinely reflect our common love for God and for one another....We are persuaded that our next step should be for our leaders at every level to meet together and begin the earnest work of determining how God would have us fulfill the requirement that we love God and one another."

What greater love can we as Christians have for our Muslim neighbours than to lead them to repentance and faith in Christ? Somehow I have a feeling that this won't be a topic for discussion in these meetings, though.

Personally, I believe that many of these leaders, especially those of the World Evangelical Alliance, should withdraw their endorsement of this letter for no other reason than that many of their associates will find this letter a betrayal of Jesus Christ and a slap in the face of those who are dying for their faith in Muslim countries around the world. The god of Islam is not the God of the Bible and any attempt to minimize this truth calls into question whether the love being expressed is true biblical love. Geniune love and truth must be inseparable or or they are a counterfeit. Our God-given call is to love Muslims and not seek them harm, but not at the expense of minimizing the difference between the lies of Islam and the truth of Jesus Christ.

One final point, the Quranic verse (Aal 'Imran 3:64) that served as the inspiration for the Muslim leaders in their open letter entitled "A Common Word Between Us and You" is not a call to come together and live in peace despite our differences. The call of the passage in its context (Aal 'Imran 3:64-71) is a call for Christians and Jews to give up the lies of their faith and submit to Islam. It is not a call to find common ground; it is a call to surrender!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Remembering Sergei Bessarab

In the decade that I have been ministering with The Voice of the Martyrs, I have read numerous reports of those who were killed for their faith. There are so many that one starts to lose track of them, to be honest. So, it has been meaningful for me to read through our newest book Foxe: Voices of the Martyrs and to read a number of stories that I reported on over the years and to be reminded yet again of their courage in the face of death; stories like that of Sergei Bessarab who was killed on January 12, 2004:

The shots rang through the air and shattered the glass window of Pastor Sergei Bessarab's front room the evening of January 12, 2004. The first bullet hit Sergei's hand that was gently strumming his guitar while singing songs of praise to God. The second shot got him in the leg and the third in his chest, ending his life on Earth.

Pastor Bessarab's wife, Tamara, heard the shots and frantically ran into the room. She stared in disbelief at the scene before her-the shattered glass and blood spattered on the chair, carpet, and on her husband's guitar. She dropped to the floor to avoid additional bullets and began to sob as she lay next to her husband's body.

Tamara could smell the acrid scent of gunpowder as the gunman continued his rampage and fired into the house and at Sergei's car. Finishing his task, the gunman turned and fled down the narrow, dusty alley behind the house, disappearing into the darkness.

Suffering wasn't new for Sergei Bessarab, and he was prepared to die for Christ. Just five years ago, however, the idea would have been inconceivable. Bessarab had gone to prison five different times as a leader in Tajikistan's organized crime underworld. A fellow prisoner who had come to know Christ through a prison ministry began to minister to Bessarab as he served one of his sentences. This prisoner continually prayed that Jesus would become real to Sergei.

"Pray for someone else," Sergei would growl. "Don't waste time praying for me." But the man persisted and prayed every day that he would come to accept Christ as Savior and Lord. Finally, three years later, in August 2000, his prayers were answered. Sergei Bessarab began walking with the Lord and eventually began a Bible study in the prison. After his release in November 2001, he returned often to bring Christ's message to his former prison mates.

Sergei traveled all over the country. He was a passionate preacher with a great love for people. He planted a church in Isfara, a city in Tajikistan with no Christian presence but a strong, radical Muslim one. Accompanied by his wife Tamara, Sergei traveled to Isfara on Sundays to hold services; in early 2003 they moved to the city. The church began to grow, and new people were accepting Christ, but their ministry was not unnoticed by enemies of the gospel. A week prior to Sergei's death, the local paper carried the headline: "What's going to be done about Sergei Bessarab?"

Sergei's life for Christ was like an exploding star, burning hot and fast and spreading much light. Even after Bessarab's death, Tamara received numerous letters from prisoners all over Tajikistan. They had either heard Sergei speak or heard about the remarkable way Christ had changed his life. They were challenged to know God more, and to rely on Him.

Pastor Sergei Bessarab was a man of prayer. For two hours every morning and two hours every evening, he spent time with the Lord. He read his Bible, prayed, and sang praise songs while strumming his guitar. His favorite passage was John 12:24: "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain."

Those four hours of prayer were the source of Sergei's continual spiritual fervor. In fact, in the weeks before his death, he had been asking the Lord to open up two more hours-in the middle of the day-for him to commune with God. God answered his prayer in a way no one expected- not just two more hours, but an eternity with Christ.

