Persecution: What the Future Holds – Owen Strachan

What the Future Holds by Owen Strachan | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-August-2015The fourth featured article in the August issue of Tabletalk on the theme of persecution is written by Dr. Owen Strachan, associate professor of Christian theology and church history at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY and president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

Dr. Strachan addresses “What the Future Holds” in his article, and he presents a very realistic picture of what Christians can expect in this country. He lays out four main points, all of which are worth reading and contemplating.

What I really appreciated, however, was the way in which Strachan closed out his thoughts. These words especially, it seems to me, are worth our careful pondering.

There will be no retreat of the church. We will never stop witnessing unto life. We will never cease to minister the gospel. We will not forget the holy Apostles. We remember how they welcomed the jail cell, the Roman prison ship, the hair-raising tribunal. In any and all settings, they preached Christ. They went so far as to believe that God had not only permitted such moments, but had appointed them for His glory (Acts 5:41). They saw suffering with Christ as a privilege, much as this challenges our material sensibilities. We must not forget that if the church is unsettled, it is not by accident. It is by divine design, and it will be used for divine purposes.

While we live, like the priests of old in fallen Jerusalem, we may weep (Ezra 3:11–13). We cannot forget the millions of babies driven into the afterlife at abortion clinics. We cannot erase the suffering felt in fatherless homes and families detonated by selfish sin and bitter divorce. We cannot help but think back to past days, happy days, that celebrated the good of religious people and did not seek their undoing. All these trends speak to fallenness. All of them deserve our tears.

We will weep. But we will also dry our eyes. We will rise to our feet. Whether in a gated community, a busy city, a tense workroom, a chilly playgroup, or a prison cell, we will never cease to speak and to minister the gospel. The gospel was not made for quiet days and easy questions. It was made for the toughest stuff, the worst of times, the hardest of circumstances.

What does the future hold? The future will bring suffering. The days will be evil, as they have been (Eph. 5:16). But the future is bright, because God is real. The church must take heart. We have a living Lord. When history concludes, we will reign with unbroken bodies in a world of love. We will worship the Lamb of God, slain from before the foundation of the earth. There is no life like this life. There is no hope like this hope. There is no God like our God.

Persecution around the World – Dave Furman

Persecution around the World by Dave Furman | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-August-2015The third featured article on persecution in the August Tabletalk is pastor Dave Furman’s. His article focuses on the worldwide persecution taking place currently, including in his own country of Dubai, where he is serving as pastor.

After describing a case very close to his church, Furman broadens his scope, pointing out concrete ways in which Christians are experiencing persecution throughout the world.

Part of his article is headed by the words “Our Hope in Persecution”, and it is from that section that I quote today. Referencing 1 Peter 4:13-14, Furman makes the following comforting comments:

There is blessing for the persecuted and there is cause for rejoicing.

We have hope in persecution because we are made for another place. We are “citizens” of heaven (Phil. 3:20). We are by nature strangers, foreigners, and even exiles in this world (1 Peter 1:1). Our eternal passport is not Kenyan, Indian, Filipino, or Canadian. In God’s kingdom, we no longer receive our identities from the place we were born, but from the place into which we were born again for all eternity. This is why the world doesn’t feel like home. This is why we face persecution: we’re of another place.

Fellow Christian, a day is coming when there will be no more sickness and death. No more imprisonments and slander. We will not suffer the anxiety of car bombs or kidnappings. The downtrodden and depressed will sing of their never-ending gladness in Jesus. God will dwell among us forever.

The gospel is good news for the persecuted because there is nothing we can do to lose God’s grip on our lives. Peter says, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18). The gospel is not about getting you to heaven—it’s about getting you to God. The good news of the gospel is that we get God. I’ve often heard R.C. Sproul say that a better way to describe the doctrine of perseverance of the saints is to say the “preservation of the saints.” God won’t stop short of bringing us home. Even though our bodies might be destroyed on this earth, God will keep us to the end. We can entrust our souls to the living God of the universe (1 Peter 4:19). Our inheritance is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for us by God Himself. It is guarded through God’s power (1:3–4).

As persecution increases – including here in the U.S., it is good for us to remember these truths.

