Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What Peter Says in Response to Persecution

This morning, while reading 1 Peter, I realized something about myself. Later in the day, when Barbara sent me the link to a great blog, "Far East Russia for God's Glory", I realized it anew.

I don't deal well with persecution.

What I mean is this: I care deeply about the persecuted church. I am bothered by apathy in the Body about it, and I burn with anger when I read of Christians being mutilated in Turkey, burned to death in India, or being tortured with power drills in Pakistan. I am consistently dismayed by the deliberate lack of coverage this receives in the media, which attempts to portray Christians as bigots and buffoons at every turn.

Apart from these cases of overt, barbaric, physical persecution, closer to home, the more subtle oppression of Christians in Eastern Europe is a pet peeve of mine. I have written about society and governmental perception of Bible-believing Christians in Bulgaria and the more hard-line regime against them in Belarus here before.
Widely considered cultists, loonies and heretics, the Church in Eastern Europe experiences a uniquely passive-aggressive form of persecution which is the result of smear campaigns, media propaganda and jealousy from the Eastern Orthodox Church. In the 19th century, this took the form of Orthodox-led riots, pogroms and burnings of Protestant property; nowadays registration permits are denied, rumors are spread, and the mass media are used to publicly discredit evangelicals.

This infuriates me.

But here's the interesting thing: it seems to bug the Christians caught in the fray far less than it does me.

When I was in Bulgaria again last summer, the elderly congregants at the Baptist church were the most joyful, contented individuals I noticed the entire time we were there. Half of the 2.5 million people in Sofia look angry; the other half look clinically depressed. But not the Christians. They don't seem to give a rat's patootie that they are still a maligned minority; they've got Jesus, and He's all they need to be joyful.

When I spent time interviewing my former pastor, he passionately said his years in prison were the best gift God could have given him. Most of his books center around the theme that as disciples of Christ, we must expect persecution and be ready at all times to make sacrifices for our faith. He related anecdotes of recent media attempts to cast Christians in a bad light - most of them instigated by the Orthodox Synod (itself the center of a political controversy). Despite the slander, he held not a hint of animosity.

Recently, I posted a review of an earlier Bulgarian pastor's 13-year ordeal at the hands of the Communists. When I read details of how deranged men tortured, beat and starved Christ-followers within an inch of their lives, I seethe. My anger is all the more intense knowing how this evil, godless ideology has sucked in naive people. People who are close to me, and are thoroughly brain washed. Pastor Popov prayed for and warned against hating the Communists. But you know what? I hate the Communists. HATE them. I hate extremists in India who slice open pregnant women and pour kerosene on Christians, just to watch them burn. Two years ago, when I read of the attack on the Australian missionary family whose father and sons were burned to death, I felt rage.

And then the widow forgave the killers. The Indian believers continue to praise God, knowing each service might be their last. The Belarussian Christians hold their illegal meetings surreptitiously, and the Bulgarian evangelicals doggedly continue to feed the hungry and counsel the prisoners.

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:6-7)

They get it. I struggle to rejoice, because according to my human logic, it's just so wrong.

Even closer to home, I do not do well with the even smaller, also annoying barbs that come from my parents for my being a Christian. Part of the reason I am so well-versed in Scripture and apologetics is to be able to give a ready response to the attacks my father makes on my faith. (Oh, he likes to be sneaky about it - I call it back-door antagonism). To be sure, as Beth Moore once wrote, "I'm not sure we can really relate to religious persecution in this country, and it's rather nauseating when we try." (That's the one and only time I'll quote Beth Moore on this blog. In this case, though, her point happened to be well-taken.)

I keep a calm demeanor and a rational tone when countering attacks, but inwardly

I want to slap the snot out of I am a bit irritated. Why don't people open their idiot eyes already and just believe on Christ? The Bible's authenticity has been proven many times over; how hard is it to get a library book on apologetics?!?

Here's Peter's advice (I dearly love the apostle Peter; especially that sword episode with Malchus' ear):

Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. 9Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.

But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. "Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened." 15But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17It is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:8-9; 14-17).

Lord, change my heart. Somewhere deep down inside, there's a quiet and gentle spirit just dying to get out.

Yeah, I just am finding the balance between righteous anger and the acceptance of suffering with joy (especially other people's suffering, when they don't deserve it) hard to find. Amazing that those in the midst of it handle it with so much more grace and acceptance than I can find possible.

Below is a September 2008 posting from the Russian Christians in Siberia:

Dear brothers and sisters! We ask you to pray for our ministry to the Far East Russia.

«With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel…" Eph. 6:18-19

1. Following a week September 18th in our city will the big Christian concert.Please pray, that the government our city to open their hearts to cooperation and to not interfere in carrying out of a concert.Also that it is a lot of people which not know the God could to come on this concert and to hear the gospel.

2. In the begun October Nika will organize regional Christian conference for women .Please pray, that the God to give her a wisdom and Holy Spirit to change a life many women through this conference.

3. In connection with event in Georgia and South Ossetia the government has changed attitudes to Christians. The main religion Russia - Orthodoxy. Many Christians Protestants cannot spend public a meeting and cannot openly preach the Gospel.Please pray, that the government has changed the attitude and has opened a door for the sermon of the Gospel.

4. Pray, that the God has given new work (jab) for Zhenya that he had more time for our ministry in Birobidzhan. Time for personal preparation a pray and reading the Bible, also for a meeting with people for the Bible studying. That the God has filled our financial need.

5. Pray for greater Christmas meeting that much our friends have come to our house and to learn about love the God who was given His son for them.

6. Pray, that the God has given us a building for church.

Your in Christ Zhenya and Nika Aksutin

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Apparently I'm not the only one....

...who thinks it was an evasive non-answer.

Last month, some controversy arose over an entry I wrote, taking issue with a leading Christian publication's portrayal of Islam, through the revisionist eyes of one of its adherents (see my original entry here). This month's edition arrived yesterday, and with a sense of great satisfaction and vindication I see that I am not the only reader who thought the interview misrepresented Islam's true agenda.

(I have to be careful about naming the publication, as they are publishing one of my articles in a few months). Many kudos to Mr. Goldberg for articulating what millions of Christians with intact critical thinking skills already know:

Islam According to the Qur'an

With chagrin I read the article "Islam According to Gallup" [November]. To say that it soft-pedals Islam is an understatement. The interviewer should have asked more probing questions or offered some refutation to what Islamic scholar Dalia Mogahed gave an ignorant public.