Before Sergei's death, he and Tamara prayed alone for Isfara, and then with a small group of believers in Tajikistan. One of their requests was that God would raise up an army on their knees for the city He had called them to. God answered Sergei and Tamara's prayer, using the death of one prayer warrior as a seed to raise up a bountiful harvest of prayers for Isfara from around the world.

From Foxe: Voices of the Martyrs (pages 294-295)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Pray for VOMC Staff Who Are Abroad

It's been very quiet around the office for the past week. Besides experiencing our first winter storm of the year, we are also missing a number of staff members who are in various countries of the world right now. Indeed, we have never had so many out doing ministry in persecuted countries at the same time as we do right now. And while it has added to the workload of those of us left behind here in Canada, we rejoice at the opportunities that God has put before us at this time.

One of our staff is out teaching hundreds of pastors and church leaders in a restricted nation the glories of what God's Word teaches about persecution and following Christ in the hopes that they will encourage their congregations to stand firm in the truth of God. Another is documenting cases of mistreatment of believers in a West African country and visiting an orphanage that we operate for children who have lost one or both of their parents to persecution. A team is in east Africa visiting believers there, letting them know that they have not be forgotten, evaluating our programs in the region and seeking God's guidance for the future. Another of our staff is visiting a hospital in Sudan on behalf of his church, providing funding and putting together a report that he will give to them upon his return.

I would appreciate your prayer for these servants of the Lord and His persecuted church and for their families as they await their return. Pray for their safety, but especially pray that they would be a blessing to those they meet.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Before You Go to Cuba, Read This.

Every winter over half a million Canadians fly off to Cuba for vacation. So what, you may say. Have you ever thought through the consequences of it? Consider this editorial from today's National Post. Then maybe you will consider spending your money somewhere else... at least I hope so.

Tropical tyranny
National Post
Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Canada is Cuba's biggest source of tourists. Nearly 600,000 of us fly there every year. Since tourism helped save the Cuban economy after the fall of the Soviet Union -- which had supplied annual aid grants of nearly $8-billion --it's fair to say Canadian tourists played a large part in keeping the Cuban government afloat. So with winter travel season beginning, we would like to ask one question: Do you what know happens to political dissidents beyond the resorts and tourist beaches?

Canadians account for more than one-quarter of Cuba's total annual tourist intake. We spend more than $1-billion dollars there, or about 3% of that country's annual GDP.

The Cuban government admits "the two pillars of the Cuban economy are tourism and sugar." That's why all payments from tourists go to the communist government which then decides how much it can spare for hotel and restaurant workers.

So while you're basking in the warm tropical sun, give some thought to the many political prisoners in Cuban jails for such crimes as demanding democracy, speaking with foreigners without permission or criticizing dictator Fidel Castro. Amnesty International places the number at fewer than 100, but adds that crackdowns against dissidents are becoming more frequent and the number is ever expanding.

Consider Julio Cesar Lopez Rodriguez, arrested on July 22, 2005. The 41-year-old vice-president of the Frente Linea Dura (Hardline Front) campaigned peacefully for years for democracy and human rights until he was arrested for keeping anti-c communist books in his library.

Or how about Victor Rolando Arroyo Carmona, 54, who is serving a 26-year sentence for "undermining national independence and territorial integrity" because he contributed to the pro-freedom Cubanet Web site. He was also convicted for running an independent library containing over 5,000 books, including works by Locke, Madison and von Hayek.

Librado Linares Garcia is serving 20 years for organizing lectures and seminars on human rights. Dr. Marcelo Cano Rodriguez is serving 18 for being a member of the international organization Doctors Without Borders. And Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet Gonzalez is serving 25 for being "a mercenary for a foreign state" because he flew the Cuban flag upside down and demanded Cuba be reformed into "a state based on the rule of law."

Amnesty claims in the past two years there has been an "upsurge in acts of repudiation," in which regime supporters encircle a neighbour or co-worker suspected of counter-revolutionary sentiments and ridicule or denounce him in public. Tragically, many of these shaming incidents turn into violent attacks with rocks thrown or fists and bats wielded. What's more, the Cuban Institute in Miami claims "prisoners of conscience are often kept in the most deplorable conditions," deliberately malnourished and deprived of essential medical care. Many die of neglect.

Just something to keep in mind before you buy that ticket for a Cuban holiday.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Put Your Pen Down Before It Bites Someone

On October 27, I wrote concerning a column in the Toronto Star where the ethics columnist took a swipe at the Bible and Christianity (even though he claims to be a practicing Christian and clergyman). I wrote to him politely asking if it was ethical to publicly call one of the world's great, historical religions a repeated unleasher (i.e. promoter) of nonsense and accuse its sacred text (2/3 of which is also held sacred by those of the Jewish faith) of teaching anti-Semitism, misogyny, environmental destruction, and hatred towards homosexuals.

