Friday, July 31, 2009

Pakistan’s Christians suffer another night of terror

home burning Twenty-four hours ago, I began to receive reports of a major attack on Christians in the Pakistan village of Korian, near Faisalabad. As is normal in the hours following such acts of violence, getting a clear picture of what happened has been difficult.  What I can tell you for sure is that several dozen Christian homes were burned to the ground after a Muslim mob received a report that pages from the Qur'an were desecrated during a Christian wedding ceremony on July 26. Those accused, Mukhtar Masih, Talib Masih and his son Imran Masih, denied any knowledge of the act but local Muslims filed a blasphemy complaint against them anyway. As local Muslims gathered on the evening of July 30, Burned homeincited by broadcasts from neighbourhood mosques, a mob was whipped up who went on a rampage and began burning Christian homes and livestock.  There were earlier reports of women and children being burned but this has not been confirmed.  There have also been reports that two church buildings were damaged in the rioting.  For a considerable time police were unable to intervene as protestors blocked the roads.  At last report, the only arrests being actively pursued are those of the three Christians whom local Muslims blame for provoking them to violence.

As per usual, the response of the Pakistani government is to offer financial compensation to those who suffered property loss in the riots. This will, undoubtedly, be of some comfort to those affected.  But how does one compensate for the terror of hearing your neighbours braying for your blood, calling down the divine approval of Allah for their inexcusable barbarity and setting ablaze all of your earthly possessions?  How can one compensate for living with the insecurity that comes from knowing that you, your loved one, or one of your Christian neighbours could possibly be accused at any time by your neighbours of committing so-called acts of blasphemy by those who have no qualms about taking justice into their hands and taking out their rage on every Christian in sight?  And who can commit acts of terror of their neighbours, in most cases, with impunity? 

If the Pakistani government is the least bit serious about protecting the rights of religious minorities, those responsible for committing yesterday’s acts of violence should be rounded up and charged to the full extent of the law.  I urge you to write to Mr Shahbaz Bhatti, Minister of Minority Affairs, urging him to do act quickly and decisively to guarantee that this kind of action takes place.  As a Christian rights activist prior to his becoming a government minister, he insisted on such actions. Urge him to so act now that he has the authority to do so.

We will undoubtedly update you more on this incident as time goes on. Please remember to pray for the many families who have been and will continue to be impacted by this violence for many days ahead.  Our partners in Pakistan have already been to the scene and we will learn more, I am sure, in the following days about what actually happened and how we might be able to help.  But please pray

Perhaps you might like to post a specific prayer for these families on our Persecuted Church Prayer Wall.  Let our persecuted brothers and sisters in Pakistan and around the world know that they have not been forgotten.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

When charity (and aid) is the wrong approach

I just ran across this lecture today and felt that it really is worth posting. In this provocative talk, Ugandan journalist Andrew Mwenda asks us to reframe the "African question" -- to look beyond the media's stories of poverty, civil war and helplessness and see the opportunities for creating wealth and happiness throughout the continent.

Reading reflections

Earlier this year when I travelled to Egypt to visit with suffering believers, I brought along C.S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain. At the end of each day as I attempted to process the difficult stories I had heard, I would read through several passages from the book. Lewis’s words helped me bring perspective to the terrible hardships endured by the believers I met with and reminded me that their suffering was not meaningless.

I return to these pages from time to time, as they give me encouragement to carry on when the task is daunting and the reality of the cost of faith feels too heavy to bear. I hope these words will encourage you as well.

There is a paradox about tribulation in Christianity. Blessed are the poor, but by ‘judgement’ (i.e., social justice) and alms we are to remove poverty wherever possible. Blessed are we when persecuted, but we may avoid persecution by flying from city to city, and may pray to be spared it, as Our Lord prayed in Gethsemane. But if suffering is good, ought it not to be pursued rather than avoided? I answer that suffering is not good in itself. What is good in any painful experience is, for the sufferer, his submission to the will of God, and, for the spectators, the compassion aroused and acts of mercy to which it leads.

The Perfect Man brought to Gethsemane a will, and a strong will, to escape suffering and death if such escape were compatible with the Father’s will, combined with a perfect readiness for obedience if it were not.

The Christian doctrine of suffering explains, I believe, a very curious fact about the world we live in. The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment, He has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Famous last words: Anthony Ricetti

Anthony Ricetti had been sentenced to execution by drowning because of his confession of Christ.  A few days before the sentence was to be carried out, his son came to him in prison and pleaded with him to renounce his faith so that he might not be left fatherless.  Anthony replied:

A good Christian is bound to relinquish not only goods and children, but life itself, for the glory of his Redeemer: therefore I am resolved to sacrifice every thing in this transitory world, for the sake of salvation in a world that will last to eternity.

Despite other attempts by civil authorities to convince him to recant, reports that a fellow prisoner had denied his faith, and promises of financial reward, Ricetti would not turn from his confession and was executed in Venice in 1542.

What have you been reading in July?

As you may have noticed, I like to recommend good books.  Often what I read is based on someone else’s recommendation or I see the book referred to in the footnotes or bibliography of another book that I have found helpful (yes, I am one of those who actually looks at bibliographies). 

So here are some books that I read in July with links to where you can find a copy if you would like to get a copy for yourself.

arafat_manOnce an Arafat Man: The True Story of How a PLO Sniper Found a New Life by Tass Saada and Merrill Dean Merrill.  An autobiography of a Palestinian Muslim who once a sniper for the PLO but who came to faith in Christ and now works to bring peace between Jews and Arabs.

CoachChampions Coach Your Champions by Eric Foley. Introduces a philosophy of fund-raising that we have been using here at The Voice of the Martyrs for years (even though we didn’t know it at the time).  It begins with the idea that the cause needs to be the focus not the organization.  If you are an executive of a ministry, get this book.  Eric is a director of our partner ministry, VOM-Korea

challenge_for_africa The Challenge for Africa by Wangari Maathai. Not as helpful as I  had thumbdownhoped.  The author certainly likes to challenge Africans to make changes for themselves and clearly helps identify problems but not as helpful in offering real solutions. Let’s just say that I have and am reading better.

powerofblessing The Power of Blessing by Terry & Melissa Bone. Simple, easy to read (I did it in a single evening), tougher to apply.  Shares the importance of giving and receiving blessings, particularly in the parent/child relationship.  Co-written by a member of VOMC’s Board of Directors (Terry)

iran_open Iran: Open Hearts in a Closed Land by Mark Bradley. If this book were not so hard to get quantities of in Canada, The Voice of the Martyrs would be selling this book.  Quite simply this is the most helpful book I have yet read in helping me understand the spiritual climate in today’s Iran.

So what have you been reading lately?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Hopes fade for true justice as trial of Malatya killers continues

malataya men

As the following report from Middle East Concern shows, recent events at the trial of the five men charged with the April 2007 murder of Necati Aydin, Ugur Yuksel and Tilmann Geske, at the Zirve Christian publishing house in Malatya, Turkey have confirmed fears that those behind the killings will ever be identified and the structural injustices that cause Turkish Christians to be viewed as enemies of the state will continue. 

The trial continues of the five men charged with the murder of three Christians, Necati Aydin, Ugur Yuksel and Tilmann Geske, at the Zirve Christian publishing house in Malatya, Eastern Turkey, in April 2007. The five men, aged 19 and 20 at the time, were arrested at the scene and have been held in custody ever since. Their trial opened in November 2007.

The most recent hearing took place on 17th July. The most notable feature was the non-appearance of two witnesses despite court orders requiring their attendance and testimony.

One of them, a journalist, is being detained by the gendarmerie, who claimed that he couldn't attend as he was recovering from medical treatment. The gendarmerie had failed to bring him to the previous hearing on the pretext of having insufficient funds to cover the transportation costs, though he made similar journeys for his medical treatment.

