Persecution and Prayer

by Jonathan Master

Christians have always been persecuted.  Peter reminded his readers of this in the earliest days of the church: “…knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by the brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:9b).  But it does seem as if the suffering of Christians – whether at the hands of Muslims, Hindus, or totalitarians of another stripe – has been in the news more lately.  The testimonies of our brothers and sisters in these places are sobering; but often they are also encouraging examples of grace-fueled perseverance.

I sometimes wonder how I would feel or pray if I was faced with serious persecution.  Would I be self-pitying?  Vengeful?  What are the key theological truths which need to be grasped most tightly during these times?

In Acts 4, we read about a prayer meeting which follows right on the heels of intense persecution.  Peter and John had just been released by the temple officials, but they had been ordered not to speak about Jesus any more.  The threat of suffering and death was real, and they had just experienced a foretaste of it.  So what did they pray upon their release?  What would you pray?

There are four main truths they meditated on in their prayer – four key teachings about God which they held tightly.

The first is that God is the sovereign creator: “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth, the sea and everything in them” (Acts 4:24).  The truth of God as creator is revealed to us in the very first chapter of the Bible.  It is foundational to everything that follows.  God’s authority and his work as creator insured that he was over and above anything else that might come against them.  What a comfort in times of persecution!

The second main truth is that God had promised judgment for those who opposed him.  This is found in verses 25-26, and is mainly encapsulated in a quotation from Psalm 2.  Psalm 2 begins with a rhetorical question about human rulers: Why do they oppose God, since it is ultimately in vain?  God’s response to their opposition is laughter and anger and he promises swift judgment upon them.  In our day, we shy away from affirming the judgment of God, but when facing God’s enemies, God’s righteous judgment is not an embarrassment, but a great comfort.  God will make all things right; he will judge those who oppose him.  Their ultimate end is in his hands.

Thirdly, these early persecuted Christians focused on the fact that God predestines.  Specifically, they affirm his predestination in the death of Jesus Christ.  Although those who killed Jesus are held responsible for their sin, yet nonetheless God had predestined for it to occur.  If that was true of the most wicked injustice in all of history, how much more was it true of whatever unfair persecution they or we might undergo?  Once again, we shy away from this doctrine of predestination and of God’s perfect plan.  But when we are faced with persecution, it becomes a sweet and significant truth.

Finally, these Christians knew that not only had God worked in creation, not only had he promised judgment, not only had he predestined that which takes place, but, in addition to all these things, he was at work even in their own day.  We know this because in verse 30 the Christians pray for God’s continued work: “…while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”  God had not left these disciples on their own.  He was not sitting distantly aside, merely watching what transpired in their persecution.  No.  He was still at work through his church.  This persecution, painful as it was, did nothing to thwart God’s work at all.

In the midst of all this, the earliest Christians prayed for boldness (29), and we should pray for this today as well.  We need to be bold and clear in our presentation of the gospel.  But as we pray for boldness, let us remember these four doctrines which meant so much to them.  They are truths much maligned today, but they are vital to our lives as pilgrims here on earth; and to those of the brotherhood around the world who are suffering even now, they are simply indispensable.


Jonathan Master (PhD, University of Aberdeen) is professor of theology and dean of the School of Divinity at Cairn University. He is also director of Cairn’s Center for University Studies. Dr. Master serves as executive editor of Place for Truth and is co-chair of the Princeton Regional Conference on Reformed Theology.

Meriam: “I am a Christian, and a Christian I shall remain”

Meriam: “I am a Christian, and a Christian I shall remain”

Posted by Jesse Johnson at The Cripplegate

Meriam Yehya Ibrahim is married, 27-years-old, mother to a 20-month old son, 8-months pregnant, and last week was sentenced to death for being a Christian. 

Her story is not all that uncommon. Her father was Muslim, and her mother was an ethnic Christian. As is common in much of the world—including the United States—Muslim men frequently marry non-Muslim women, because by Islamic tradition their children are considered Muslim. It frankly doesn’t matter what the children of that religious mish-mash marriage actually believe about God or faith; because the father was Muslim, so are the children. Period. These kind of marriage don’t often last—but that is not their point. Their point is simply to expand Islam through the children.

