Douglas Wilson’s Letter From Moscow

Getting It Right

Douglas Wilson
October 11, 2014
Once there was a Presbyterian minister who had made the whole topic of sola fide his special field of study. He had mastered the subject, as far as any mortal man can be said to have mastered anything. After a long and fruitful ministry, he eventually did what all Presbyterian ministers do, which is to say, he died.

As he approached the pearly gates, he was mildly surprised to see that St. Peter was there, just like in all the jokes. But he was, he thought, prepared to roll with it because, after all, he was going to Heaven.

Right next to St. Peter was a long wooden table, of the kind you see in examination rooms. A chair was pulled out for him, and on the table was a thick test, and a pencil next to it. As he walked up to St. Peter, he was greeted warmly and the set-up was explained to him.

“We have prepared a small fifty-page test for you,” Peter said. “Because we believe in grace, we decided to prepare a test for you that is right in your wheelhouse. This entire test is dedicated to the subject of sola fide, a subject you have been studying for forty years, I understand. If you get a perfect score, you may enter into joy.” With that pronouncement, Peter handed the pencil to the minister, and gestured to the waiting chair.

The minister held the pencil for a moment, thinking about it, and then quietly, without a word, he handed the pencil back.

A smile played around the corner of St. Peter’s mouth. “You pass,” he said.
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Daily Devotional

God Heals by Humbling

“I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will lead him and restore comfort to him and his mourners, creating the fruit of the lips. Peace, peace, to the far and to the near,” says the LORD, “and I will heal him.” (Isaiah 57:18–19)

John Piper

In spite of the severity of man’s disease of rebellion and willfulness, God will heal. How will he heal? Verse 15 says that God dwells with the crushed and humble. Yet the people of verse 17 are brazenly pursuing their own proud way. What will a healing be?

It can only be one thing. God will heal them by humbling them. He will cure the patient by crushing his pride. If only the crushed and humble enjoy God’s fellowship (v. 15), and if Israel’s sickness is a proud and willful rebellion (v. 17), and if God promises to heal them (v. 18), then his healing must be humbling and his cure must be a crushed spirit.

Isn’t this Isaiah’s way of prophesying what Jeremiah called the new covenant and Jeremiah called a new heart? He said, “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel . . . I will put my law within them and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (31:31, 33).

Isaiah and Jeremiah both see a time coming when a sick, disobedient, hard-hearted people will be supernaturally changed. Isaiah speaks of healing. Jeremiah speaks of writing the law on their hearts.

So the healing of Isaiah 57:18 is a major heart transplant — the old hardened, proud, willful heart is taken out and a new soft, tender heart is put in which is easily humbled and crushed by the memory of sin and the sin that remains.

This is a heart that the lofty One whose name is Holy can dwell with and give life to.

For more about John Piper’s ministry and writing, see DesiringGod.org.
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The Irresistible Power of God

Lights In Dark Places

As Shia, Sunni, and ISIS forces have swept over the landscape in Syria and Iraq Christians have been driven out, fleeing in the face of torture and death.  Some Christian enclaves have been there for more than a millennium.  It seemed as though this region would become Christian-less.  But, recent news would indicate something different. This, from Breaking Christian News

(Iraq)—Working in northern Iraq’s Kurdish region day and night to help meet the needs of people displaced by the threats and violence of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Mosul and other areas, members of an Iraqi ministry team recently came into contact with a colonel from the Kurdish forces battling ISIS.  

The colonel was serving as a division commander of the Peshmerga, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s armed forces, which have helped to slow the incursion of ISIS in its brutal push to establish a caliphate imposing a strict version of Sunni Islam. With the aid of U.S. airstrikes, the Peshmerga have also slowly retaken some territory. They are helping to secure the Kurdish capital of Erbil, where the ministry team assisted by Christian Aid Mission is supplying displaced people with food, clothing, beds and medicine.

“In all our travel to deliver the aid and preach God’s Word, we did not find anyone opposed to or rejecting our message. The challenge is how and when we will reach all those people with the message of salvation in the squares, sidewalks, roads, inside the tents and out, and everywhere”

The colonel had a few questions for the team members: What was the reason for offering all this aid? What was the motivation, what was the source of it?  “We spoke with him explicitly, explaining everything to him, saying that Christ taught us to love and express our love to the people in a practical way,” said the team director, who informed the officer that all relief items had been donated or purchased locally.