Mogahed glides over the question about the punishment for apostasy in Islam by saying, "Islamic law is a vibrant, ever-changing set of interpretations." Islamic law, however, is clear that the penalty for apostasy is death. The more secularized Muslim governments may impose lesser penalties, but that is because they are not following Islamic law strictly. On October 20, Afghanistan's government commuted the death sentence of a young journalist for blasphemy. The sentence was reduced from death to "only" 20 years in prison. A couple days later, a Somali man was murdered because he had converted from Islam to Christianity. Yet the article did not address occurrences like these. Why not?

Further, Mogahed says that some violent verses from the Qur'an have a "historical context and must be understood … in a specific way," implying that those verses are no longer valid. Yet the fundamental principle of Islam is that the Qur'an is the literal word of Allah, perfect, complete, immutable, and valid for all eternity. Is Mogahed prepared to openly and publicly declare that those violent verses are no longer valid?

Gallup can survey the opinions of Muslims, but it cannot determine what Islam is. There is only Islam according to the Qur'an and the sayings of Muhammad.

Carl Goldberg
Phoenix, Arizona

Here is the link to his letter (third one down). To their credit, the magazine consistently publishes opinions dissenting from what they print on many issues. This month's cover story on "Marketing Jesus" was superb.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Nouthetic Counseling and the Sufficiency of Scripture

This is Part II in a series I am writing on secular psychology vs. biblical counseling. I should make it clear that the angle I am particularly concerned with is the differences in how each side treats addictions and other deviant behavior. In my next entry, I will discuss the field of "Christian" counseling and the so-called "integrationist" approach. As always, comments and critique are welcome.

The field of nouthetic counseling, or biblical counseling as it is more commonly known, was developed by a pastor named Jay Adams. As a shepherd of the flock, Adams was dismayed by the ineffectual treatment of mental and social disorders by his contemporaries in the psych fields. In the 1960’s, when Adams wrote “Competent to Counsel”, pastors were encouraged to “defer and refer” their parishioners to psychologists for treatment rather than try to counsel them themselves. Nouthetic counseling presupposes that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God, and that as such, it contains all the wisdom and counsel individuals need to solve their problems (many times caused by their own sin or possession of a sin nature), relate to others, and learn to live abundantly. A thesis of nouthetic counseling might be 2 Peter 1:3, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” (emphasis mine).

The term “nouthetic” comes from the Greek noun nouthesis and the corresponding verb noutheteo. The term in Greek encompasses more than our modern word “counseling”, which carries a certain set of connotations and expectations largely based on stereotypes from secular therapy. Unlike the Rogerian therapist, who is to function as a non-judgmental, emotionless “mirror” for the client, a nouthetic counselor fulfills the role of actively pointing her counselee to the specific guidelines for behavior laid out in Scripture. “Nouthetic” carries with it an expectation of confronting sin biblically (Romans 15:14), correcting, encouraging, exhorting, rebuking, training and equipping for good works. Every one of these activities is a biblical command to Christians. Far from being autonomous individuals, it was assumed and taught by Paul and other early evangelists that members of the Church would be teaching one another the truths they had learned from the Apostles, confronting sin, encouraging one another, and “spurring one another on to love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Paul continually confronted and encouraged individuals with the Word of God during his ministry, as is apparent from the many personal names and details in his letters. Part of the role of a pastor is to be able to open the Scriptures in a deep and personally applicable way to individual members, but the counseling role is not limited just to pastors or full-time ministry staff, as are preaching and teaching. All Christians are called to spiritual maturity (1 Corinthinans 14:20; Ephesians 4:14), and part of that maturation process is to learn and apply God’s Word and exhort others to do the same.

A typical session with a nouthetic counselor might begin with the counselor asking the client extensive questions about her background, upbringing, faith, and relationships in order to form a frame of reference and see the counselee’s “whole picture”. This is not the same as psychoanalysis, which seeks underlying causes for deviant behavior in the “subconscious” and thus places blame outside of the individual; rather, the counselor wants to gather as much solid information on her client as possible and to avoid a tendency to jump to conclusions or make hasty decisions.

Nouthetic counseling stands on the premise that the Bible holds all we need to know about God; ourselves; the nature of sin and how inclined we all are to it; how our interpersonal relationships are affected by sin; how sin affects our relationship with God; and God’s solution for sin – found only in Jesus Christ. Because it presupposes the sufficiency and inerrancy of Scripture, nouthetic counseling is only appropriate or effective if the client has been born again. If not, the starting point for the counselor is to present the Gospel and explain to the client the seriousness of sin. It is necessary (as in any evangelism encounter) for the problem of sin to be accepted as a personal, concrete dilemma separating the individual from God – not simply as an abstract concept common to all. Only when a sinner sees and comprehends the full horror of her sin can she grasp the extent of lavish grace that is extended to her through the Cross. What the Bible calls “repentance unto salvation” is the prerequisite for any deep, enduring, abiding change within the spirit – anything else is just behavior modification. Once the heart which has been previously hostile toward God has been reconciled to Him through faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctification can begin.

Facing one’s own sin squarely and seeking God’s solution through His own Word is the business of nouthetic counseling. Very often, even as Christians, we seek to minimize our sin or even rationalize it. Like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, we know we have done wrong and are ashamed; so we sew “fig leaves” to cover up our shame. For the addict, some of these “fig leaves” might be unrealistic body ideals presented by the media; perfectionist parents; a painful childhood; or intense pressure to succeed at school or in athletics. While each of these circumstances causes pain and can influence a girl or woman’s thinking, the responsibility for the sinful behavior ultimately rests on her own shoulders.

The role of a nouthetic counselor is to gently strip off the “fig leaves” and help the woman to face her own sin, which has caused her current bondage. This is what the Bible calls “rebuking”, and exposing sin must be done with an attitude of love and compassion. The motive is to correct and thus heal; never to wound or punish. The counselor knows very well she is a sinner in the same boat as the addict, but she has been taught herself the principles of “putting off” old thought patterns and behaviors and “putting on” the new self. She is now in a position to help impart that wisdom to another sister. In a counseling relationship, the counselor carries spiritual authority to which the counselee has submitted. This includes completing written homework assignments and doing independent Scripture reading, which the counselor will direct, but by no means has the counselor put herself up in a position of judgment over her charge.

Helping someone face her own sin, the very root of her current agony, is actually the most loving thing a sister in Christ can do. The longer we keep making excuses for ourselves, the longer we stay in the grips of the particular, besetting sin, and the longer we stay in pain. While change can be painful, staying in the pit is ever so much more painful. Shrinking or running from what we must see in order to change will keep us in bondage.