Such was the case for Meriam. Her parents had two children, herself and a brother. Her father then left her mother to raise both of them. Her mother came to faith in Christ, and raised her children in the church. Meriam’s grew up, and (as Christians are prone to do) married a believer, and had a son.

Her brother meanwhile had left Christianity and returned to the religion of his father. He reported Meriam to the police, who arrested her, tried her in an Islamic court, and convicted her of blasphemy and adultery. More on the adultery later.

Her country, Sudan, is one of many in the world that claim to have religious freedom, yet also make it a capital crime for someone to leave the Muslim faith. They say to the world, “We have religious freedom!” but what they mean by that is “you are free to worship in any religion you want, as long as Muslims don’t leave the Islamic religion.” Thus they can look the human right’s groups in the eye and declare their love for personal freedom, as long as the Western world respects their right for Islamic tradition. Which, by the way, includes the death sentence for any Muslims that convert to Christianity.

This is the mess that Meriam found herself in when her brother reported her. In the eyes of Islam she is a Muslim—never mind the fact that she doesn’t practice, believe, or follow Islam in anyway—thus it is a crime for her to claim Christ. The exact crime is “Apostasy,” punishable by death. Islam demonstrates its mercy toward women by declaring that a pregnant women sentenced to death for such a thing shall be spared until their child is weaned. Assuming her new baby survives child birth—hardly a sure thing, because the government says “for security reasons” she must give birth in prison—she likely has another year or two to live.

Under Islamic law not only is it a crime to leave the Muslim religion, but it is also illegal for a Muslim women to marry a non-Muslim man (obviously the reverse is not true, or Meriam wouldn’t be in this situation to begin with). Since in the eyes of Islamic law she is Muslim, her marriage to her husband was declared void by the courts. Since she is pregnant, she is thereby guilty of adultery. For that she gets 100 lashes, and it is unlikely they will wait for the baby to be weaned before they carry out that part of the sentence.

Meriam is not alone. In Sudan, Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Tunisia, and other Islamic countries Christians are routinely arrested, beaten, and even martyred for no other reason than for embracing Jesus and rejecting the message of Mohammad. Yet these stories are hardly ever news. What makes Meriam different?

Simple: CNN picked up her story and ran with it. I have no idea why, but they did. Maybe it is because she is in jail with her 20-month old son, who is sick and denied medical care (again, for security reasons). Perhaps it is because her husband, Daniel, is in a wheel chair. He says he is totally dependent upon his wife to care for him, and doesn’t know what will happen to him now that she is gone. Maybe it is because of its proximity to the story of the kidnapped Nigerian school girls.

Why CNN chose this story to focus on we may never know. But the result of the press coverage has been a public relations row for Sudan. Other countries have pressured Sudan to find a diplomatic way to end Meriam’s imprisonment and spare her life.

Perhaps because of this push back, her trial court granted her what they described as a “merciful” option. They gave her 3 days to recant her faith in Christ. If she would just tell the court that this whole thing was a big misunderstanding, she and her son could go free. And this is plausible enough, isn’t it? She doesn’t really remember her father; how was she to know that she was a Muslim? Now that she does, she can simply apologize to the court, ask to delay the beatings until after she delivers her baby, and go home.

CNN reports that after three days, the judge brought her back to the court. In Diet-of-Worms style, a Sheik appealed to the judge to recognize, “how dangerous a crime like this is to Islam and the Islamic community.”

When it was her turn to speak, Meriam simply said, “I am a Christian, and I will remain a Christian.”

I have no idea what kind of church she goes to. In Sudan there are Baptists, Anglicans, Pentecostals, and Orthodox believers. Whatever kind of Christian she is, she is also obviously the kind that would rather die than renounce her faith.

It is noteworthy that the Koran expressly allows people to artificially deny the Muslim faith for a brief period of time; if a Muslim was on trial and his only way to escape was to lie about his faith, Surat An-Nahl 16:106 would allow him to deny Islam for the day, to get his freedom and save his life.


