Wednesday, July 30, 2008

So How Do We Respond to “Jesus Sucks”?

plane2.jpgIf you looked up in air in Toronto on Monday, you wouldn’t have seen Superman. Nope, you would have seen a plane pulling a sign behind it reading “Jesus Sucks”. It was the latest stunt pulled by one of the “stars” of the stupid reality TV competition Kenny vs. Spenny. Kenny, who was the one who hired the plane, claims that he did it just to irritate people but that he really doesn’t believe that Jesus sucks.

Of course, there are those who are offended by this mockery of their Lord and I can’t say that I entirely blame them. My first reaction was one of incredulity. As I have time to think, three things come to mind:

donkey 1. This kind of mockery is not new. On the walls of the Roman Palatine is a graffito dating to shortly after 200 A.D. It is a drawing of a crucified ass [donkey]; a mockery of a Christian prisoner named Alexamenos who worships Christ (who is the donkey). The writing says, “Alexamenos worships his god.” Throughout history, Christ has been mocked and ridiculed. Of course, it is hurtful to Christians who honour the Lord, but it is not new nor is it particularly worse now than it has been in the past. Nor is it entirely surprising,

2. It says something about Christians, doesn’t it, if we are seen as rather soft targets for such a stunt. Kenny knew full well that the worst that he would get was some disapproval from Christians. No lawsuits, death threats, or dragging before human rights tribunals. This is a good thing, I think. There is no call or need to respond to such a provocation in a provocative manner. As my wife wryly noted, it was a good thing he didn’t have “Mohammed Sucks” on his sign or he would either be running for his life or in hiding!

3. As offensive as Kenny’s message was, I support his right to say it. Does this surprise you? Then you haven’t been reading my blogs carefully enough. Yes, it was offensive. Yes, he will need to answer to God for it. But no, it is not illegal nor should it be. We have no right to be protected from being offended from offensive messages propagated by offensive people. I disagree with his message, but I support his right to say it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Should Olympics athletes protest human right abuses in China?

Canada's flag-bearer Adam van Koeverden recently told Canada AM the Olympics Games are an "opportunity for dialogue" about issues that affect China such as Tibet's fight for independence. U.S. President George Bush, meanwhile, has called on American competitors to be "ambassadors of freedom," to which China retorted by urging them to "promote friendship among the peoples of the world." Many argue that we need to keep human rights (including religious freedom) and sports separate. However, I would argue that the Chinese, themselves, opened the door by promising to improve their human rights record as a condition for being awarded the Olympics in the first place.

So, the question I would like to ask viewers of this blog is this: Should Olympics athletes protest human right abuses in China? I would also love to hear any comments you might have.

<a href="">Should Olympics athletes protest human right abuses in China?</a> <a href="">BuzzDash</a>

So What is the Truth About Religious Freedom in China?

We have been getting a number of letters, emails, and phone calls about China lately. Or more correctly about reports that they have been reading or hearing from Western evangelists and pastor who travel there, meet with registered church leaders, speak in their churches, hear about all of the Bibles that are being printed by Amity Press and come back with glowing reports of the freedom that Christians enjoy in China. Then they read our newsletter (or will read; our August edition features China. Click here to subscribe if you would like to receive it) and are confused as they read reports of pastors being arrested and imprisoned, church services being disrupted, and the need for more Bibles and other Christian literature and training. That there might be confusion is to be expected. How do you reconcile this? Is VOMC lying or exaggerating the extent of persecution in China? Or have these evangelists and pastor been deceived?

One of the great disappointments that we at The Voice of the Martyrs have are with those who take their experience and contacts with the church in China (and in other countries) and proceed to making general, overarching comments about the entire church and expect that to reflect the entirety. Often they criticize or downplay the work of others, thereby causing disunity and confusion. I think that this is part of the problem with the recent reports.

As I said in my blog of April 07, 2007 (Why Do Most Chinese Christians Refuse to Register Their Churches?), to make blanket, all-encompassing statements about the state of religious freedom in China is to invite all sorts of contrary opinions because whatever one says is true somewhere in China. In some places, Christians worship in relative freedom. In others, it is highly restricted and actively persecuted. It is obvious, however, that the persecution facing Christians in today's China is quite different than even a few years ago. Unquestionably, the situation has improved significantly in many places. In others, church leaders continue to be imprisoned, meetings are disrupted and church buildings are destroyed. Regardless, Chinese church life continues to be represented in two forms; churches that are recognized by the government - these generally belong to the Three Self Patriotic Movement and are legally "registered" - and the house churches which do not submit to government regulations and restrictions.

