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.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Christian Kitsch and Jesus Junk - It's Just Not Funny

The increase of seasonal kitsch catalogues coming in the mail this time of year, coupled with the unavoidable fact that I am on several Christian retailers’ mailing lists calls an ugly trend to my attention that keeps getting uglier every year. It is the trivialization of Christianity and Christ Himself by turning the “faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” into a commercial marketing opportunity.

In an excellent paper discussing this disturbing cultural phenomenon, author Jared Bridges relates an incident that occurred a few years ago when he accompanied two Eastern European students to a Kentucky Christian bookstore.
“One of the two, Andrei, was a Christian who wanted to visit the store while in America to purchase some Christian music. The other student, Sasha, was an admitted atheist who was merely along for the ride. While Andrei went to a “listening station” to peruse the latest D.C. Talk album, Sasha and I walked around the store, looking at such products as “Bibleman” videos and “Testa-mints” candies. It was then that the atheist Sasha made an observation that is particularly damning to the contemporary evangelical subculture. He said, “Christians in America market God just like everything else. In my country, Christians take God more seriously.” I couldn’t help but sadly agree with him, and I could offer no defense.”

The same has occurred to me, more than once, and my reaction at times has varied. Some of the merchandise marketed as “Christian” is so absurd that my immediate response is to laugh; it appears to satirize itself. The culture war of the Jesus and Darwin fish is one example of this. I remember walking with my family past the window of an upscale boutique in Maine a few years ago and laughing hysterically at the hand-painted, porcelain mouse Nativity set. The idea of portraying Mary, Joseph and the Christ Child as furry mice dressed in period clothing seemed so ridiculous that, at the time, I didn’t stop to ponder the spiritual implications of it.

In the meantime, I have seen Veggie Tales Nativity sets, rubber ducky Nativity sets, Precious Moments Nativity sets, and much more. It gets worse.

Bible action figures? Talking Jesus dolls? That one I had seen in a Christian catalogue; still, seeing the doll “live” in Wal-mart a few weeks ago added a new dimension of creepiness.

Forget purity rings. There are entire lines of abstinence-promoting “Christian” underwear targeted at teens now. Here’s where it gets really weird: there’s stuff like this marketed by atheists, specifically for the purpose of mocking Christians (which I will not link to). It’s getting hard to tell which is which.

Product description:
"Blessed are the shopping list scrawlers and the test takers when their pencils are topped with one of these replicas of Jesus. Handsomely detailed with a red robe and arms outstretched in blessing or prayer. Five 1-1/4 inch tall, soft vinyl Jesuses on each illustrated blistercard."

Last year, a colleague showed me a Catholic site that sells porcelain knick-knacks depicting Jesus playing soccer with kids, hockey with kids, etc. It made me cringe – I seriously couldn’t believe anything that stupid could exist. That was before the yearly deluge of evangelical-oriented catalogues arrived – now I can buy anything from Jesus Band-aids and flip-flops to rubber Jesus pencil-toppers. Banal stupidity evidently knows no denominational bounds. However, what’s interesting is that the patrons of businesses which market Jesus Junk (I did not invent that term; do an Internet search), tend to be Protestant Evangelicals.

This is, by and large, the same group that criticizes iconoclasts. I do not know a whole lot about Eastern Orthodox iconography, but I do know that the artwork is not supposed to be realistic – the images are seen as symbolic, rather than representational. More importantly, God looks at the heart behind any kind of tangible object made for His glory. The icons, at least, are created with an attitude of awe, reverence and respect. The same cannot be said of T-shirts and posters that attempt to cleverly link Christ with well-known product lines. Since when did Jesus Christ become a name-brand product to be marketed?

Again, Evangelicals will be quick to criticize the Catholic tradition of displaying the crucifix (“leaving Christ on the Cross”) and turning the symbol into an object of devotion. While there may be some legitimacy to this charge, it is a fact that Catholics are worshiping the crucified, resurrected and living Lord. But more importantly, it is impossible to look at a crucifix, in church or elsewhere, and not recognize the solemn meaning of the symbol. By definition, the crucifix forces one to confront the horror that our Savior endured, and does not seek to obscure or sugar-coat the reality of the atonement. Can the same be said of cutesy Precious Moments cross figurines (as popular with Catholics on First Communions as with Protestants), cross maze games, cross bling-bling, or cross lollipops? (I’m not making this stuff up. See here for some of the cheesiest examples of American evangelicalism gone awry).

Am I the only one who sees this as seriously sick? It’s not funny. Actually, satire is funny. There is much about our American evangelical sub-culture that is rich fodder for insightful comedians, and we deserve to laugh at ourselves. Dana Carvey’s “Church Lady” on SNL and Seinfeld’s “You stole my Jesus fish” episode are examples that come to mind. Charlatan televangelists like Mike Murdoch and Benny Hinn SCREAM to be made fun of, and Christian as well as secular comedians cleverly profit from knowing where and how much to skewer the fundies. But here’s where it ends. Marketing God’s Name, much less in such a crass and tasteless way, is beyond disrespectful – it is blasphemous.

Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God and His death on the cross is humanity’s only hope of salvation. Sticking His image on car dash boards and air fresheners is to lose sight of that in a uniquely irreverent way – because these items are ostensibly bearing the label “Christian”. Really? I’m a “Christ-follower” because I wear a WWJD bracelet? In predictable fashion, “Christian” pop-culture annoyingly apes secular pop-culture by coming up with a “spiritual-cool” alternative for every worldly trend – including Twister-style digital dance games. Who cares about living a God-honoring life when you’ve got the latest digital toy – only with CCM tunes? As blogger Jason Janz writes, ‘we have created a subculture’.