The obvious question: what kind of religion values faith at gun-point? What kind of religion tells someone “if you leave, we will kill you and possibly your children?” Sudan’s government says that the rest of the world doesn’t understand, and that blasphemy laws are at the heart of what it means to be a Muslim nation. They may be right; after all perhaps a dozen other Islamic countries have the same law. It is hardly unique to Islam though—remember that it was the Jewish court system that sentenced Jesus to die. Like Meriam, his crime was “blasphemy.”

Who knows how Meriam’s case will end? Its possible that international pressure will prevail, and that they will release her, and perhaps only expel her from the country. Its possible that the press will forget about this case, and two years from now she will be executed, as so many other Christians are: forgotten and anonymous.

Pray for Meriam and Daniel this week. Consider it a joy to intercede for someone who values faithfulness to Jesus above the limited freedoms this world has to offer.

Why Do The Heathen Rage?

That’s the question asked by the first verse of Psalm 2. The entire verse reads:

“Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?” (KJV)

Other Bible translations read something more akin to:

“Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?”

Either way, it’s the same question; a question that can be asked about nations as well as individuals.

The short answer is not a complex one. The ‘heathen’ rage because they are heathens. Those who profess no belief in the God who created them ‘rage’ because it is the natural thing to do. Furthermore, all of us who profess belief in God and His Son as having died for our sins were once heathens, and by nature the objects of God’s just wrath (Eph 2:1-3).

So what is it about man’s ‘heathenness’ that makes him rage? I’m glad you asked! Hold on to your seat belt. You see, the Bible tells us certain things about everyone that has ever been born since Adam fell. I will share just a short passage from the book of Romans:

“For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Rom 8:6-8, ESV)

All of us were born with the same kind of mind – a carnal mind set on the flesh. None of us has a mind set on the Spirit until such time as we are ‘born again’, as Jesus so eloquently told Nicodemus in John 3. And as our Romans passage tells us, the ‘carnal’ mind is hostile to God. That hostility is expressed in our raging against God. Some of us rage privately in the recesses of our hearts and minds while some of us rage a lot – in public. Nevertheless, until God sovereignly saves us and delivers us from the bondage of our carnal minds, at some level we rage because it is our nature to do so.

Sadly, some us who proclaim Christ as Lord and Savior seem to have forgotten why it is that the heathen rage and that their rage is really against God. How do I know that? Thanks for asking. . .again.

Well, I’ll give you a two word answer and then then explain it, since you might think that I must be a little bit nuts. So here’s my two word answer: Duck Dynasty! That’s right, I said Duck Dynasty! Hear me out, please.

More to the point, it’s the Christian right’s response to the whole Phil Robertson saga that troubles me and leads me to believe that we’ve forgotten why and against whom, the heathen rage. This morning I heard yet another Christian radio broadcast discussing the whole ‘freedom of speech’ war that seems to be raging around the Duck Dynasty saga, and how we believers should be coming to the defense of Phil and the gang because of all of the hatred and bigotry spewing forth from the likes of GLAAD and a number of other organizations and media personalities. While I agree it’s really disgusting, I also realize that the real ‘haters’, while hammering Phil, are really raging against God!

I say that because I believe that the Bible is true – specifically a few passages from Romans 1:

Romans 1:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” (Rom 1:18-32, ESV)

This passage from Romans tells us that we all know that God IS, and that those who would deny Him, are really only denying what they know to be true, resulting in the debasement of God’s natural order among other things. Those who are raging against Phil, as well as those who have been crusading for the removal of all reminders of God in the public square, are really raging against the God they know exists.

And what do we (evangelical Christians) do? We fight for ‘rights’ to free speech as if winning a few court battles is going to really solve something. Well guess what? Even if we do win a few court skirmishes, the heathen will continue to rage, in the futile attempt to justify that which they know to be wrong in the eyes of the God they know exists.

If we really love them like we say we do, we would remember that they are raging not against us, but against God, that we too were once the objects of God’s wrath, and we would endeavor to lead them to the Cross of Christ. And that my friends is not something we can do while we battle with them for ‘rights’. I also believe that the battle for ‘rights’ can, and does, distract us from the mission of sharing the gospel and that the enemy love it when we get distracted!

Think about it.

