Watch Aaron in the film Holy Wars

Monday, March 31, 2008

Blog for Pakistan Christians

Check out my new blog about Christians in Pakistan. It's a place where you can hear stories and learn about what life is like for Pakistani Christians in their own words. I'll likely be updating it two to three times per week depending on how many stories and updates I receive.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Disobeying Caesar

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about the concept of Civil Disobedience. We all know that when it comes to unjust laws, we're supposed to obey God and not man. The classic text for this is Acts 4:19 where Peter and John defend their right to continue preaching in the name of Jesus. Preaching the gospel in countries that forbid evangelism is an obvious form of civil disobedience. My wife and I have done this in the past and we continue to support those doing that today. So, in one sense, we're breaking man-made laws, but we're obeying a higher law.

But what about other forms of disobedience that aren't dealt with specifically in the Scriptures? Did Peter and John set a precedent that goes beyond preaching the gospel when the powers that be forbid it? We can say that Corrie Ten Boom practiced Civil Disobedience by hiding Jews in her house during the time the Nazis occupied her country, and we all see her as a hero for that, but that's an obvious example where the other option would have been to actively participate in an injustice.

But what about the form of Civil Disobedience that purposely pushes the envelope to challenge unjust laws that aren't so obvious? In Shane Claibourne's book "Jesus for President", Claibourne talks about how a group of Christian activists challenged a law in Philadelphia that forbade people from feeding the homeless. As a form of protest, Claibourne and a group of friends went to a park and held a "communion" service with the homeless-the communion being in the form of Pizza and grape juice. After they were arrested, they went to trial and the judge challenged the constitutionality of the law. The key to the story is that Claibourn and his friends didn't try to evade the consequences for their actions, but worked within the system already in place. Another example of civil disobedience is when Rosa Parks sat in front of the bus reserved for white people only but didn't refuse arrest when the police came to get her. This helped launch the Civil Rights movement.

Perhaps the most inspirational example of forcing direct confrontation with the law comes in Martin Luther King's essay, Letter from a Birmingham Jail. This is considered one of the most important essays in America history and, if you haven't read it, you should. It's not very long, but it will definitely make you think. In the essay, King challenges a group of white pastors in Alabama who also believed that black people should live in equality, but they felt that King's approach of pushing direct confrontation with the law (through protests, boycotts, sit-ins) was a distraction from the higher calling of preaching the gospel. The eerie part about it is the pastors King was challenging in the essay were not racist, they were simply indifferent. Not to in any way put myself in the same category, but many people felt the same way about me when I went to Israel to spend time with Palestinians and then came home and spoke out about the injustices I saw. A significant amount of people thought it was wrong for me to do what I did because the purpose of my trip was not specifically to preach the gospel to the Palestinians. I've defended my actions by saying, "Of course we should preach the gospel to Palestinians. I just think we're being inconsistent when we tell a people "Jesus loves you" on one hand and then turn a blind eye as they're driven out of their shops, orchards, and homes.

Am I right or wrong?

In Acts 17:6-7, we read:
"But when they did not find them, they dragged jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, 'These who have turned the world upside down have come here too. Jason has harbored them, and these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another King-Jesus."

There's a lot in this passage, but what I want to focus on is the part that says the early Christians were accused of "acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar." Could this be a biblical basis for civil disobedience in addition to the classical example of Peter and John disobeying the decree not to preach in the name of Jesus? Is it possible that the early Christians occasionally pushed the envelope to disobey laws that they believed were contrary to the higher law of love? If so, then what are some of the ways that Christians can challenge unjust laws and structures today?

Talk amongst yourselves!

P.S. As I reread this post, I realized that I'm talking about two issues. The first issue is civil disobedience, which is the act of disobeying unjust laws or pushing the envelope to challenge unjust laws. The second issue with the Palestinians isn't about whether we should preach the gospel or work for social justice, but the question of whether we can we preach the gospel to a people while at the same time denying their struggle (like the White pastors did with blacks and like many Christians do with Palestianians....They say you can preach the gospel to them, but don't get involved in any sort of struggle for justice on their behalf)

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Muslims converting to Christianity

Here's an article written by Chuck Colson

In church yesterday, as you celebrated Easter, did you notice anything—or anyone—unusual?
In churches all over the world, there were millions of people celebrating the resurrection of Christ, who were not there just a few years ago—because they were worshipping in a mosque instead.