Exposing sin in a firm but loving way is exactly the model Jesus gave us from His own ministry. One of the first recipients of grace (and consequently one of the first missionaries of the Gospel) was the Samaritan woman at the well, who we meet in John chapter 4. Jesus did not give her a scathing, angry lecture; but rather pointedly stated the fact that she had had five husbands and was currently shacking up. He put His finger right on the “spiritual disease” – her immorality. He had already offered the solution – He was, and is, the Living Water. He did not excuse her lifestyle, conceding that since she had felt unloved as a child and had unmet needs, it was okay; but neither were His words morally neutral. They were loaded with significance.

Likewise, in chapter 8 of John’s Gospel, after forgiving the woman caught in adultery Jesus tells her “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:11). He does not minimize the sin or make excuses for her then or us now. He forgives, He redeems, and He has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him (2 Peter 1:3). He expects us to accept it, let Him change our hearts, and our behavior will change as a result.

Trying to change behavior without dealing with the root (sin) is doomed to failure. Outward behavior modification does not acknowledge the Lordship of Christ – a deep heart change is not necessary. True change requires us to hate our sin passionately; not just seek to avoid the consequences of it. This approach is, in essence, still trying to be our own god – thinking that we can change ourselves apart from the Holy Spirit.

Because nouthetic counseling is based entirely on biblical principles, it is not a set of subjective theories and experimental therapies as are employed in mainstream secular psychological counseling. Nouthetic counselors are required to study the Word as well as counseling methodology, and must pass a theological exam before being certified.

Hermeneutics, the study of Bible interpretation, is a field that has a practical application in nouthetic counselors. People who are doctrinally ill-equipped may take a verse or passage out of context, and use it to justify anything. Similarly, in our humanity we possess what is called the “nouetic effect of sin”, which means we are predisposed to read our own agenda into what Scripture says. In order to resist this tendency, solid theological training is necessary in order to counsel other believers. (That is not to say a seminary degree is required to help others find biblical solutions to their problems – not at all! However, doctrinal soundness is mandatory in order to guide anyone into truth, and that is a heavy responsibility.) The counselor herself must be a woman of prayer, consistently studying the Word herself; in a church where Scripture is exegeted and the Gospel is preached without compromise; and attending the requisite training for this ministry.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Extremists Halt Church Construction

(from Gospel for Asia)

Religious extremists from a popular radical Hindu activist group have brought a church construction project to a halt. They have set up a tent outside the unfinished building to conduct rituals to their gods.

The extremists descended on the church, which is under construction in Uttar Pradesh, India, on December 17. They placed vermillion-red flags on the church building, which is a sign that it has been taken over for Hindu use. The extremists, who belong to the radical RSS movement, then proceeded to offer pujas (Hindu prayers) to their gods and goddesses.

GFA missionary Kushal Samuel heard about the incident and rushed to the church. He tried to talk to the extremists, but they had called the police, who arrested Kushal and took him to jail. While he was being held in jail, the extremists attacked the GFA district leader, Harish Kumar, who had come to the site to help Kushal. The extremists beat Harish for about 30 minutes and then took him to the police station. They made up false stories about Kushal and Harish and accused them of many crimes.

The police allowed Kushal and Harish to speak, and they explained, in detail, what the church does. After hearing their explanation, the police released Kushal and Harish. But they halted the church construction.

In the meantime, the Hindu extremists set up a small tent in front of the unfinished church building. They are sitting in the tents conducting their rituals and are pressuring believers to turn their back on Christ and return to Hinduism.

The church was complete, except for the roof, when the extremists commandeered the site. GFA's zonal leader, Lamu Tekam, has met with the police in an effort to get permission to continue the construction project.

  • Please pray for Lamu, that his talks with the police will bear fruit and that the police will allow construction to resume.

  • Pray for the extremists who desecrated the church property. Pray that they will come to know Christ.

  • Pray for Kushal as he works in that village. Ask the Lord to give him grace and wisdom in the midst of the difficult situation.

  • Pray for the believers, that God will strengthen them and that they will stand firm in their faith.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Of Orphans and Widows.....

I have just received this ministry newsletter from a friend of mine who runs a Christian orphanage aid program in Eastern Europe. "Elena" (not her real name) lives and serves in a country where Christians are currentlybeing severely persecuted. The government of her country (which I will not name, but it starts with "B", is not Bulgaria, and is located just north of Ukraine....take THAT, search engines!) is trying to stop her ministry and prevent the orphans from attending church or having anything to do with the mission.

I have removed all references to the ministry name or names of towns/villages in "Elena's" ministry report, for her own protection. Her e-mail and phone lines are being monitored, and as she alludes to in the last paragraph, they are holding on and struggling to continue to operate legally.

There are currently 36,000 orphans in the country, but international adoptions are banned. A common misconception is that these millions of orphans and abandoned children around the world are available to be adopted by loving, but childless Americans. The truth is, it is almost impossible to adopt orphans from these dilapitated institutions, even in cases where the childrens' birth parents have signed away their rights. Logically, it would seem that trying to adopt would be the best way to help one of these children who desperately needs to know love. However, the sad fact is that only a very tiny percentage of international adoptions are approved. In Eastern Europe, the process is especially mired in corruption and bureaucracy. Put it this way: if you are considering international adoption due to infertility, your odds of having a child through IVF are roughly 6 times HIGHER than they are of bringing home a child from overseas.

Nevertheless, there are other great ways to help institutionalized children in virtually every corner of the world. The most effective way of helping these kids, both materially and spiritually, is by supporting a Christian orphanage ministry that operates within the country. They are usually run by dedicated, Christ-centered volunteers who pour themselves out into teaching and discipling these kids. Since I personally know the head of the small ministry featured today (it's basically a two-woman project with an account overseen in the States), I can vouch for the honesty, hard work, dedication, and agape love that they lavish on the 6 orphanages where they minister. They bring the kids food, shampoo, clothing and soap, as well as run Bible studies, Christian camps (staffed by national volunteers, since missionaries are now banned from the country), teach them life skills and organize Christmas parties at each of the orphanages. The goal is that each orphan will receive a gift for Christmas. If you would like to help make that a reality, please leave me a comment in the combox and I will give you more information.

"Elena" is pictured on the far left in the second photograph below.

Greetings dear friends and supporters,

As we celebrated Thanksgiving we counted our blessings and thought of you as one of them. Thank you for being with us and for all your prayers. We are alive and well despite all the pressures, and we are blessed because we have Jesus.