From Africa to Asia, Offended Muslims Vent Anger on Churches

Open Doors News

September 27 (Open Doors News) — Across much of the Muslim world, more than two weeks of backlash to the internet video "Innocence of the Muslims" has occasionally been directed at Christians, from computer hacks to church burnings.

It can be difficult to sort deliberate acts of persecution from simple undirected anger sparked by the video, which portrays Muhammad as a womanizer and false prophet. And, as anger over the video reverberates from Africa to Asia, it can be difficult to distinguish between video-inspired backlash against Christians and the longer-running pattern of pressure targeted at Christians that has existed long before the film clip hit YouTube.

On Sept. 16, five days after Libyan rioters in Benghazi killed the U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, a band of gunmen in the Nigerian city of Bauchi shot dead six Christian men playing cards. Though the killings were carried out at the same time demonstrators were marching in cities across the region to protest the video, the Bauchi state governor said the killings were not religiously motivated. Instead, authorities said they were part of a deadly weekend of violence in that part of Nigeria at the hands of Boko Haram, a radical Islamic sect that has carried out attacks in a similar manner in the past.

There was little doubt, however, two days earlier in the Niger town of Zinder as about 1,000 Muslims emerged from the Friday Jumu’ah prayers, divided into groups of several hundred each, and started marching toward the churches in town. They set the Winners Chapel afire. They severely vandalized the Union of Evangelical and Protestant churches’ community center, the Church of the Assemblies of God, and a Catholic church.

Several Christians were injured, though the exact number has not been verified. After police regained control at the churches, smaller groups damaged the homes of the evangelical church pastor and homes of members of the Catholic church. Police made numerous arrests.

Meanwhile, as far away as Pakistan, Christians anticipated the wave of Muslim anger to wash into their country.

"The day the Libyans killed an American we knew this would not stay far for long," said a teacher in the northwest part of Pakistan, referring to the Sept. 11 Benghazi attack. By Sunday the 16th, rumors abounded that Christians in Pakistan were under attack.

"We were so on edge we panicked," said the teacher, whose name is being withheld to protect her from retribution. "Even when it became evident this was a false alarm, we knew it could still happen."

It did.

The following Friday, the 21st, an angry mob torched St. Paul Lutheran Church in Pakistan’s Mardan district. Protestors destroyed not only the church building but a school attended by Christian and Muslim children.

"Nothing is left," a St. Paul pastor said, sitting on a pile of rubble, turning a brick over in his hand. "Pray for the healing of our hearts and hopes, that we may be the real Church in this place and be like the Prince of Peace. I do not know if I have the energy for that."

In same week of the Benghazi attack, a church in next-door Algeria reported receiving threats because of the video. Police were alerted and no harm came to the church.

In Iraq, Christians working in government office in Mosul have started to receive written threats. "Warning to the Dirty Nazeris," the computer printouts say, referring to the word Nazareth, and ordering Christians to leave the city.

Computer hackers took down at least one Christian website in the Persian Gulf region. They replaced its usual homepage with this message:

"You have been Hacked

"Islam means Peace. We, the Muslims want peace all over the world. But you don’t want to be stay in peace. Don’t think us weak. We are more more and more stronger than you that you cannot imagine. By creating this video you have just insulted our ‘Islam’ and our beloved Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) and break the peace between you and us. Now we are in your cyber space to destroy it. We will hit you until you stop hitting us and want marcy for your did."

A check on the website Thursday showed a homepage that said the site is "under maintenance."

Yet amid the anger and violence, there have been some moments of peace.

Protests had spilled into Egypt during the days that followed the Sept. 11 uprising in Libya. Angry Egyptian Muslims stormed the American embassy in Cairo. It was well after midnight Sept. 14, and tear gas was in the air. In the nearby Kasr-el-Dobara Evangelical Church, fears were running high.

Unable to breach the embassy perimeter, some of the protesters turned their attention to the church. "Death to the worshippers of the cross!" they painted on the wall.

Inside, a pastor and about 30 young people prayed. The mob began to damage the downstairs bookshop. Some carried Molotov cocktails.

Then a man emerged from the crowd and started yelling. He said the Christians from the church had come to his aid, tending his wounds, during the 2011 popular uprising against the Egyptian government. Then another man stepped forward, and said the church had offered water, earlier that very day, to wash the feet of Muslims before prayers.

