Brightly colored eggs were strewn all over Roosevelt Park this past Saturday, April 20, morning. A balloon artist, bouncy obstacles, face painting, a puppet show and a craft table of bracelets made with Cheerios were all part of the White Fields Community Church’s Easter Egg Hunt and Festival. (WFCC) Head Pastor Nick Cady of WFCC…
Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” (John 11:25)
Yesterday, as people around the world gathered to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, terrorists attacked three churches in Sri Lanka, killing nearly 300 and injuring over 500. [source]
The irony of the situation is profound: The goal of terrorism is to incite fear by taking lives, but they carried out their attacks on the day when Christians revel in the fact that we can live without fear because of the hope that we have in eternal life.
What Jesus’ resurrection means for Christians, is that not only did Jesus die to forgive our sins, but he rose from the grave to conquer over death forever, so that we can have eternal life.
1 Corinthians 15 tells us that Jesus is the “first fruits” of those who are going to be resurrected to eternal life, and because that is true, death has lost its sting! Death will not have the final word.
As a result of this great truth, we who have this hope of eternal lives are free to live without fear. We are free to be courageous and generous, because we have nothing to lose – and the greatest gain is already ours!
Paul the Apostle put it this way: “If the dead are not raised, then we should just eat and drink for tomorrow we die.” (1 Corinthians 15:32) The idea is that, if this life is all we’ve got, then it would make sense for us to be selfish and short-sighted with the time we’ve got, since this is all we have. However, if Jesus did indeed rise from the dead, and we will too – then “to live is Christ, and to die is gain!” (Philippians 1:21)
If you have the hope of eternal life, then this life isn’t as good as it will ever get for you, rather, this life is as bad as it will ever be for you. If you know that you’ve got a thousand, million, billion years ahead of you, in which you will experience joy, security, adventure and love, then you are truly free to use the little window of time you’ve got here on Earth in the service of others, and in the service of God.
If you have the hope of eternal life, you are free to love sacrificially, and to give without holding back!
In other words: Jesus’ resurrection makes us brave, because it gives us hope.
Jesus’ disciples who saw him after his resurrection were so transformed by it, that they went from being timid and fearful to being bold, to the point where they came out of hiding and publicly proclaimed their faith, unwaveringly – even in the face of violence towards them and their families. As Paul says in Acts 13:31, they became “witnesses to the people”; rather than fearing for their lives, they boldly carried out a mission.
Our hearts break, and our prayers go out for those who are suffering from injuries, as well as for the families who were affected by this horrible act of violence. Our hearts ache as we look around and see the brokenness in the world, manifesting itself in hatred and violence. But as Christians, we must refuse to live in fear.
Instead, we set our hearts and minds all the more on the fact that we are pilgrims in this world, and our purpose here is not comfort or security. The time for comfort and security will come – fully and forever! But our time here on Earth is to be dedicated to courageously doing the will of God and carrying out His mission in the world, to bring to others the love of God and the good news of Jesus: the light of the world, who conquered death, and through whom we can have eternal life.
This past Friday, the world was rightly horrified by an attack on muslim worshipers in Christchurch, New Zealand by an anti-Muslim white supremacist.
In another part of the world, 280 Nigerian Christians have been killed in the past two months by Fulani militants and Boko Haram terrorists. Nigeria has now been declared to be the most dangerous country in the world to be a Christian.
Why Such Little Reporting on Nigeria?
The instances in New Zealand and Nigeria are both examples of violence and hatred directed towards people based on their religion, yet the attacks in New Zealand have gotten much more press coverage than those in Nigeria, the latter of which has prompted questions from British MP Kate Hoey as to why there is so little coverage of these events in the media.
Why such unbalanced reporting?
Is it because the one took place in a developed Western country, whereas the other is taking place in a developing country in Africa? Is it because the one was a one-time incident, whereas the other is an ongoing campaign of terror?
If so, what does the lack of media attention communicate? Hopefully not that the lives of those in the developing world matter less than the lives of those in developed countries. Hopefully not that ongoing violence is less worthy of our attention and outrage than isolated events.
Nigerian Refugees in the News
I was encouraged today when I came across this article from the New York Times, highlighting an 8 year old Nigerian refugee in New York City.
As the article details, Tanitoluwa Adewumi lives in a homeless shelter with his family. The article mentions that Tani’s family is from northern Nigeria, and that they fled their homes because of Boko Haram terrorists who are targeting Christians such as themselves in their homeland. In New York, they were helped by a local pastor to get temporary housing in the shelter, as they wait for their asylum case to be processed.