Journalist Magdi Allam holds a candle after being baptised by Pope Benedict XVI during a Easter Vigil mass in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican March 22, 2008. Pope Benedict led the world's Catholics into Easter on Saturday at a Vatican service where he baptised Allam, a Muslim-born convert who is one of Italy's most famous and controversial journalists. REUTERS/Dario Pignatelli (VATICAN)
Related Media:
VIDEO: Pope Baptizes Prominent Muslims at Easter Vigil
It is thrilling evidence that God is doing a mighty work among Muslims.
According to the website Islam Watch, in Russia, some two million ethnic Muslims converted to Christianity last year. Ten thousand French Muslims converted, as did 35,000 Turkish Muslims. In India, approximately 10,000 people abandoned Islam for Christianity.
In his book Epicenter, author Joel Rosenberg details amazing stories of Muslims converting to Christianity. In Algeria, the birthplace of St. Augustine, more than 80,000 Muslims have turned to Christ in recent years. This, despite the stiff opposition from Islamic clerics who have passed laws banning evangelism.
In Morocco, newspaper articles openly worry that 25,000 to 40,000 Muslims have become followers of Christ in recent years.
The stories are even more amazing in the heart of the Middle East. In 1996, the Egyptian Bible Society sold just 3,000 video copies of the JESUS film. In the year 2000, they sold an incredible 600,000 copies.
In Sudan, as many as five million Muslims have accepted Christ since the early 1990s, despite horrific persecution of Christians by the Sudanese government. What is behind the mass conversions? According to a Sudanese evangelical leader, “People have seen real Islam, and they want Jesus instead.”
In Iraq, “More than 5,000 Muslim converts to Christianity have been identified since the end of major combat operations,” says Islam Watch. And just a few days ago, the first-ever Roman Catholic church was consecrated in Qatar, a Sunni Muslim state where the Wahhabi brand of Islam is practiced. This was the first time Christians in Qatar have been allowed to practice their faith openly. Ten thousand people attended the opening mass.
These conversions have not escaped the notice of Islamic leaders. In 2001, Sheikh Ahmad Al Qatanni, a leading Saudi cleric, delivered the disturbing news on Al-Jazeera: Every day, he said, “16,000 Muslims convert to Christianity . . . every year, that is six million Muslims becoming Christians . . . A tragedy has happened.” It is possible the sheikh was inflating his numbers to incite a reaction against Christianity. But clearly, something is happening.
How thrilling to learn that so many Muslims have been set free from the chains of their sins—just as you and I have—by the power of Christ’s blood! We must pray for these new brothers and sisters; many are being violently persecuted for their new-found faith.
These millions of conversions give us one more reason to rejoice this Easter season. Yes, we may be in a great clash of civilizations; battling Islamo-fascists who threaten to kill us. And the future may at times look bleak. But never despair: God is on His throne, bringing people into His kingdom from the very heart of Islam.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Power to the people!

Bonjour blogging buds,

I received this e-mail a few days back and I've decided to post it because I think it's a good example of real people coming up with a way to solve a real problem without relying on institutionalized power brokers (aka...politicians) to do the job for us.


This was sent by a retired Coca Cola executive. It came from one of his engineer buddies who retired from Halliburton. If you are tired of the gas prices going up AND they will continue to rise this summer, take time to read this please.

Phillip Hollsworth offered this good idea.
This makes MUCH MORE SENSE than the "don't buy gas on a certain day" campaign that was going around last April or May!
It's worth your consideration. Join the resistance!!!!

I hear we are going to hit close to $ 4.00 a gallon by next summer and it might go higher!! Want gasoline prices to come down?

We need to take some intelligent, united action. The oil companies just laughed at that because they knew we wouldn't continue to "hurt" ourselves by refusing to buy gas.

It was more of an inconvenience to us than it was a problem for them.
BUT, whoever thought of this idea, has come up with a plan that can Really work. Please read on and join with us!

By now you're probably thinking gasoline priced at about $2.00 is super cheap. Me too! It is currently $2.98 for regular unleaded in my town.

Now that the oil companies and the OPEC nations have conditioned us to think that the cost of a gallon of gas is CHEAP at $1.50 - $1.75, we need to take aggressive action to teach them that BUYERS control the marketplace...not sellers.

With the price of gasoline going up more each day, we consumers need to take action.

The only way we are going to see the price of gas come down is if we hit someone in the pocketbook by not purchasing their gas! And, we can do that WITHOUT hurting ourselves.

How? Since we all rely on our cars, we can't just stop buying gas.

But we CAN have an impact on gas prices if we all act together to force a price war.

Here's the idea: For the rest of this year, DON'T purchase ANY gasoline from the two biggest companies (which now are one), EXXON and MOBIL.

If they are not selling any gas, they will be inclined to reduce their prices. If they reduce their prices, the other companies will have to follow suit.