The crowd fell silent, turned, and left.

"These two men weren’t just men," said a senior member of the church staff. "One day we will discover if they were men, or angels, just there to protect the church."

c. 2012 Open Doors News. Used with permission.

Publication date: September 28, 2012

Pakistani Christians Worry About ‘the Next Rimsha’

clip_image002LAHORE, Pakistan, Sept. 3 (Open Doors News) — Nabil was out pretending to wash his father’s car, as an evening breeze cut through Pakistan’s monsoon humidity. Together with his father and a Christian neighbor, they had made their way out of the house late last week on this everyday pretext. In reality, they were trying to prevent their Muslim neighbors and the women in their families from overhearing or worrying over their conversation.

As he wiped the car, Nabil spoke in hushed tones to their friend from two blocks away and his father, a pastor in Lahore. Nabil had come home to spend the summer with his family. Naturally, the topic was Rimsha Masih, the young Islamabad Christian girl arrested Aug. 16 after Muslim neighbors told police she was carrying burned pages of Quranic texts.

Because of the vulnerability of Christians in Pakistan, especially when questioning the country’s blasphemy law, Open Doors News is not publishing his real name.

"I live and work in the Middle East, so I am able to send my children to school here in Pakistan," Nabil said. "But I am seriously thinking of coming back now. What happens if my little Zari becomes the next Rimsha, or my wife the next Aasiya [Bibi, the first woman sentenced under Pakistan’s blasphemy law]? What good is school, if she will only graduate into prison?”

Nabil’s conversation echoed questions being raised across Pakistan. He said there is little that will change in terms of Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law.

"God’s word has told us that there will be trials and tribulations, and that there will be persecution for Christians,” he told the neighbor, who questioned how Pakistani Christians could have any hope for a future.

"That is our future before we go to heaven. Either we accept that difficulty will come, or we pretend we have the right to something outside of the Word of God. Let us just seek His grace and hope.”

The conversation continued in low tones. All three were afraid their voices might carry to the neighbors. Nabil’s family lives on the second floor of a home that belongs to a Muslim landlord who lives directly below them. He is always concerned that his children will say something to cause them to be falsely accused of blaspheming against the prophet Mohammad, the Quran or Islam.

The story of Rimsha has shaken Christian families across Pakistan, and has re-ignited national debate on the blasphemy law. Immediately after Rimsha’s arrest, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari warned against misuse of the law. The Sept. 2 arrest of a Muslim cleric on suspicion of placing the religious texts into the girl’s possession has elevated tensions to a high pitch.

"President Zardari has finally spoken! Thank goodness someone came to the rescue, although it seems a meager and useless attempt,” the neighbor said with some skepticism, because Rimsha’s ordeal follows three particularly devastating cases.

After being falsely accused and arrested in June 2009, Aasiya Bibi became the first woman in Pakistan sentenced to death under the blasphemy law. She has been languishing in a Pakistani prison and solitary confinement ever since. Her controversial case prompted criticism of the blasphemy law from Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and Federal Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, who were subsequently assassinated. Threats also have been leveled at Sherry Rehman, the Pakistan Ambassador to the United States.

c. 2012 Open Doors News. Used with permission.

Publication date: September 4, 2012

Persecution, A Consequence of Godly Living

“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.”

“You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.”

(2 Timothy 3:1-5, 10-13 ESV)

Shortly before his death, in his 2nd letter to young Timothy, the Apostle Paul speaks of the terrible godlessness of the ‘last days’, encouraging the young pastor of the church at Ephesus to remain strong in the faith no matter what trials he might face. After speaking of his own suffering and persecution, he declares:

“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (v. 12)

While we tend to focus on the ‘last days’ and it’s sinfulness, we often gloss over this short passage. Perhaps there a few significant points to ponder.

1. We are told that all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. Not some, but ALL.

2. We are told that those who desire to live a godly life will be persecuted. We are not told those who actually life a godly life will be persecuted, but those who desireto do so willsuffer. Is that an indication that those whose desire is to live godly in fact live godly lives? Is it saying something about being able to appear to live godly without a genuine desire to do so, for whatever reason? Perhaps it’s both.