This fall was very fruitful in friendship and things we did. First of all, the pigs made it to (town's name) orphanage barn with pig food for the year. And the orphans were blessed with potatoes, carrots and cabbage as well for the whole year. We presented orphans at (orphanage #2) with a washing machine, so now they can do laundry themselves in their group area.

Three times we did a "cutting project". A group of Christian ladies from a different town asked us to share our experience of how to start a ministry to orphans. Our staff members shared some things and we wanted to follow with practice, so we took them to the orphanages with us and since all of them are hairdressers, they did hair cuts for kids and shared about their faith too. Moreover, we found a contact person in the orphanage in their town (that's where my parents live) and made a connection for the ladies to visit the orphans there.

Also, we did a cooking class at No. 2 orphanage for one family group of kids (brothers and sisters of different ages). We like this project as it's very practical and helps orphans a lot. We had a girl Ira in our group this time, and I asked her to boil eggs for the sandwiches but she didn't know how to do it. And Ira will graduate this coming May. After our lesson, I asked her if she knew how to do it and she said "yes". And while we are eating, we like to talk about their future and help them to build self-esteem, as many of them think that they are not worthy or not able to go to college for further studies.

Twice a month or so, we sit around the table, having tea and cakes, with a group of orphans. We discuss different topics and give a Christian view on them. And in between all the visits to orphanages, we try not to forget those orphans who are in the hospitals. Andrey, 11 years old from (town name), had surgery on his leg (it was 2 inches shorter) and now he has to spend a long time in bed.

We continue to open the doors of our home for orphans and graduate orphans. During the Fall break we had an orphan, Masha, who is in her last year of the orphanage, stay with us for a week. She made good friends with my kids and really enjoyed family stay, rather than staying at the orphanage. Also, it's a great opportunity to disciple. Besides, we have graduate orphan girls come to our home and church.

This month we have a special praise report as after one of our visits to (town name), the teacher has asked us if they may visit our church with the kids. And they did. We took them to children's Bible school and after that we went to McDonald's. It was 15 kids and two teachers. It was a double blessing for us at this time as our government is trying to put down the work of all organizations that have connections with Christianity (as you know they have turned down many foreign missionaries and now the national Christians are pressed), but despite all of that we see good results from our work, and we are ready to go on for as long as there is a way.

We ask you to continue to pray for our ministry and for us personally as we continue to have pressure from the authorities: they have made a determination to shut us down. They have done everything possible to do it. We have had all sorts of check ups, starting from local tax police and ending with the General Prosecutor's office trying to find a way to shut us down. But nothing was found, so we are still on. So, a few weeks ago they went to the owner of the building we rent an office from (it's a private place) and talked to him for three hours trying to make him kick us out, and if we were to lose our address they were going to close us. Usually a 30 day period is given to find a new place, but they use a date that has passed (like a month ago) and shut you down immediately. The guy is tough and didn't do it their way. It helps at least for a while, but they may try to do something else. And we do not know what they will do next. It's really very serious and we need prayers. A lot of them, and especially for protection.

Also, we ask you to pray for our Christmas projects, and we are still looking for Christmas gift donations. Thank you dear friends and may you be specially blessed this season.

We continue to put our trust in Jesus and let him rule our lives and (our ministry).

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Gospel for Asia's Christmas Program

For a few years now, Gospel for Asia's Texas-based ministry has been offering a Christmas season outreach to impoverished families in India. Much like the seasonal gift catalouges you receive in the mail this time of year, they send their supporters a catouloge of various types of practical gifts we may purchase for souls who are both spiritually and physically hungry.

The purpose of this Christmas giving program is not simply to inundate the Dalits and other poverty-stricken Indians with material possessions, hoping the generosity will lead to conversions. As GFA founder K.P. Yohnanan writes:

As you are well aware, the mission of Gospel for Asia is to proclaim the Gospel and establish New Testament churches among the most unreached people of Asia. How, then, do buffalos, goats, chickens and other farm animals fit into the equation?

The answer is simple: Many of our native missionaries work among the Dalits-the poorest of the poor who daily struggle for survival and who live in slave-like conditions. It is not only painful to see them suffer, but as followers of Christ who deeply care for the poor, we cannot close our hearts to their distress.

Besides livestock (a donor may purchase a pair of egg-producing ckickens for $11; a milking goat for $55, or even a cow for $350), other gifts are available which will help enable the recipients to make a living. For example, a sewing machine ($85) enables a widow to sell clothes in order to feed her family. A tool set ($80) can be used by laborers to make a living, and a new fishing boat ($1,500) provides the means for villagers who lost everything in the tsunami of a few years ago to make a living. Even a sement house can be built through this program for only $5,000. For $30, a donor can choose to purchase a BioSand Water filter, thus providing safe and clean drinking water for several families. A blanket can keep a child warm for only $5. Any of these gifts, given in love, would make a great birthday present for Jesus!

Showing compassion in practical ways to the poor goes hand in hand with telling them about the God Who loves them. As James writes, "If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?" (James 2:16).

Gospel for Asia's steadfast commitment to spreading the Gospel of salvation and improving the existence of people their missionaries love deeply is exactly the type of tenderness expressed by Christ and the early Church. Few of us will ever know the extreme poverty so commonplace in Asia, but most of us have it within our means to show concern for just one family. To read more about Gospel for Asia's Christmas ministry, click here:

Saturday, November 29, 2008

NOW Violence in India is Getting Press Coverage

195 dead. Over 200 wounded. Blood all over the train station. By now we have all seen the coverage of the three horrifying days of attack in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) on the news and in the press.

Americans and British citizens in particular were singled out by gunmen who took (and killed) hostages in the luxurious Taj Mahal hotel and attacked Western diners in restaurants. The tragedy has been everywhere in the news this week. An hour ago, a local rabbi was on our nightly news discussing the committed Chabad House couple who were killed yesterday. He lamented how such good-hearted, giving individuals would be attacked for the religious beliefs that they held.

There's just one question that's been bothering me.

Why now? Why, just now, since religious extremists in India have been on the rampage since August, is this finally getting the world and the media's attention? Could it just be that....because a half dozen Americans were killed? Now the massacres qualify for "crisis" status. Before this week, the thousands of Indian Christians who were murdered in cold blood didn't even register on the world news' radar. (They're still finding rotting corpses in the jungles, by the way). As I posted earlier this week, the bounty for a dead pastor is now $250. The terrorists even provide the kerosine and matches to light them on fire.