As Tani began attending public school in NYC, he was introduced to chess, and over the past year, he has become a chess prodigy, winning his age group, and impressing coaches. “He went undefeated at the state tournament last weekend, outwitting children from elite private schools with private chess tutors.”
A GoFundMe account set up for those who want to help Tani and his family: https://www.gofundme.com/just-tani
Created in the Image of God
One of the fundamental teachings of the Bible about humanity is that we, uniquely out of all created things, are created in the image of God. As a result, we believe that all humans have dignity and are equal in value, no matter their race, gender, socio-economic situation, or physical ability or disability.
There is an ongoing situation in Nigeria right now which deserves the world’s attention. Good on the New York Times for talking about it. More is needed.
I came across this article in my Apple News feed this morning, posted by a major news source:
The article cites research which shows that despite the fact that 80% of Americans believe in God, church attendance is decreasing. Americans aren’t necessarily giving up on God, they’re just not going to church like they once did.
Contributing factors are our American culture, which is radically individualistic. It’s not a stretch to say that our modern Western culture is the most individualistic culture which has ever existed in the history of the world.
Furthermore, the Bible has been placed in the hands of the people. No one has to go to church any more in order to hear what the Bible says. Sermons are available via podcast and there are more Christian books on the market than one could probably ever read in a lifetime. Thus, people are increasingly considering church to be optional rather than vital.
The author of this article, a pastor, argues that the church as a community is irreplaceable and meets a deep spiritual need.
I am currently reading Martyn Lloyd Jones’ classic Preaching & Preachers, based on a series of lectures he gave back in 1969. Interestingly, he mentions the same issue as having existed at that time as well; the availability of journals, books, radio and television broadcasts of sermons or other Christian content had led many people to opt out of church because they felt they could feed their souls and connect with God on their own via these mediums, apart from the local church.
Here’s his response:
“This is a wrong approach because it is too individualistic. The man sits on his own reading his book. That is too purely intellectual in its approach, it is a matter of intellectual interest. The man himself is too much in control. What I mean is that if you do not agree with the book you put it down, if you do not like what you are hearing on the television you switch it off. You are an isolated individual and you are in control of the situation. Or, to put it more positively, that whole approach lacks the vital element of the Church.
Now the Church is a missionary body, and we must recapture this notion that the whole Church is a part of this witness to the Gospel and its truth and its message. It is therefore most important that people should come together and listen in companies in the realm of the Church. That has an impact in and of itself. I have often been told this. The preacher after all is not speaking for himself, he is speaking for the Church, he is explaining what the Church is and what these people are, and why they are what they are.
Not only that, when a person comes into a church, to a body of people, he begins to get some idea of the fact that they are the people of God, and that they are the modern representatives of something that has been known in every age and generation throughout the centuries. This makes an impact. The person is not simply considering a new theory or a new teaching or a new idea. They are visiting or entering into something that has long history and tradition.
The person who thinks that all this can be done by reading, or by just looking at a television set, is missing the mysterious element in the life of the Church. What is this? It is what our Lord was suggesting when He said, ‘Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst.’ It is not a mere gathering of people; Christ is present. This is the great mystery of the Church. There is something in the very atmosphere of Christian people meeting together to worship God and to listen to the preaching of the Gospel.”
He then goes on to tell the story of a woman who had been involved in occult practices, who one time entered one of his church services when he pastored a small fellowship in Wales. She continued coming and eventually converted. When asked what kept her coming when she first started attending, she said that she sensed a “clean power” in their midst.
“All I am contending for is that when you enter a church, a society, a company of God’s people, there is a factor which immediately comes into operation, which is reinforced still more by the preacher expounding the Word in the pulpit; and that is why preaching can never be replaced by either reading or by watching television or any one of these other activities.”
(Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, pp. 52-55.)
Let us not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but let us encourage one another all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:25)
Since the shooting in Las Vegas last Sunday, authorities have been searching for a motive for why Steven Paddock opened fire on a crowd of people with the intent to kill as many as possible. So far, no leads have turned up. Everyone who knew him seems genuinely shocked. He doesn’t seem to fit any of the expected patterns or usual profiles. People are confused and asking: How does someone get to the point where they would do something so profoundly evil and terrible as this?
The modern worldview is that we are progressing as a society, we are evolving and getting better. Furthermore, it believes that “evil” doesn’t really exist per se, but that “evil behavior” is the result of outside factors:
- You have a psychological complex because you were raised improperly.
