Boring Christianity? – Wordless Wednesday

2021-09-15 WW - Is It Boring Being a Christian

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)

“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

Guest Blog: Dry Bones on Wordless Wednesday

2021-09-01 Wordless Wednesday

Just as in the story of Ezekiel 37 and the dry bones, you may sometimes feel disconnected, lifeless and despairing. But Jesus can bring your life back together. He can make even dry bones dance again.

So, don’t quit. Don’t give up. The One who reassembled the dry bones and got them moving again can do the same for you.

All of us need to be reminded, especially when life seems hopeless, of God’s plan to restore us and give us a second chance — a divine reset.2021-06-19 Tony Evans Signature

Intermezzo Guest Blog: Update on Afghanistan

As Biden’s humanitarian and military crisis in Afghanistan proceeds, friends in Afghanistan are trying desperately to find a way out of the country, mostly over land into neighboring countries.  Imagine thinking “escaping to Iran” would be an attractive option!

In spite of the small number of Afghani Christians, missions agencies report that for several years Afghanistan has had the fastest growing population of Christ-followers, second only to Iran.  This story is from the son of an imam who hated Christians when he was 17, but found out that Christians were offering peace and life while the Muslims of whom he was part were threatening him with death for simply reading the Bible.  The following is a transcript from a Christianity Today podcast called Quick To Listen.  Good reading and information in Christianity Today.
__________________________________________

‘My Heart Is Broken’: An Afghan Pastor Grapples with the US Withdrawal
America’s departure and the Taliban’s ascent is forcing Christians out of the country.
Morgan Lee, August 20, 2021

2021-08-23 Taliban in KabulTaliban patrolling Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021.

Earlier this year, President Joe Biden announced that after close to 20 years, the United States would be withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan. Last week, as the military began its exit, the Taliban was ready and within days had seized control of the country. The ascent sparked widespread fear and led to thousands arriving at the airport only to find their flights out of the country had been canceled. Some even grabbed hold of an aircraft in desperation.

Biden defended the decision, arguing that Afghanistan’s leaders “gave up and fled the country.” He also said: “The Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight. If anything, the developments in the past week reinforced ending that US military involvement Afghanistan now was the right decision.”

He did concede: “The truth is, this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated.” As the government fell, it was not clear if the US had done anything to protect those who had worked with the military as translators. Plans to resettle Afghans as refugees seemed to be formulated in real time. The rights of women and girls, which were suppressed under the Taliban’s previous time in power, also appeared in jeopardy. And the lives of Christians, who according to official numbers only make up a minuscule number of the country’s nearly 40 million people, seem in peril as well.

David Paiman is an Afghan pastor and evangelist. You can follow his ministry herePaiman joined global media manager Morgan Lee and news editor Daniel Silliman to discuss how he converted from Islam to Christianity, the withdrawal’s consequences for the church in Afghanistan, and how we can best support the country and people during this time.

The transcript is edited by Faith Ndlovu

Highlights from Quick to Listen: Episode #277

David Paiman: Thank you for your concern about Afghanistan. We are grieving and our hearts are heavy. We see the news that Afghanistan is blaring and everywhere in the street, we can see hopeless people are left behind. But we see the reality more when we talk to people inside Afghanistan.

I’ve been talking to many believers inside Afghanistan. They are crying out for help, and they are crying out for the American army, and some of them sent me a video of many women and girls.

They have been to the airport and they’re crying out to American soldiers to help them. They have been there to serve them and help them but that is over. What we are seeing is too much and my heart is broken.

We are here in America, we see what we see on Twitter or television, but generally speaking, what do you find that Americans don’t know about Afghanistan that you really want them to know? What do they maybe misunderstand about what they do know?

David Paiman: Americans should know about Afghan believers, those who have converted to Christianity. Their lives are in danger, especially for people who are registered as Christians in Afghanistan. There are about many families there and they already got their identity. Many other Afghan believers only registered but they don’t have their identity cards yet; it’s still being processed. Suddenly everything has turned in a different way and they are in desperate need of help. Many people just heard the Taliban say very good news using soft words to say, “we forgive everyone, and we will do our best to build the country.” That’s not the truth. The truth we heard from inside is that they are going from house to house to search for people. They have been to many Afghan believers’ houses, and they took their Bibles. Praise God that the Afghan believers were not at their home. But they’re still searching for them.

Did President Ghani’s government require Christians to register?

David Paiman: They were not required to register, but they registered for the next generation. They don’t want their children to be called Muslims, they want their identity to be Christian.

Is your religion something that is printed on your ID cards?

David Paiman: Yes. But what the system did, because they don’t like Christians, when they printed out the cards for Christians they print out “other.” If they print out “Christian,” they face trouble with their own family, they cannot go to the bank, they cannot get a license, they cannot get anything. In reality they are Christian but they print out “other,” not Christian.

So, this was a big step historically for people to start declaring themselves in this official way, that they’re Christian and making public their faith, sometimes at great risk.

Afghanistan is a big country. Was this happening in Kabul? Was this happening in the villages? Where were these Christians deciding to take the stand?

David Paiman: All the Christians that registered are in Kabul. Today I heard the news, which I hope is false news. But I heard that three Christian families were taken by the Taliban and their houses were burned. We don’t know where they are, but I’m not sure yet that that is exactly what’s going on there.

There are very few Christians that live in this country. How did people end up hearing the gospel?

David Paiman: There are a lot of Christians during these two, three years. I am in media and get many calls every day, at least 10 calls from Afghanistan.

They want to receive Christ. Many house churches inside Afghanistan have started sharing the gospel with each other. Some families have been openly sharing the gospel with people and others heard from media, from Facebook, YouTube, and TV. But whenever they receive Christ, we try to connect them with them to get discipled and to grow in Christ, inside Afghanistan.

Take us back to 2001 when America invaded, what was that like for you? What was that like for Christians in the country?