August “Tabletalk “: What Is Christian Persecution? Tom Ascol

What Is Christian Persecution? by Tom Ascol | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-August-2015This past weekend I began digging into the new issue of Tabletalk, Ligonier Ministries devotional magazine. While the daily devotions continue to take one through the wisdom literature of the Bible, focusing on the theme of worship, the featured articles are on the theme of persecution.

Editor Burk Parsons introduces this subject with his editorial “Blessed are the Persecuted.” After pointing out that here in America opposition to Christians and the Christian faith is on a rapid rise, he encourages us with these words:

As Christians of conviction, we will continue to fight for our constitutional freedoms. Yet, in the final analysis, we must always remember that ultimately we fight not against men but against the spiritual forces of evil (Eph. 6:12). Ultimately, we fight on our knees, praying for all who are in authority over us (1 Tim. 2:2). We are citizens of our nations, and we are citizens of Christ’s kingdom. As such, we can pray for national leaders even when we must vote against them. We pray for the persecuted and for our persecutors. We love our enemies while praying for their defeat—their coming to the end of themselves in repentance and faith (Matt. 5:44; Rom. 12:13; 1 Cor. 4:12–13).

In the face of persecution, we must not lose hope. We must not fear our enemies but fear the Lord as we stand our ground in the battle ahead. Jesus told us we would be persecuted, but He also told us He has overcome the world (Matt. 5:10–12; John 16:33). Regardless of whether we ever die as martyrs for our faith, we are all witnesses of Christ. Though they may imprison us, shun us, despise us, or kill us, they can never really hurt us. For we conquer by dying—humbly dying to self that we may, under any persecution our Lord sovereignly allows, boldly proclaim Christ and Him crucified. And when we are persecuted for Christ’s sake, not for being obnoxious, we can count ourselves blessed. As Charles Spurgeon said, “Christians are not so much in danger when they are persecuted as when they are admired.”

The first main article on persecution is by Dr. Tom Ascol and has the titled found above – “What Is Christian Persecution?” Here are a few of his profitable thoughts on this topic:

So, Christian persecution can include a wide variety of responses to believers—from scorn, hatred, and ridicule to physical violence, imprisonment, and death. But for such opposition, no matter how mild or severe, to be regarded as persecution in the biblical sense, it must be provoked by the believer’s devotion to Jesus Christ and His righteousness.

This helps make sense of Paul’s statement that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12) and Jesus’ promise that His followers will face persecution “for my sake and for the gospel” (Mark 10:29–30). Every Christian should expect to experience persecution, not all in the same way, but all for the same reason—because of uncompromising devotion to Jesus.

Our Lord experienced opposition. Hatred against Him led to His crucifixion. Those who follow Him must realize that by identifying with Jesus, we are inviting into our lives the very opposition that came against Him. He said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18).

Followers of a persecuted master will themselves be persecuted. When we intentionally live according to the way of Christ, we can count on meeting opposition from those who hate Christ. Whether that opposition comes in severe forms of physical violence, imprisonment, and loss of life or in comparatively benign forms of a low grade on a school paper, loss of position on a sports team, or being mocked by family and friends, if it is provoked by submission to Christ and obedience to His commands, it is Christian persecution.

For the full article, use the Ligonier link above.

April “Tabletalk”: “Our Shameless World” – Andrew Davis

Our Shameless World by Andrew Davis | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-April 2015You will recall from our previous Monday posts this month that the April issue of Tabletalk is devoted to the theme of “shame.” The third main featured article on this subject is the one linked above, written by Dr. Andrew David, pastor of First Baptist Church in Durham, NC.

His article treats the shame that we find in the world about us, due to the fall – a shame we participate in also, but a shame we are also called to respond to properly as Christians. Davis uncovers “three ways our world displays corruption in the matter of shame”. These are “delighting in what is shameful”, “suppressing true shame”, and “seeking to shame the righteous.”

I will pull a few paragraphs from Davis’ article, encouraging you to read the full article at the Ligonier link above. There is good reading here for us, relating to how we handle the shame found in the world – and in ourselves.

The world delights in bold sinners who flout God’s Word and expect no punishment whatsoever. Our culture celebrates the skillful cold-blooded assassin, bold thief, self-righteous vigilante, foul-mouthed recording artist, creative rebel, blasphemous stand-up comedian, naked actress, fornicating “glamour couple,” self-worshiping athlete, occultic mystic, and the like. Perhaps the clearest example in our day has been the movement of homosexuality from something almost universally seen as shameful to something that ought to be delighted in. The gay rights movement is seeking not merely tolerance of what God calls sinful, but society-wide celebration.