Just in case you've missed my periodic updates on open season on Christians in Northern and Central India, here are a few of this month's news briefs from GFA and Voice of the Martyrs:

India: More than 70,000 Displaced Christians in Orissa
Extremists Demand End to Christian Activity in Orissa
Orissa Attacks Described
Attacks on Christians in India Spread Beyond Orissa

Here is a telling survey result table from VOM. It indicates that fewer than 11% of those polled have even seen any reports about India's violence against Christians anywhere in the secular media:
Have you seen coverage of the widespread attacks on Christians in Orissa, India…

Only from The Voice of the Martyrs 26.55% 1518 votes

From VOM and in the Christian media 24.07% 1376 votes

In both Christian and secular media 10.93% 625 votes

I’ve not seen any reports of these attacks 38.43% 2197 votes

Total: 5716
These results were generated on Nov 29, 2008 20:02:45.
powered by

This survey is not scientific and reflects the opinions of only those Internet users who have chosen to participate.
Kind of makes you think, doesn't it?

Here's but one of the attacks that never made international headlines:

7 Month's Pregnant, Kamalini Naik Cut into Pieces for Her Faith

As narrated by an independent writer:
Mrs. Kamalini Naik's husband was asked to become a Hindu for which the fanatics threatened to kill his mother. Seeing his mother under their grip Mr. Naik denounced his faith.

Then they called his wife Kamalini Naik who was 7 months pregnant. She strongly stood for her faith in Christ and immediately the fanatics cut her into pieces and her one and half year son in front of her husband and other Christians.
But now, Westerners are involved so the violence has been deemed "newsworthy". Being mutilated or set on fire just for being a Christian just isn't important enough to make the papers.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Going rate to kill pastor: $250

This from The Berean Call and GFA, originally posted on WorldNetDaily:

Rewards offered for murdering Christians, destroying homes, churches

(GFA) Extremists are offering rewards to continue violence like this.

Hindu extremist groups are offering money, food and alcohol to anyone who murders Christians and destroys their homes.

The violence is nothing new in Orissa, India, where India's Communist Party estimates that more than 500 Christians have been killed by Hindu mobs in Orissa since late August, 12 times more than official government claims of only 40 homicides.

But now the stakes are even higher – and pastors have a bounty on their heads.

Faiz Rahman, chairman of Good News India, said Hindu militants are targeting Christian leaders, the Christian Post reported.

"The going price to kill a pastor is $250," he said.

Rahman, a head of several orphanages in Orissa State, said he's helped 25 pastors to leave refugee camps, but 250 Christian leaders are still in shelters.

"All of the pastors are high value targets," Rahman told the UK-based Release International. "We've got to get them out of the refugee camps."

An All-India Christian Council spokesman said, "People are being offered rewards to kill, and to destroy churches and Christian properties. They are being offered foreign liquor, chicken, mutton and weapons. They are given petrol and kerosene."

One official said he personally authorized "cremation of more than 200 bodies" found in jungles after Christians were blamed for the death of Hindu leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati on Aug. 24. They continue to be persecuted even though Maoists openly admitted to murdering Saraswati.

Thousands of homes and churches have been destroyed, and an estimated 50,000 Christians have been forced to flee the violence. Mission Network News estimates 5,000 Christian homes have been burned and 200 churches ruined. According to the Christian Post, 30,000 people remain in government-operated refugee camps. Tens of thousands are living in forests – many seriously wounded.

Father Manoj, based at the archbishop’s office in Bhubaneshwar, said Christians remain in hiding.

"They are too scared to go home. They know that if they return to their villages they will be forced to convert to Hinduism."

Religious rights group Barnabus Fund told the group Hindu militants "forced" Christians in Orissa to "convert" to Hinduism by threatening them with rape if they refused.

Neighbors reportedly gang-raped a Hindu woman after her Christian uncle refused to renounce his faith, according to reports.

Another Christian woman named Jaspina was told by neighbors, "If you go on being Christian, we will burn your house and your children in front of you." She and her family were forced to eat cow excrement to "purify" themselves of Christianity.

Other Christians were doused with gasoline and told to participate in conversion ceremonies or be lit on fire.

This week, Hindu extremists said they have set a deadline for the capture of Saraswati's murderers. If the killers are not caught by Dec. 15, they promised to begin a massacre on Dec. 25, Christmas day.

According to the latest report, Orissa's Catholic bishops wrote an ominous letter to the state's chief minister. It read, "This conflict is a calculated and pre-planned master plan to wipe out Christianity from Kandhamal in order to realize the hidden agenda … of establishing a Hindu nation."

Monday, November 17, 2008

KGB is "Interested" in the Activities of Church Minister

This is from the updated webpage of Belarus' New Life Church, just outside of Minsk. In October, I posted about a Christian ministry which operates within the country and does much good to improve the lives of impoverished and abandoned children. Unfortuantely, I had to remove it for security reasons (Christian activity has become illegal in Belarus, which has reverted to a police state).

On November 10 one of the helpers of New Life church’s pastor, brother Sergei Vashkevich has come to the Department of KGB of Minsk and Minsk region in accordance to the summons paper received by him earlier. KGB officers talked with Sergei for over 2 hours. During this talk they were asking him questions concerning the act of terror that had taken place in Minsk on July 4 this year and the past activities of Sergei in one of local NGOs. During this talk KGB officer wanted to take Sergei’s finger prints, to which, as well as to having to sign the protocol of his interrogation, Sergei refused. Sergei has argumented his position as follows: “as an evangelical, and as a church minister as well, I definitely could not have participated in such act of terror”. At the end of this “talk” KGB officer has promised not to invite Sergei for such “talks” in the future.

Several years ago, after passing the most repressive law on religious freedom in Europe (the EU has compared it to Stalin's 1929 decree on religious associations) the Lukashenko government tried to reposess New Life Church's building, an unheated, abandoned cow barn which the then-800 member congregation personally restored and was using for worship. Pastor Slava Goncharenko stood up to the police, as he had before, and 180 members of the church held an in-building hunger strike for weeks. The incident made international news and gained support around the world. While they retained their right to meet for worship, the government claimed they could not use the barn for anything other than a barn (although the land it stood on was residential and no longer agricultural). It is not unusual in Belarus for new laws to be invented spur of the moment at the whim of an official. The government was to "buy" the church back, at a tenth of it's real estate value.

I recently learned that the KGB has been operating once again at full force, and the communist youth organizations Young Pioneers and Komsomol have once again become de riguer - notwithstanding that a whole generation has grown up post-communism.

Also recently, deportations of other Christian pastors:

On the night of 15-16 of October border (frontier) services of the Republic of Belarus in the airport Minsk-2 detained, placed into detention unit for deportees and deported a famous Christian minister, Bishop Benjamin Brukh. The detention and the deportation were done without explanation of any reasons.