David Paiman: Yeah, that’s what I call false hope. I will never forget in 2001 when the American army came and took over, everyone was celebrating, everyone got freedom and people were praising and thankful to America. Exactly 20 years later we see what’s happening now.

Where were you living at that time?

David Paiman: I was in Saudi Arabia.

With the hope that you experienced, what did you think might happen?

David Paiman: The real hope is Jesus Christ. Afghanistan has been trying many ways to get hope, to get peace inside Afghanistan, but they did not try Jesus Christ. They did not try God. They did not try His love and His mercy. My prayer and zeal are to share Christ with them. They can receive Christ and they can get the real hope, the living hope that never ends.

How old were you back in 2001?

David Paiman: I was about 17 years old.

What did you hear about the American military during that time?

David Paiman: I was very excited because I was a Muslim from Hazara tribes. My tribe experienced the pressure of the Taliban, because mostly Hazara from Shiá Muslim and all Taliban from Sunni Muslim. I saw many Hazara killed by the Taliban in those times and when America came in 2001, I was so excited that we got freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of everything that we could practice in Afghanistan.

Did that happen when the US first showed up in the first year or two?

David Paiman: From 2001 to 2006 it was good. From 2006 to 2010 it changed a little. From 2010 to 2021 it was not a good situation in Afghanistan as well because the government was corrupt. However, America helped the Afghanistan government, the Afghanistan government did not do what they were supposed to do. I don’t want to go into politics. I’m angry with Joe Biden because he said Afghanistan was not willing to take care of their country, yet billions of dollars have been used to help them.

It’s painful that many Afghanistans leave it behind and now we see that Afghanistan is bleeding and people are crying out for help, but it’s because they don’t take care of their own country.

Talking about the issue of women and girls, how did you notice how they were treated before the Americans arrived?

David Paiman: The girls could not go to school and the women could not go out without any man and there was trouble. Now Taliban is a little bit different, but this morning I heard the news that the girls and the women cannot go out without any men. I don’t know what to say about the Taliban 20 years ago and now, I don’t think they have changed. It’s still the same, the Sharia never changes.

But under the past 20 years though, you saw girls going to school, which was not happening under the Taliban. And you saw way more women working?

David Paiman: Yeah exactly.

Did you have any women who were leading churches or doing evangelism, or did they show up in church leadership too?

David Paiman: Yes, my sister-in-law, who is leading a house church there under the men’s leadership. She tries to help other women, does Bible study with them, and leads them woman to woman and men to men; under the men’s leadership which is what the Bible says.

Now the fear is that the schools that were open to girls are going to be closed and as you said, women may not be able to leave the house without men?

David Paiman: Yes. They cannot leave the house without the men. A few schools are open, but only girls under 14 years can go to school. We don’t know yet about college. In Herat city last week, the girls were supposed to go to college, but the Taliban stopped them.

You mentioned that in 2001 you were a Muslim. How did Jesus find you?

David Paiman: I didn’t want to come to the faith. I hated Christians and didn’t want to be one because I’m from a very religious Muslim background.

My father was an imam. They taught me how to be a good Muslim. I have been to Mecca six times, and I practiced my religion very well because I thought the Muslim religion is the only religion, the only way to God. But after my sixth pilgrimage to Mecca, a stranger came to me from Syria and he shared his testimony, how he received Christ inside the Mecca, how he saw the vision of Christ during his pilgrimage in Mecca. That made me get angry with him. I tried to fight with him. I wanted to kill him. But after 45 minutes of our conversation, he asked me, “Would you please let me pray for you?”

I was very proud. I said, “Okay, you pray for me. I will pray for you.” When he started to pray, I closed my eyes to listen to him and it seemed that he knew my problem. He knew my heart. He knew that I’m searching for real peace and that prayer led me to Christ. After he finished his prayer, the big questions came to my mind.

I said, “If he is an infidel, how could he know my heart?” He then gave me a New Testament Bible. I read but I didn’t accept it because my father taught me that the Bible is corrupt.

Six months later I went to Afghanistan, and I shared this experience with my best friend. He then gave me a Bible in my language. He said not to worry about the New Testament I should just start from Genesis. When I started reading from Genesis, I knew inside my heart that something is true here because God Himself is reaching humans, to bring them back to Him. It was so clear to me that this is God Himself wanting human beings to come to Him. I then took the Bible from him.

I started to read the Bible in my city Ghazni, which is about 250 kilometers from Kabul, and I started comparing the Bible and Quran. With two of my friends, every day we started comparing the Bible and the Koran to try to find which part of the Bible is corrupt.

While I was still reading the Bible, I was still a Muslim practicing Muslim, and I got caught by the police because somebody reported that I was reading the Bible. They took the Bible from me. I found myself in the mosque and there were about 60 or 70 people there and they started asking me why I was reading the Bible. I argued with the imam and started asking him a question from the Quran himself, he could not answer me. He started a claim that he proved that I was a Christian. I was not a Christian. I was Muslim. I did not want to become a Christian.

They started beating me until I became unconscious. I then found myself in a police station. I gave them a lot of money and then I ran away from the police station. I went to Kabul. I was hiding in a safety house, which had a lot of Americans.

A lady from Canada who was a missionary helped me to escape from my country to India. I didn’t know she was a missionary at that time. In India, I met Afghan Christians and I was very angry with them. I started to fight with them. One of the guys I fought with is now inside Afghanistan and is sharing the gospel there.

Three months later, one of my friends had epilepsy. I called the pastor and his friend, and they came and prayed for my friend who had epilepsy. At that moment he got healed and I saw the power, actually, I felt the power. I knew then there was power in the name of Jesus. I went to the bathroom, and I received Christ and asked Him to come into my life and I received Him. I gave my life to Christ in 2008.

Why did you go to the bathroom?

David Paiman: Because I didn’t want to receive Christ in front of them because I didn’t want to become a Christian.