…Conversely, our world also heaps abuse on those who stand up for righteousness in our corrupt age. Isaiah 5:20 captures the defective moral compass of our age: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness!” So our culture delights in what is shameful and is ashamed of what God finds delightful. I recently saw a T-shirt that proclaimed, “Homosexuality isn’t shameful; homophobia is.” The new term homophobia (c. 1969) implies that biblical conviction on that sin is itself a form of mental illness. When University of Missouri football player Michael Sam declared himself to be gay, his fellow students gave him a standing ovation at a basketball game. Anyone who refused to stand and cheer certainly would have been made to feel ashamed.

…Christians should display humility in the matter of shame and set an example to the world. We should own that our sin is a shameful thing, and that feelings of shame are reasonable responses to the conviction of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 6:21). In our evangelism, it is essential to proclaim the law of God to bring about that conviction and the corresponding feelings of shame in our hearers. But we should also display and proclaim the joy of full forgiveness that the cross of Jesus Christ lavishes on anyone who believes in Him alone. As Romans 10:11 says, “Everyone who believes in him [Christ] will not be put to shame.”

How Libya’s Martyrs Are Witnessing to Egypt | Christianity Today

How Libya’s Martyrs Are Witnessing to Egypt | Christianity Today.

This “CT” story of how Egypt’s Christians are responding to the intense persecution they are suffering at the hands of Muslim terrorists (ISIS) is as heart-warming as the recent slaughter of 21 Libyan Christians is heart-chilling.

As you read the report of this response, may we be led to pray for the body of Christ in that part of the world, and for many others suffering for the name of Christ throughout the Middle East and, indeed, throughout the world.

Here is the first part of the story; read the rest at the “CT” link above.

Undaunted by the slaughter of 21 Christians in Libya, the director of the Bible Society of Egypt saw a golden gospel opportunity.

“We must have a Scripture tract ready to distribute to the nation as soon as possible,” Ramez Atallah told his staff the evening an ISIS-linked group released its gruesome propaganda video. Less than 36 hours later, Two Rows by the Sea was sent to the printer.

One week later, 1.65 million copies have been distributed in the Bible Society’s largest campaign ever. It eclipses even the 1 million tracts distributed after the 2012 death of Shenouda, the Coptic “Pope of the Bible.” [A full English translation is posted at bottom.]

Arabic tract (outside)Image: Bible Society of Egypt

Arabic tract (outside)

The tract contains biblical quotations about the promise of blessing amid suffering, alongside a poignant poem in colloquial Arabic:

Who fears the other?
The row in orange, watching paradise open?
Or the row in black, with minds evil and broken?

“The design is meant so that it can be given to any Egyptian without causing offense,” said Atallah. “To comfort the mourning and challenge people to commit to Christ.”

The Top 20 Most-Read Gleanings of 2014 – ChristianityToday.com

The Top 20 Most-Read Gleanings of 2014 | Gleanings | ChristianityToday.com.

Every year at this time Christianity Today posts the top stories in the world of Christian news based on what its readers visited the most on the “Gleanings” section of its website (“important developments in the church and the world”).

MIbrahim-2014At the link above is this year’s list of twenty (20) most read stories – with a brief introduction from “CT”. When you see their list, you will understand why these were indeed the stories people were most interested in.

What do Mark Driscoll, Tim Keller, Meriam Ibrahim, and the KJV have in common? All were subjects of the most-read Gleanings posts of 2014.

This one goes with the picture above, as reported by “CT”:

As advocates for the Sudanese mother sentenced to death for not renouncing her Christian faith topped more than 1 million, Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag gave birth early this morning to a baby girl in a Khartoum prison hospital wing.

So reports Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), as well as her lawyer Elshareef Ali to the BBC. The 27-year-old mother sentenced to death for apostasy named her little girl Maya, according to The Telegraph.

Sudanese authorities are allowing Ibrahim two years to nurse her daughter before they will carry out the death sentence. Ibrahim’s lawyers lodged an appeal last week, according to CSW.