The other witness who failed to appear, the girl friend of one of the perpetrators, claimed she had not been able to prepare to give witness due to her university studies. The prosecution noted in court that universities are not in session and requested that the court find her guilty of not fulfilling her duty to appear.

This turn of events has further undermined the hopes of Turkish Christians that those behind the three murders will be identified and brought to justice. The concern of Christians is not only for justice concerning the murders, but also for effective challenge to the wider structural injustice whereby Christians are regarded as potential enemies within the state. Recall that compensation claims lodged by the two widows, Semse and Suzanne, in September 2008 cite various government ministries as having (i) failed to detect the plot and prevent the murders, and (ii) created a culture conducive to violence against Christians because religious minorities are presented as "an internal threat, a danger and an enemy". These claims remain outstanding.

The next hearing is scheduled for 21st August and both witnesses have again been ordered to attend and testify.

Turkish Christians request our continued prayers that:

a. Family members and close friends of the victims will know the presence and enabling of Jesus throughout the trial process

b. The two witnesses will attend the 21st August hearing, and that there will be no further undue delays to the trial process

c. Justice will be done concerning the perpetrators, and that those behind them will be identified

d. Semse and Suzanne's legal team will know the Spirit's enabling, guiding and equipping

e. A positive outcome in this case and the compensation claim cases will in turn be instrumental in improving religious tolerance throughout Turkey

f. There would be renewed international attention towards this trial

g. The five perpetrators would feel a true and deep conviction about what they have done, and understand that their wrong-doing is not too great for Christ's forgiveness

h. The judges, other officials, lawyers and journalists involved will hear the gospel of Jesus, feel the Spirit's conviction of sin and be drawn to the Father's love, forgiveness and acceptance

We would invite you to post a prayer regarding one of these requests from Turkey on our Persecuted Church Prayer Wall.

mal2

Earlier this year, a powerful video entitled Malatya was released, telling the incredible story of three men willing to give up their lives to share the gospel with Muslims, and the fruit that has grown up from their sacrifice.  You can order a copy from The Voice of the Martyrs for only $13.00 (plus shipping).

Words from our founder

Hagar was sent away by Abraham into the wilderness. After traveling a long way with her son, Ishmael, she found that the contents of her only bottle of water were depleted.

She was in a desert place. There was no hope. She sat the child under a shrub and then sat down across from him at a distance and wept. It seemed that the child was lost. A thirsty child, empty bottle, a scorching sun. She expected him to die.

But there was one factor she had forgotten to take into account. We also tend to forget this when we pass through difficulties. There is a God. He revealed a well of water to the woman who went about with an empty bottle. God may have deprived you of small possibilities in order to give you great ones. We carry bottles; God has wells. Let us draw water from the wells of salvation.


Excerpted from Richard Wurmbrand's book Reaching Toward the Heights. You can order a copy on our online resource catalog.

Get a free book or DVD from The Voice of the Martyrs!

Do you live in Canada?

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If you can answer “yes” to all three of these questions, The Voice of the Martyrs would like to offer you a FREE book or DVD video on the Persecuted Church of your choice if you promise to:

  • write a 300-word review of the book or DVD and post it on your website on or before August 31.
  • include in your blog review a link to the online bookstore on our main website www.persecution.net/catalog 

Here’s what you need to do to get involved. Send us an email with the following:

  • your name and mailing address.
  • the name of one book or DVD video listed on our online catalog that you would like to review (discounted resources and audio books are not eligible)
  • the website address (URL) of your website where you would post the review.
  • indicate that you understand that you are promising to write and post a 300-page review on or before August 31, 2009 with a link to our online bookstore. 

All requests are subject to our approval and we reserve the right to end this offer without warning at any time. Requests must be received before August 14, 2009. And yes, we are trusting you to keep your word that you will do what you promise to do.  If you don’t think you will have time, please don’t participate in this offer, okay? Otherwise, we look forward to hearing from you.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

This week in persecuted church history (July 26 - August 1)

Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
Hebrews 13:7b (ESV)

July 26, 1869: England's Disestablishment Bill is passed, officially dissolving the Church of Ireland. It is from this act that we get the English language’s longest word "antidisestablishmentarianism," which was the organized opposition to the legislation.

July 27, 1681: During a bitter struggle between Scottish Episcopalians and Presbyterians, five Presbyterian preachers, Donald Cargill, Walter Smith, James, Boig, William Thomson, William Cuthill, are hanged in Edinburgh. The Church of Scotland became Presbyterian permanently in 1690.

On July 27, 2005: The village head of Bandung, Indonesia gives notice to six house church congregations that, effective on July 31, the houses can no longer be used for worship. On the morning of July 31, a mob of forty to fifty Muslims, armed with machetes, clubs and sickles, march to each house church and paint on the door, "Forbidden to Use for Christian Sanctuary."  The pastors all managed to flee before the mob arrived.

July 28, 2006: A church planter in Kara Kuldza, Kyrgyzstan and his son are surrounded by a large mob opposed to their ministry in the predominantly Muslim community. The church planter suffers broken fingers and severe head injuries in the attack. Both his home and the building where the church meets are ransacked and all of the Christian literature was taken out and burned in the street.

July 29, 2005: Two Christian men are hacked to death by a Muslim mob armed with knives and other sharp weapons after showing the "Jesus Film" in Dhopapara village, Faridpur district, about 150 kilometres southwest of Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka. The two men, Tapan Kumar Roy, 27, and Liplal Marandi, 21, worked for Christian Life Bangladesh, a partner agency of Campus Crusade for Christ International.

July 29, 2006: A large house church building in Che Lu Wan Village, Dangshan Town, Xiaoshan District, Hangzhou City, Zhejiang Province is destroyed and many Christians arrested and wounded during the confrontation. According to eyewitness reports, the destruction of the church building started at 2:30 PM. Several thousand anti-riot police, military police and government workers along with three hundred military vehicles arrived and surrounded the church building while 10,000 House Church Christians were praying in the building. The police used electric shock batons and anti-riot shields to disperse thousands of Christians. Several hundred Christians were observed to be beaten and some were arrested and taken away by police while they attempted to protect their church building. The church building had been under construction since July 17, 2006 and was almost complete when it was destroyed.

July 29, 2007: A Christian named Amos is killed in the Hosu District, Tamil Nadu, India when two men arrive at his house and interrogate him and his family about his brother, Pastor Paul Chinnaswamy. Amos' wife and mother-in-law tell the men that Amos is a Christian and confirm that he is Pastor Chinnasamy's elder brother. The men then beat Amos with a club and threaten to kill the three small children present if the women do not throw stones at him. Fearing the men, the woman comply.

July 29, 2008: Armed communist rebels stop a mini-bus and murder four Christian male passengers execution-style in Mindanao, Philippines.

July 30, 1718: William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania as a colony for Quakers to enjoy religious liberty, dies.

July 30, 1956: In God We Trust becomes the official motto of the United States by an act of Congress signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

July 30, 2008: Abbas Amiri dies in hospital in the city of Isfahan, Iran as the result of injuries suffered when he was attacked and beaten up by plain clothes security officers on July 17 during a raid on the church meeting in his home. His wife succumbs to her injuries four days later and also dies.afghanistan_korean_death2

July 31, 2007: The body of hostage, Shim Sung-min, is found, murdered by his Taliban kidnappers in Afghanistan. He was one of the 23 hostages taken hostage on July 19, 2007.

August 1, 1714: The "Schism Bill," which was intended to re-establish Roman Catholicism in England, dies with its chief supporter, Queen Anne. For years, Dissenters regarded the date as a day of deliverance, the "Protestant Passover.”

August 1, 1834: The first Protestant missionary to China, Robert Morrison, dies at age 52. His translation of the Bible, completed in 1823, filled 23 volumes.

August 1, 1897: Pope Leo XIII issues the encyclical Militantis Ecclesiae, which describes Protestantism as the "Lutheran rebellion, whose evil virus goes wandering about in almost all nations.