I didn’t want them to know that I am receiving Christ. I wanted to receive Christ very secretly.

How did that practically change your life in 2008?

David Paiman: On that night after I came out from the bathroom and had washed my face as I had been crying, I proceeded to make tea for my guests and the pastor knew something had happened to me. After the tea service, the pastor came to me and asked if he could pray for me.

I said, “of course.” He put his hand on my shoulder and started to pray. I started to cry and confess my sin. The next day everything changed. I felt different. I talked differently and everything changed in my life. I saw things differently. I could see people differently and I started sharing the gospel the next day, right away.

I started sharing the gospel with people. I told them only Jesus could save their lives. Only Jesus can give you peace only Jesus can give you hope.

When you started telling people did anyone believe you? Did anyone decide to learn more about Christianity?

David Paiman: At first believers didn’t believe me because I had been persecuting them.

They thought maybe I had come from the Afghan government because I had a very close friendship with the embassy. They thought maybe I was a spy from them. But later on, they believed me.

But yeah. I saw many people come to Christ in India. I received Christ in India in 2008.

And then you started telling people in India for many years?

David Paiman: Yes. I was in India for five and a half years, and then I moved to Indonesia. I was in Indonesia for three years.

We started house churches there and then we baptized about 72 Iranian people. During those three years, 17 Afghan Muslims converted to Christ, and we baptized them. In 2015, I moved to Australia. I started an Afghan church in Sydney, Australia till 2019.

In 2019, I moved here and now we have a ministry. We are helping refugees and we started our house church here in Memphis, Tennessee.

What do you find about God or Jesus resonates with Afghans? What do they love about Christianity?

David Paiman: I heard many people like my friends, especially here saying they see the reality of love in Christian life.

They love you unconditionally. They don’t expect you to do something. They love you just as you are. In Afghan culture when you love some people you expect them to love you back but many of them say they see true love here in American people and Christian people.

That love has now opened the door for us. We can share the gospel with our Afghan friends here.

What’s your sense of what American Christians should be doing out of love right now?

David Paiman: For me, all Christians should practice at least two things, go, and give. If you cannot go, you should give. If you’re a believer, you have to share the gospel, go, or give, giving and supporting it’s all the one part. Christians in America can also pray and help financially. Send them food to eat. This morning I talked to one leader and he’s ready to go to Christ and what he asked me was, “after I go will you please take care of my family.”

He shared Philippians 1:20 (Phil 2:20) which says, “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” He said, “to die, I get my life. I start my life with Christ” and that encouraged me. The only thing for me is the burden of his family. He has given his life to Christ.

I have a burden in my heart to take care of his family and it’s the burden for all Christians in America and to cry out to God and pray for them. If you know people in Afghanistan help them out of Afghanistan. That’s the greatest help.

So, you would say American Christians should also support welcoming thousands of refugees here.

David Paiman: Exactly.

What type of long-term impact do you think that the withdrawal will have on the mission field in Afghanistan?

David Paiman: To help Afghan believers inside of Afghanistan. The missionary can easily come out of Afghanistan, but Afghanistans are left behind.

If they are discipled well, they can share the gospel inside Afghanistan. That for me is long-term, helping Afghan Christians inside Afghanistan. It should start from inside of Afghanistan not from outside Afghanistan, that’s my opinion.

Because now Afghans will be leading these churches, not foreigners?

David Paiman: No, Afghans should start leading the church. They should start discipling people and that’s all Afghans are doing now.

How do the Christians that you meet find Christianity? Who tells them about it?

David Paiman: It’s mostly from media, from Facebook, YouTube, radio, TV, those are the four sources that we have inside Afghanistan. Now it’s not too difficult we can give them the bible. When they’re sleeping in the bed, they can hear the gospel, and no one can stop that.

This past week has been demoralizing. How has it affected your faith in God?

David Paiman: Whenever I talk to believers inside Afghanistan, I find that their faith is very big and mine is very low, and they give their life to Christ. Jesus said, “if you don’t take your cross, you are not worthy to follow Me, if you don’t confess Me in front of people, I will not confess you in front of My Father. That’s exactly what they are doing now. They took their cross willingly and they tried to come under the grace of God, joyfully give their life to Jesus.

Daniel Silliman: Yeah. That’s compelling, that’s what we all believe as Christians and that’s our call daily to take up our cross and the challenges that they’re facing are serious. Thanks for sharing that with us.

David Paiman: The other thing that American believers and Americans should know is this word about the church. In Afghanistan, people know they are the church, and they understand that. But here, mostly most of America, they say the building is a church. There is a building with a cross on it that’s what they call church but, in Afghanistan, the real church is going on.

I’m so encouraged by their ministry.

What are you praying for as you speak to people back in Afghanistan and Afghans here?

David Paiman: To be honest in the first two, three days, I didn’t know how to pray, and I could not pray because my heart was so heavy and when I saw the news, I was so upset with Americans, I was so upset with the missionaries. I was so angry and that’s my human nature. I could not pray but praise God when I talked to them, they encouraged me. They said, “Jesus is with us now.” Now my prayer for Afghanistans, especially for believers is for the grace of God to be always over them because they cannot do anything out of the grace of God. With the grace of God, they can do all things. That’s my prayer.

As we close our conversation, is there anything else that you would like our listeners to know, any information you’ve heard from your friends and family back in Afghanistan that you want to share, or anything we didn’t ask you about?

David Paiman: Yeah, please pray for believers. They are leaving the country, especially pray for two families who just arrived in Pakistan, three families that are in Iran now, and four families that are in Tajikistan. Please pray for them and specifically pray for four families inside Afghanistan. I think I already mentioned their life is seriously in danger.

In their new countries, what should we pray for them, that they get connected to a church community and build their lives someplace new?

David Paiman: Yes, we are praying for them to make contact with other believers at churches and their second countries. Pray for us here that we can make decisions wisely and that we don’t give them false hope or false promises.