Benjamin Brukh is a protestant bishop and a pastor, a famous minister in Belarus, the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ in Minsk, one of the largest protestant religious communities in Belarus. He served as the pastor of this church during 1991-2002. Borys Chernoglaz, the senior pastor of the Full Gospel Church of Jesus Christ, expressed his concern over this fact: “While the visa ban has been lifted on high-ranking state officials, the person who has contributed quite a lot to the spiritual development of the nation is not permitted entry into the country. I do not understand why without presenting any reason explanations Bishop Benjamin Brukh was not admitted into Belarus. In the last years not once he entered the country, he did not violate any laws, and there were not any claims against him. On this night he was detained and taken into the custody as a criminal”.

Benjamin Brukh is the citizen of Ukraine. During the time of his ministry in Belarus, his church and he personally have done a lot work in the spiritual and social spheres. In the last years he has been in Belarus on numerous occasions, as well as for a longer period of time, in compliance with the procedures established by the legislation of the republic of Belarus.

“We will make our utmost efforts to receive Belarusian state authoritities official explanation on Benjamin Brukh's deportation. In any case, it is obvious that in this situation human rights are violated, the rights of a protestant pastor in particular, and the image of our country is seriously harmed”, the lawyer and human rights consultant Sergei Shavtsov says.

New Life's congregants worshiping outside:

May they be spared any more "visits" from the KGB.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Very Impressive Non-Answer

...And today's Very Impressive Non-Answer award of yadda-yadda articulation goes to.......Muslim feminist analyst Dalia Mogahed, who was interviewed here by Warren Larson. Larson, the director of the Zwemer Center for Muslim Studies at Columbia International University (a well-known academic center of liberalism), authored Islamic Ideology and Fundamentalism in Pakistan: Climate for Conversion to Christianity?

So a leading Christian publication is running a feature that not only gives Islam a voice, but that voice casts Islam in a progressive and favorable light. To quote Mark Driscoll, "If I may state the obvious, about Christ. Now, I don't mean to stretch it....."

I stopped being amazed by anti-biblical ideology masquerading as Christianity somewhere around 2003, when my church was doing Richard Foster books that promoted zen-like meditation. When the UCC gave up all pretense of following the God of the Bible, I didn't raise an eyebrow. But the space given to Islam in Christian media outlets is not only disconcerting, it promotes a completely false, unbiblical and dangerous ecumenism. For the discerning, it is easy to see through the facade. This Muslim spokeswoman hangs herself on her own words.

Here's the quote:

Larson: Don't all four schools of Sunni Islamic law suggest that a Muslim who leaves Islam and embraces Christianity, for example, should be executed?

Mogahed: We have to look at modern interpretations, because Islamic law is a vibrant, ever-changing set of interpretations. Fiqh, or human interpretation of Shari'ah, maps changes with time and place. Look, for example, at Sheikh Ali Jumu'a, grand mufti of Egypt, whose interpretation of apostasy laws is not to take drastic measures. In the past, apostasy was seen as treason because citizenship in one group was defined by faith, and when people left one faith, they had to work against their community. One's faith today is no longer seen in the same context, because the nation-state has been completely transformed.

Notice she neither answered the question, nor denied that ex-Muslims are persecuted and killed by other Muslims the world over because of their faith in Jesus Christ. Mogahed actually stated in the interview that data indicates Islamic violence is NOT driven by religious extremism, but rather by "extreme political ideology". Mmm, yeah. Like that Danish cartoon incident. That probably had more to do with the severe persecution of Muslims in Copenhagen and Denmark's oppressive economic conditions than it did with fascism. Those crazy

Vikings Danes can be real demagogues.

The 4-page spread in CT "challenges stereotypes" about Islam. Mogahed claims that "Muslims admire democratic values" and that the Koran does not espouse violence (which is a bald-faced lie). For a more accurate, chapter and verse assessment of what the Koran really says, see the writings of former Muslim Dr. Ergun Mehmet Caner, including "20 Things Every Christian Should Know About Islam". Notice when questioned about "apostates" (by definition, those who leave Islam for other religions; also known as "infidels"), she evades the question by affirming how wrong it would be to call other Muslims apostates. So I guess the scholarship of Drs. Ergun and Emir Caner, who are both Baptist pastors with PhDs in theology, wouldn't count since they are just "apostates".

Go read their joint project, "Unveiling Islam: An Insider's Look at Muslim Life and Beliefs" for some quotes that actually contain substance and truth. Careful, though; it's seditious stuff.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Angel Tree Ministries

"And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward." -- Jesus (Matt. 10:42)

Even though it still seems a long way off in mid-November, Christmas is fast approaching. The holiday season seems to bring both a whole new level of worries and needs to many, both in our nation and abroad; but we are also faced with unique opportunities to show compassion and the love of Christ.

Of course, the need to do all we can for others and, above all, to spread the Gospel is one we should keep foremost in our minds all year long. From time to time, I profile certain ministries here that fit the criteria for what a true Christian mission should be: both evangelical and humanitarian in nature. After having read the Bible thoroughly several times, I am convinced that God's will for us to serve (what some churches refer to as "social justice") is secondary only to His desire to keep sinners out of hell. Isaiah, James, Amos, 1 Corinthians, the Penteteuch and all of the Gospels drive home this fact. (That's a good chunk of Scripture right there)!

Christmastime presents an ideal opportunity to bring tangible aid to vulnerable people who may otherwise never ask for or receive it. As Angel Tree and many other related ministries have noted, this often softens a hardened heart and opens the door to an opportunity to talk about Jesus. Angel Tree is an offshoot ministry of Chuck Colson's Prison Fellowship that was started in 1978 by Mary Kay Beard, a former felon and convicted bank robber. Mary Kay had grown up in a Christian home, but had been abused by her alcoholic father and later started down the wrong path in life. She turned to Christ while in an Alabama state prison. After serving her sentence, in 1978 she was released and joined the staff of Prison Fellowship. She became Alabama's first woman state director for Prison Fellowship, and it was out of her Christmas prison experience that Angel Tree, a ministry that provides gifts for inmates' children, was born.

Mary Kay remembered how the women in prison would attend church-related events put on in the prison in order to receive trial-sized bottles of shampoo, soap and toothpaste - which they would then wrap and give to their children when they came to visit them. Recalling the children's joy at the care their incarcerated mothers showed, Mary Kay decided to collect names and addresses of the inmates' children, put them on two public Christmas trees, and allow members of the public to purchase gifts for them in the imprisoned parents' names. “Within six days we were out of names and I had to go back to the prison to get more. At the end of that first Angel Tree in 1982, 556 children had received up to four different gifts each,” she says in her testimony (the whole story is available here).