3. We are told that those who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. That speaks to a genuinely godly life – in Christ Jesus – not a tawdry imitation born of selfish reasons. There seems to be noticeable difference between what’s real and what’s Memorex. It’s one thing to not be ‘one of the popular crowd’ because of proud, self-righteous behavior and quite another because your life gives off the aroma of Christ living in you. The former is deserved while the latter is the ‘smell of death’ to those that are perishing in their sin (2 Cor 2:16). The light of Christ always exposes darkness for what it is and convicts those in bondage to their sin, of their sin.

4. Finally we are told that those who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. It’s not a ‘maybe’ thing. A godly life in Christ will always bring suffering and persecution. Call it a ‘natural’ outcome of a vibrant life in Christ. You don’t have to look for it and you won’t be able avoid it unless you are never seen in public.

So what are we to do?

First, realize that persecution from the world is a natural and inevitable consequence of your desire to live a godly life, for genuine desire will bear the fruit of godly living.

Secondly, when suffering and persecution comes at the hand of those who hate you because they hate Christ, follow Paul’s advice to young Timothy:

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (Emphasis mine)(2 Timothy 4:1-5 ESV)

We ordinary folk might not be pastors or specially gifted evangelists, but we all have the ministry of evangelism – to present Christ to the lost world in which we live! And when real p[persecution comes (We ain’t seen nothin’ yet!) we will be able to say with Paul in prison:

“I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. . . .What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”

“Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

(Philippians 1:12-13, 18 – 21 ESV)

Doug Wilson vs. Pro-Gay Activists at IU in Bloomington

Pastor Doug Wilson, from Moscow Idaho, went to the campus of Indiana University back in April to do some talks on sexuality (link to complete lectures and Q&A). About half the room that showed up were there to yell, ridicule, heckle, and completely disrespect him based on his stance that homosexuality is a sin, all while yelling at him about love and tolerance.

I love Wilson’s quote: “The diversity crowd has two fundamental tenets: the first is that they have an absolute commitment to free speech, and the second tenet is, ‘Shut up.'” (Immediately followed by a heckler yelling, “Yeah, shut up!” – Seriously, the irony would be funny if it weren’t so sad.)

Denny Burk has some good observations about this whole thing:

1. The gay activists shouting for “tolerance” are the most shrill, intolerant personalities in the room. The irony seems to be completely lost on the protesters and naysayers who are quite disrespectful and cruel to Doug Wilson throughout his presentations. They demanded Wilson to give them logic and respect, but they gave him none in return.

2. Thanks be to God for Doug Wilson who rose to the task and answered their questions biblically and with good humor! He actually looks like he enjoys the sparring. That kind of winsomeness goes farther than winning every argument (though he also seems to win every argument too). Christians, take note. When reviled, do not revile in return (1 Pet. 2:23). Instead, bless those who curse you (Luke 6:28). Sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness (Prov. 16:21). A gentle answer turns away wrath, and the tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable (Prov. 15:1-2).

3. Post-modern gobbledygook thinking is on massive display here. The students aren’t interested in attacking the reliability of the Bible on scientific or historical grounds. Traditional apologetics would have been useless here. Almost to a man, they were concerned with judging the morality of the Bible. They deconstructed the Bible and manipulated texts to their own ends but then also stood in judgment over the Bible where it didn’t fit their views. In everything, their intuitions and feelings about the nature of reality defined everything.

4. It is not difficult to see how the hostility on display in this video might be turned into open persecution of Christians. I do not mean to be an alarmist, but it is hard to ignore the level of vitriol that more and more seems to be directed toward Christians for their views on homosexuality. This encounter with Wilson is just a single instance of a disdain that is becoming more widespread in the culture. What will be the public implications of that disdain in the next 10, 20, or even 30 years? It seems to me that the vitriol on display in this video is on its way to becoming the majority view. For Christians, this is not likely to get any easier for us going forward.

5. The Lord’s arm is not too short to save (Is. 59:1). Our culture’s spiritual decline is not inevitable. Who knows what God might do if we bear witness faithfully to the gospel of Jesus Christ? Let’s do that, and pray for God to have mercy on us and our neighbors.