August 1, 2004: Eleven people were killed in the coordinated bombings of five churches in Baghdad and Mosul, Iraq.

(sources: Christianity Today, The Voice of the Martyrs)

Prayer: “Grant that we, who now remember these before thee, may likewise so bear witness unto thee in this world, that we may receive with them the crown of glory that fadeth not away; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.” – taken from The Book of Common Prayer, Canada (1962)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Hutterite colony loses battle over photo ID

supremecourt2 Yesterday (July 24, 2009) the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that all driver’s licences in Alberta must require photo ID regardless of one’s religious beliefs.  After hearing the appeal by members of the Wilson Hutterite Colony more than nine months ago, the Supreme Court of Canada delivered a close 4-3 judgment to uphold Alberta rules requiring a digital photo for all new licences. Some Hutterite sects, however, believe the second commandment forbidding idolatry prohibits them from willingly having their photograph taken.

It is not the purpose of this blog nor was it that of the Court to determine the validity of this interpretation of scripture.  Nor do all Hutterites hold to this view.  The fact is that there are those who sincerely believe this and to accommodate this belief would not have required the Alberta government to accept criminal behaviour by this religious group.  As Don Hutchison, Vice-President and General Legal Counsel for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada said in yesterday’s press release by the EFC,

Although the Supreme Court ruled narrowly – 4 to 3 – in favour of the Alberta government’s photo-licensing program, the strong dissenting opinions of Justices Abella, LeBel and Fish combined with comments of Chief Justice MacLachlin have added helpful jurisprudence in regard to an understanding of the community or group aspect of religious freedom in application of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As Justice LeBel stated, ‘Religion is about religious beliefs, but also about religious relationships.’

This was an ideal case for the court to clarify this right as it did not involve accommodating criminal activity (like polygamy) or recognizing alternative legal systems (like Shari’a law). It did ask the court to define the extent to which the religious beliefs and practices of a community or a congregation have standing and protection under the Charter.

Hence, it seems to me that it would have been entirely reasonable for the Supreme Court to have ruled in favour of the Hutterites. In the same statement, Ruth Ross, Executive Director of the Christian Legal Fellowship said,

We’re pleased to see the court reinforce its decisions in the Trinity Western and Amselem cases and add to them unanimous agreement that there are collective aspects to religious freedom. We were disappointed that the application of those collective aspects to this particular case did not result in recognition of the severe impact of the government regulation on the practices of an established religious community.

Certainly a mixed ruling and somewhat puzzling. From what I have been able to see, the Court decided that the need for security in preventing fraud, identity theft and terrorism can override an individual’s or a group’s freedom of religion.  In writing for the majority Chief Justice Beverly McLaughlin concluded: “The goal of setting up a system that minimizes the risk of identity theft associated with driver’s licences is a pressing and important public goal” and that “the universal photo requirement is connected to this goal and does not limit freedom (of) religion more than required to achieve it.”  Justice Abella, however, strongly objected to the majority ruling writing:

The government of Alberta did not discharge its burden of demonstrating that the infringement of the Hutterites’ freedom of religion is justified under s. 1 of the Charter.

The purpose of the mandatory photo requirement and the use of facial recognition technology is to help prevent identity theft.  An exemption to the photo requirement for the Hutterites was in place for 29 years without evidence that the integrity of the licensing system was harmed in any way.  In addition, more than 700,000 Albertans have no driver’s licence and are therefore not in the facial recognition database.  The benefit to that system therefore, of adding the photographs of around 250 Hutterites who may wish to drive, is only marginally useful to the prevention of identity theft.  While the salutary effects of the mandatory photo requirement are therefore slight and largely hypothetical, the mandatory photo requirement seriously harms the religious rights of the Hutterites and threatens their autonomous ability to maintain their communal way of life.  The impugned regulation and the alternatives presented by the government involve the taking of a photograph.  This is the very act that offends the religious beliefs of the Wilson Colony members.  This makes the mandatory photo requirement a form of indirect coercion that places the Wilson Colony members in the untenable position of having to choose between compliance with their religious beliefs or giving up the self‑sufficiency of their community, a community that has historically preserved its religious autonomy through its communal independence. 

The harm to the constitutional rights of the Hutterites, in the absence of an exemption, is dramatic.  On the other hand, the benefits to the province of requiring the Hutterites to be photographed are, at best, marginal.  This means that the serious harm caused by the infringing measure weighs far more heavily on the s. 1 scales than the benefits the province gains from its imposition on the Hutterites.  The province has therefore not discharged its onus of justifying the imposition of a mandatory photo requirement on the members of the Wilson Colony.

[click here for a transcript of the full Supreme Court decision]

As for the Hutterites involved, there is no appeal to this decision and so they have some decisions to make.  One judge suggested the colony could hire drivers.  I’m sure that was considered helpful to a group that historically and theologically values its communal independence.  Another possibility is that they decide to leave Alberta. Neighbouring Saskatchewan may not offer much refuge, however, as the Saskatchewan's vehicle insurance agency, Saskatchewan Government Insurance, is now reviewing the Supreme Court decision to see if they should follow Alberta’s lead.

Sadly, this is second ruling this week by Canadian courts where the priority of an individual or group’s religious beliefs have been ruled against when found contrary to the demands of the state and requests for exemptions on religious grounds denied.  Discussing this with my wife over dinner tonight, I observed how much things seem to have changed since I had joined The Voice of the Martyrs in 1997.  We simply didn’t hear of special interests or security concerns being used to deny exemptions for sincere religious beliefs that have no criminal consequences. I wondered if it was just that I am more aware of them now or has Canadian society shifted somehow? I suspect that it is the latter.

Famous last words: Babylas, Bishop of Antioch

When people hear of the persecution facing Christians around the world, it’s common for them to say something like, “I guess we should be more grateful for the privilege of living in a free country where we can worship in freedom.”  Has it ever struck you as odd how we thank God for the privilege of not suffering for persecution when early Christians (and many still today) thanked God for the privilege to suffer for Christ’s sake? See Acts 5:41, for example.

babylas When Babylas was the bishop of Antioch, he managed to offend a Roman governor for reasons that are not entirely clear to historians.  Whatever the reason, when he refused to obey governor’s command to offer a sacrifice to the Roman gods as a means to gain the his forgiveness, Babylas was thrown into prison where he was chained, badly mistreated and eventually died in 251 A.D. Before his death, he asked to be buried in his chains and went to his death rejoicing that he was counted worthy to suffer for Christ. His last words were, “Return unto your rest, my soul, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.”

Gauging the effectiveness of prayer

I am a fan of Twitter. I make no apology for that. Personally, I think it is an important tool in our kit of raising awareness of and interest in the serving persecuted Christians worldwide.  It also puts me in touch with a wider world of information and questioning than any other media that I know of right now.  Yesterday was a case in point.

Yesterday morning as I was getting my weekly blood transfusion, I sent out the “tweet”: “Some people think that prayer isn't really "doing" something for the persecuted. Wrong. It's the 1st thing they ask for.”

It wasn’t long before I got a reply from someone (@Deadn) asking if someone can really gauge the effectiveness of prayer for the persecuted church? Three minutes later, he sent another message asking “Is there any real answer to my previous question? Or do we just walk it by faith?”

I was a bit stumped for an answer and the question as to how we can gauge the effectiveness of prayer lingered in the back of my mind for the rest of the day. In the evening, as I was unwinding in my study at home for a few minutes before dinner, my eyes wandered over to one of my bookshelves and I saw a book that I had read a few years ago entitled The Way of the Pilgrim. The book is an English translation of a 19th century Russian Orthodox classic on prayer, written in a similar style to Bunyan’s Pilgrim Progess. It tells the story of an anonymous pilgrim who seeks to learn how to follow the apostle Paul’s admonition to “pray without ceasing.”