Would you be willing to end our show in a word of prayer?

David Paiman: Sure.
Dear Father. You are a good father. I know you know everything about my country. You love my people. You love the Taliban. You love even the people persecuting us. Lord. You command us to love them back. Please help Afghan Christians, especially those inside the country to love them and share your words with them. Lord, I pray for your protection over believers inside Afghanistan I pray for my people, they’re hopeless. They just see the darkness. Lord, I pray that your light will shine on them. Open their minds and their hearts to see you and to see that you love them to see that You died for them. Lord, open their eyes so that they can taste and see that you are a good God.

You are a merciful, God. Lord, I pray for the American army in Afghanistan. I pray that you protect them from evil. Help them, give them the wisdom to choose the right people, and bring them out. Lord, I also pray for my brothers and sisters outside Afghanistan. I pray for the churches. Thank you for my spiritual family here, Lord, they encourage us. Lord. I pray that you give them wisdom and knowledge to help us in Your way, not in their way. Thank you, Lord, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

God Help Us All – Wordless Wednesday

Five Times August is the name of a solo music project by Dallas, Texas independent singer/songwriter/guitarist Brad Skistimas.  Another one on this same theme entitled Jesus, What Happened To US?: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RPzc8ROZEjU.

Lock down all towns
Everybody slow down
Give ’em everything you have
Mask up, vax up
Get your body trashed up
Better do what they ask

It’s alright, okay
Sorry, but ya can’t pray
Gotta keep the church doors closed
No superstitions
A saint politician
Will tell ya what you need to know

Citizen fools
And brand new rules
Make everyone a hero now
So keep your distance
No resistance
Only do what you’re allowed

Cash that check
Go dance in the wreck
But just don’t speak your mind
Get your facts from the paid contracts
‘Cause never would they tell a lie

They don’t know me
And they don’t own me

Oh God help us all
Look what we’ve become
Oh God help us all
And fix what we have done

See no evil
Bow to the needle
Didn’t we turn out great?
Sick is the new health
Poor is the new wealth
Truth is whatever they say

Expert lectures
Media protectors
Tell me who to love and hate
Jail in the network
Hail to the Zuck-burg
Head down, just behave

Liberty, freedom, angels, demons
Someone’s in control
(Well) no way, no how
I wouldn’t say it too loud
Don’t you know they’re on patrol?

Need more likes
Post up, let’s fight
There’s no way that you’re wrong
Gott listen to the science
‘Cause it’s all about compliance
You agree or you’re gone

They don’t know me
And they don’t own me

Oh God help us all
Look what we’ve become
Oh God help us all
And fix what we have done

Sell my info
Hacked in, don’t know
Show me what I need to buy
Sex consumption, no corruption
Just as advertised

You’ve been labeled
And I’ve enabled
Better apologize
Propaganda
Racist slander
Time to organize

Shot, bang, who’s next?
Brain dead, useless
Show it on the TV screen
Tell me who to vote for
Gotta to start a new war
Wouldn’t want to live in peace

Divide and Conquer
Weak, not stronger
Everybody know your place
Do it now, won’t hurt
Dig into your own dirt
Virtue found it’s grave

They don’t know me
And they don’t own me

Oh God help us all
Look what we’ve become
Oh God help us all
And fix what we have done

Incite violence
Enforce silence
Mainstream message
Won’t you guide us?
You know what is best
For our own good

Anti-this and anti-that
Cancel this and cancel that
Take it to the streets
And the neighborhoods

Worship actors
Food and drugs
Brand yourself
Give them your blood
Don’t believe your eyes
Don’t look around

Fake news, rumors,
Ok boomer
Ignorance will stain our future
Will ya make it through
Or burn it down?

Oh God! Oh God! Help us all! Oh God! Help us all!

~ Five Times August ~

The Beauty of Spiritual Language

I was planning to write about prophecy of end times again, but in prayer felt a ‘nudging’ of the Holy Spirit to address a subject that in times past has been a source of division and conflict within the Body of Christ – speaking in tongues under the influence of the Holy Spirit.  I was covering some prophecy ideas on the weekend of Pentecost, , so here is the trade-off.

2021-08-07 - The Holy Spirit

From the early 1900s (I read about this; I am not THAT old! 😅), when the Holy Ghost (as He was called back then) began moving in lives to experience what the apostles and disciples of the book of Acts experienced.  A common feature of these more modern day disciples was to first experience “speaking in tongues” similar to what occurred in Acts 2, 10 and 19.  The experience was called “being baptized into the Holy Spirit” as John the Baptist had prophesied Jesus would do to His followers.  “After me comes He who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”  (Mark 1:7-8)  This theme was reiterated by Luke in his introduction to the Acts of the Apostles.  And it is clearly this “baptism” that began the Church Age in which we now live.

However, many mainline churches at the turn of the last century were upset by the emotionalism and lack of coherent theology of many of these “tongues-speakers” and repudiated these phenomena as being emotional excitement and works of the flesh; some even declared them demonic.  But the clear dedication to Jesus on the part of many of them, and the missionary zeal exceeding that of the mainlines resulted in the formation of new denominations that welcomed and encouraged people to seek God for “the baptism of the Holy Spirit” with an initial evidence of speaking in tongues.

In the 1960s a “neo-charismatic movement” began to take hold with people within more traditional mainline churches and almost every denomination world-wide found itself addressing “praying with the Spirit.”  (See also Romans 8:26 and Ephesians 6:18.)  Episcopalians led this transformation but Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists and most other denominations adjusted from their “‘Tongues’ is of the devil” stance to honor Paul’s explicit instructions in 1 Corinthians 14:39, Do not forbid speaking in tongues.”  Baptists were a little late to get on board, but leaders like Bill Gothard honored this scripture in his presentations and made headway among his almost entirely Baptist audiences of thousands.