Just as in the beginning, inmates who register their children's names in the Angel Tree program typically participate in prison Bible studies and discipling afterward. The ministry, whose slogan is "It starts with a gift, it leads to lives transformed by Christ", has expanded to every state and has regional offices to help churches and individuals coordinate their giving programs. Volunteers purchase, wrap and personally deliver Christmas presents to the children whose parents are behind bars and visit with their families. Prison Fellowship even trains the volunteers on presenting a clear Gospel message.

However, Angel Tree does more than just coordinate delivery brightly-wrapped packages to children and sharing the Gospel in one visit. The ministry encourages participating churches to build ongoing relationships with the families they are serving, and offers camping and mentoring programs to reach out to these youngsters long after the holidays are over. Some of the ideas on Angel Tree's website include putting on a church-wide "Family Fun Day" to introduce the children and other family members to the congregation; helping them write letters and make visits to the incarcerated parent; and enrolling the Angel Tree kids in the church's VBS program.

Individuals can also send tax-deductible donations directly to the ministry if their church does not participate in an Angel Tree outreach. With the state the economy is in, donations to charities and missions are bound to be down this year. Still, we all should do what we can, and look at small ways we can help someone who has it worse off than we do. Ensuring that a child receives a gift on Christmas morning....and a lonely prisoner hears the Gospel (perhaps for the first time) is a worthy cause. A gift for one child averages out to only about $11.00. Angel Tree's website also has suggestions for getting your church involved, if there is collective interest in doing so, but missions committees tend to move slowly so it might take until next year.

Please keep these children and their families in your prayers. There is much pain and difficulty not only for the person incarcerated, but for their families as well. Their struggle is often an "invisible" one, and they deserve our compassion.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Is this Orissa....or Michigan???

You people have to read this. (Thanks to Glenn of Watchman's Bagpipes for sending it in). A Lansing blogger named Nick wrote it.

So, the question of the day is.....since it's the Mid-west and not the Mid-east, does it qualify for a "persecuted church" label? You decide.

I'll be back with an original entry later - off to Bible study right now.

Michigan liberals attack Lansing congregation in the middle of Sunday worship

This is what we're up against.

On Sunday morning, amidst worshiping congregants and following unifying prayers that our President-elect be granted wisdom as he prepares to lead our nation through difficult global, social and economic challenges, the Michigan left declared open war on peaceful church goers.

They did it with banners, chants, blasphemy, by storming the pulpit, by vandalizing the church facility, by potentially defiling the building with lewd, public, sex acts and by intentionally forcing physical confrontations with worshipers.

This didn't take place in some dystopian, post modern work of fiction and it didn't take place in San Francisco or Berkley. This was the scene at a Bible believing church in Lansing, Michigan.

I returned home myself yesterday, from church and an afternoon watching football with the family, to find an email in my inbox from a friend in the Capitol City. Isn't surprising to see her name in the inbox as she and I often compare notes on our Sunday services.

Truth be told, I've done my best over the last year to start a friendly little rivalry with her. My church is better than hers, I insist, and I have been known to tell her why. Hers is superior to mine, she reminds me, and lists the reasons. (I admit I'm maybe a tad hyper-competitive, but my church really is the best in the world.) Yesterday's email began with an understated proclamation; "So church today was exciting..."

On Sunday, November 9, 2008 Michigan liberals sat peacefully through announcements, worship and prayer for the sick, our nation and our President-elect before staging a coordinated, disgusting and repulsive attack on worshipers and the broader concept of the church itself at Lansing's Mount Hope Church.

The lefties were a part of a liberal organization known as Bash Back Lansing and their collection of radical blogs, including one of the state's most widely read "mainstream" progressive blogs (and none which will receive a link on this website) called on "queers and trannies" from across the state and the region to converge on Lansing for what they refer to as an "action." While many of the members claim to be anarchists (they drove on roads, ate non-garden grown foods, printed materials on products created by government protected free markets, wore clothing, talk incessantly about "organization," etc etc etc) their broader goal is stated plainly on one of their lefty blogs.

"I can tell you that we are targeting a well-known anti-queer, anti-choice radical right wing establishment."

Mount Hope, for the record, is an evangelical, bible believing church whose members provide free 24 hour counseling, prayer lines, catastrophic care for families dealing with medical emergencies, support groups for men, women and children dealing with a wide variety of life's troubles, crisis intervention, marriage ministries, regular, organized volunteer work in and around the city, missions in dozens of countries across the globe, a construction ministry that has built over 100 churches, schools, orphanages and other projects all over the world and an in-depth prison ministry that reaches out, touches and helps the men and women the rest of society fears the most. They also teach respect for all human life and the Biblical sanctity of marriage as an institution between one man and one woman.

This is what Michigan liberals label a "radical right wing establishment," and over 30 of them showed up in force yesterday. Wearing secret-service style ear pieces and microphones they received the "go" from their ringleader and off they went.

Prayer had just finished when men and women stood up in pockets across the congregation, on the main floor and in the balcony. "Jesus was gay," they shouted among other profanities and blasphemies as they rushed the stage. Some forced their way through rows of women and kids to try to hang a profane banner from the balcony while others began tossing fliers into the air. Two women made their way to the pulpit and began to kiss.

Their other props? I'll let them tell you in their own words... from another of their liberal blogs:

"(A) video camera, a megaphone, noise makers, condoms, glitter by the bucket load, confetti, pink fabric...yeh."

The video camera they put to good use as they attempted to provoke a violent reaction. The image of the pink-clad folks above is one of theirs, stating in a picture worth more than a thousand words the goals of the Michigan left.

The "open minded" and "tolerant" liberals ran down the aisles and across the pews, hoping against hope to catch a "right winger" on tape daring to push back (none did). And just in case their camera missed the target, they had a reporter in tow. According to a source inside the church yesterday there was a "journalist" from the Lansing City Pulse along for the ride, tipped off about the action and more interested in getting a story than in preventing the vandalism, the violence and anti-Christian hatred being spewed by the lefties. We'll see what he files and what his editors see fit to print.

Props were readily on display too, though some of the condoms may have been put to even more nefarious use.

An hour after police and security had collected and removed who they thought were the last of the liberals, a volunteer security person discovered two more, hiding, together, in a public restroom. While their compatriots engaged in openly violent protest in front of everyone these two snuck away to potentially stage their own protest of sorts, and only by the grace of God did one of the hundreds of kids at the church not happen upon that particular restroom in those moments. Precisely how long they'd been there and precisely what they'd been up to we don't know.