As I absentmindedly paged through the book, I was surprised to run across a fascinating passage fairly early in the book where the pilgrim meets up with an elderly leader of a monastery who cautions him about getting measuring the effectiveness of prayer according to worldly standards. He tells the pilgrim:

The truth is that, though there is neither a shortage of sermons nor of treatises of various writers about prayer, for the most part these discourses are based on mental analysis and on natural considerations rather than on active experience. For this reason they teach more about the external character of prayer than the essence of prayer. One speaks beautifully about the necessity of prayer, another about its power and its benefits, and still another of the means and conditions for its accomplishment: that is, zeal, attention, warmth of heart, purity of thought, reconciliation with the enemies, humility, contrition, and so on.

And what is prayer? And how does one learn to pray? To these primary and most fundamental questions one seldom finds an accurate explanation in the homilies of our time. These basic questions are more difficult to understand than the above-mentioned discourses and they require mystical perception in addition to academic learning. What is most unfortunate is that worldly wisdom compels these spiritual teachers to measure God's ways by human standards. Many approach prayer with a misunderstanding and think that the preparatory means and acts produce prayer. They do not see that prayer is the source of all good actions and virtue. They look upon the fruits and results of prayer as means and methods and in this way depreciate the power of prayer.

This is contrary to Holy Scripture, because St. Paul clearly states that prayer should precede all actions: 'First of all, there should be prayers offered' (1 Tim. 2: 1). The Apostle's directive indicates that the act of prayer comes first; it comes before everything else. The Christian is expected to perform many good works, but the act of prayer is fundamental because without prayer it is not possible to do good. Without frequent prayer it is not possible to find one's way to God, to understand truth, and to crucify the lusts of the flesh. Only fidelity to prayer will lead a person to enlightenment and union with Christ. (emphasis added)

Put simply, the fact that anything truly good takes place in or through the lives of God’s people is evidence of the effectiveness of our prayers. Prayer comes before anything that is truly good and glorifying to God is accomplished by His people. We cannot gauge the success of prayer using benchmarks that we are accustomed to using. We cannot, for example, have a checklist of prayer requests and then check them off as “Yes” “No” or “Wait” and produce charts or reports of statistic averages and use these to determine whether our prayers were effective.

But the fact that anything happens that truly glorifies God in my life, your life, the lives of our brothers and sisters around, is evidence that God has been at work because of the prayers of His people. We may not even know, this side of eternity, how much of our work and labour was mere straw and hay. But anything that is truly good was initiated and upheld through prayer as we acknowledged our dependency upon the Lord of mercy and grace.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Saskatchewan marriage commissioner loses appeal

I was disappointed to learn late this afternoon that Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench Justice Janet McMurty has upheld the ruling of the human rights tribunal that marriage commissioner, Orville Nichols did not have the right to refuse to marry a same-sex couple in April 2004 on basis of his personal Christian beliefs. The tribunal had also ordered Nichols to pay the complainant (a man identified only as M.J.) $2,500 in compensation.

Nichols had appealed the May 23, 2009 ruling, arguing that his religious beliefs should be protected under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  McMurty dismissed his argument, however, in her 39-page ruling today, concluding that the human rights tribunal was "correct in its finding that the commission had established discrimination and that accommodation of Mr. Nichols' religious beliefs was not required."

Nichols has thirty days to appeal the decision. He has not indicated whether he will do so.

It is a sad day when the state can order that unpaid civil servants must leave their religious convictions at the door if they wish to perform their duties. Religion is not strictly a private matter; it is intrinsically public and must be allowed to be practiced publicly. It is highly hypocritical of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission manager Rebecca McLellan to say, "To allow a public official to insert their personal beliefs into decisions about who should and who should not receive a public service would undermine the protection of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code."  Her very statement inserts her own personal beliefs into the decisions as to who can and cannot perform a public service and undermines the protection of the religious rights of Mr. Nichols and any other evangelical Christian who has biblically-based beliefs on homosexuality and marriage.

The message of today’s ruling - leave your religion at home! 

Strange how there was a time when one’s sexuality was private and one’s religion was allowed to be public. Now one’s sexuality is public and one’s religion is increasingly being forced to be private. Homosexuality is definitely out the closet and those with religious convictions are being pushed into it!

One of the earliest Christian documents is Hippolytus of Rome’s Treatise on the Apostolic Tradition dating back to about 215-217.  In this fascinating document that provides valuable insight into the practices and beliefs of early Christians, the bishop lists out some of the occupations that were forbidden to Christians due to the fact that to do so would inevitably cause them to compromise their faith.  If written today, I wonder if being a provincial marriage commissioner would appear on that list?

[The Voice of the Martyrs is making available Ezra Levant’s scathing analysis of the Canadian human rights system Shakedown for only $17.00. Order your copy today]

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The most important leadership lessons I have learned (so far)

One thing about having untreatable cancer is that it does tend to make one a little more reflective about the past.  Personally, I have found this really quite liberating on a number of levels.  Someone once said that an unexamined life is not worth living.  There is probably some truth there.

As I look back over my life and ministry, I won’t pretend that I have been the perfect leader. I am rather aware of my shortcomings, as are those who work with me at The Voice of the Martyrs.  Thankfully, they are a very gracious bunch.  But I  hope that I have modeled a commitment to the several different lessons that I have learned over the years that have shaped the way that I lead our mission. So here are eight of the most important leadership lessons I have learned (so far).

1. Promote the cause, not the organization.  I sincerely believe that most organizations blow it at this very point. Most advertizing by non-profits and missions seems to be committed to telling the public how wonderful they are.  The fact is, people often care very little about organizations, at least to begin with.  They are probably more likely to be interested in your cause or in those you are trying to serve.  At The Voice of the Martyrs, I insist that we talk about persecuted Christians first and foremost. At many meetings that I have spoken at, I have actually had people complain, good-naturedly, that they wish that I had said more about The Voice of the Martyrs. I suppose a little balance is required but I would rather error on the side of saying too little about VOMC and too much about persecuted Christians than the other way around.  In fact, I think that the public is getting tired of organizations that only put out information that is geared to promote themselves and ignore the work of others.

2. There is no pie! I think that part of the reason so many organizations fall into the trap of self-promotion is that they sincerely believe that there is only a limited amount of resources out there and that they need to compete with others to get their share, their piece of the pie. Have we forgotten Who our real source is and how infinite His bounty is?  There is no pie, in God’s economy.

3. Only say what you know is true.  This is a maxim in our Communications Team when it comes to reporting on persecution.  We would rather under-report something than exaggerate a story and report something that we are not sure about.  We will also not engage in promotional campaigns with slogans that are catchy and attention-grabbing but which we simply can’t support or say without hesitation are truthful.  I am not prepared to risk the reputation of The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada in order to attract new supporters if the means of doing so requires that we hedge on truthfulness.

4. Everything a person does either builds or undermines trust. My staff will hear me say this quite often. In missiological studies, it is called the Prior Question of Trust. I try to live by it.

5. A cross-centre gospel requires cross-centred messengers.  This the overriding theme of my book In the Shadow of the Cross and I believe that it has ramifications for all Christians regardless of where we live.  God’s purposes are always accomplished in a context of sacrifice, suffering, humility, and weakness.  Christ calls each of us to a life marked by these things.

6. Know your mission and stick with it unwaveringly. The mission of The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada is to glorify God by serving His persecuted church.  Straight-forward and simple. It tells us what we do and also what we will not do.  We simply will not get involved in otherwise worthy ministries that do not directly help us to fulfill this mission, even if it means turning away donors.

7. Leadership is influence.  Leaders are not leaders just because someone has given them a title or a position in an organization.  Leaders influence others to fulfill a shared mission in accordance with shared purposes and values.  I hope that I have done that well here at The Voice of the Martyrs.