The excesses of some in groups like the Assemblies of God, The Foursquare Church and others who insisted that speaking in tongues will accompany the baptism into the Holy Spirit as an initial evidence of such infilling led to almost a two-tier system of spirituality.  But the sincerity of most in these denominations, and their patient defense of speaking in tongues and development of Biblical theology of the experience, combined with their missionary zeal, resulted in phenomenal growth and world-wide acceptance among Christian denominations.

Although most current arguments against speaking in a “spiritual language” refer to Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 14, an honest appraisal of these instructions to a church that was getting too enthusiastic will reveal he was NOT discouraging speaking in tongues, but rather trying to preserve the practice through correction, balance and guidance, not prohibition.   He even begins the subject with an affirmation, Now I want you all to speak in tongues…” (1 Corinthians 14:5).  The point is to make a distinction between tongues as a gift for ministry in the meetings of the Church and tongues as a grace by which any believer can draw closer to The God Who Is, such that Paul could assert, I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you” (1 Corinthians 14:18).  Obviously he was not doing that in meetings of the Church but in his personal prayer times. 

2021-08-07 The Beauty of Spiritual LanguageTo summarize some points from Jack Hayford’s superb text (The Beauty of Spiritual Language) on this subject, speaking in tongues is not unbiblical nor outdated.  It is not a “transcendental experience” as with cult meditations or surrender of the will in a mystical stupor.  It is not a “status symbol” as though one who speaks in tongues is better than one who does not.  It is not a ‘cure-all’ for difficulties in living for God nor a badge of holiness.  It is not a substitute for spiritual growth or Bible study.  As one Christ-follower told me, there is one and only ONE evidence of the infilling of the Holy Ghost given in the Bible: You will be witnesses!” (Acts 1:8).  So “if I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1).

The baptism of the Holy Spirit is essentially coming to a place of wanting such intimacy with The God Who Is that one becomes open to anything He wants to do in and through you.  It is wanting “to know that you know that you know” who He is and that your testimony of Him will not be based in dry lifeless theology of book knowledge but in experiential knowledge so intimate that the only human comparison is that of a marriage where two become one flesh (Ephesians 5:32).  When you know Him the way Adam knew his wife and she conceived (Genesis 4:1), you cannot help but talk about it.  Who ever heard of a married man who loves his wife that did not want to tell you about her!?  The nature of a good marriage is such that a man can not speak very long with anyone before his wife comes into the conversation. 

Jesus is the baptizer into the Holy Spirit, an action that all four of His biographies assert (Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33).  If you come to Him with this request, He assures us He will not turn us away nor let us be deceived, but meet our heart’s desire to know Him better. (Luke 11:13)  So just come to Him and ask, because the promise is for YOU and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:39). 
Worship Jesus as you listen to the Maranatha Singers sing the Spirit Song and invite Him to baptize you with the Holy Spirit.

 

Intermezzo Guest Blog – Pray for Lebanon

One year after the Beirut blast, a Lebanese Evangelical Christian reflects on the devastating explosion that left 300,000 homeless. by All Arab News Staff, August 4, 2021
How did Christian ministries respond to the crisis then? How should we be praying for the people of Lebanon today?  

2021-08-04 Beirut One Year LaterThe following article was written by a Lebanese Evangelical Christian who lives and works in Beirut but is currently studying in the U.S. Because of the sensitive nature of the political and religious situation in Lebanon, the author’s name and organization are redacted.

BEIRUT, LEBANON – For every resident in Lebanon, and every Lebanese around the world, 6:07 p.m. on Tuesday, August. 4, 2020 marked the darkest day they can recount. Every person on Lebanese soil collectively experienced the largest non-nuclear explosion in history.

The blast nearly destroyed their capital. It killed 218 innocent civilians. It drove more than 300,000 individuals into homelessness. And left an entire nation traumatized.

Whatever you read about this day after the passing of 365 days, and whatever we all try to communicate about the tragedies of what happened a year ago, it is so difficult to explain the heartache of our people. We will never be able to relay the permanency and gravity of the loss, hurt and grief that millions of Lebanese continue to live in while also still living under the same ruling class responsible for the tragedy.

Not much has been done to bring justice to a nation that has been left to bleed economically, humanitarianly, socially, emotionally and politically since then. Facts about the cause of the blast are scarce. The site of the explosion remains an abandoned crime scene that leaves many questions unanswered for the families of the victims and for the Lebanese people as a whole. Most Lebanese who work in Beirut have to drive by that crime scene on a daily basis, reminded that somehow their lives must continue despite the heartache.

Many surveys are circulating across social media platforms about the effects of PTSD on those who survived, about survivors’ guilt, about mental health awareness and psychological support. These questionnaires only try to quantify the grief and categorize it into digestible pieces. But the Lebanese people still wake up the next morning to an ever-deteriorating Lebanese lira, scarcity of fuel, power outages, medicine shortages, and the complete dismantling of their quality of life.

The organization I work with here in Lebanon had offices less than three miles away from the epicenter of the blast. Most of my colleagues live within that same radius of the blast and can share individual experiences of loss on that day.

One team member shares about the miraculous way she was spared by running late to a wedding that she was going to attend less than a mile from the explosion that evening. A number of team members suffered damages to their apartments, and many more lived through the horrifying experience of long hours of survival check-ins from friends and family hearing news after news of whether the people they knew were dead or alive. As one team member explained it so well: “The explosion did not happen at the Beirut port. It happened inside every single apartment in Beirut.” What happened on August 4, 2020 literally extended to each of our team’s homes.

For me personally, it had been exactly a week since I left Beirut to return to the U.S. to pursue further education. I had argued with my dad for days to move my travel date forward from August 4 to July 29. He finally agreed. But if I had not won that argument, I would have been driving along that same route on that same day headed towards the airport.

I still remember so vividly on August 5 that our managing director gave a tearful message while addressing the entire staff as Arab Christians from all over Lebanon came to support the response on the ground in Beirut. It was so encouraging to see this response – it was organic, it was raw and it was difficult because it was the first time that every person working was both a victim and a first responder.