- You did it because of bad sociology: you weren’t educated enough, or you were poor.
- It’s a result of bad genetics and/or you are aggressive because of millennia of natural selection which favored aggressive behavior.
There might be some truth to the matters of how someone is raised, but this theory is insufficient. This theory has no category for a Steven Paddock, who doesn’t fit any of these models. He wasn’t poor, he wasn’t uneducated, he was raised in a loving home… It’s interesting to watch reporters grasp at straws to find a reason for what happened to him that made him like this…
It reminds me of a scene from the book, Silence of the Lambs, about the serial killer: Hannibal Lecter. Officer Starling goes in to interview Hannibal Lecter, and she is looking at him and considering what he has done, and she sees his attitude, and she asks:
“What happened to you that made you like this?”
Officer Starling is the quentisential modern person. She thinks: “You are doing bad things, therefore something must have happened to you, something must have come from outside – it couldn’t have come from inside!” This is a philosophical leap of faith, which assumes that people are basically good, and if they do anything bad it is only because of outside influence.
Hannibal Lecter replies:
“Nothing happened to me, Officer Starling. I happened. You can’t reduce me to a set of influences. You’ve given up good and evil for behaviorism, Officer Starling. You’ve got everybody in moral dignity pants – and nothing is ever anybody’s fault. Look at me, Officer Starling. Can you stand and say I’m evil? Am I evil, Officer Starling?” (The Silence of the Lambs, Thomas Harris)
Hannibal Lecter is making a very important point: the modern worldview has no category for evil.
The modern world view has actually been eroding very quickly. In the 20th Century, the world became wealthy and educated, many of the problems of poverty were overcome, and yet wars and violence didn’t end, they escalated. The 20th Century was the most bloody century in history – at a time when the world was more educated, industrialized and wealthy than ever before.
The Christian worldview, however, which is based on the Bible, has no problem accepting these things – because we have a very comprehensive view on sin.
We have a category for Hannibal Lecter and for Steven Paddock. The Bible tells us that within all of us lurks the capacity for terrible acts, because we are fallen and corrupt. The theological term is: Totally Depravity. That means that, apart from God’s work within us, even the good things we do, we do for less-than-pure motives: either to benefit ourselves, bring praise to ourselves, or to justify ourselves.
But the Bible doesn’t just stop there with telling us what’s wrong, and that evil lurks inside of us; it also tells us what God has done to save us and redeem us. It tells us what God has done to destroy evil without destroying us: He took on human flesh, became one of us, and died a substitutionary death, so that through His death He might destroy the one who holds the power of death, and set free those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Hebrews 2:14-15)
We should pursue better legislation, further education and the eradication of poverty, because we have been given a calling and vocation from God to “subdue the Earth,” i.e. to manage it well and to do all that we can under God to promote human flourishing. But we must remember that such things do not change the heart. We must place our ultimate hope in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ on our behalf.
We are excited to be joined here in Longmont by our friend Mike Payne, who is coming on staff at White Fields to serve as our Worship Pastor.
Mike and his wife Marika have been serving the Lord in Hungary for many years through music, media arts, teaching and evangelism. We look forward to how his skills and leadership will be used by God at White Fields!
Marika stayed back in Hungary to be with her ailing father. Please pray for both of them. She will join us in Colorado when the time is right.
Mike will begin leading worship for us this Sunday, July 2! If you’re in the area, come meet him and worship with us!
From the NY Times: The Jihadi Who Turned to Jesus
Something I have often written about and talked about is how when Middle Eastern refugees come to Europe and the West, for many of them it is the first time they have ever met Christians or even had the opportunity to hear the gospel or the freedom to read the Bible in their own language. We experienced this ourselves in Hungary, where we saw muslim refugees from Iran, Afghanistan and Kosovo convert to Christianity through our work in a refugee camp.
The New York Times posted this article recently about the conversion of a formerly radical muslim from Syria who converted to Christianity in Istanbul – an very interesting read especially in light of my post yesterday about my recent day-trip to Istanbul. His conversion was influenced by several factors, including his brother, also a formerly radical muslim, who had gone to Canada, where he met Christians and converted to Christianity.
Could it be that since these countries and cultures haven’t allowed Christianity to spread freely within their borders, that God is now bringing them to Europe and America precisely so many of them can hear the gospel and be saved? I believe so. I’ve written about that here: In Longmont We Met a Refugee from a Muslim Country. Here’s Her Story..
The question is: what will we Christians do with this opportunity?