A Sure & Certain Promise

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19 ESV)

John 15 is probably best known as the chapter about Jesus as the true vine and his followers as the branches, with ‘abiding in the vine’ as its main theme. I Googled ‘abiding in the vine’ and received 995,000 results. I scanned 50 pages (10 entries per page) of results and it appeared that nearly every link pointed to John 15. 

However, near the end of the chapter we have the above verses, spoken to his closest disciples as He was preparing them for his departure and their subsequent mission of spreading the message of the gospel. I can’t remember the last time I heard a sermon built around the certain promise of persecution to the followers of Christ. If they did it would clash with the previous ones about the grand, wonderful purpose God has for each of us,  along with the promises of our best lives now.

Perhaps some think that the promise of persecution just pertained to the disciples about to be commissioned by Jesus to proclaim the gospel, but not followers today. That doesn’t hold much water however, since spreading the message of the gospel has been given to all believers for all time, and the character of the ‘world’ in our text has not changed.

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the text, break it into smaller pieces with an eye to application in today’s ‘world’.

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:18-29 ESV)

“If the world hates you…”

At first glance, the presence of the hypothetical ‘if’ let’s us off the hook. An ‘if’ is not a certainty; therefore it’s not a certainty that the world will hate the genuine follower of Christ. Not yet. We’ll get to that in a bit.

What is meant by the ‘world’ (kosmos) in these verses? Literally, it means “orderly arrangement, that is, decoration; by implication the world (in a wide or narrow sense, including its inhabitants, literally or figuratively [morally]): – adorning, world.” (Strong’s G2889). Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon expands inhabitants to specifically mean “the ungodly multitude; the whole mass of men alienated from God, and therefore hostile to the cause of Christ”.

That definition of world definitely fits the context of our passages. The inanimate world cannot hate, but its inhabitants can, as we are told in verse 18 that the ‘world’ in fact hated Christ. As further proof we have the accounts of certain ‘inhabitants’ of Jesus’ world who sought to capture and kill him. (See John 7 & 11).

“If you were of the world…”

Here again we have the big ‘if’ and a hypothetical that seems to let us off the hook. Here again we have the term ‘world’ meaning the fallen world system set against God and his Son, and the phrase ‘of the world’, or belonging to that world system. You could easily ask “Aren’t we all ‘of the world’ since we are born into it?” The answer would be yes, and as our passage tells us, as long as we are ‘of’ the world the world the world’s inhabitants will love us

Now for the BIG question.

Are we ‘of’ the world?

“…because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”

Not only did Jesus tell his disciples (and us) that they were not of the world, he told them why they were not of the world, that he had chosen them out of the world, or from among the world’s mass of fallen humanity. And because they were not of the world, the world hated them and it will hate all those who profess Christ and proclaim the gospel. The ‘world’ has not changed and neither has the message of the gospel. Yes, there were a couple of ‘ifs’ in our text, but there also was and is a certain and sure promise of persecution for all those who have been chosen out of the world for the cause of Christ.

What does it all mean?

First of all we can draw from our short text that the world hates Christ, and therefore it hates Christians, then and now. We also might have cause for concern if the ‘world’ loves us. What does that mean? How do we know if the ‘world’ loves us? For the answer to that, all we need do is consider verse 20 in the same Chapter of John:

“Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:20 ESV)

Just as Jesus was persecuted for just being himself (the Son of God), his followers will be persecuted because of whom they are as believers in Christ and messengers of the gospel. No obnoxiousness required – just be a faithful messenger of the gospel message and a lot of them will run away. They will either run away or avoid you like the plague because to them you are the fragrance of death, reminding them of God and judgment. (See 2 Cor 2:15-16)

A. W. Tozer summed up the situation and our responsibility as believers quite nicely:

“Those first believers turned to Christ with the full understanding that they were espousing an unpopular cause that could cost them everything. Shortly after Pentecost some were jailed, many lost all their earthly goods, a few were slain, hundreds were ‘scattered abroad.’ They could have escaped all this by the simple expedient of denying their faith and turning back to the world. This they steadfastly refused to do.