The church's response? After things settled down, the blasphemy ended, the lewd props removed and the families safe from fear of additional men and women running into and past them the pastor took the stage and led the congregation in one more prayer... not for retribution, or divine justice or a celestial comeuppance (that's what I'd have prayed for) but instead that the troubled individuals who'd just defiled the Lord's house, so full of anger and hate, would know Jesus' love in their lives and God's peace that exceeds human understanding.

Yesterday morning defined the difference between a church of believers and Michigan liberals. It also illustrated in shocking, painful detail precisely what we're up against.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Stuff I Couldn't Figure Out on the Way Back from Work Tonight

1.) Synergism or monergism?

2.) Dispensationalism or Covenant Theology?

3.) Limited Atonement? (Really? Really really?)

4.) Classical cessationism or concentric cessationism?

5.) False teachers with saved followers?

6.) Free Grace or Lordship?

7.) Shorts and flip-flops in church? How? Why?

Thoughts? Anyone? (Yes, it's a long commute).

OK, another thing I've noticed when I check the site meter is that folks from all kinds of exotic locales like the Philippines, Australia and Great Britain have surfed in, if only for a moment. Please, leave a comment; introduce yourself if you've a mind to. I like knowing my readers and who you are!

Freedom to Worship in America Not Taken For Granted by Sudanese Christian Refugees

This article ran in The Tennessean on November 1, 2008. In view of the election results and the anxieties of many, it's a good reminder of the incredible freedom we American Christians enjoy.

Bol Lam Puk, a native of the Sudan, goes to church on Sunday openly worshipping God in his own way. He has not always been able to do that. In fact, it is an act that could have meant persecution in Sudan.

Puk arrived in the United States 13 years ago, settling in Middle Tennessee as he fled his home country's civil war. He spent eight years in an Ethiopian refugee camp.

Now, along with his fellow church members, Puk will celebrate the seventh anniversary of the Sudanese Presbyterian Church in Gallatin on Sunday.

"There was no freedom to worship your God as you wished," Puk said of Sudan. "Here I have the freedom to pray to my God 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

Much of Puk's time is now spent at the Sudanese church in Gallatin; a church he said that has changed his life.

"It has given me a lot of experiences," Puk said, adding that he also has the privilege of serving his fellow congregation members and the community.

The Sudanese civil war that broke out in 1953 pitted the northern provinces, which were Muslim, against the south, populated mainly by Christians. The north came to power and the persecution of Christians began.

A group of Sudanese refugees who had escaped their country came to Middle Tennessee in 1997. Many of them were Presbyterian, as missionaries from that denomination spread Christianity to Sudan in the early 1900s.

Forming the church was not easy for members of the Sudanese community, said the Rev. Dr. E.B. Newsom, who serves as pastor of the Gallatin congregation.

"Fifteen originally came to Nashville and wanted to worship in their own language in their own way," Newsom said.

Other Nashville-area churches helped them form a congregation and the group met at the Old Hickory Presbyterian Church for two years. Although not Sudanese, Newsom, who served on a committee helping the group, was called as their pastor.

While the Sudanese were grateful to other congregations for allowing them the use of their buildings, they wanted a church building of their own.

"We looked at about 30 different sites, and we found the one in Gallatin," Newsom said.

What is now their church was once a welding shop, but it had plenty of open space,
2 acres of land and a lot of potential, the pastor said.

In November 2001, the 40-member church purchased the building with the financial aid of other area congregations. "It was as if God was leading us to that exact spot," he said.

Pastor feels blessed

For Newsom, serving as the group's pastor has been both a blessing and a challenge. Formerly a Navy chaplain, he said the military leadership skills he learned have come in handy as he helps his congregation.

He finds that he is part spiritual leader and part social worker as he guides members in finding the help they need to thrive in their new homeland.

Now with 118 members, drawing from Murfreesboro to Nashville, the Gallatin congregation takes pride in their place within the community.

"We feel at home here," Puk said, adding that the Sudanese enjoy sharing their heritage.

Recently sponsoring a Sudanese festival at the church, congregation members enjoyed showing those in the community some of their traditions, language and culture. They regularly visit other congregations, telling them about Sudan and the struggles of Christians to survive and worship.

According to Newsom, giving back to the community is important to the Sudanese, because the people of Middle Tennessee have given so much to them.

They also want people to understand how lucky they are to have as one of their rights the freedom to worship.

"There is nothing like that in Sudan," Puk said.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Aftermath

I just read this on another site and thought it perfectly articulated the bewilderment and slow healing that accompanies growing discernment. Time helps that wound hurt less, but it never really heals.

"...Discovering that you’ve been deceived and manipulated [by Pentecostal teaching] can put major strain on a marriage. Many people exit Charismania with little sense of what’s real and what’s fake about their Christianity. This can prompt a major life crisis. And husbands and wives often handle this crisis differently. Perhaps one spouse spends all his time reading and researching doctrine, while the other one grows apathetic about all things Christian. Losing one’s faith in the “Word of Faith” message is akin to losing a loved one. When you discover that it’s NOT necessarily true that you’ll always be victorious in precisely the way you declare victory…when you discover that miraculous healing is NOT necessarily “always God’s will” for every situation…when you discover that the “hundredfold harvest” is essentially a myth, a con, promoted by unscrupulous “men of Gawd” so that they can line their own pockets and pursue their own luxurious lifestyles even as they themselves do not “sow” all THEY have into OTHER ministries because they KNOW that they won’t receive a “hundredfold return”…

Well, these discoveries are like little deaths. At least they were for us. And as with any death, any loss, nothing will ever quite be the same again. There’s grief. There’s pain. There’s a keen sense of disappointment. And just as the grieving process over an actual physical death can take its toll on a marriage, so can this type of death, the death of one’s belief in the sort of “fairy tale God” taught and promoted at Charismaniac churches."

(emphasis mine)

While the author is talking in this context about the effect unsound doctrine can have on marriage, I would offer that the most profound and painful scar is left in the individual's soul. It is finding out that Santa Claus doesn't exist, to the nth degree. You wonder if you will ever really trust God again, let alone other Christians. The pain of change, of having your eyes opened up to the deception and teh manipulation and the more acute than the pain of staying with the deceived flock playing "make believe". It is hard, at times, not to slip into cynicism and even bitterness. The only antidote is staying close to God...prayer, and studying what His Word actually says.

False prophets come and go, but He is always faithful.