I am not going to criticize these folks or the assertions that they make. I have no doubt that what they say is true (from a certain point of view), but what they say is not the whole story. It is undeniable that most Christians in China refuse to register with the Chinese government for reasons that we feel are very legitimate. I wish these folks would respect this more and be a little more restrained in their praise of the Chinese government's religious practices.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Glenn Penner's Health Updates Moving to Personal Blog

Since I was diagnosed with cancer six years ago, it has always been my concern that this NOT be a focus of our ministry here at The Voice of the Martyrs. The sufferings of our brothers and sisters for their faith in our mission's prime concern (and mine). I appreciate, however, that there are a number of people who read this blog who are concerned for me and my family and who faithfully pray for us. I am more grateful to these saints than you can imagine.

However, my concern remains that the Persecuted Church Weblog not become the "Glenn Penner health report." So, earlier this week I created my own personal blog where I will post reports (on my own time and on my own dime) from myself and my wife on the latest development on my battle with cancer, plus blog about other things that interest me. It can be found at That's easy to remember, isn't it?

Thanks to each of you who check here regularly to check up on me. Please continue to come by this site for my official VOMC blogs. This is really the important one, to my thinking and the one that gets my blogging priority.

So What Are You Reading in July?

I have read three books this month, each of which has been pretty good.

jn2 Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger). A theologically insightful and often inspiration discussion of Jesus from His baptism to the transfiguration and Peter's confession. Of particular value was the author's discussion of the Lord's Prayer, in my opinion. I really enjoyed this book and if I was teaching a course on the life of Christ, I would make it a textbook. Benedict is simply too good of a scholar to ignore regardless of whether you are Roman Catholic or not. This was the first of his books I have read. It won't be the last.

5qThe Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Organization by Peter F. Drucker. Perhaps the most important leadership book I have read this year...maybe ever. It is as the title suggests. Drucker's five questions are:

What is our Mission?
Who is our Customer?
What does the Customer Value?
What are our Results?
What is our Plan?

I have been carefully pondering these five questions since I read this small but powerful book and the study questions that are included. Already we at The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada have become more focused as a mission as a result, rewording our mission statement to something that our staff could actually remember and own, and clearly identifying our primary "customer" as being persecuted Christians and not our donors (who are important, though secondary, customers). In the coming weeks and months, we will be addressing each of the other three questions in greater detail as well but the process has already begun. The best part of this book is that it was actually originally written with non-profits in mind, not businesses (unlike most books of this genre). I have bought copies of this book for each member of my leadership team and look forward to seeing even more fruit in the days to come. The process of asking these questions of one's organization is ongoing and never ending.

know_can_do Know Can Do!: Put Your Know-How Into Action by Ken Blanchard, Paul J. Meyer, Dick Ruhe. The value of this book is that it specifically addresses the gap between what people know--all the good advice and teaching they take away from books and seminars--and what they actually do with it (which usually isn't much and/or long-lasting). The most autobiographical of Blanchard's many books, written from the perspective of a leadership author who is frustrated that so many people read his books but do so little with what they have supposed to learn. This book has compelled me to make some changes in my own reading habits, including stopping reading more leadership books and going back to re-learn from the many that I already have read and need to read again. As the authors say, we need to learn less more rather than more less. If you like Blanchard and his approach to writing (they read like short stories), you'll like this one too. And it may keep you from buying more of his books for a while (wonder if he thought of that when he wrote it??).

Let me know what you are reading or if you have read any of these yourself.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Working in the Sun, Playing the Long Game

1a When I first met 85-year-old Anastasia last May, she was sitting in the sun on a chair in her garden. Bending over, she was carefully planting beans in a narrow trench she had scratched into the earth. It was a beautiful day. Watching her as we walked up to her, I wondered if perhaps she was having difficulties with the task since she had to do it seated and so after we had chatted for a few minutes, I asked if she would like my colleague and to help her plant her garden. I figured that at the rate she was working, she would be at it all day and surely my Ukrainian co-worker and I could get the job done quickly and efficiently in no time at all.

The little Ukrainian woman smiled warmly. "No, thank you," she gently said. "But I like working in the sun." She didn't want to be robbed of the opportunity by two efficient young men.

Flash forward to yesterday and to northern Ghana. A young boy and girl's parents were recently killed because of their faith. Local Christians become aware of the need Daniel & Rebecca now face and bring it to the attention of Pastor Abraham. Because of his previous contact with The Voice of the Martyrs, he sends us an email wondering if perhaps we might be willing to take care of the pair's educational and living expenses. It will only cost about $650 annually.

We are moved by the story and the need and motivated to step in and help. But one of us, Floyd Brobbel, is wise enough to realize that it isn't always enough just to help. Because of our values as an organization, we needed to encourage the church in Ghana to remember their biblical obligation to see what they could do first to meet this need before we dashed in to save the day. Admittedly, $650 a year is insignificant to us. But the amount is not the issue. It has to do with potentially robbing the local church of the blessing of "working in the sunshine" for themselves and seeing God meet this need in their midst.