8. Leadership style must be situational.  There is no one right leadership style.  I believe that good leaders must adapt their leadership styles according to the skill and motivation of those they lead, providing instruction and encouragement as needed in each situation.  Inflexible leaders who adopt one primary style can only lead some people some of the time. A good leader seeks to be able to lead all people all of the time just so long as the person is willing to be led or influenced.

I would love to hear from other leaders as to what are some of the most important leadership lessons that you have learned to this point in their journey.

A prayer in the wilderness

Stem Cell Transplant2 011 It was 4:00 in the morning, January 2, 2007. A week earlier I had received a bone-marrow transplant to treat the leukemia that I had been diagnosed with in mid-2002. My throat felt like it was on fire. And the pain spread from there to my ears. It was excruciating. I felt as if I would lose my mind. Then unexplainably, my teeth started chattering uncontrollably. I was surprised by this because I did not have a fever and I wasn't cold. I wrapped my head with a blanket, hoping that the heat would provide some comfort from the unrelenting, throbbing pain.

As I hunched on the chair beside my hospital bed, I thought back to stories that I had read from Richard Wurmbrand. I seemed to recall of how extreme pain could bring about such chattering of teeth as the body responds in shock to the horror that it is enduring.

Huddling there alone in the middle of the night in Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, I managed to find a ray of comfort in the knowledge the agony I was experiencing was perhaps in magnitude, if not in nature, similar to that suffered by the persecuted during dark early mornings of torturous pain. The pain remained, but I was reminded that the God of Richard Wurmbrand was my God too. And I cried out to Him, trusting in His grace.

In the early 1990’s my family and I spent almost a year living in eastern Ukraine. This was just following the collapse of communism and life was hard for the people of the former Soviet Union. For many, it still is. Disappointment is a daily reality and pessimism is an art form.

One day our language teacher came to our home and told us of a discussion she had overheard while waiting for the bus. It seems one elderly man asked another how he was doing. The second man thought for a moment and replied, “Well, worse than yesterday but not as bad as tomorrow.”

Facing a seemingly hopeless situation, it’s hard not to feel that way sometimes. The present is nothing much to talk about but at least it’s not as bad as tomorrow promises to be, if the past is any indication. At times like that, the future is hidden in a thick fog of uncertainty and past events give us little confidence that things will get better. Loved ones tell us to look up but we don’t need hope that might disappear like a vapour. Simplistic answers, while well meaning, seem to mock the seriousness of our situation.

In 2 Samuel 15-16, we find David facing a time in his life when he was undergoing emotions like these. Like many of ours, David’s family life was not ideal. His troubles began with his son, Amnon, and then with Absalom. At the end of his life it was his son, Adonijah. Conflict and betrayal seemed to permeate the house of this man whom God said was a man after his own heart. But his sons…they were another matter.

The best answer I can come up with for why David had such troubles comes from the prophet Nathan’s words to him in 2 Samuel 12. Nathan declares, in the name of the Lord, that the sword would never depart from David’s house because of his act of adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband. He had destroyed a home and now God would never allow David’s home to be one of peace.

It doesn’t seem particularly fair, does it? Especially in this day and age when many seem to believe that all one needs do is confess one’s sin and then he/she can carry on as though there are no consequences for one’s decisions. But David’s life is evidence to the contrary.

God WILL forgive us each and every time that we confess our sins. This is true. But the consequences of our sins can follow us for the rest of our lives. And this God does not promise to release us from.

And so it was with David. And in 2 Samuel 15 -16, we find him in the wilderness of Judah, a hot desolate spot. He is not on vacation, heading south for a little sun. Rather, he is running for his life. And in hot pursuit is one of his sons, Absalom.

Absalom had a special place in David’s heart. He was many things that a father would want in a son. But after a number of unfortunate events with mistakes made on both sides, we find David fleeing for his life from his own son. Absalom had seized the throne and sent out troops to hunt down his own father.

Betrayed by his son and many of his dearest friends and advisors, David flees into the wilderness with a group of loyal followers, where he regroups and plans.

And prays.

Psalm 63 records the prayer of a heartbroken father. A father who has no idea where to turn and whom he can trust. And so he turns to the only secure place he knows. He turns to God.

Lord, My Desire (verses 1-4)

wildernessDavid begins by looking around at the wilderness to which he has fled, far from the comforts of his home, and he cries out,

O God, you are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you,
my body longs for you,
in a dry and weary land
where there is no water.

“Oh, God, I need you” is how we might summarize his cry, “My soul is like this wilderness. I feel dry. I feel empty. Oh Lord, turn to me. I need You.

“I remember how it was when I was still in Jerusalem. I saw You in Your sanctuary and beheld Your power and Your glory. Lord, because Your love is better than life, my lips will glorify You.

“I will praise You as long as I live, and in Your name I will lift up my hands (verse 4).”

In the midst of his emptiness, rather than doubting his relationship with God and forsaking his worship of Him, David knows that this is the time to run into God’s presence. “I will turn to You in my time of need because I know who You are. You are my desire. I will earnestly seek you. I am dependent upon You. You are the only one I can turn to.”

Witnessing the faith and courage of persecuted Christians around the world prepared me to face cancer. Does that surprise you? The day I was diagnosed with cancer, as I lay in bed that night, my thoughts took me to the young people whom I had met in Ethiopia, men and women who lived in abject poverty because of their decision to follow Jesus. I had heard them share how Jesus meant everything to them and how they needed nothing else but Him. Their lives and testimonies had touched me so deeply. And I said to God, “Lord, if they can trust You, so can I. I will not deny You through this!”

I held onto to that throughout the wilderness years that followed when I had no idea what God had in mind for my life. I had decided that I would trust the God of the persecuted. If He loved them and could keep them faithful to Himself through their affliction, this same God could hold me to Himself as well.

Throughout the scripture, we find that there was something about the wilderness that reminded God’s people of their need for God and their dependence upon Him. Our “wilderness” experiences, our times of sorrow and insecurity, ought to do the same.

But for many of us, our wilderness experiences become times when we doubt and seek for other solutions. In Jeremiah 2:12, we find the Lord making this observation about His people, “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

Water in the wilderness is life. In my travels to Sudan over the years, I’ve come face to face with this reality. If you lose your water in Sudan, you’ll probably lose your life. This was a real concern for us when, during one trip, rebel soldiers began to steal our water bottles. They want to use them to make home brewed alcohol.

If we had been trapped in the wilderness of Sudan, we could not have turned to these soldiers and asked for the alcohol to keep us alive. Quite apart from whether Christians should drink alcohol, this foul stuff would have dehydrated us at the very time when we needed moisture to replace what the heat and sun was sucking out of us. Just drinking liquids wasn’t enough. It had to be the right kind of liquids.

You can look elsewhere to try to find the solutions to your problems. You can try to fill the ache in your heart by drinking what the world promises will satisfy. But it’s home brew. And at the very time you need it, it’ll let you down.

When you’re in the wilderness is not the time to doubt God’s goodness and turn to other places to fill your thirst. It’s tempting, but it’s a cheat. We need to turn to Him with the same earnestness of the Psalmist; “Lord, You are my desire. I need You. I earnestly seek You.”

Will you say that to God today? Even if it’s with a heavy and desperate heart, will you acknowledge your dependency upon Him, crying out, “God, You’re my only chance. I acknowledge that and I seek You today.”

Lord, My Delight (verses 5-8)

In verse 5 of Psalm 63, we find the hope of the psalmist expressed as he prays, “My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.”

“Lord, You are my delight,” he says. “In my time of need, You are everything I need.”

On my bed I remember you;
I think of you through the watches of the night.
Because you are my help,
I sing in the shadow of your wings.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.

He clings to God in his time of need and he finds security there.

There is security in knowing that once you have committed a situation to God, it is no longer in your hands. As a songwriter said, “O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear. All because we do not carry, everything to God in prayer.”