The Peshmerga colonel, whose name is withheld for security reasons, was quick to respond.  “You see the Arabs around you in the Gulf states, which claim to be religious Muslims, have not sent us anything but terrorists,” he told the ministry team members. “But you who follow Christ send love and peace and goodness to people every day.”  The conversation continued at length, the ministry team director said.  “After we had a long talk with him about Christ, he bowed and prayed, asking Christ into his life,” the director said. “And he said, ‘Today I am the happiest person—I’ve had the privilege of making this decision,’ and he received a copy of the Bible.”

The colonel’s experience was just one of many taking place in Iraq. In cities of refuge like Erbil for people displaced from their homes in other parts of Iraq, people are turning to Christ at a stunning pace. Tent churches are springing up in the makeshift camps. Under normal circumstances, mission strategies focus on how to proclaim Christ effectively, but the challenge now is keeping pace with the number who would receive Him, the director said.

(Photo via ChristianAid.org

“The greatest challenge in the ministry right now is not whether these people will accept Christ or not,” he said. “In all our travel to deliver the aid and preach God’s Word, we did not find anyone opposed to or rejecting our message. The challenge is how and when we will reach all those people with the message of salvation in the squares, sidewalks, roads, inside the tents and out, and everywhere.”

Christian Aid Mission’s Middle East director said that as a result of this trend, some church leaders and workers for ministry organizations are remaining in Iraq even as the cruel practices of ISIS—beheading Iraqi children who refuse to deny Christ in Qaroqosh and Western journalists elsewhere—gain greater notoriety.

Those who have stayed behind are risking their lives, if caught.  Pray God for their safety–and for the safety of those who, like the thief at Golgotha, seek eternal life amidst death and destruction.   

“I think of workers who stayed behind in Mosul and the surrounding areas because there are so many who are receptive to the Gospel,” he said. “They are willing to risk being in an area under the rule of ISIS for the privilege of more and more fruit for Christ.”  Forced to trust God more than they ever have before, these Christians are growing in their relationship with God in ways they had never imagined, he said.

“I respected them before the Arab Spring because they were serving in Islamic areas, but now they are serving more and maturing even more,” he said. “We need to intercede for these workers. They are all always in danger. They need God’s power to show His love to the thousands of helpless people.”  When Iraqi ministry workers assisted by Christian Aid Mission obtain more funds for food, water, medicine and other supplies, they have the opportunity to demonstrate Christ’s love in a tangible way, he added.  “God has put within the hearts of thousands of Muslims a desire to read His Word,” he said. “We can be the instruments of providing them with New Testaments and audio Bibles.”

When all other lights go out, it pleases God to enable His people to shine like stars amidst a crooked and dark world.  When God stretches forth His hand to save, people will run to the day of Christ’s rising.  

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Jerry Coyne on Deception and the Omission of Facts

In 2011 I wrote a criticism of Jerry Coyne’s USA Today article, “As  atheists know, you can be good without God.” My critique, “When Scientists make bad Ethicists,” attracted some attention motivating Coyne to write a response. I wrote a following up piece the next year, “Jerry Coyne on God and Morality Revisited,” my conclusions were not flattering. I wrote:

“Nothing in Coyne’s follow up leads me to revisit my initial conclusion. Misrepresenting people’s views, calling people names, quoting from articles out of context, denigrating others’ scholarly qualifications and confidently asserting a position whilst reasoning in a circle, and ignoring objections, are not the same as actually addressing them.  I doubt such sophistry would pass muster in the scientific community when people write on scientific topics, and it does not pass muster when scientists comment on theology or philosophy.”

Jerry CoyneRecently I discovered Coyne’s latest riposte on the issue of divine commands: “William Lane Craig answers a distressed reader: ‘If ISIS’s god were mine, should I do what he says?’” Little, it seems, has changed. Coyne begins by sarcastically referring to William Lane Craig as a “sophisticated theologian” and commending him for addressing a question “not often taken up by theologians”. I am not sure which “sophisticated theologians” Coyne has read because, contrary to what he says, almost every major monograph on divine command theory (“DCT”) in the last thirty years has discussed the problem he refers to in his post, as do most articles on the subject. Undeterred by these facts, or perhaps unaware of them, Coyne suggests in closing that “sophisticated theologians” like Craig who defend DCT are like real estate salesman in Florida.