Newsweek Takes a Desperate Swipe at the Integrity of the Bible (Part 1) | Canon Fodder

A Christmas Present from the Mainstream Media: Newsweek Takes a Desperate Swipe at the Integrity of the Bible (Part 1) | Canon Fodder.

BiblestudypicHave you heard about the atrocious, antichristian attack on the Bible published in the latest Newsweek magazine (Dec.23, 2014)? If you haven’t yet, you ought to be aware of this article by Kurt Eichenwald – “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin” (see link to it below).

Michael Kruger, president and professor of NT and Early Christianity at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC (and blogger at “Canon Fodder”) has started a thorough review of this article, taking Eichenwald to task for his poor journalism as well as his attack on the Bible.

Here is the opening part of Kruger’s first installment; visit the link above for the critique, and look for the second part in the near future.

It is not unusual for Newsweek, and other major media magazines, to publish critical opinions of Christianity and the Bible during major Christian holidays. I have lost count of how many March/April issues of such magazines have cast doubt on the resurrection, just in time for Easter.

However, the recent Newsweek cover article by Kurt Eichenwald, entitled “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin,” published intentionally (no doubt) on December 23rd, goes so far beyond the standard polemics, and is so egregiously mistaken about the Bible at so many places, that the magazine should seriously consider a public apology to Christians everywhere.

Of course, this is not the first media article critiquing the Bible that has been short on the facts. However, what is stunning about this particular article is that Kurt Eichenwald begins by scolding evangelical Christians for being unaware of the facts about the Bible, and the proceeds to demonstrate a jaw-dropping ignorance of the fact about the Bible.

Being ignorant of biblical facts is one thing. But being ignorant of biblical facts after chiding one’s opponent for that very thing is a serious breach of journalistic integrity. Saying Eichenwald’s article is an instance of “the pot calling the kettle black” just doesn’t seem to do it justice.

C.Hansen’s Top 10 Theology Stories of 2014 – The Gospel Coalition

My Top 10 Theology Stories of 2014 | TGC | The Gospel Coalition.

Year in review-1I have learned to appreciate Collin Hansen’s (editorial director for the Gospel Coalition) annual list of a different nature – the top 10 theology stories of the year. Past years have shown a church world in turmoil for various reasons – doctrinal controversy, persecution, and sin within and without. 2014 revealed more of the same (Posted Dec.22, 2014).

Yet we believe that the church remains our Lord’s and that He is at work in the church, in the world, and in us to accomplish His master plan of ultimate redemption and renewal when He returns in glory, executes His righteous judgment, and makes all things new. May our remembrance of this year’s theological stories remind us of the goal of all things.

Here is Hansen’s introduction and one of the picks that was of particular interest to me. To see the rest of the stories that make his list, visit the “Gospel Coalition” link above.

I’m not satisfied with how we ascribe value to certain news stories over others. While social media direct us to stories that might have been overlooked in older newsrooms, these outlets and cable news lead us to obsess with certain stories and ignore others for no apparent reason. While news editors formerly acted as judge and jury for public knowledge, our mob mentality hardly produces better results. The trending hashtag does not necessarily reflect what’s most valuable in the kingdom of God. In fact, this fallen world threatens to distract us from from thinking about “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable” (Phil. 4:8).

As you’ll see in my list of top theology stories, I haven’t solved this problem. You may recognize these stories from your news feed, but you might arrange them in a different order or replace some altogether. I don’t claim unbiased perspective, and even if I did, past failings would betray me (see my lists from 20082009201020112012, and 2013).

…So consider my list an admittedly foolhardy attempt—written from the vantage point of an American who subscribes to The Gospel Coalition’s confessional statement—to discern the most important theology stories of 2014. Consider it an opportunity to reflect on whether your priorities align with God’s and a challenge to spread good news in a world that seeks peace but finds none apart from Jesus Christ.