David learned early in his life that the safest place to leave one’s problems was in God’s hands.

The apostle Paul learned the same thing when he wrote in Philippians 4:4-7:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

In everything, Paul says, “present your requests to God. Tell Him your needs, your heartbreaks, your fears, your hurts.”

Does that mean that your problems will disappear or that your circumstances will immediately improve? You already know the answer to that, don’t you?

Sadly, even in the situation facing David at this time did not result in the reconciliation with his son that I’m sure he so earnestly desired. His son was murdered in cold blood as he fled the battlefield.

But when you turn to God in the midst of your situation, you can have the confidence that comes from clinging to God, knowing that you are being upheld by His right hand. You have the assurance of knowing that He is there with you in the midst of the pain and His strength can be yours in the midst of weakness.

Sometimes, He will deliver you, change your situation and lift you out. At other times, He chooses to give you the wisdom, the grace, and the strength to go through the situation.

One is not necessarily better than the other or more of an answer to prayer. Nor is it a matter of accepting second-best. It is the assurance of knowing that whatever comes into your life, it must first of all pass through the sovereign hands of God. It is an expression of His grace being demonstrated in the way He chooses to work in your life.

There is security in knowing that God is working on your behalf, even when it might not immediately feel like it. Cling to that knowledge. Don’t let it go. “God, You are my delight. I am satisfied with You. You are all that I need.”

Lord, My Defense (verses 9-11)

In verses 9-11, David’s mind turns to those whom he knows are pursuing him, those who have been sent by his son to destroy him and he says,

They who seek my life will be destroyed;
they will go down to the depths of the earth.
They will be given over to the sword
and become food for jackals.
But the king will rejoice in God;
all who swear by God's name will praise him,
while the mouths of liars will be silenced.

Perhaps in that last phrase, David was thinking of his most trusted advisor, Ahithophel, who turned his back on David and joined in Absalom’s rebellion. There are few things more devastating than betrayal by a close friend.

William Tyndale holds the distinction of being the first man to ever print the New Testament in the English language. Convinced of the need for God’s people to read the Word of God in their own language, Tyndale translated the New Testament and the first five books of the Old Testament into English, despite having to flee to Germany due to threats on his life. It was in Germany that the first English scriptures were printed in two sizes; one large and one small. Like Bible smugglers today, he reasoned that he might be able to hide the smaller ones better. Stashed in barrels covered with cloth and articles for sale, in bales of cloth, in sacks of flour, and in a number of other ways, Tyndale’s Bibles were smuggled across the English Channel from Europe. For years he had to hide from the agents of the English king and clergy who were determined to kill him. Then in 1535, while living in Antwerp, Holland, he met a fellow Englishman named Henry Phillips who presented himself to Tyndale as being sympathetic to his cause. Unknown to Tyndale, however, Phillips was plotting with the emperor's magistrates to arrest him. Over a period of time, he gained Tyndale’s trust and friendship.

tyndale1aOne day Phillips invited Tyndale out to dinner. But Phillips had set a trap for him.  Upon leaving his residence, Phillips identified Tyndale to a group of soldiers who had been waiting for them. He was arrested and after a sixteen month imprisonment, an ecclesiastical panel convicted Tyndale of heresy and turned him over to the secular authority. In October, 1536 William Tyndale was executed, being first strangled and then burned at the stake. As he died, his last words were, "Lord, open the king of England's eyes."

Within two years his prayer was answered as The Great Bible, an English Bible based upon his work, was approved by the king and all churches were obligated to provide copies of it to their congregants.

When David learned about his friend’s betrayal, he too prayed: “"O LORD, please turn Ahithophel's counsel into foolishness" (2 Samuel 15:31).

Like Tyndale’s prayer, David’s prayer was answered but not quite as David might have expected. Rather, Ahithophel gave Absalom some great advice, advice that would surely have destroyed David, had Absalom listened to it. But instead, Absalom ignored it and David was saved as a result.

The mouth of the liar WAS silenced…no one would listen to him.

God can do the most amazing things in the process of leading His people through the wilderness experiences of their lives. He can bring victory out of apparent defeat, and turn disadvantage into strength.

There is one catch; will we trust Him to do His work in His own way? Will we find confidence in the face of uncertainty, insecurity, helplessness and discouragement, not in psyching ourselves up or thinking positive thoughts, but looking reality square in the eye and confessing that God is in control?

  • When we feel weak we can count on His strength.
  • When we feel uncertain, we can count on His guidance.
  • When we feel alone, we can count on His presence.

The wilderness can become a place of worship, as we declare our desire, our satisfaction, and our confidence in our God, praying with the psalmist,

“Lord, You are my desire. I earnestly seek You because I need You.”
“Lord, You are my delight. I know that You are everything I need.”
“Lord, You are my defence. I am safe with You. I can trust You.”

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Abducted Christians still missing in Yemen – Please pray!

[From ASSIST News Service]

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Yemen: Abducted Christians Still Missing
Fate of German Family and British Engineer Unknown

By Wolfgang Polzer
Special to ASSIST News Service

SAADA (ANS) -- Six weeks after their abduction in Yemen there is still no word about the whereabouts of a German Christian family and a British citizen.

The development worker, his wife, their three children and the British engineer were kidnapped in mid-June during an outing near Saada in North Yemen.

They were with two German bible school students and a South Korean teacher. They were found murdered on June 12.

The nine Christians were working at the Al Jumhuri hospital in Saada, which has since been closed for security reasons. The humanitarian agency Worldwide Services, based in the Netherlands, has withdrawn all staff members.

As a close family member of the missing Germans told the evangelical news agency idea that there is no news about the fate or the whereabouts of the hostages. No ransom demand has been made.

It is most likely that the Christians were abducted for religious reasons. Apparently the German development worker was seen talking to a man about the bible. The family wanted to return to East Germany next year, when their youngest daughter is due to start school.

The Bishop of the Lutheran Church in Saxony, Jochen Bohl, has asked for intercession on behalf of the missing Christians.

In the last 15 years at least 200 foreigners have been kidnapped in Yemen. In most cases, they were set free after ransom payments.

It is not the first time that Muslim extremists have murdered hospital workers in Yemen. Two men killed three US-citizens at a Baptist hospital in Jibla, December 30, 2002. Another American was wounded. The culprits were later convicted and sentenced to death.

Yemen is one of the strictest Islamic countries. 99 percent of the 21 million inhabitants are Muslims. Small groups of Christians gather in secret.

Please continue to uphold these hostages and their families in your prayers.  Perhaps you might wish to post a special prayer on our Persecuted Church Prayer Wall on their behalf.

The inextinguishable witness of Polycarp

One of my favourite historical figures is the early church father, Polycarp, a disciple of the apostle John.  His life and letters are inspiring and provide a lot of insight into the beliefs and practices of the generation that immediately followed the original apostles. His death, too, is a testimony of God’s grace given at the moment of need.  Here is a video that I happened upon this afternoon that I thought that you might enjoy that tells the story of his martyrdom and his inextinguishable faith.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Responding to God’s seemingly arbitrary decrees

job Last week I told you about how I was reading as part of my daily devotions, a chapter or two each morning from Mike Mason’s excellent devotional commentary The Gospel According to Job. The following is a chapter that both my wife and I have wrestled with. But what the author is saying, when considered carefully, is really quite liberating, which is always the case with biblical truth.  Read it over, ponder it over and then please comment on your reaction to this.