Apart from sarcastic names and insinuations of dishonesty Coyne’s central argument purports to highlight an inconsistency in Craig’s divine command theory. The inconsistency relates to a distinction Craig (and others like Baggett and Walls) draw between a voluntaristic and a non voluntaristic DCT. According to Craig’s account of a voluntaristic DCT ,“God’s commands are based upon His free will alone”; God “arbitrarily chooses” what we are required to do.”[1] On a non-voluntaristic  account, “Our duties are determined by the commands, of a just and loving God. God is essentially compassionate, fair, kind, impartial, and so forth, and His commandments are reflections of His own character”;[2] because he has these character traits, essentially, “it is logically impossible for Him to issue certain sorts of commands”.[3]

I think Craig’s use of the term “voluntarism” is somewhat inaccurate. Yet he is correct when he adds that most (if not all) divine command theorists are non-voluntarists, as he defines the term. Coyne thinks this “is bait and switch”. This is because “Craig himself seemed in at least one case to hold to the voluntarist view of the DCT.”  Coyne quotes from Craig:

“But God has no such prohibition [the prohibition not to take an innocent life]. He can give and take life as He chooses.  We all recognize this when we accuse some authority who presumes to take life as “playing God.” Human authorities arrogate to themselves rights which belong only to God. God is under no obligation whatsoever to extend my life for another second.  If He wanted to strike me dead right now, that’s His prerogative …

… On divine command theory, then, God has the right to command an act, which, in the absence of a divine command, would have been sin, but which is now morally obligatory in virtue of that command.”

Coyne rejoins, “If that’s not voluntaristic DCT, I don’t know what is.” Coyne provides a link to the article in question, so presumably he expects his readers – good free thinkers who accept nothing blindly on authority – to check his quote and verify what he says. When one does, however, the picture is interesting. Coyne starts his series of quotations from Craig halfway through a paragraph. If one looks at the sentences immediately before the snip one finds that Craig said the following:

“I think that a good start at this problem is to enunciate our ethical theory that underlies our moral judgements.  According to the version of divine command ethics which I’ve defended, our moral duties are constituted by the commands of a holy and loving God.  Since God doesn’t issue commands to Himself, He has no moral duties to fulfil.  He is certainly not subject to the same moral obligations and prohibitions that we are.  For example, I have no right to take an innocent life.  For me to do so would be murder.  But God has no such prohibition …”[4]

Two things immediately stand out here. First, in this paragraph Craig explicitly endorses a non-voluntaristic DCT. He states “our moral duties are constituted by the commands of a holy and loving God.” Second, he explains what he says “God can give and take life as He chooses” and doing so is his “prerogative.” He means that God is under no moral obligation to preserve anyone’s life. This is seen by the phrase “For example” just prior to where Coyne snipped the quote.

The claim that God is under no moral obligation to issue any command is not, however, the same as saying that it is logically possible for God to issue a command. It is logically impossible for a Bachelor to be married, it does not follow that Bachelors are under a moral obligation to not marry. To affirm voluntarism Craig must hold that it is logically possible for God to command anything at all, and he does not affirm this.

It is clear that while Craig does not believe God is under any moral obligation to issue any command at all, he does believe that it is logically impossible for any being that has the title God to do so. In the sentence that immediately proceeds the section Coyne snips, Craig states “All right; but isn’t such a command contrary to God’s nature?  Well, let’s look at the case more closely…”

Craig here in the very next line shows that he is aware of a potential response to his argument. That although God is under no moral obligation to refrain from commanding killing, there is a separate question of whether it is contrary to his nature. Craig proceeds to address this objection in the article, not by saying God can do whatever he likes, but by attempting to argue that such a command is not contrary to God’s nature. He concludes the article with the following: “in Islam God’s omnipotence trumps everything, even His own nature.  He is therefore utterly arbitrary in His dealing with mankind.  By contrast Christians hold that God’s holy and loving nature determines what He commands.” A person might, of course, agree with Craig’s arguments that the commands in question are compatible with God’s nature and one might disagree with his comments about Islam, but both arguments show, pretty clearly, he is not defending a voluntarist account of God’s commands; his whole argument assumes a non-voluntarist account.  Coyne is flatly mistaken in his presentation.