And so Floyd encouraged Pastor Abraham to see what local resources could be found to meet this local need. Far less efficient, to be sure. But our call is to be more than that. To empower and respect the persecuted church will do more than riding in like a white knight with money bags hanging from our saddle.

Helping others help themselves. That's becoming a greater focus here at The Voice of the Martyrs and is the philosophy behind our Jars of Hope program. It is not shared by many ministries. It is far easier just to hand out money. But what kind of a church do you help leave behind?

I am presently reading a recently published biography of Canada's first prime minister, John A. Macdonald. What has struck me about this man who helped make us who we are as a nation was his ability to think long-term. He is quoted as saying, "My plan thro' life is never to give up; if I don't carry a thing this year, I will next." He described his political strategy as playing "the long game."

Faced with overwhelming need and endless opportunities to serve God's persecuted church, that is an approach that we need to adopt here at The Voice of the Martyrs. We need to play the long game, thinking though the potential and probable long-term consequences of our programs and projects before we engage in them; seeking to serve in a way that truly serves in the long run.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Hear Their Voices, See Their Faces

Did you know that The Voice of the Martyrs produces some incredible weekly and monthly video reports? Here are two examples:

These are available for viewing on the following VOMC websites:

Speaking of videos, check out our recent video on our fantastic Jars of Hope program where Christians in Canada can help persecuted Christians help themselves.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

One Courageous Newspaper

The main reason I have been a faithful subscriber to the National Post from its very inception is its courage to print what really needs to be said from time to time on issues like human rights and Islam. In this past week, two editorials have been printed that are particularly significant which I would urge you to read.

The first was yesterday's editorial by Jonathan Kay entitled The Company Muslims Keep in which he shares about a panel discussion he participated in at a recent event at Toronto's Noor Centre --a cultural organization for liberal Muslims -- on whether the Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC) is justified in bringing human rights complaints against Maclean's magazine for publishing Mark Steyn's cover article, The Future Belongs to Islam. He warns Muslims that they risk shooting themselves in the foot with the recent attempts to muzzle public criticism of Islam. He makes the point, "Even putting aside all the usual principled reasons for upholding free speech, there are several utterly practical, self-interested reasons why the people in this room should be wary about hitching their carts to the thought-police horse." He adds, "It is only a matter of time before human rights censors come after Muslims. Like the Bible, Muslim scripture contains a lot of material that, by modern standards, would be considered sexist, homophobic or even anti-Semitic. One statement attributed to Muhammad, for instance, declares that ‘Judgment day will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews, and the Muslims will kill the Jews, and then the Jews will hide behind stones or trees, and the stone or the tree will say: "Oh Muslim, oh servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him." Is this the sort of thing that human rights mandarins will someday judge as "likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt" -- to quote the applicable language from the Canadian Human Rights Act (HRA)? The prospect of a human rights tribunal telling you which Suras and Hadiths you are and aren't allowed to preach in your mosques may sound ridiculous. But it's not." And then he refers to the case of Stephen Boissoin being muzzled by a human rights tribunal because of his conservative views on homosexuality.

He also notes that Canadian Muslims risk turning the media against them by seeking to censor them through the human rights commissions. "The surest way to enrage them is to slip a gag over their mouths, which is exactly what the CIC has tried to do -- purportedly in the name of all Canadian Muslims, no less. In the long run, is that going to improve the way that Muslim issues are covered by this same pissed off media?"

The second editorial I would like to draw to your attention was printed today by Barbara Kay entitled Paving the way for 'soft jihad' in which she points out the various ways in which Muslims are seeking to limit free speech in the West through real or threatened litigation against those who criticize Islam or who offend their Islamic sensibilities. She concludes by saying:

"One way or another we must stop the (human rights commissions' issued) fatwa industry in its tracks. Begin with removal of speech-regulation from the HRCs' legal mandate. Build on that with legislation that imposes costs and damages on litigious third parties who seek to chill journalists.

Canada should also pass legislation imitative of the U. S. Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) law, presently active in 24 U. S. states, which disallows harassment of those writing on matters of "public concern," as well as the Libel Terrorism Protection Act, a New York state initiative that will combat libel tourism.

The HRC crisis is not a tempest in a teapot. Stanley Kurtz, senior fellow at the Washington-based Ethics and Public Policy Center, says: "I don't think it's too strong to say that the [HRC] complaint against Mark Steyn is a totalitarian document."

It is therefore no exaggeration to say that Levant and Steyn are fighting for the defining ideal of Western civilization which, once lost, would spell the beginning of the end of all our other freedoms."

I am not writing this to promote the National Post per se. But we evangelicals have a tendency to distrust and bash the media. Let us at least admit that there is one paper in this country that gets it right some of the time.