To make converts, we are tempted to play down the difficulties and play up the peace of mind and worldly success enjoyed by those who accept Christ. We will never be completely honest with our hearers until we tell them the blunt truth that, as members of a race of moral rebels, they are in a serious jam, and one they will not get out of easily. If they refuse to repent and believe on Christ, they will most surely perish. If they do turn to Him, the same enemies that crucified Him will try to crucify them”.

At the same time, there are those who will not run away or avoid you. They are those in whom God has begun a work of grace and to whom you are a fragrance of life. ”

“For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” (2 Cor 2:15-16)

What are we to do?

First, don’t invite persecution from the ‘world’, but don’t try to avoid it either. It comes with the territory and it might in fact be a good and true testimony that you are being who you should be as a believer abiding in Christ.

Second and equally important, continue to be faithful in spreading the message of the gospel that includes the topic of sin and the need to ‘repent and believe’.

Finally, remember Paul’s words in the matter:

“For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:10)

May God richly bless you as you as you labor for the cause of the Gospel!


The God of All Comfort

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.” – 2 Corinthians 1:3-7

Certainly the chief significance of Paul’s description of God, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, is in the context of suffering for the name of Christ whom he preached unceasingly, as well as the similar suffering of the saints in the church at Corinth. There is, in these few verses, a picture of suffering for the name of Christ, the experiencing of the comfort that only God can bestow upon his children, and the sense of God’s sovereignty over even the ‘not so comfortable’ circumstances of suffering saints, in order that they (we) might be able to credibly minister to others in similar circumstances.

The Apostle Paul sees his afflictions and persecutions being for the express purpose of the comfort of other suffering saints, as he experiences the comfort of God and because of that experience, being able to comfort the believers in Corinth.

Can we not extend the cycle of suffering, finding comfort, and comforting others ‘with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God’, to the ordinary ‘stuff of life’ that we endure as believers in a fallen world? Personally, I think that Paul has delivered a serious blow to the thought (and sometimes taught) notion that as believers we somehow deserve ‘special’ treatment in this life.

In these verses, Paul does not specifically describe the impact of our going through all the ‘stuff of life’ on the unbelieving world around us, but it cannot be denied. As believers we are able to, and ought to, go through the adversities of life quite differently than even the most ‘positive’ of unbelievers with whom we live, work, and breathe. ‘How’ we go through the same adverse circumstances of life speaks volumes and is at times one of the greatest ‘wordless’ expressions of the gospel of grace we possess. Those wordless expressions are used of God as He arranges ‘divine appointments’ in which we have the great privilege of adding the ‘words’ of the Gospel, as God draws those for whom the Son died to the foot of the Cross, culminating in much rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents!

So take heart, brothers and sisters, knowing that God is indeed sovereign over the affairs of our lives, both the good and not so good, and that God’s purposes in all of them will stand for eternity!

Failure and Success-The Scramble for Popularity

A.W. Tozer

“Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”–Matthew 5:11-12

Popular Judaism slew the prophets and crucified Christ. Popular Christianity killed the Reformers, jailed the Quakers and drove John Wesley into the streets. When it comes to religion, the crowds are always wrong. At any time there are a few who see, and the rest are blinded. To stand by the truth of God against the current religious vogue is always unpopular and may be downright dangerous….

Christianity’s scramble for popularity today is an unconscious acknowledgment of spiritual decline. Her eager fawning at the feet of the world’s great is a grief to the Holy Spirit and an embarrassment to the sons of God. The lick-spittle attitude of popular Christian leaders toward the world’s celebrities would make such men as Elijah or George Fox sick to the stomach….

Lot was a popular believer. He sat in the gates of Sodom. But when trouble struck, he had to send quick for Abraham to get him out of the jam. And where did they find Abraham? Out on the hillside, far away from the fashionable crowds. It has always been so. For every Elijah there have always been 400 popular prophets of Baal. For every Noah there is always a vast multitude who will not believe it is going to rain.

We are sent to bless the world, but never are we told to compromise with it.

The Next Chapter After the Last, 20-21.

“Lord, give me the spirit of Elijah; give me the faith of Noah.

Deliver me from the scramble for popularity and strengthen me to serve alone, oblivious to the roar of the crowds. Amen.”