Luck

"The Lord gives and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord!" (1:21b)

Job's remarkable statement here takes us back to the very primitive (and some would say pagan) concept of chance or luck. Job is basically saying that there is good luck and there is bad luck and that God administrates them both, and not only is it His divine prerogative to do so, but for every one of His seemingly arbitrary decrees He is to be praised. Whether in the casinos of Las Vegas or in the parliaments of the nations, it is God who picks up the roulette ball and places it wherever He will. It is He who shuffles the deck - even if He does not shuffle but rather arranges each card as carefully as He numbers the hairs on a head. Whether luck exists at all, from God's point of view, is a good question. But from the human standpoint, there is so much of the divine patterning that cannot be understood, that we might as well chalk it up to luck. Why does one person have red hair and another brown? Why is one sick and another well? Why does one die young and another live to see four generations - and all without any regard for individual spiritual beliefs? There are no good religious answers to these questions. There is only the nonreligious answer: the luck of the draw.

To believe in God is to accept the nonreligious answer. It is to allow for the fact that the Deity behind the strange and inexplicable facade of this world is a real, living person, and therefore a person with not only rational plans and ideas, but also with nonrational intuitions, feelings, and even whims of His own. To know the Lord in this way is, in some respects, just like knowing anybody else, for in our dealings with other people do we not inevitably run up against a large measure of pure unfathomable irrationality? People would not be people if they were entirely reasonable, and so it is with God. How reasonable is grace? Or love? Many cannot believe in God because they cannot stomach His whims. But to allow the Lord His whimsicalness - and more than that, to bless Him for it - is faith.

This topic turns out to be the crux of a good deal of the long debate between Job and his friends. The friends could never have made the statement in 1:21. It would have been too arbitrary, too superstitious for their liking. Good religious people do not believe in luck; they believe in finding reasons for everything. They are always trying to figure out why they are having a bad day, or why they are sick, or why they are not more happy or prosperous. This type of thinking, which forever tries to appease and manipulate the god behind every bush and rock, is a kind of paganism. In this tight theology there is no room for the sheer arbitrary unreasonableness of the Lord. By contrast, the mind that is able to live with unanswerable questions, letting the roulette ball spin at will and yet still seeing the Lord's hand at work - this is the mind of true faith. This is the faith that can respond, whether in good luck or in bad, "Amen!"

The moment we start thinking that we can discern some pattern to the ways of the Lord, we begin to draw dangerously near to idolatry. We come to worship the pattern rather than the Person behind it. We see patterns everywhere, as in tea leaves, and so grow preoccupied with technique rather than relationship. Patterns become molds into which we try and squeeze all of reality, whether it fits or not. In modern times the most obvious example of this is science. Certainly there are patterns in God's universe to be discovered and legitimately exploited; but no pattern can encompass all of reality. When a pattern or system attempts to be all-inclusive, the final result is that it excludes the most vital factor of all: God. This is not to say that God is not rational, only that mere rationality does not completely define His being.

To the ancient Hebrews pure chance, far from being an idea opposed to God, was one of the very things that proclaimed His sovereignty. Why else would they have cast lots and employed the device of "Urim and Thummim" to discern the Lord's will (see Ex. 28:30)? "The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord" (Prov. 16:33). Luck was just one more of the enigmatic channels through which God worked. The mere fact that we are alive at all-is that not lucky? That a loving Heavenly Father has preordained every detail of human lives does not mean that there is any discernible reason why the ball lands on 7 rather than 15. While there is much about God that can be known, this is not what the book of Job is about. Job is about the incomprehensible ways of God, and about the praise that is due Him in bad luck as in good.

(Mike Mason, The Gospel According to Job, Crossway Books, 1994: 39-40)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Ontario Human Rights Tribunal must stay out!

In the continuing discussion (see here and here) regarding Jim Corcoran’s decision to file a complaint against his bishop with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, the Calgary Herald published an excellent op-ed today that strikes an excellent balance in the debate as to who is acting improperly in this case; Corcoran or the church.  The fact is, neither party is guiltless but nevertheless, the tribunal must not intervene in this case. The state simply has no business ruling through this quasi-legal body on the practices and beliefs of a religious organization. To consider this case would signal a significant setback in religious liberty in this country.

Rights commission should stay off altar

Calgary Herald
July 19, 2009

If human rights commissions should not be adjudicating on free speech issues, neither should they involve themselves with freedom of religion issues. That a gay man in Ontario has filed a complaint against a local Catholic bishop with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal is cause for alarm. The tribunal should recuse itself because religious practices must never fall under its auspices.

Jim Corcoran, a gay man who says he lives a celibate life with his same-sex partner, was told he could no longer volunteer as an altar server at St. Michael's Church in Cobourg after parishioners complained about it. Corcoran is asking the tribunal to award him $25,000 from Bishop Nicola De Angelis of the diocese of Peterborough, and $20,000 per parishioner. Corcoran became an adult altar server late last year because there were no young boys available to serve, but in April, his parish priest told him the bishop had ordered his removal.

There is plenty of blame to be spread around among all the groups involved in this case --and also plenty of room for them to work out the problem without involving tribunals.

The parishioners demonstrated an uncharitable attitude toward Corcoran. The Catholic Church's catechism advocates accepting gay parishioners with "compassion and sensitivity," recommending that "every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided." It also asks gay parishioners to remain chaste, which Corcoran says he has done. The parishioners' attitude toward Corcoran is hardly one of compassion. De Angelis should have taken the opportunity to point this out to them.

Corcoran should never have invited the tribunal into this quarrel, let alone ask for financial compensation--which cheapens his fight--even if he does plan to donate it to charity. The position of altar server is a volunteer one, so it is not like he must reclaim lost wages.

Canadians have seen what happens when human rights tribunals wade into the waters of the Charter. They saw it with the debacles involving rulings about free-speech issues in the last few years; they should not even be given the opportunity to see what the results are when a tribunal presumes to rule on religious issues. Churches must be free to follow the tenets of their beliefs without undue outside interference. And a squabble over an altar server position is something that should be resolved by the parties sitting down to talk to each other and work something out, not by a quasi-judicial body that has no business there.

It almost seems as if such an old-fashioned solution has gone out of style. The moment someone feels offended, he or she rushes off to the nearest human rights commission to file a complaint and demand compensation. This is an opportunity for De Angelis to give the parishioners an object lesson in exhibiting the Catholic beliefs of compassion, sensitivity and non-discrimination towards Corcoran. The two parties need to get together; the human rights tribunal needs to stay out of it.

This week in persecuted church history (July 19-25)

Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
Hebrews 13:7b (ESV)
 

ethiopia_estifanos July 19, 2005: Estifanos Abate (34) is traveling from Degahabour to Jijiga in eastern Ethiopia, when the bus is stopped by Islamic militants.  The militants board the bus and demand to know the religion of each traveler.  Of the 45 passengers, five are Orthodox and four are evangelical Christians.  The gunmen order these nine to be separated from the Muslim passengers.  The Christians are then ordered to repeat the Islamic creed and to bow three times toward Mecca.  Everyone but Estifanos comply with the order and are allowed back on the bus.  The gunmen threaten Estifanos, who calmly begins to tell his attackers about Jesus, while his fellow travelers beg him to save his life by obeying their demands. The Muslim leader then orders the bus to continue on its way, without Estifanos.  As the bus pulls away, Estifanos is executed.  His body is left on the side of the road for most of the day, as a warning to others.

afghanistan_skorea_missionsJuly 19, 2007: Twenty-three Korean Christians who are part of a mission outreach of the Community Church, a Presbyterian church in Bundang, South Korea, are taken hostage by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

July 20, 1054: Patriarch of Constantinople Michael Cerularius, having been excommunicated from the Roman church four days earlier, excommunicates Pope Leo IX and his followers. This precipitates the Great Schism.

July 20, 2008: Christians meeting at the Gypsy Prayer Hall are attacked by a group of Hindu militants. At approximately 12:30 p.m., the militants storm into the church during a worship service and shout insults and threats at believers present. Bibles and song books are burned. They drag Pastor Naik (48) and two other believers outside and beat them. The three are then taken to the local police station where they are accused of forcibly converting Hindus.