The Real Place for Saudis to Engage in Interfaith Dialogue

The following is a multiple-choice question that appears in a recent edition of Monotheism and Jurisprudence, a Saudi fourth-grade textbook, in a section where students are taught to distinguish "true" from "false" belief in God:

Q. Is belief true in the following instances:
a) A man prays but hates those who are virtuous.
b) A man professes that there is no deity other than God but loves the unbelievers.
c) A man worships God alone, loves the believers, and hates the unbelievers.

So what is the correct answer?

Not b). According to these officially approved (and distributed to other Saudi-sponsored schools around the world) textbooks, a man who worships God cannot be said to have "true belief" if he loves unbelievers.

Nope, according to the Wahhabi imams who wrote this textbook, the answer is, of course, c). And it isn't enough just to worship God or to love other believers, you must also hate unbelievers as well.

And in case you were wondering, "unbelievers," in the context of this textbook, are Christians and Jews. By the ninth grade, they will also be taught that we are their enemies and that they must fight against us.

And this is the country that sponsored an interfaith dialogue last week in Spain. A good place to start this dialogue would be in their own schools, don't you think?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Say What??!!

saudi-king-abdullah When King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia opens a 3-day interfaith conference in Spain by calling Islam a religion of tolerance and moderation, and calls on followers of the world's main religions to turn away from extremism and embrace a spirit of reconciliation, as he did last Thursday, one has to wonder whether he is completely ignorant of what his own schools are teaching (which I doubt) or .... Well, I'll let you fill in the blank.


Saturday, July 19, 2008

Saudi Arabia's Continuing Education of Hate

saudi_academy "The Jews and Christians are enemies of the believers, and they cannot approve of Muslims."

"The clash between this [Muslim] nation and the Jews and Christians has endured, and it will continue as long as God wills."

"As cited in Ibn Abbas: The apes are Jews, the people of the Sabbath; while the swine are Christians, the infidels of the communion of Jesus

"In Islamic law, however, [jihad] has two uses: One usage is specific. It means to exert effort to wage war against the unbelievers and tyrants."

Isn't it wonderful that Saudi Arabia, one of the West's so-called most loyal allies, continues to teach this kind of stuff in their official Ministry of Education textbooks to their kids? According to a recent report from the Hudson Institute, these are direct quotes from Saudi textbooks.

How should we view Saudi Arabia, in light of this kind of evidence? How should we view the U.S. State Department which, in July 2006, publicly announced and lauded as "significant developments" Saudi Arabia's "comprehensive revision of (its) textbooks"?

Why not write Saudi authorities and ask them if they really believe that Christians are their enemies, swine and that they must fight us? Ask why they teach these things to their children in their schools. Include the quotes listed above in your letter. I have little confidence that they will actually respond, just I rather doubt that their curriculum will ever really change, despite their assurances, promises, and token gestures. But they should know that they aren't fooling everyone (even though they seem to be able to fool our diplomats and political leaders with relative ease).

You can write to:

Mr. Abdullah Saleh A. Al Awwad
Counsellor & Chargé d'Affaires, a.i.
Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia
201 Sussex Drive
Ottawa, ON K1N 1K6


H.E. Mr. Fawzi Bin Abdul Majeed Shobokshi
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
Permanent Mission of Saudi Arabia to the United Nations
809 United Nations Plaza, 10th and 11th Floors, New York, NY 10017
Telephone: (212) 557-1525
Telefax: (212) 983-4895

Let me know if you get a response. Just don't hold your breath....

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Betrayal and the Plan of God

judas For Jesus' enemies to overcome Him, they needed His friends. Have you ever thought of that?

They needed one, whom Matthew 24 clearly describes as "one of the twelve" to betray Him. What a sting to that phrase. "One of the twelve." Judas is not identified by name. He is described as belonging to the Lord's trusted inner circle

But Judas' actions were not the only betrayal. The other disciples abandon Him, refuse to stand with Him, will not identify with Him. They discard Him.

The amazing thing is that He knew that they would do this to Him, that their joining the ranks of His persecutors would be the means by which His enemies (and His "friends") would be reconciled to the Father and God's purposes accomplished. This is not to absolve or excuse His betrayers; the Bible refuses to do that.

But who would have thought that God would work this way?

Monday, July 14, 2008

It's Back

A week and a half ago, as the result of a preliminary biopsy on a lymph node on my neck, I was warned that it appeared that the cancer that we had hoped had been successfully treated had returned.  Further bone marrow tests have unfortunately confirmed that this is the case, although the type and virility of the chronic lymphotcytic leukemia (CLL) has yet to the determined.  At this stage, there is no indication as to the kind of treatments that will be required or how soon. We will simply be working together with the capable staff at Princess Margaret Hospital in determining what exactly I have and how we might effectively address it. This will require some further testing, of course, and more time and patience than I had hoped. 