Our organization’s teams spread out across the city to spend the first several days cleaning up debris wherever there was a need. It soon became more evident, however, that our ministry was best positioned to respond to churches that were damaged or destroyed, Christian schools that were affected and any Christian families that were connected to either one of those two categories.

A week after the blast, we organized a team to venture into a new project, assessing material damage that was caused to the apartments of families that were referred to us by church members or affiliated Christian schools. The team quickly noticed that the immediate need was to secure apartments and to try and restore a sense of safety for families to be able to retreat to their own home with a peace of mind that, at the very least, they had a secure front door and that their windows were sealed. Therefore, the first response was to hire contractors who would ensure that all doors and windows of damaged apartments be restored for safety and security reasons. The work had to be done fast as families were pressing through their trauma and leaning heavily on us for emotional and physical support.

One of my colleagues told me a story from those intense days: “During our visit, the wife was in her living room watching TV as she prepared a traditional Lebanese meal for her family. When her husband started telling us about what happened on the day of the explosion, the wife started to get emotional. She got so emotional and repeatedly kept saying how she still could not believe that her husband is alive. She said, ‘He was so close to the explosion, it all happened in a matter of seconds. I called him several times, but he didn’t answer, so I assumed the worst had happened. Two hours later, I was breaking down. Nothing was clear. The whole country was in shock, and watching the news wasn’t giving me any answers. Then my husband called suddenly. I thanked God a million times for protecting him. If you knew how close he was [to the blast] you’d definitely understand what I went through.”

We knew exactly how close her husband’s work was to the explosion since we knew her husband very well. He was only a few feet away from where nearly 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate had exploded, and in the most crowded street that contains many restaurants, shops and old historic neighborhoods.

Every family that our team visited to pray with and encourage had a miraculous testimony of God protecting them. The losses “should have been far greater,” said one team member to me. “When you walk along every street, and you hear the clinking of glass, and see the mass destruction that ripped through an entire city, and that was heard across the country, and realize how the Lord protected so many, you cannot but declare it a miracle.”

A week after the blast – and after seven straight days of picking up glass and salvaging people’s belongings from whatever was left, for 10 hours every day – our team gathered and sang songs of praise in the damaged living room of one family. A team member shared with me that it was at that moment that the tears came rushing through. The shock had subsided, and the tears did not stop. Everyone, however, seemed to come out of the shock and began to grieve at different speeds.

At one point early during the crisis, the founder of our organization prayed with leaders from across the nation to seek God’s wisdom and guidance in how best to make a difference, saying, “We should all allow ourselves to cry, but the hardest thing for me has been my inability to do so. I have been asking God repeatedly, ‘When God? When will those tears come rushing down? When will I truly be able to feel again after this paralyzing shock?’”

Sometimes, not becoming too emotional too quickly was a good thing. After all, with every apartment that our team entered, the more tragic stories we saw and heard.

One team member shared with me his concerns before going in to meet the first devastated family. He said he did not feel prepared to handle what he knew would be the needs because this was a community that was deeply scarred by the Lebanese 1975 war and now has compounded trauma. He was expecting to see resistance, bitterness, rage and a rebellion against God. However, he said that in every encounter it was as if the Lord had gone before them and people’s hearts were somehow ready to give praise to the God of miracles for whatever they had left.

After doors and windows were sealed, Christians rallied to rebuild churches. Schools were repaired and began to function again. But our team of Lebanese Christians from all over the country knew that they were not ready to leave yet. The financial and economic situation in Beirut remains unbearable. Families have not been able to recover since the blast as the economy continues to get worse. We have provided food and hygiene supplies to many families, but there is still so much more to do.

Today, my Lebanese Christian colleagues and I do not celebrate the efforts or accomplishments or initiatives that God has allowed us to be a part of to help those in need after the Beirut port explosion. We cannot because we see so many man-made atrocities and negligence. We are glad to assist local churches, but so many challenges remain here in Beirut.

Still, we do praise God for every survivor, for every story that points to the faithfulness of God who is merciful and who heals. We praise God, not for restoration of windows and doors, but rather of people and souls. Yet, my colleagues and I are still grieving.

We know of three young children who lost their mother in front of their eyes. We know a young man whose only mistake was that he was lying in his bed and died due to the injuries he sustained. It is hard to find goodness in the midst of evil and to see hope in the midst of despair.

Yet, we are grateful that the Lord is working in small ways. We are grateful for the hundreds of families we were able to assist with more than 8,000 packages of food and other essential supplies. We are grateful for the hope that Christian and Muslim families found as we cared for them and showed the love of Jesus Christ in tangible and meaningful acts of service. We are grateful, too, for the residents of the 95 apartments, 19 churches and six schools that our organization was able to come alongside to love, encourage and assist.

Above all, we are grateful for the ways that many other Christians demonstrated Christ’s abundant love, mercy and grace to the people of Lebanon who live to tell the heart-wrenching stories of Aug. 4, 2020, and for the many miraculous stories of that fateful day.

Will you join us in continuing to pray faithfully for the people of Lebanon, a country we love so much?

Life In Abundance, Even In Death

2021-07-24 Fall in Kentucky

“A thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.” (John 10:10 (CSB))

It always intrigues me when discussing death with some ‘Christians’ that they demur and say, “Let’s talk about something nicer.”  And I wonder, what is ‘nicer’ than death?  True, I do not look forward to debilitating disease or pains and problems of aging, but the end of this life on earth is not something awful for us to fear.  Even in death, there is abundance of LIFE!

The Christ-follower daily faces paradoxes.  Jesus announced very clearly, For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:35)  The “sermon on the mount,” Matthew 5-7, has many of these oxymorons, starting with the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:2-12).  The most pointed of these are the last two: “Blessed are those who are persecuted (?)” “Blessed are you when others revile you (?) and persecute you (?) and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely (?)  What kind of invitation is this to follow this guy!?

