I’m no different

There’s a special place in my heart for persecuted Christians who cannot freely worship and practice their faith like I do and can.  Some years ago I was part of a Voice of the Martyrs’ team that smuggled Bibles into several countries which will remain nameless.  For 45 years VOM has been a relentless voice for the world’s silent and suffering Christians.  Founder Richard Wurmbrand’s zeal was fueled by 14 years of torture at his Romanian jailers’ hands.  Once free he set his sights on informing the prospering church in the west about the suffering church in the east and elsewhere. 
Mission accomplished.  Pastor Wurmbrand died at 91 in 2001 but by then VOM had become the gold standard among persecuted church ministries.  They distribute Bibles, provide surgeries for injured believers attacked for their faith, operate safe houses and employment to Christian women whose lives are in danger, purchase bicycles and motorcycles for indigenous evangelists, and release Scripture balloons into North Korean airspace.  Pretty exotic and gutsy stuff.

Tom White has been executive director for over 20 years.  Like Wurmbrand, he knew about torture and prison firsthand.  He was dropping gospel leaflets from the air over Cuba when his plane crashed on the island.  Fidel and company made him their guest for 17 months.

Each month I read VOM’s magazine from cover to cover including Tom’s provocative editorials.  Sadly, there will be no more editorials.  Tom died on April 18 and it appears it was by his own hand.  Unknown to the rest of VOM, police had begun an investigation to see if Tom had had inappropriate contact with a 10 year-old girl.  He left a note in his car.  VOM released a statement which said in part:

Allegations were made to authorities this week that Tom had inappropriate contact with a young girl. Rather than face those allegations, and all of the resulting fallout for his family and this ministry and himself, Tom appears to have chosen to take his own life.

Suicide.  Possible child molestation. No doubt such sins leave a wife and children and supporters and donors submerged in a maelstrom of grief, anger, horror, and more.  For some, perhaps indignation.  “How could he do that!  What was he thinking!  Didn’t he care about anybody but himself?!!”

I cannot pile on.  Such demanding and self-righteous questions were ones I’d have flung not that many years ago.  This smug, holy pastor would never do ___ or ___ or ___ (you fill in the blank).  In a curious way, as I have become more and more gripped by the wonder of the good news, I have also become increasingly aware of the enormity of my sin, its breadth, and my potential for it which hides in the shadows trying to deceive me that it’s not there.  Because I share the same totally depraved flesh with all people–my DNA is programmed for sin.  Yes, even sin which in moments of passionate desire to glorify God, I find repugnant.

Christ has broken the power of sin in every authentic Christian’s life.  But its presence remains.  It remains in those who give thanks for Tom’s work on behalf of the gospel over the years and humbly intercede for his family and ministry.  And it remains in those who sneer “I’d never do that!”  

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 1 Cor.10:12

Trivial Marriage

This has been a busy week for marriage.  On Sunday the Vice President threw in his support behind homosexual men or women wanting to marry in any state; “absolutely comfortable” he insisted.  With much hand wringing, members of the press empathized with the difficult situation the President must be in.  Having made no such endorsement himself, he would once again have to bring his unpredictable second-in-command to heel.  
But on Monday when Education Secretary Arne Duncan seconded Mr. Biden’s support, I suspected the fix was in: the Biden and Duncan remarks were oval office trial balloons to see how the nation would react.  Sure enough, today Mr. Obama went public.
“I’ve been going through an evolution on this issue. I’ve always been adamant that gay and lesbian Americans should be treated fairly and equally.  At a certain point I’ve just concluded that, for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”
Meanwhile, yesterday in the great state of North Carolina, the citizenry disagreed.  About 61% of its voters approved an amendment to their constitution specifying that the marriage can only be between a man and a woman.  That makes 30 out of 50 states that have made it official.
Same-sex couples should have the legal and legitimate rights due any citizen, but offering them marriage is not for the government to do.  Marriage belongs to God, not the federal or state government.  It’s an institution that predates 1776, one God made for the joy of men and women and the propagation of children.  
The push for same-sex marriage is simply an early step on a continuum which does–and will, trivialize marriage.  For example, in March of this year Nadine Schweigert married herself in Fargo, N.D.  Seriously.  She actually had a ceremony in front of 45 family members and friends in which she vowed, “to enjoy inhabiting my own life and to relish a lifelong love affair with my beautiful self.”  Then she went off on a honeymoon.  With herself.  Trivializing marriage.

a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one (Genesis 2:24).  man…, wife…, united into one. 

Why there’s hope in a God in total control…

Knowing I believe God’s in total control of His universe, its people, and all circumstances, people frequently ask me how I can fit horrific things into that conviction.  I had a conversation like that just yesterday.  

This morning on Justin Taylor’s blog I read about Josh McPherson, lead preaching pastor at Grace Covenant Church in Wenatchee, WA.  He and his wife have gone through a world of agonizing pain and suffering.  

I used to say, years ago, when people would ask how I reconciled evil and suffering with the reality of a loving God, I’d say something like, “God did not cause it, but He can use it for good.” However, that answer quickly let me down. After 6 pregnancies in 6 years, 2 ending in difficult miscarriages, a third coming dangerously close, and 2 resulting in severe birth defects, I do not say that any more. Primarily because I don’t believe it to be true.

Here’s the full sermon: http://www.gracecovonline.com/resources/sermons/sermon/the-smiling-face-of-gods-providence:-baby-mac–4.   

Safe Faith

This is how one mission website described their short term adventures: “Our trips are designed to be Christ-centered, affordable, safe, and hassle free!”  I get that “affordable” matters to anybody who’s got to raise several hundred or several thousand dollars for an international flight and living expenses for a couple of weeks.  I know “safe” matters to every parent–whether they’re a fan of the trip or against it.  And of course, safe also matters to adults flying into a restricted country or one with lousy to scary medical facilities.  And who among us likes hassles?  Of any kind?  I mean, who wants to repackage a purchase from Amazon that’s not quite right and call FedEx to come get it?  Who wants to change a tire in the rain?  Who wants to put up with the telemarketer?  Who wants to count calories?  Why should there be so much paperwork to do your taxes?

I just wonder if any no-risk gig should get to sport the label “Christ-centered”.  That’s all. 

I am not some hooah guy sneering at those who quake in their boots.  I am, however, concerned that by pandering to accomplished wusses like me, the church ends up making it less likely–not more–that I will participate in some expensive, high-demand, high-risk, death-defying, Christ-exalting role in reaching the world for Jesus Christ.  Or simply helping someone up the street who could be a danger to me.  People like me do not need reassured or given more opportunities to do safe things.  We need challenged.  Reminded that the cost of following Jesus is all in–just like He was for us.