I do want to assure those of you who know me that I am genuinely feeling fine and that there is no need for undue concern.  Yes, my family and I are disappointed.  We are confident, however, that God is control and that He will enable me to continue to fulfill my responsibilities at home and at the mission for the foreseeable future.  I do not believe that God's call on my life is winding down. I am committed to serving Him and His persecuted church with all of my heart for as long as I have strength.

Where God is, there His Kingdom is

"Where God is, there His Kingdom is." Throughout my sleep last night this little thought rolled around in my mind. Not overly profound perhaps, but surely not easy to live out, especially in times of trouble and trial when the temptation surely must be to take the rule of one's life into one's own hand. Pope Benedict XVI in his magnificent book, Jesus of Nazareth (which I have been reading off and on since early May), writes that the last petition of the Lord's Prayer brings us back to the first one. In asking to be liberated from the power of evil, we are ultimately asking for God's Kingdom, for union with his will, and for sanctification of his name (page 167).

This reminds me of a story that was reported this past weekend of Eloise (66) and John (70) Bergen from Vernon, British Columbia, a retired couple had moved four months ago to western Kenya to help widows and orphans in the city of Kitale and to help refugees who had fled a political crisis. They serve with the non-profit organization Hope for the Nations. They had recently moved into their own house on a farm where they grew food for local children.

Last Wednesday, the unimaginable happened, as this elderly couple were robbed and brutalized by several men (two of whom were apparently the guards they had hired to protect them). John was badly beaten by the machete-wielding thugs while Mary was repeatedly raped over 45-minutes. Throughout her ordeal, Ms. Bergen said she uttered a single word, whispering "Jesus" over and over.

But while this dreadful attack would have been newsworthy for the media, I find it significant that it was the forgiveness of this couple towards their attackers that came out front and centre in the reports over the weekend. According to the National Post, Mary said one of the first things she and her husband want to do once they fully recover is to visit their assailants. "When I woke up this morning, I was picturing the time will come when John and I are physically well again," she said. "It's in both of our hearts to go to the prison and tell them about our forgiveness." John said something similar, according to the Toronto Star, ""What we're going to do is go to the prison where the perpetrators are and show them that Jesus loves them and we forgive them."

Where God is, there His Kingdom is.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

More Than Advocacy

VOMC founder, Richard Wurmbrand, once spoke at a Christian rally.  He asked those in attendance why they were protesting against those whom they opposed.  Rather, he said, they should be inviting them into their homes for a warm meal.  Their friendship would speak louder than bullhorns.

Jesus did give His followers a most unusual command on how to deal with enemies; they were to love them and do good to them (Matthew 5:44).  Not exactly the most strategic way of doing advocacy, some might argue.  But advocacy, as important as it is, is not the first call of the Christian.  Yes, we are to raise a voice on behalf of our suffering brothers and sisters, but not at the cost of neglecting the call to actively love those who seek our harm. 

Our letters of protest, our blogs, our rallies; they must not be marked by hatred or a lack of respect.  This is a fine line that is so easy to cross.  It seems to me that it would be better not to protest if we cannot hold on to love and concern for those who seek to take away our freedoms and those of our family around the world. 

I thank God that one of the priorities of The Voice of the Martyrs is our commitment to reach out to those who persecute the Church with the Good News of Jesus Christ. In projects in the Middle East, Colombia, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere, we are working with local believers in supplying them with literature specifically geared for reaching those who are opposed to the gospel.  And to the glory of God, many are responding to this act of love with faith. 

Saturday, July 12, 2008

What Kind of God Does Jesus Reveal?

In Isaiah 40:18 the prophet asked, "To whom, then, will you compare God?  What image will you compare Him to?"   Every religion in the world is, in a sense, an attempt to answer this question. What is God like?  What can we point to and say, "That is God!"

To the people of God, Isaiah's question was rhetorical.  There simply is no one to whom God can be compared; no image (mental or physical) that will adequately reflect His being.  Any image is inevitably misleading.

With the revelation of Jesus, this abruptly changed. Suddenly God supplied His own image.  The question "To whom will you compare God?" suddenly had an answer.  Those who want to see what God is like can see Him in Jesus.

In 2 Corinthians 4:4 and Colossians 1:15 Jesus is called the image or icon of God, the representation that God has chosen to reveal Himself to man.  In even more explicit terms, the author of Hebrews 1:2-3 writes that Jesus is the "exact imprint" of God's nature and the radiance of God's glory. Jesus is the exact reproduction of God.  When you look at Jesus, you see what God is like. Those who want to know what God is like can see Him in the person of Jesus.  

But what do people see when they look at Jesus?  What kind of God does He reveal? 