Far too many Christ-followers have been sold only half of the bill of goods.  Prosperity preachers abound with promises that if you just buy their books and listen to their sermons, you will have unending health, wealth and comfort.  If things do not work out to make your life its very best, it must be your lack of faith, or something wrong with you, because God only wants to do good for you.

But just thinking of how the love of parents requires them to sometimes do something painful to their children should eliminate any confusion here.  No child ever said, “Oh, goody, I get to have a vaccine shot today!”  But a loving parent will vaccinate their children against DPT (Diphtheria, Pertussis and Tetanus) to protect them from these much more harmful diseases, no matter how much the child may scream.  Love constrains parents to make their children eat their vegetables even though the dessert cake is sweeter.

So, yes, our Father only wants what is good for us.  C.S. Lewis began to understand this as he matured in his trust in God, writing “We are not doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”  And “there’s the rub,” as Shakespeare’s Hamlet said.  The maturity to which Jesus calls His followers is not the nursery school comfort of warm milk and cookies.  It is the challenge to come to Him and DIE so that you can truly live.

The Christ-follower, like Jesus, lives in a culture of life-affirmation.  Thus abortion, the unwilling taking of an unborn child’s life is anathema to His people.  Euthanasia, the execution of those who no longer are “contributing” to society (whatever that means), is also viewed as something more demonic than beneficial.  Suicide, in societies that have honored God’s word, has always been viewed as counter-productive.  Even suffering, when viewed as a means to draw us closer to the One who suffered more agonizingly than we can imagine, becomes life-affirming and a channel for God to bring glory to Himself.  Our rewards will wait, but they will come.

Thus, we are instructed that when we are persecuted, we can move to another place (Matthew 10:23), but not to retaliate against our persecutors, but to pray FOR them (Note: NOT against them).  We are not to fear death or its agencies that try to murder us (Matthew 10:28).  Francis Chan, just as he headed to Hong Kong to set up ministries in Southeast Asia, noted, “It is crazy to me that it is perfectly normal to be a Christian in America and to be obsessed with staying alive.” (February 7. 2020)  Jim Elliot penned in a letter to his bride, He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

Someone observed once, that unless one is willing to die for something they can not really live for it.  We who follow Jesus view death not so much as an enemy of life, but as a ferryman who will one day transport us out of his reach.  Following Jesus may involve pain, suffering, or apparent loss in the world’s eyes.  We may lack in comfort or have greater difficulties than those who just go with whatever cultural stream is flowing.  But there will come a day when it will all be worthwhile.

We must not serve God just for His rewards (another blog coming soon), but He does promise great rewards for those who give up their lives to or for Him.  Our confidence in Him assures us that there is nothing for the Christ-follower to fear.  He came to give us LIFE, and that promise is as certain as His resurrection!  There is no historical event more certain than that Jesus arose from the dead.

“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?”  (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)

 

 

A prayer my bride reminded me to pray.

2021-07-10 AnonymityAnonymity.  This is what most people seem to feel like when they get behind the steering wheel of their autos.  Especially those with the blackened windows, even on the front windshield (which should be illegal – it’s like driving with sunglasses on even at night!  But that’s for another blog.)2021-07-10 Anonymous Drivers

The anonymity we feel driving allows us to do things that if we knew the other driver or recognized faces, we would never do.  How guilty I feel typing this as it has often been a “clinging sin” of Hebrews 12:1.  My bride of 31 years has often tried to help me, sometimes wisely, sometimes with aggravation, sometimes with good effect, sometimes with greater frustration.

A recent conversation about this came up after some clown ran a stop sign when it was MY turn!  So I pulled forward and blared on my horn to let the redneck know HE was in the WRONG!  Of course, seeing my SUV lunging toward his open window required he give me what he felt was an appropriate “Hawaiian Salute” with a single finger.  Anita was very upset with my behavior and afraid I was going to wind up in a wreck and she wanted to go home.  But our ensuing conversation finally got to my heart.  Somehow the Holy Spirit was able to break through all the layers of anger and bitterness that lay there toward other drivers . . . who drove the way I used to drive.

Later, my mind wandered back to college as I prayed for forgiveness, first for scaring my bride, second for trying to scare the scofflaw driver, third for not listening to the Holy Spirit soooo many, many times.  “Lord, forgive [my] sins and cleanse [me] from all unrighteousness” . . . again.  A memory of Cecil was triggered.  He was a transfer from another school and had a car, a luxury in my circle of friends at that stage of our lives.

Once I asked him for a ride into the city and since he had some time free and we often enjoyed chatting, he gladly agreed.  As we got in his car, though, instead of instantly starting the engine, Cecil said, “This will just take a minute.”  (???)  He leaned his head down, closed his eyes, and prayed.  “Father, thank you for blessing me with this car and C.A.’s friendship.  Help me to remember You are in the back seat, and keep us safe on our errands.”  And with that he started the car and headed into town.

I have no memory of our errands or where we went other than another time to a park outside the city.  But I DO remember this: when we finished whatever errands we were on we returned to his car, he again bowed his head and talked for just a moment to his Lord about our trip back to campus.  And every time we got in his car, he would spend a moment communing with his Master, and asking for safe travels.  Sometimes he would pray for specific things about our travels, sometimes for other things on his mind as we would begin, but every time, BEFORE he started the car, he would pray.

So somehow the Holy Spirit brought this memory of when we were 20 years old to my mind and asked me why I wanted to be anonymous in my car.  The Lord’s prompting suggested that I was leaving Him out of the car when I would drive, and He wanted to be with me.  (Imagine, the KING wants to be with ME!?)  Alone, I wept for my hardness of heart, my ineptitude in driving, and my inconsideration of the deceit with which other drivers were dealing.