Late on the afternoon of July 7, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law legislation against terrorism and extremism. An amendment in this law restricts religious practice in a way that is considered the most restrictive measure in post-Soviet history.
The amendments, including laws against sharing faith in homes, online, or anywhere but recognized church buildings, go into effect July 20.
Christians wishing to share their faith must secure government permits through registered religious organizations. Even with such permits, they will not be allowed to witness anywhere besides registered churches or religious sites. Churches that rent rather than owning their facilities may be forcibly disbanded.
This decision will severely restrict missionary work and the ministry of local churches in Russia.
Proposed by United Russia party lawmaker Irina Yarovaya, the law appears to target religious groups outside the Russian Orthodox church. Because it defines missionary activities as religious practices to spread a faith beyond its members, “if that is interpreted as the Moscow Patriarchate is likely to, it will mean the Orthodox Church can go after ethnic Russians but that no other church will be allowed to,” according to Frank Goble, an expert on religious and ethnic issues in the region.
If passed, the anti-evangelism law carries fines up to US $780 for an individual and $15,500 for an organization. Foreign visitors who violate the law face deportation.
Russia has already moved to contain foreign missionaries. The “foreign agent” law, adopted in 2012, requires groups from abroad to file detailed paperwork and be subject to government audits and raids. Since then, the NGO sector has shrunk by a third, according to government statistics.
Sergey Ryakhovsky, head of the Protestant Churches of Russia, and several other evangelical leaders called the law a violation of religious freedom and personal conscience in a letter to Putin posted on the Russian site Portal-Credo.
“If it will come to it, it’s not going to stop us from worshiping and sharing our faith,” wrote Sergey Rakhuba, president of Mission Eurasia. “The Great Commission isn’t just for a time of freedom.”
Pray for the believers in Russia and for the missionaries who go to serve there.
Street witnessing was illegal in the first century, in the time of the Book of Acts, as were Christian gatherings. Such restrictions only caused the church to grow!
Please join me in praying for the gospel to spread throughout Russia despite these restrictions, and for the believers there to be emboldened to share their faith whatever the cost.
This week in Palmdale, California a school not only forbid a boy from sharing Bible verses with his classmates, but forbid him from bringing Bible verses into the school, and finally sent the Los Angeles county sherif to his house to tell him to stop handing them out after school and off of school premises as well.
Here are some highlights from the article:
The student, identified as “C,” would regularly read aloud the Bible verses that his mother, Christina Zavala, would pack away in his lunch. The verses became so popular that other students started asking the boy for their own verses. Ms. Zavala then started providing additional Bible verses for her son’s friends that included short stories for context.
“However, when one little girl said ‘teacher — this is the most beautiful story I’ve ever seen,’ ‘separation of church and state’ was the response, and the notes were banned from lunchtime distribution,” the Liberty Counsel said. “C was told that the school gate was the only location at which he could give the Bible verses to his friends, and only after the bell rang.”
The group said Ms. Zavala and her son complied with the order and started handing out the verses after school at the gate in late April. The activity became increasingly popular, with at least 15 students showing up every day. On May 9, Principal Melanie Pagliaro reportedly approached C’s father, Jaime Zavala, and demanded he and the boy move completely off school property and onto the public sidewalk. The family immediately complied, the Liberty Counsel said.
Later that day, a Los Angeles Deputy Sheriff reportedly arrived at the Zavalas’ home to tell the boy to stop sharing the notes, because “someone might be offended,” the Liberty Counsel said. It was then that the family decided to seek legal help.
My favorite part of the story is what the little girl said: “Teacher, this is the most beautiful story I’ve ever seen.”
I couldn’t agree more. In fact, that statement, from the lips of an innocent child brings tears to my eyes. The story of Jesus, God’s love for us, is the most beautiful story the world has ever known.
I also love the part about how 15 kids would gather daily to receive Bible stories.
What a shame when such a thing is banned out of fear that someone might be offended by it. What a shame that there are so many things pushed on our children which do offend me, but often no action is taken in the name of freedom of expression.
This little boy and his mom planted some seeds in this community. Let’s pray they bear much fruit and that the litigation from the Liberty Counsel succeeds and sets a precedent which allows for freedom of expressing in sharing the Gospel.
Her husband Jim Noland told NBC12 that one of her sons wrote the obituary and it was meant as a joke, a way for her family to continue her sense of humor.“This isn’t the first time a paid death notice has been used to send a personal message to the world,” The Richmond Times-Dispatch said in a statement.