In Isaiah 53 we read, "He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. . . ."  By coming and living among us, Jesus took on all aspects of what it meant to live in a fallen world.  As He saw the suffering of people, his sympathy was so intense that he actually felt their pain and weaknesses. He saw the burdens that many carried, and He stepped under the load with us and helped carry it (Matthew 8:17).

Jesus continues to do that with His people today, especially those who suffer persecution because they follow Him.  When Israel was in bondage in Egypt, God not only saw their plight and heard their groaning (Exodus 2:24) but Isaiah 63:9 says "In all their affliction He was afflicted."  When the Lord struck down Saul of Tarsus on the dusty road to Damascus, He asked, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" (Acts 9:4).  In this statement, Jesus declares His solidarity with His Church when they suffer for His sake.

When His people suffer, He suffers.  Our God does much more than merely watch over us.  He is Emmanuel, God with us.  He does more than feel sorry for us; He gets involved.  As Deuteronomy 31:8 says, "The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you or forsake you; do not be discouraged."

When God's Rule Breaks In

"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven"

Many mistakenly suppose that our work here at The Voice of the Martyrs is fairly grim business. Daily we receive reports from around the world laced with pain, sadness and loss. And so there is unquestionably an aspect of sorrow and somberness to our ministry. It is what drives us to our knees and compels us to seek ways of ministering to those who suffer for their faith.

But there is also the unexplainable joy that surrounds so many of these saints. A well-know church leader has stated in his recent book: "In his messengers Christ himself still suffers, still hangs on the Cross. And yet he is risen, irrevocably risen. Although Jesus' messenger in this world is still living the story of Jesus' suffering, the splendour of the Resurrection shines through, and it brings a joy, a "blessedness," greater than the happiness he could formerly have experienced on worldly paths. It is only now that he realizes what real "happiness," what true "blessedness" is, and, in doing so, notices the paltriness of what conventional standards must be considered satisfaction and happiness."     

Joy in the midst of suffering and loss; this is what happens when God's rule breaks into our life, when the Kingdom comes.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Bible Publishers Sued over Translation of 1 Corinthians 6:9

biblehands In one of the oddest stories I have read in a while, Christian publisher Zondervan Publishing is reporting facing a $60 million federal lawsuit in the United States filed by a 39-year-old man who claims he and other homosexuals have suffered based on what the suit claims is a misinterpretation of the Bible.  His suit centres on one passage in scripture -- 1 Corinthians 6:9 -- and how it reads in some editions of Bibles published by Zondervan.  He levels similar allegations against Thomas Nelson regarding the company's earlier versions of the New King James Bible and is suing them for $10 million.

A company spokeswoman with Zondervan suggested that even if the accusations had merit, Bradley Fowler is suing the wrong group because Zondervan doesn't actually translate the Bible or own the copyright for any of the translations.   Instead, she said in a statement, the company relies on the "scholarly judgment of credible translation committees."

According to a report by WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids, Michigan on July 8, Fowler says Bibles published by Zondervan in 1982 and 1987 used the word "homosexuals" among a list of those who are "wicked" or "unrighteous" and won't inherit the kingdom of heaven. He claims that because his family's pastor used that Bible, his family considered him a sinner and he suffered.  Now he is asking for an apology and $60 million to "compensate for the past 20 years of emotional duress and mental instability."  

Judge Julian Abele Cook Jr. refused to appoint an attorney to represent Fowler in his case against Thomas Nelson, writing "The Court has some very genuine concerns about the nature and efficacy of these claims."

Comments anyone?

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Do You Really Love the Church?

As I noted in yesterday's blog, I recently read Paul Yonggap Jeong's book, Mission from a Position of Weakness.  I didn't note that Jeong is Korean and concludes his study by evaluating the Korean church's history and present practice of missions, especially as it concerns doing mission from the perspective of weakness rather than from power.  Jeong notes a fact that I had read elsewhere that one of the most important reasons for the dynamic growth of the Presbyterian church in Korea in the 20th century was that Western missionaries, unlike some other denominations, did not give salaries to the Korean workers, nor did they pay for the construction of buildings. From the beginning, they let the Christian workers and the local churches support themselves (pages 121-122). 

This is a significant departure from present day practice of many (if not most) Western and Korean missions.  Jeong notes that Korean missionaries today seem to have forgotten the lessons from their own past, to the detriment of the health and growth of the church where they minister.  He notes that for many Korean missionaries, their relationship with national workers is more like that of an employers and employee than co-workers in Christ (page 126).  By giving out money to national workers, they tend to exercise power to control them.  He cites one highly successful pastor in the Philippines who pastors a church of 12,000 members who spoke to a group of Korean missionaries and asked them, "Do you really love the Philippines? Then do not give money to the national workers?  Do you hate the Philippines?  Then give money to them.  Remember how the Korean Church started about one hundred years ago.  Did they have money?  Even though they were poor, they sacrificed a lot and did great works" (page 125-126).