But to have an impact, we need to reach literally millions of Exxon and Mobil gas buyers. It's really simple to do! Now, don't wimp out on me at this point...keep reading and I'll explain how simple it is to reach millions of people!!

I am sending this note to 30 people. If each of us send it to at least ten more (30 x 10 = 300) .. and those 300 send it to at least ten more (300 x 10 = 3,000)...and so on, by the time the message reaches the sixth group of people, we will have reached over THREE MILLION consumers.
If those three million get excited and pass this on to ten friends each, then 30 million people will have been contacted!

If it goes one level further, you guessed it..... THREE HUNDRED MILLION PEOPLE!!!

Again, all you have to do is send this to 10 people. That's all!

(If you don't understand how we can reach 300 million and all you have to do is send this to 10 people.... Well, let's face it, you just aren't a mathematician. But I am . so trust me on this one.

How long would all that take? If each of us sends this e-mail out to ten more people within one day of receipt, all 300 MILLION people could conceivably be contacted within the next 8 days!!!

I'll bet you didn't think you and I had that much potential, did you!
Acting together we can make a difference.

If this makes sense to you, please pass this message on. I suggest that we not buy from EXXON/MOBIL UNTIL THEY LOWER THEIR PRICES TO THE $2.00 RANGE AND KEEP THEM DOWN. THIS CAN REALLY WORK.

Viva la revolution!


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Obama heals hundreds?

"Do not put your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help" (Psalms 146:3)

I saw a hilarious parody about the quasi-religious Obama zeal (even among some evangelicals) on Lark News the other day. Lark news is an evangelical website that, surprisingly, makes fun of evangelicals. The site shows Obama reaching out to adoring fans similar to a healing evangelist laying hands on miracle seekers. The headline reads "Obama heals hundreds"


I think all of us need to have a healthy skepticism when it comes to earthly rulers, and that goes for the left and the right.

If our nation is to be saved, it will be saved through the power of the cross, not the power of the vote.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Don't call me a racist! (thoughts on Obama's speech)

As a freelance missionary, a social critic, and (I should add) a self-professed moral failure; I watched Obama's speech this morning with great interest. I couldn't help but thinking to myself that I was witnessing a profound moment in history, something that would have been unthinkable 40, 30, or even 20 years ago. I've never publicly endorsed a political candidate and I don't plan on doing so here (to be quite frank, I have some serious disagreements with the Senator on a variety of issues), but what I heard in the Senator's speech this morning was a man who is both caucasian and African-American (howbeit African-American in a non-traditional sense) pleading with members of both races to look past their prejudices, abandon the politics of discontentment, and unite under a common vision for the good of all.

As a white American evangelical, I've clearly grown up on one side of the discontentment divide. My politically conservative Christian background has taught met to emphasize personal responsibility in the political sphere, but eschew racism in the private sphere. The way this usually translates on the white side of the discontentment divide goes something like this:

"I'm sick and tired of black people (and other minorities) getting special treatment just because of what my ancestors did. If there are racial inequalities in our country between black people and white people, then it's their own damn fault and-for the love of God-I'm sick and tired of being called a racist!"

Given my racial and socio-economic status, I can understand this sentiment very well and, ironically, Obama seems to understand it too, which is why he didn't condemn this type of thinking outright in his speech. Rather than pointing his finger at white discontentment as an example of systemic racism, Obama put the blame on special interest groups and corporate greed. While one can easily disagree with this analysis, depending on whatever side of the political divide you find yourself on, it's not so easy to dismiss the fact that, for the first time that I can think of, a formidable black candidate for the President of the United States has officially given voice to white discontentment-without using the wrath provoking word "racist." To further drive home the point, Obama spoke of his white grandmother who loved him, cared for him, played a significant role in raising him, and occasionally gave voice to racially insensitive stereotypes. Obama's point, which was in no uncertain terms relevant to the current Jeremiah Wright debacle, is simply this: people are more complex than than the sum of their racial discontentment.

The hallmark of the speech for me was when Obama addressed the history behind the current economic and achievement divide between black people and white people in the U.S.A. I've known for a while that the violence in the ghettos, the breakdown of the black family, and whatever other deficiencies currently present in black culture aren't simply a matter of black inferiority verses white superiority, but there are historical factors that have produced the situation today. The problem has been that I've never been able to explain these historical factors to the average discontented white male (including myself). This is where the speech struck the deepest note in me:

Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. As William Faulkner once wrote, 'the past isn't dead and buried. In fact, it isn't even past.' We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustices in this country, but we do need to remind ourelves that so many of the disparities that exist between the African American community and the larger American community today can be traced directly to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

Segregated schools were and are inferior schools. We still haven't fixed them 50 years after Brown Vs Board of Education and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between todays black and white students. Legalized discrimination , where blacks were prevented often through violence from owning property, where loans were not granted to African American business owners, where black home owners could not access FHA mortgages, where blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or the fire department, meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations. That history helps to explain the wealth and income gap between blacks and whites and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today's urban and rural communities.