8. Debate over justification and sanctification reaches breaking point.

Can someone be too focused on the gospel? Of course not. Unless “gospel” becomes shorthand for privileging certain biblical teachings and isolating them from others. Then again, Paul told the Corinthians that the matters of “first importance” are Jesus’s death for sins and resurrection (1 Cor. 15:3–4). Shouldn’t those priorities dictate how we read the rest of the Bible? This hermeneutical tension didn’t suddenly leap from the biblical text in 2014, but as co-founders Don Carson and Tim Keller noted with regard to recent changes at TGC, the debate over the relationship between justification and sanctification became “increasingly strident” this year with charges of legalism and antinomianism. They said, “Recently it became clear that the dispute was becoming increasingly sharp and divisive rather than moving toward greater unity.” How do Christians find that unity? Perhaps futher debate will resolve the outstanding issues. But we must all first humble ourselves before the God of the Bible and each other to live out the grace we so fervently preach.

Interpretive dance: BioLogos and the Promotion of Evolution| Daniel J. Devine | World

WORLD | Interpretive dance | Daniel James Devine | Nov. 29, 2014.

Creation vs evolutionThis is a significant “exposure” article by World magazine and its reporter Daniel J. Devine on how BioLogos – headquartered right here in Grand Rapids, MI – is pushing evolutionism in the name of Christian science on a broad spectrum of Christian institutions (posted today, Nov.29, 2014).

There are some familiar names given here, many of them with ties to Christian colleges well known to us. The issue of the historicity, accuracy, and authority of Genesis 1-3 (especially), God’s “book of beginnings”, continues to generate heated debate in Christian circles.

But it ought not, if we hold to the clarity as well as to the authority of Scripture. Truly Reformed Christianity posits that God’s Word sheds authoritative light on science and determines how we understand the things that we see (and don’t see!) in creation, not the other way around. We need to continue to keep our biblical “glasses” on straight in order to see the world right.

Here’s the opening paragraphs to Devine’s article; find the rest at the link above.

Just a five-minute stroll from the campus of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., sits the brown brick building that is home since last year to BioLogos, a foundation pushing churches and believers to embrace evolution, and in the process change how they read the Bible.

The brainchild of Francis Collins, who now heads the National Institutes of Health, BioLogos has taken in nearly $9 million from the Templeton Foundation and millions more from other donors. BioLogos in turn offers grants to church, parachurch, and academic leaders and organizations that promote “evolutionary creation.”

BioLogos president Deb Haarsma, former chair of Calvin’s physics and astronomy department, says churches that support evolution will be more effective witnesses in a culture that reveres science, and will help college students avoid a crisis of faith when biology professors argue for evolution. The BioLogos website states, “Genetic evidence shows that humans descended from a group of several thousand individuals who lived about 150,000 years ago.”

Antiques and Our Heritage (4) – The Importance of Christian Education

Four weeks ago we began to quote from a selection by John J. Timmerman, former English professor at Calvin College, found in a collection of his writings titled Markings on a Long Journey (Baker, 1982). It is an article he originally wrote for The Banner in September of 1972, and includes his thoughts on some things “old, precious, and beautiful” in the Reformed tradition.

Markings on long journey-TimmermanThe first one was the “antithesis”; the second one was “a sense of sin”; and the third one was “the priority of the sermon in our Sunday services”.  His next one is also significant, because it touches on another matter close to our Reformed hearts – our Christian day schools. He titles this element of our Reformed heritage “the importance of Christian education.”

Here is what he has to say on this subject:

The present Christian school system is a monument to severe early sacrifices and stellar devotion, a genuine attempt to provide an education that tried to apply the best Reformed tradition to the manifold problems of life. I have known men who walked a long way to work all their lives, who denied themselves and their families a car to provide a Christian education for their children. I have known gifted teachers on all levels of teaching who declined prestigious and lucrative positions to serve this cause. I have known board members who spent almost as much time in working for their schools as for their business. All was done in the belief that God would bless a distinctively Christian training for their children and a sound factual and theoretical knowledge of Scripture.

So it is with acute dismay that one sees a gradual erosion in attendance and support of these schools. They have given our children something to give the world; when they vanish, much of this unique knowledge of Scripture and interpretation will also disappear. Particularly distressing is the fact that only about 20 percent of our college youth attend one of our colleges. There may be good reasons why 20 percent should not attend these colleges; I can conceive of no good reasons why 80 percent should fail to do so – unless one calls indifference, apathy, or hostility to these uniquely excellent institutions good reasons (158).

I can only add, What would Timmerman say if he saw things in his denomination now? May we listen and learn, and not lose our zeal for and commitment to our own precious PR Christian schools.

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