That Craig does not endorse a voluntarist account is confirmed by what he writes elsewhere.

“Our moral duties are constituted by the commands of a just and loving God”  and that  this fact also supplies the key to the arbitrariness objection.  For our duties are determined by the commands, not merely of a supreme potentate, but of a just and loving God.  God is essentially compassionate, fair, kind, impartial, and so forth, and His commandments are reflections of His own character.  Thus, they are not arbitrary,…Nonetheless, the fact that God is not duty-bound should alert us to the fact that He may well have prerogatives (for example, taking human life at His discretion) which are forbidden to us. Taking the life of an innocent person is something we have no right to do; but God is not similarly restricted. ..This also not to say that God could have brought it about that it be a general moral duty for people to kill one another. The case of Abraham and Isaac is the exception that proves the rule. Issuing a general command that we should seek one another’s harm would be contrary to God’s loving nature, but in the extraordinary case of Abraham and Isaac, it was not unloving of God to so try Abraham’s devotion, and God had good reasons for testing him so severely.”[5] [Emphasis mine]

Here, Craig explains that in saying that God has the prerogative to take human life at his discretion he does not mean he can command anything at all. It means only that God is not subject to a duty to refrain from killing. Craig explicitly denies that God’s commands are arbitrary, and states they must be consistent with his character. Gods having this prerogative also does not mean he can issue a general command to kill human beings for fun. It is only in extraordinary or exceptional cases where doing so serves some greater good that such a command would be compatible with God’s nature.

Of course this last paragraph comes, not from any of Craig’s popular online writings, but from a philosophy textbook. So perhaps Coyne and his readers can be forgiven for not noticing it. Though it is worth noting that I referred Coyne to this passage when he made the same accusation 2 years ago.

Less understandable are the omissions Coyne makes with regard to the passages he himself quotes. One assumes that Coyne had read the actually before he quoted from it and told his readers what it said. So it is very odd he cites it as an example of Craig endorsing voluntarism. It is also odd that he has snipped Craig’s comments in the exact precise spot that gives the false impression to his readers that Craig does.

Despite these strange omissions, Coyne takes himself to have  found a problem with a DCT, and, as noted, he suggests advocacy of DCT is comparable to being a real estate agent from Florida. Presumably this is intended to suggest holders of DCT are people who promote a position we know to be faulty through deception and the omission of facts. I leave my readers to ponder the irony of this accusation.


[1]  http://www.reasonablefaith.org/if-isis-god-were-real-would-i-be-obliged-to-follow-him
[2] William Lane Craig and J P Moreland Philosophical Foundations of a Christian WorldView (Downers Grove Il: Intervarsity Press academic) 531.
[3] http://www.reasonablefaith.org/if-isis-god-were-real-would-i-be-obliged-to-follow-him
[4] http://www.reasonablefaith.org/slaughter-of-the-canaanites
[5] William Lane Craig and J P Moreland Philosophical Foundations of a Christian WorldView (Downers Grove Il: Intervarsity Press academic) 531.

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Monday quote

Many people do not like the idea that time has a beginning, probably because it smacks of divine intervention.

Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time.
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Video of the Week

Keeping Track

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Daily Devotional

Repentance–A Divine Work

“Godly sorrow worketh repentance.”
2 Corinthians 7:10

Charles Spurgeon

Genuine, spiritual mourning for sin is the work of the Spirit of God. Repentance is too choice a flower to grow in nature’s garden. Pearls grow naturally in oysters, but penitence never shows itself in sinners except divine grace works it in them. If thou hast one particle of real hatred for sin, God must have given it thee, for human nature’s thorns never produced a single fig. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.”

True repentance has a distinct reference to the Saviour. When we repent of sin, we must have one eye upon sin and another upon the cross, or it will be better still if we fix both our eyes upon Christ and see our transgressions only, in the light of his love.

True sorrow for sin is eminently practical. No man may say he hates sin, if he lives in it. Repentance makes us see the evil of sin, not merely as a theory, but experimentally–as a burnt child dreads fire. We shall be as much afraid of it, as a man who has lately been stopped and robbed is afraid of the thief upon the highway; and we shall shun it–shun it in everything–not in great things only, but in little things, as men shun little vipers as well as great snakes. True mourning for sin will make us very jealous over our tongue, lest it should say a wrong word; we shall be very watchful over our daily actions, lest in anything we offend, and each night we shall close the day with painful confessions of shortcoming, and each morning awaken with anxious prayers, that this day God would hold us up that we may not sin against him.