Analyzing this appalling trend, Janz cites three reasons for the mass appeal of Christian kitsch: 1) many people trust that wearing Jesus Junk will result in conversions (it won’t); 2) many Christians seem to believe Jesus Junk promotes Christian community (it doesn’t); and 3) many people seem to be in the business because of pure commercialism (true). See his excellent essay here.

Janz writes:
“Does the joining of the holy with the common compromise the message of the cross? We can knock out about half of all Jesus Junk if we just decide not to purchase anything that blends two worlds. Budweiser beer and gambling have never been a friend to grace and to endeavor to meld them into cutesy clich├ęs harms the credibility of the Gospel. You can now purchase poker chips with John 3:16 on one side that says “Don’t Gamble With Eternity.” Then you flip it over, and it quotes Mark 8:36 with the phrase, “Accept Jesus Before You Cash In Your Chips.” This is compromise.”

Yes, it is. But it’s also treading the Name of God underfoot, and in a sense, “pimping the Lord”, to paraphrase a courtroom TV judge. Can you imagine Muslims plastering Muhammad’s likeness on coffee mugs, or carving it into Jack-o-lanterns? And remember, Muhammad was a human prophet. THIS IS THE DIVINE CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE AND SAVIOR OF MANKIND. This trend is wrong on so many levels that old-fashioned idolatry actually looks more benign when compared to the cross water ring-toss games and Jesus sweatbands and boxer shorts. One Midwestern seminary professor keeps a collection of Jesus Bobble-head dolls to underscore this point.

It could be argued that I, also, am not innocent of this and have supported the Christian kitsch industry with my “Luther is my Homeboy” t-shirt purchase. Truth be told, it was an impulse purchase and if I had really sat down and thought about it, I probably would not have spent $22.00 on a joke that most people don’t even get anyway. (Besides, the historical Luther had an anti-Semitic streak that holds no comic appeal). However, there is a fundamental difference between the theo-geek humor inherent in “Luther is my Homeboy” and the more crass “Jesus is my Homeboy” shirt which I have also seen. The former was a well-meaning, beer-enjoying, passionate guy with his own flaws and failings, just like everyone else. The latter was the sinless Son of God Who died for my sins and deserves my eternal gratitude, reverence and worship. See the difference?

Bridges said it well when he concluded:
“The truth is that kitsch does trivialize God. It is a taking of his name in vain that makes the label “Christian” just another brand name on par with any other. Rather than being transformed, Christians who use kitsch conform to the world by marketing God in the same way that the world does.”
(see full essay here).

And that, my friends, is the bottom line: trivializing God, diluting the Gospel message, and commercializing our faith is the net result of all this junk. Clearly, someone is buying it, because the manufacturers keep churning it out and the catalogues keep coming, year after year. It is a sad commentary of the frivolous times we live in, when truly nothing is sacred anymore.

These guys are both pastors themselves (as well as sons of pastors) and are being ironic, not mocking:

Quotes Worthy of Sharing

I am gathering thoughts for at least two entries I plan to write soon: one on the difference between secular counseling and psychology and Biblical (nouthetic) counseling; and a review of "Imprisoned for Christ", my former pastor's autobiographical account of persecution of the Christian Church in 1985 Bulgaria. However, pressed for time, this morning I would like to share several excerpts I have read on other blogs over the past week that have particularly stirred me. These wonderful and edifying thoughts are linked to the original entries, so that you may read them in context. Enjoy!

"From first thesis to last words, Luther lived at the foot of the cross, where our rebellious condition meets with the beauty of God’s lavish grace in the gospel of his Son—a gospel deep enough to cover all the little and massive flaws of a beggar like Luther and beggars like us." – From John Piper, “Desiring God” blog

Remember the glow of joy that seemed so real when first you and He met? Think of the times when He seemed as close as your own heartbeat. Know that He loves you now as much as He loved you then. And He always will. May my love and yours for Him continue steadfast, growing daily as discover and do His will.


The fire that, years ago, You ignited

Since then has warmed and lighted

Each dark, distant corner of my life.

Over rough, and sometimes winding days

In often unexpected ways

We’ve come together to this place.

And, my Lord, as I stand here backward gazing,

I find this thought still amazing:


- From Don Kimrey, “Scripture Student” blog

Shame. It's what keeps us from Jesus, because Jesus doesn't keep us from Himself. We don't want to face Him with our guilt and shame.

Yes, we are unworthy of such love and forgiveness. But Jesus loves sinners. Why else would He have died for us?

…we are so guilt-stricken sometimes that we refuse to take the forgiveness handed to us. We think we are horrible. Some of our sins are so bad we don't want a soul to know about them. We have murdered, cheated, lied, we have stolen hearts and lives and selfishsly lived out our own wills.

We are the sinners. The guilty.

But there is forgiveness in Christ. He offers us forgiveness. He loves us - the sinners.

Do we want to live our lives in guilt? Do we want to hold on to our stains when Jesus Christ is offering to cleanse us and make us white as snow?

When guilt sweeps over us, let us run to Jesus and bow our heads before Him. Let Him pour the cleansing forgivness over our heads and wash away the bloody stains.

From Ashley Weis, “A Weis Writer” blog

We should turn to Christ. Quit putting it off. I don't care if you just sinned and you are ashamed. RUN to Christ. He is always always way more willing to forgive us than we are capable of sinning. Run to Christ, even when your deceived heart is not inclined to do so. If you are not spending time in prayer and in the word then you cannot expect to be able to fight temptation when it presents itself. The Bible says that the Lord never leaves you to a temptation without providing a way to escape it. Don't be too lazy to find the escape.

-From Susan, “Thus Saith The Lord” blog