A lack of economic opportunity among black men and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one's family contributed to the erosion of black families, a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic service in so many urban black neighborhoods, parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick up, building code enforcement, all helped create a cycle of violence, blight, and neglect that continues to haunt us.

In sum, I didn't agree with everything that Obama had to say in his speech(especially when it came to his one- sided statement putting the blame solely on radical Islam and none on Israel for the current problems in the Middle East), but, on the whole, I think it was an important speech that everyone in our nation needs to hear. Rather than just playing to one side of the racial divide, Obama challenged white people to understand the roots of black anger and black people to get past their anger and take personal responsibility for their lives. Perhaps there really is something to this "removing the plank from your own eye" business a humble carpenter from Nazareth stated so beautifully 2,000 years ago.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Holidays and Sabbaths



Got one for you.

Should Christians celebrate unbiblical holidays like Christmas and Easter given that the holidays that they were based on were pagan holidays?

If we celebrate with the right intentions, does it make it alright? Or, is it harmless and a matter of celebrating holidays that are part of our culture? Or, should we avoid these holidays completely because of their pagan roots?

Furthermore/additionally, how should we as Christians respond to the regulations of Jewish law given that Jesus said he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it? I am familiar with the passage regarding the decision the early believers came to regarding no eating blood, no sexual sin and no strangled animals. Is that all of the Jewish law that we can be expected to follow? Then why do many believers feel like tithing is a command since it comes from the Old Covenant system?

Perhaps you have addressed some of these before; feel free to direct me to older responses to these questions if the responses already exist.



Thank you for your questions. Sorry it's taken me a while to get back to you. Since you've asked me two different questions, I'll have to give an answer to each one separately.

As to the first question of should a Christian celebrate holidays with pagan roots, I'll give the answer a qualified yes. The reason I qualify my answer is because I think the answer is up to the individual. I've met sincere Christians who refuse to celebrate Christmas and Easter for the very reasons you've mentioned and I think that for them, they shouldn't celebrate these holidays because they would be violating their conscience in doing so and the Bible tells us, "whatsoever is not of faith is sin" (Romans 14:23).

A good frame of reference for this question is I Corinthians chapter 8. In this chapter Paul deals with the question of whether Christians could eat meat sold in the meat market that had been sacrificed to idols. Paul makes it clear that idols are actually nothing (Vs 4-5) so there's really no problem eating food previously offered to idols (Vs 8), that is, unless someone eats with the consciousness of the idol and, thus defiles their conscience (Vs 7,10,11). Paul makes it clear that those who eat the meat are no better and neither are those who refuse to eat the meat any worse (Vs 8). In other words, it's a matter of individual choice.

I think the same thing applies to the holidays with pagan roots. I think if we asked Paul this question, he would answer with something along the lines of, "Well, when you celebrate Christmas and Easter, are you celebrating the birth and resurrection of Jesus or are you participating in a pagan ritual to celebrate the change of seasons?" If you're not actually worshiping a pagan god, or feel that you are doing so, then I say deck the halls and pass the egg nog! (See also Romans 14:1-6).

As to the second question, I'll give you a much more direct answer. The answer is a Christian isn't obligated to follow any of the Jewish Law except for that which is reinforced in the New Testament. According to the writer of Hebrews, the entire Old Covenant is, and I quote, "obsolete" (Hebrews 8:13). A believer is not under the law of Moses, but under the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2)(John1:17). There are tons of verses in the New Testament that say either the law has been cancelled (Ephesians 2:15, Colossians 2:14) or that the believer is no longer under the law (Galatians 5:1-5, Romans 6:14) Romans 7:13 even goes so far as to say that a Christian is "delivered" from the law.

Notice also Colossians 2:16-17 which says, "So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ." Those who think they are more spiritual than other Christians because they follow Jewish festivals, kosher laws, and sabbaths (I've seen a few TBN preachers that emphasize these things heavily) are flat mistaken!

As to why are there so many Christians who feel that tithing is the 11th commandment next to thou shalt not drink a marguarita, I think it's because they spend more time watching American Idol than reading the Bible.

I hope this helped.

Keep the faith!