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Archive for November, 2012

Christians are being persecuted and oppressed all around the world simply because of their faith in and commitment to Jesus Christ as King of kings and Lord and lords. When I hear of their plight, I’m challenged and moved to prayer.

World magazine recently highlighted several accounts of nations where persecution is a reality. Here is one of them, written by Jamie Dean:

Less than 130 miles away, another Iranian pastor faces a severe test of strength: Benham Irani, 41, is serving six years in prison in Karaj for so-called actions against the state. His alleged crimes includes pastoring a group of converts  and sharing his Christian faith with Muslims.

The pastor is languishing. In mid-August, CSW (Christian Solidarity Worldwide – my note) reported that Irani was suffering from sever bleeding due to a  stomach ulcer and colon disorder. Sources told the group that prison authorities beat the pastor during the early days of his imprisonment, and that he now struggles to walk.

By late September, the Minnesota-based Present Truth Ministries reported that officials had denied Irani adequate medical care (including potentially life-saving surgery), and that the pastor was vomiting blood. Without intervention, advocates fear the husband and father of two young children could die within a few months.

Later in the article, Dean wrote:

In Iran, advocacy groups aren’t the only ones reporting Christians’ suffering. In late September, two human-rights experts from the United Nations reported that Iranian authorities were intensifying their clampdown on evangelical churches.

Ahmed Shaheed, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, estimated that Iranian authorities arbitrarily arrested and detained more than 300 Christians since June 2010. Shaheed said “scores of Christians” remained in jail “for freely practicing their religion.”

Advocacy groups believe that number is far higher. CSW reported a “steep rise” in persecution against religious minorities in Iran during 2011 and 2012. The list of developments include: “waves of arrests and detentions; regular raids on church gatherings; harsh interrogations; physical and psychological torture (including demands for recantations of faith and for information on the identities of fellow Christians); extended detentions without charge; violations of due process; convictions for ill-defined crimes or falsified political charges; and economic targeting through exorbitant bail demands.”

Many Iranian Christians, writes Dean, “don’t share their cases publicly because of the threats of Iranian authorities. Borji (Mansour Borji, and Iranian pastor in London – note of explanation mine, not the author’s) says the harassment includes authorities forcing churches to close, confiscating church property, closing mid-week Bible studies, shuttering Sunday schools, and confiscating and destroying Bibles and other Christian literature: ‘It’s an attempt suffocate the church.’ Despite the worsening crackdown, Borji says that house-church networks report growth, including increasing numbers of converts. If Bibles aren’t available, some churches rely on satellite television for Christian teaching. And they also welcome visitors, despite the risk of spies, he says: ‘Many people do not let that fear paralyze them.'” (November 3, 2012, pp. 66-67)

Hebrews 11:36-38 sums up our brothers and sisters in Christ, like these, being persecuted: “Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated – of whom the world was not worthy – wandering about deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”

Pray for our brothers and sisters – that their persecution would end and that they would d stand firm in the face of it – and pray for yourself.

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This morning I had the privilege of preaching a Thanksgiving sermon on Romans 1:21 – in particular the phrase “or give him thanks.” The following is a summary of my sermon in one sentence: Be grateful to God is both a duty and a delight.

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Happy Thanksgiving! May we all spend time today – amidst the food, football, family, and fill-in-the-blank – to give thanks to God for everything He’s so graciously given us. Remember, it’s called “Thanksgiving” and not “Turkey Day”!

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 100)

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What do expectation have to do with gratitude? A lot, according to Dennis Prager. He writes this in his book Happiness is a Serious Problem:

If we understand expectations to mean certitude that something will happen, that we can take the good we have for granted, or that we can feel entitled to the things we want, then expectations lead to unhappiness, cause gratuitous pain, and undermine the most important source of happiness – gratitude.

Though getting rid of expectations strikes most people as impossible and/or undesirable, minimizing expectations is both realistic and highly desirable. In general, expectations lead to unhappiness. 

Take the expectation of health. For most people, the only time good health brings them happiness is when they do not expect to be healthy and then find out that they are. Imagine that you discover a strange new lump on your body. You go to a doctor, who tells you that it looks suspicious and that you should have a biopsy. After waiting a week for the results, you learn that the lump is benign. That day will be one of the happiest days of your life.

Now this is remarkable because the day before you discovered the lump you were not one bit healthier then you were on the supremely happy day you learned that your lump was benign. Nothing in the state of your health has changed, yet you are now profoundly happy. Why? Because on this day, you did not expect to be healthy.

Later in the chapter, he writes:

Yes, there is a “secret to happiness” – and it is gratitude. All happy people are grateful, and ungrateful people cannot be  happy. We tend to think that it is being unhappy that leads people to complain, but it is truer to say that it is complaining that leads people to becoming unhappy. Become grateful and you will become a much happier person.

Because gratitude is the key to happiness, anything that undermines gratitude must undermine happiness. And nothing undermines gratitude as much as expectations. There is an inverse relationship between expectations and gratitude. The more expectations you have, the less gratitude you will have. If you get what you expect, you will not be grateful for getting it. If you expect to wake up healthy tomorrow, and you do wake up healthy, you are most unlikely to be grateful for your health. On the other hand, if you do not expect to wake up healthy tomorrow, you will be truly grateful if you do. Most of us are grateful for anything we have only after we are threatened with losing it or actually do lose it – because then we no longer expect to have it.

Gratitude, the most important component of happiness, is largely dependent upon receiving what we do not expect to receive. That is why, for example, when we give children so much that they come to expect more and more, we actually deprive them of the ability to be happy – because they have less and less gratitude. This is why it is so important to teach children always to say “Thank you” – not only because it is the decent thing to do but because saying the words inculcates gratitude in the person saying them. (All emphasis added by author)

(pp. 55-56, 59)

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Sermon in a Sentence

It was my privilege to preach on Genesis 18:16-33 this morning (God tells Abraham He’s going to judge Sodom and Gomorrah, and Abraham intercedes for the righteous). Here is a summary of my sermon in one sentence: True faith explores the character and nature of God.

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I got a phone call last night asking for my opinion of same-sex marriage and whether or not I think it would be a good idea in Oregon. Regardless of my opinion (I’m against the redefinition of marriage and think it would be a bad idea anywhere), I’m convinced that it will be on the ballot within the next few years. I’m also convinced that anyone who opposes the redefinition will be called a bigot or worse.

We need to think clearly on this issue, just like every other issue. We need to be ready when the time comes. Here is some help in the form of links to three very good articles.

“Same-Sex Marriage Ten Years On: Lessons from Canada” is an article written by Bradley Miller. You can read it here.

The effects of same-sex civil marriage in Canada – restrictions of free speech rights, parental rights in education, and autonomy rights of religious institutions, along with a weakening of the marriage culture – provide lessons for the United States.

“Why a Good Person Can Vote Against Same-Sex Marriage” was written by Dennis Prager. You can read it here.

“When the Bride is a Groom” is an article written by Greg Koukl that briefly explains the basics questions and elements of the argument. You can read it here.

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“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when it was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes formed my unknown substance; in your book were written every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you.” (Psalm 139:13-18)

The womb of the mother is a holy of holies where God is at work. How tragic that we turn that womb into a tomb, that holy of holies into a holocaust. (Warren Wiersbe, Be Obedient)

May God have mercy on us for the evil of abortion. May we repent of our sin and believe the gospel – it’s our only hope.

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