The intentions behind financially supporting the salaries of national workers are usually good.  The idea that freeing up someone to engage in full-time ministry with what we perceive to be adequate resources seems like good stewardship. Most missions that promote this kind of support mention reflect this perspective.  But are we inadvertently forgetting that God's mission to the world rarely fits what we would perceive to be wise and efficient?

Want to check out an alternative to the normal "sponsorship" program; one that helps persecuted Christians help themselves?  Check out our brand new 3.45 minute "Jars of Hope" video on

Monday, July 07, 2008

So What Have You Been Reading in May & June?

It's been a couple of months since I updated you all on what I have been reading.  To be honest, due to health issues since early May, it was only recently that I felt well enough to concentrate much on reading.  But let me give you brief reviews on four books that I have read which you may decide to look into yourself. I welcome any questions or comments you may have.

novelsI'll Cross the River by C. Hope Flinchbaugh. Recognizing that many VOMC supporters enjoy reading Christian novels, I was hopeful when I saw this recent book by C. Hope Flinchbaugh which I was made to understand focused on a family in North Korea. I was disappointed to find that it was primarily a continuation of her early two novels focusing on a fictional Chinese Christian woman named Mei Lin.  I was also disappointed by the weak storyline and even weaker theology evidenced particularly at the end of the book.  Enough said; this book will not be offered for sale here at The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada.  Just glad that I read it first before offering it to our supporters.

novelsMissions in Contexts of Violence edited by Keith E. Eitel. A 2008 compilation of various articles by the Evangelical Missiological Society on the subject of doing missions in contexts of violence.  Starting with biblical and theological studies and ending with cases studies from various parts of the world, I found this to be quite a helpful read.  Not all of the articles are of equal value.  Some are quite scholarly; others a tad simplistic.  I thought a couple of the articles were a bit irrelevant but all in all, I would recommend the book especially to those involved in ministry where persecution and other forms of violence are reality or a threat.  Personally, I found the Biblical and theological foundations section the most useful (no surprise there for anyone who knows me well).

novelsTruth With Love: The Apologetics of Francis Schaeffer by Bryan A. Follis.  A very useful study of the apologetical methodology of one of the most influential Christian leaders of the 20th century. Its particular strength is the reminder that Francis Schaeffer was first and foremost an evangelist and not a philosopher despite how he has often portrayed.  Neglecting this has been one of the chief errors of Schaeffer's critics.  If you are a Francis Schaeffer fan (as I am) you will find this a very helpful assessment of his contribution to the field of apologetics and the continuing value of his methodology in today's postmodern society. 

novelsMission from a Position of Weakness by Paul Yonggap Jeong.  This book addresses a key biblical thought from my opinion; doing mission from a position of weakness, exhibiting cross-centredness and servanthood rather than power and strength in our attitudes and methodology.  This is the only book that I know of that specifically addresses this as its sole topic. Hence, it has value due to its uniqueness.  However, costing $63.00, coming from what I have found to be a reputable publisher, and purported to be the author's doctoral thesis, I expected a higher level of scholarship and editing than I found in this book.  I am left waiting for someone to write a more significant study on this key subject; wish I had the time to try.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Welcome Decisions by the Canadian Human Rights Commission... With a Few Notes of Caution

For the second time in two weeks, the Canadian Human Rights Commission has dismissed charges against a Canadian publication.  Last Friday, the CHRC dismissed the complaint brought against Maclean's magazine by the Canadian Islamic Congress on the basis that the CHRC did not believe there was evidence to support a complaint that the Steyn article (which was the basis of the complaint) was "likely to expose" Muslims to hatred or contempt.  Yesterday, the CHRC dismissed a complaint brought against Catholic Insight by Rob Wells, an Edmonton-based homosexual activist, on the basis that the material published in their magazine was "not likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt based on sexual orientation."

It is worth reminding ourselves, however, that the CHRC is not the same as the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.  The CHRC investigates complaints and if they feel there are sufficient grounds, prosecutes them before the tribunal.  Neither Maclean's nor Catholic Insight was found "not guilty"; the complaints were simply dismissed.  It is analogous to the police and the prosecuting attorneys deciding to drop charges not because they don't believe in the guilt of the suspect but because there is not enough evidence to prosecute.  As has been pointed out by some, the Tribunal has a 100% conviction rate of any section 13 complaints brought before it.  As Ezra Levant recently stated, "In other words, if the CHRC takes you to ‘court', there's really no point in showing up -- you'll be found guilty."  