And as I prayed I recalled an encouragement from a friend in Alaska: “Most of us don’t seem to realize how we can be a testimony of God’s grace with our cars.”  OUCH!  That was so many years ago, and I still was blind to what Father has been trying to get into my hard head and harder heart.

But He finally got it into me.  Now whenever I get into my car, I first pray.  I ask Father for safe travels, for patience with those who are deceived and think they should be able to violate the laws.  I request The God Who Is to make me aware that the other drivers are people He loves, even when they are inconsiderate, even behind blackened windows and with stereos bouncing their car off the pavement.  And I ask Him to remind me from His seat in the car that I should obey the laws and show His grace to others, as my bride has so often asked me to do.

If you think of me this week, please pray that I will remember His Presence more consistently.

 

An Open Letter To A Friend

2021-06-12 Religions of the World“Religious beliefs are very controversial and there are tons of religious groups. The more I care about is to live peacefully and consciously. The truth can be found within your heart and your divine formless aspects…”

Dear Friend,

I, too, hope you have a peaceful life.  As I noted in reply to your blog, 2+2=4 but the one who answers 5 is closer to the truth than the one who answers 37.  There is much that is true in the sayings of Buddha, Confucius, Lao Tzu, Aristotle, Plato and other philosophers.  There is much one can learn by reading the four Vedas of Hinduism, the Gathas of Zoroaster, the Agam literature of Jainism and the Muslim’s Quran.  Even the Book of Mormon and the Satanic Bible have rules, many of which can help someone live a good life (though I do not recommend any of these until one has a clearer understanding of the Bible).

Buddha and the other philosophers never claimed to be religious.  They simply described how to improve one’s life by various means of self-discipline and learning.  The religious literature all show ways that one can reach Nirvana, mystical absorption into the Infinite or find acceptance by God.  The answers to 2+2 vary in accuracy from 5 or 6, or in the case of Mormonism 37, and in the Satanic Bible 5,489! 😨

The apostle Paul said to “test everything; hold fast what is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).  So there is nothing wrong with reading or studying teachings of philosophy and religion, but there is much “testing” that needs to be done when one reads these texts.  They are not all good and at best will only give one a better life here and now, if that is all for which one is looking.

However, I genuinely fear for people looking for answers in religion.  They will find at the end of this life that they have been deceived.  The Bible has very little to say about religion (check an online resource for how rarely it is mentioned), and Jesus had his biggest problems with the religious leaders of his day.  In fact, it was the chief priest and the religious legislative body, the Sanhedrin, that first condemned Jesus to death before handing Him over to the Romans.  The Romans did not allow the Jews to commit capital punishment (though this was disobeyed at times with stoning [see Acts 7]).  Unless it interfered with Roman governance, they tended to disregard anything the Sanhedrin or the Jewish leaders did.

Recognize first what constitutes “religion.”  In dictionary.com’s definition, the operative phrase is that it “usually involves devotional and ritual observances, and often contains a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.”  Thus religion is basically the human attempt to do what is right, and the popular view, even among many “Christians” is that this is what will make one okay in God’s eyes.  To summarize, religions are human attempts to please God.

Being a Christ-follower does not mean I am not religious, but it means that religion is a very minor part of life.  The central issue of following Jesus is to know Him as one knows a friend or brother.  This can be difficult to get our heads around, because we cannot see Jesus in His flesh as we would our local friends or relatives.  But that is where becoming “born again” comes in.  Jesus told a good Pharisee that in order to enter the Kingdom of God he had to be born again

The old man had some difficulty getting his head around this concept as well.  It is not just taking on a different point of view or disciplining oneself to behave differently.  That would be religion, and Nicodemus knew all about religion.  It was that on which he had based his life!

Jesus said that he did not need to go back into his mother’s womb and be reborn, but rather to be reborn of the Spirit of God, like a wind over which we have no control.  It is a yielding of ourselves to the divine in a way that we do not fully grasp just as an infant does not understand what is happening to him when he is being born.

You say “the truth can be found within your heart and your divine formless aspects.”  But Jesus’ claim is that we cannot find truth on our own because we have been deceived from our natural birth.  We are condemned even before we start searching!  Just as the arithmetic illustration shows, if one starts with wrong premises, one reaches wrong conclusions.  If you understand 2 is simply one plus one, you can begin to add correctly.  But if one does not understand the basic of what 2 IS, wrong conclusions are certain to follow.

The whole of the Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to us, because He is SOOO different from us that we cannot grasp who or what He is apart from Him telling us.  Like a parent cuddling his baby saying, “Hush, little one, I know what you need,” He will guide us to understand, if we begin with what He tells us about Himself.  And you will not find that in religious literature, nor in yourself, because religion is simply our attempts to find God or to please Him, and we are insufficient to grasp who God is because we are NOT divine.  Just as the babe does not understand who his daddy is, he must grow into that understanding by living with him.

The only place you will find peace that lasts is in knowing The God Who Is.  The only place you will find The God Who Is will be in the Bible.  The only way to get to know Him is through prayer.  And I genuinely wish peace for you and for your beautful country.  God knows you have had such strife, it is difficult to imagine it getting any worse.  The peace you seek can only come with the changes in human hearts that occur when people are “born again.”

your friend, always,
c.a.

Memorial Day- Intermezzo Blog

IMG_2530Memorial Day is often marked as only the beginning of summer.

On this first long weekend of the season, gather with your friends and family and remember those who gave their lives for our freedom.  To mark this holiday, the Hillsdale College produced a Memorial Day tribute video honoring American soldiers who died in defense of our liberty.

The video features remarks from President Ronald Reagan.  It is set to the Hillsdale College choir singing the moving hymn “Mansions of the Lord,” which was also sung at President Reagan’s funeral. You can watch the video using this link: https://lp.hillsdale.edu/memorial-day/.

Be sure to read the excerpt from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address that shows up at 3:23 minutes near the end.
And spend some time praying for families of service members who recently joined the ranks of those who have valued our freedom more than their very lives.