Apparently, there were others who wrote less kind letters to him because in his response on November 10, he pretty much dismisses his critics as mean-spirited and oblivious to what the Bible actually teaches. He did not even begin to address my concern.

This is the problem when people express their concerns in an ungracious and hostile fashion; they become easy to dismiss. Years ago, I had a Member of Parliament tell me that the nastiest, rudest letters he had received often came from those claiming to be Christians.

How tragic! Righteous anger does not justify abusive letters. If you can't write letters to the editor, to parliamentarians and other government leaders (at any level) without resorting to mean-spirited rhetoric, then please do us all a favour and put down your pen or shut off your computer. I would rather you said nothing at all because folks like you make it much harder for the rest of us to be taken seriously.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Refusing to Submit to the Control of Fear

Geneviève April of Laval, Quebec is worried. She is worried that her children will become Muslims if they are taught by Muslim teachers. Speaking before Quebec's "reasonable accommodations" commission, April stated, "Children are sponges, and if my children are taught by someone (who is Muslim), they'll start asking themselves who they are. And since I'm trying to be open with them, they risk being influenced by someone with a stronger religious identity who's with them all day." She believes that teachers and daycare workers in hijabs, for example, are a threat, because "children trust the people looking after them, and so (wearing the hijab) is practically a kind of subversion, and I think that's deplorable and shouldn't be accepted."

As a parent, I understand the urge to protect one's children. But I think that this type of fear-driven concern is unfortunate. I well remember being taught by Mrs. Naidoo back in the second grade, a dear Hindu lady who dressed everyday in a traditional India sari. Not once was I at all tempted to explore Hinduism as a result. I do remember being fascinated by her attire and the dot on her forehead. But what I really remember is an excellent teacher who helped me to stop lisping and who helped develop my love for reading by reading classic children's literature to us in such a way as to make them come alive. She was perhaps the best teacher I ever had.

The responsibility for training one's children in the faith is the role of the parent, not the teacher and most teachers understand that, especially in the younger ages. We must resist the temptation to let fear control us as we send our kids out into the world. Not an easy feat, admittedly. And this is not an excuse for being lackadaisical in our care for our kids. But we must be careful not raise a generation who sees threats to their faith behind every bush. Do we really trust that God is with us, protecting, keeping, and defending our children, as we faithfully instruct them in the way that they ought to go? We need to raise children who are secure in their faith and trust in God, not fear-driven.

This paranoia over the "other" that is different is ugly and must be resisted. I do not share the concern that many express to me at conferences or meetings over the number of Muslim immigrants coming to Canada. I do not worry that they will soon take over or impose Sharia law over the country. I will not let fear drive me as fear keeps me from viewing newcomers to Canada as those whom Christ died for and those whom we are now able to reach with the love of Christ in a way that would not have been possible were they still in their country of origin.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Give Us Our Daily Bread

"Two things I ask of you, O LORD;
do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, `Who is the LORD?'
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God. (Proverbs 30:7-9)

A few years ago, we heard a great deal about the prayer of Jabez, a small prayer tucked away and forgotten by many in 1 Chronicles 4. A similarly obscure prayer is that of Agur son of Jakeh, hidden away in Proverbs 30. I find this prayer one of the wisest in Scripture. First, Agur asked that God would grant him the ability to live in integrity; that falsehood and lies would be far from him. This is my prayer for The Voice of the Martyrs as well. May we never be found to be guilty of exaggeration or as some in the media say, not letting the truth get in the way of a good story. Our call is to represent and speak on behalf of the persecuted with integrity. I hope you have found this to characterize us.

The second request was that he would be enabled to live in such a way that he would be continually reminded that God is his source for his daily bread. Verse 8 is reminiscent of Jesus' words in Matthew 6 when he instructed His followers to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread." This prayer reminds us that everything we have comes from the hands of our loving Father. Agur asks that God would provide him with what he needs so that he will not be tempted to bring dishonour to God by seeking to find his provision elsewhere. But surprisingly, he also asks that God would not give him too much so that he would not be tempted to forget God and believe that he is not dependent upon Him.

For the past several years, we at The Voice of the Martyrs have enjoyed God's care as we have seen Him meet our needs as a ministry. How easy it is to begin to coast and take His provision for granted. Recently, our leadership team has been struck by this fact and asked God to keep us mindful of our dependency upon Him. Donations have been down over the past couple of months and we realize that we have not been praying as we ought for our "daily bread." In His love, the Father has reminded us that all we are and have comes from Him.