Levant also suggests that we should not get too excited about these two dismissals, thinking perhaps that the CHRC has suddenly seen the light of reason.  In his opinion, "the CHRC's decision to abandon the ‘homophobia' charges against Catholic Insight must be seen for what it is: an attempt by the corrupt CHRC to get out of the media spotlight, and reduce the political pressure that is mounting for its abolition."   He suggests that this was the same motivation behind the Maclean's dismissal.  I suspect that he may be right.

The heat is also not off of Maclean's.  In a July 3 letter in the Globe and Mail, Zijad Delic, national executive director of the Canadian Islamic Congress, wrote that the CHRC's decision not to prosecute the CIC's complaint against Maclean's "will soon be appealed to the Federal Court."  Given Rob Well's rabid hatred of Christianity and his relentless pursuit of Christian organizations that speak against homosexuality as sin, I suspect that we have not heard the last of him either.  Some folks just seem bound and determined to further reduce our already threatened rights to freedom of speech and belief.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Understanding Persecution Better

I have been reading through Meditations on the Cross, a collection of writings by Dietrich Bonhoeffer as part of my daily devotions.  In today's reading, I read a letter by Bonhoeffer to a friend in which he resists calling his two-year imprisonment "suffering".  And it struck me just how often persecuted Christians resist calling what they are going through "persecution".  Coptic Christian leaders in Egypt frequently deny that the church there is undergoing persecution.  In recent article in Time, Leah Ortiz, the mother of 15 year-old son Ami who was injured by a bomb disguised as a holiday gift package, when asked if Christians are persecuted in Israel, denied it.  I often find in discussions with expatriates from religiously restricted nations that they deny that there is persecution back in their homeland.  This is puzzling to many, leading some to conclude that perhaps groups like The Voice of the Martyrs aren't exactly telling the truth. 

It seems to me that a large part of the problem has to do with a misunderstanding as what exactly persecution is.  Persecution to many conjures up images of extreme violence, martyrdoms, imprisonments and torture.  They think of what they imagine the early church went through or the church in the former Soviet Union. Expats think back to their own experience and while they may have faced societal discrimination and the like, they took it in stride as everyone else did and saw it is just a part of life; unpleasant perhaps, maybe even annoying or slightly humiliating, but hardly persecution. 

Two points need to be made:

First, it is worth remembering that persecution on a country-wide scale is rare in history, both now and throughout history.  In most countries, violent persecution tends to be focused in specific, often remote, areas where religious tensions have been enflamed for one reason or another. Hence, believers in one city may never experience violence for their faith while in another, Christians are being beaten and driven from their homes. 

Second, persecution as a term needs to be understood in its biblical sense.  As Charles L. Tieszen reminds us, persecution in the Bible manifests itself within a broad spectrum ranging from mildly hostile to intensely hostile actions. These actions range from ridicule, restriction, certain kinds of harassment, or discrimination on one end of the spectrum to torture, imprisonment, ostracism, or killing on the other.  Persecution, hence, must be understood to encompass actions spanning the full range of hostility whether they are violent, physical, psychological, or social.  Tieszen reminds us that we cannot define persecution based on the level of harm it might cause or the level of hostility in which it occurs.  To do so would be inconsistent with Scripture.  The issue that missions like The Voice of the Martyrs must consider is at what level on this spectrum do we see our involvement as necessary?

In other words, we need to see persecution as the Bible sees it, within a wide spectrum of hostility.  It need not involve violence, although it may.  This is not to say that all persecution should be treated as equally grievous.  Nor is all persecution a violation of our basic rights as a human being.   To be despised, hated, and ridiculed is not a violation of one's rights, as unpleasant and unjust as these things are. 

Significantly, understanding persecution in a biblical sense helps to include the Western Christian's experience in what it means to follow Jesus.  Understanding persecution as only including violent acts often leads us to conclude that Western Christians are never persecuted, only those in the Majority World.  Understanding persecution to include a wider spectrum of hostility makes it obvious that even Western Christians can and will experience persecution if they faithfully follow Christ, even if it is of a milder degree.  The biblical passages on persecution then can become more meaningful for us and we can properly apply them to our present situation. 

I wish that I had had this understanding when I taught my students at Oklahoma Wesleyan University a few years back as we wrestled to apply the biblical passages on persecution to their present lives.  The verses that spoke of rewards to those who were faithful in the face of persecution seemed out of reach, since we understood persecution primarily as suffering violence for Jesus.  With little opportunity to suffer in this way, how were they to ever receive these rewards?

Such an understanding of persecution should do nothing to cheapen the suffering of our brothers and sisters around the world.  It should, however, help us to see the Body of Christ as one Body; not a Persecuted Church and a Free Church.  We are all the Persecuted Church and our calling is to reach out and minister to those who are suffering violence and loss for Christ's sake since we are one Family.  Tieszen again reminds us that no prayer is required as to whether we should help our persecuted brothers and sisters. The question, if we are to be true to scripture, is not if we should help but how