July 21, 2008: Residents of Katin village in Saravan province, Laos kill a Christian man by forcibly pouring rice wine down his throat. Eighty local Christians are then arrested by authorities. Four days later, officials round up 17 Christian families in the village and detain them in a local school compound, denying them food for three days in an attempt to force the adults to sign documents renouncing their faith. Ten families eventually sign the documents and are allowed to return home.

July 22, 1620: Led by John Robinson, a group of English Separatists who had fled to Holland in 1607, sail for England, where they would board the Mayflower.

July 23, 1583: Protestant printer John Day, who was responsible for publishing Hugh Latimer's sermons, Nicholas Ridley's "Friendly Farewell," and John Foxe's Book of Martyrs, dies.

July 23, 2005: Police burst into the home of Asiya Zasedatelevaya in Turkmenabad, Turkmenistan where ten to fifteen Baptists meet regularly for Bible study.  They begin to interrogate Asiya, even though she is disabled and unable to hear or speak.  They confiscate all her literature and demand to know where she got it from.  When she does not reveal her source, one of the officers hits her across the head with her Bible while another strikes her in the face.  They then threaten to hang her.

afghanistan_korean_death1July 24, 2007: One of the 23 hostages taken by the Taliban in Afghanistan on July 19 (see above), Bae Hyung-kyu, a youth pastor from Saemmul Community Church, a Presbyterian church in Bundang, South Korea is killed . A week later, the body of another murdered hostage, Shim Sung-min, is found.

July 24, 2007: Three Catholic priests who had been in hiding in Inner Mongolia are located by Chinese security police and arrested for refusing to join the government-approved Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. The three, Liang Aijun (35), Wang Zhong (41) and Gao Jinbao (34) are initially locked in an iron cage and were not allowed to speak or given water before being transferred to another detention centre.

July 25, 325: The Council of Nicea closes. The first ecumenical council, convened by Constantine, it rejected the Arians (who denied the full divinity of Christ) as heretics.

July 25, 1593: King Henry IV of France, raised a Protestant, converts to Catholicism. Long considered a political move, the conversion is now thought to have been sincere, partially because of the king's statement that "religion is not changed as easily as a shirt." His conversion did not end his sympathy for Protestants, however, and in 1598 he promulgated the Edict of Nantes, giving Protestants freedom of worship and permitting them to garrison certain towns for security.

(sources: Christianity Today, The Voice of the Martyrs)

Prayer: “Grant that we, who now remember these before thee, may likewise so bear witness unto thee in this world, that we may receive with them the crown of glory that fadeth not away; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.” – taken from The Book of Common Prayer, Canada (1962)

A peek at August’s newsletter

This weekend, I have been proofreading the first proof of our August newsletter and I am really exciting.  Our layout artists have really outdone themselves this month. And the content.. my wife was really touched by the feature article recalling the story of a family in Colombia whose devotion to God led to… well, I’m not going to spoil the ending by telling! 

But let me give you a sneak peek at our August newsletter for three reasons:

  1. So that you can look forward to real blessing if you are already subscribed to receive it.
  2. You will consider subscribing right away to our newsletter if you are not presently receiving it so that you can get a copy. It’s free, by the way!
  3. You will let others know that they should subscribe or, alternately, send us their names and addresses and we will offer them a free subscription along with an offer to receive a free book or DVD.

Here’s a sample of what’s coming up in the August edition of The Voice of the Martyrs Newletter:

aug09nl An extreme devotion (feature article)
Threatened by Colombian guerrillas, Dora Lily and her husband, Ferley, prepared for a final evening devotion time with their three children. The couple then spent all night in prayer and fasting. Would God spare their lives? And who would take care of their children?

From the CEO
Read from our CEO how “some plant, while others water” as The Voice of the Martyrs has been serving persecuted Christians in Colombia for the past decade.

My strength, my song: A refugee's story
Meet “Miriam”, a refugee to Canada fleeing persecution in Eritrea, as she shares her joy in Christ and her pain at being separated from her husband who languishes in prison for his faith.

Living in the shadow of the cross: biblical insights for daily living
For those undergoing persecution for their faith and witness for Christ, chapter 7 is the most comforting of all of the visions recorded in the book of Revelation. While providing warning to the spiritually complacent, above all this chapter provides strength to those reeling under the pressure of tribulation.

Prayer diary
A new brand new feature! Daily prayer specifically based on this month’s newsletter that will equip you to intercede in a new way for the Persecuted Church around the world

Don’t miss this edition!!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Mind of Man or the Mind of God?

There are turning points in the pages of history; times when decisions are made, actions are taken or things are said which mark the end of one chapter and the beginning on another. Matthew 16 marks such a turning point in the life of Jesus as He takes His disciples to the remote region near the city of Caesarea Philippi, and asks them what appears to be a relatively simple question, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" (16:13).

Some of the disciples say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets. Jesus, however, is more concerned about what they think. He says to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter replies, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus commends Peter for his answer and instructs the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. But He is not finished, as verse 21 marks the turning point in Jesus’ ministry.

"From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised."

I can only imagine how the disciples felt when they heard these words. I suspect, however, that what they were thinking is reflected in Peter's words, "Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you" (16:22).

Jesus had heard this message before. During His temptation in the wilderness, Satan had tempted Him to achieve greatness without dying, inviting Him to bypass the cross. Now, He hears the temptation again from the mouth of one of his disciples. And so, just as He rebuked Satan in the wilderness (4:10), He turns to Peter and says, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man" (16: 23).

In our day, the mind of man is manifested similarly in the belief that suffering has no place in the life of the Christian. It finds its voice in the assertion that persecution is an intrusion in the life of the Church and the believer, and that opposition is a rare exception. It is heard when people wonder aloud that perhaps God has forsaken those who suffer persecution or that the persecuted are suffering because they have done something wrong or because of sin in their life.

A number of years ago, I was representing The Voice of the Martyrs at a large conference. As part of our display area, were displayed the pictures and testimonies of a number of Christians who had been tortured for their faith and yet had persevered by God’s grace. One of the stories was philip_bwabout a young Sudanese man named Philip.

Philip had been captured by Islamists loyal to the government of Sudan, who tried to force him to convert to Islam. As a Christian, Philip refused. In order to compel him to change his mind, the soldiers held burning sticks to his chest, while others held him down. Philip was sure that he would be killed, but he determined that he would rather die than deny his Lord. Miraculously, he survived, and his life is a testimony to the power of God in the midst of persecution.

At one point in the conference, a middle-aged woman came to our display. As she was reading Philip’s story, I could not help but notice that she began to shake her head in disbelief. As I walked towards her, I could hear her muttering to herself, "I don’t understand. I just don’t understand." Drawing up beside her, I cautiously inquired, "Excuse me, Ma’am. What is it that you don’t understand?" Looking at me with wide eyes, she pointed to the picture of Philip and blurted, "I don’t understand how God could forsake His people like that!"

Such a comment starkly reflects the mind of man. Of course, it is often more subtly expressed by believers who suggest that God's plan for His people is inevitably a trouble-free life, characterized, for the most part, by health and happiness. This is not that far removed, however, from Peter's rebuke of Jesus. To this disciple's mind, suffering had no place in the plan of God for His Messiah. While he had correctly identified Jesus as the "anointed one" of God, it is obvious from his response to Jesus' words that he does not understand how suffering, shame and death can be part of the plan of God for His anointed one. His Messianic expectations did not include a suffering Christ. He was thinking as men do, not as God does.

How does Jesus respond to this mentality?

Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (16:24-25).

Jesus wants Peter to understand that what He has just said about His own life and ministry is exactly how God is going to work in the life of all who are part of God’s plan. It is not only the Christ who will suffer and die; it will also be the fate of all those who follow Him. This is how God thinks.

While Peter was able to identify who Jesus was, he failed to grasp what being the Messiah of God meant. What Jesus was talking about did not fit Peter’s expectations for who the Christ was.

Who do you say Jesus is?