Sincere repentance is continual. Believers repent until their dying day. This dropping well is not intermittent. Every other sorrow yields to time, but this dear sorrow grows with our growth, and it is so sweet a bitter, that we thank God we are permitted to enjoy and to suffer it until we enter our eternal rest.
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Smyrna… faithful not fearful in the face of suffering (Revelations 2:8-11)… What the Spirit Says to the Churches (part 3)

John Stephen Akwari…Never stood on the winner’s podium at the Olympic Games, he never had a medal placed round his neck or a wreath placed on his head, he lived his whole life in poverty in the dirt floored hut of his home village… But he has inspired millions worldwide and his name is synonymous with the modern marathon.

 Mexico City 1968. The sun is setting and they are about to turn the lights off in the Olympic stadium most of the crowd has already left for the day. News comes through that there is still one more runner; one more competitor out on the marathon course. He is injured, hurt and staggering along but he is determined despite all he is suffering to finish the race. Little know Tanzanian runner John Stephen Akwari steps onto the world stage. A story told best in the great Olympic sports movie ’16 days of glory’
 
 
 

“My country did not send me 5000 miles to start the race but to finish it” John Stephen Akwari’s faithfulness in the face of suffering backed in this film clip by the tune of the great resurrection hymn ‘Thine Be The Glory Risen Conquering Son’ captures the essence of the letter to the church in Smyrna. A church that has persevered in the face of tribulation, poverty and slander and that Jesus is telling will face further persecution, violent detention and even death. A church that is called to be neither faithful nor fearful as it goes through these trials.

We are working our way through the seven letters to the seven churches in the province of Asia Minor, in modern day turkey, looking at what the spirit is saying to the churches, then and there and to us here and now. ‘If the first mark of the true church is love” says John Stott, “the second Mark is surely suffering. You cannot love without suffering”. Maybe in our comfortable western society we have forgotten that cost of following Jesus. But from its start and even for many of our brothers and sisters in the world today to follow Jesus is to suffer. There have been moments when we touch that kind of issue first hand I remember when I was younger our Church held a Passover dinner and the man who lead us through it talked of his orthodox Jewish family holding a funeral for him when he became a Christian. . And Jesus call to the church in Smyrna and to us is to be faithful not fearful, and we need to listen to what the Spirit saying to the churches.

Smyrna may sound like Russian vodka but is a city that sits to the north of Ephesus. It was Ephesus’ rival for prominence in the province. It was a major sea port and the main Imperial trade road through the province went inland from it. Therefore it was a rich and prosperous city.  It was known for two things; its beauty and its loyalty or faithfulness to Rome. It was the first city to be rewarded with the right to build a temple to the worship of the emperor Tiberius. Smyrna today is still standing and is the second largest city in Asiatic Turkey and known by the name Izmir.

We do not know much of the origins of the church in this city. Apart from the letter here in revelations we do have letters written by Ignatius in the middle of the second century in Smyrna and a written account of the martyrdom of the bishop of Symrna in 156 AD. The bishop’s name was Polycarp and tradition tells us that John the elder had ordained him personally as bishop.

Polycarp was a saintly man, his church had convinced him to flee but he was betrayed to the Roman authorities. In deference to his old age they invited him to recant his faith and to offer a sacrifice to the emperor, which he refused to do… he said “eighty and six years have I served him, and he has done me no wrong; how then can I blaspheme my King who saved me.” He was burned at the stake. In the end as an act of mercy a soldier ran him through with a sword because the wind kept blowing the flames away from him. It gives us a picture of the extreme that the church in Smyrna is warned of and of their faithfulness.

Like all the letters this one starts with the speaker being introduced, Jesus is the one speaking to the church. In all the letters Jesus introduces himself through aspects of the vision that John has on Patmos. The way Jesus introduces himself here is a source of encouragement for the Church. Here Jesus says he is the ‘first and the last’ that he is the eternal God. In the face of difficulties suffering and persecution it is important for us to remember that the situations and suffering we face now can be seen as having a place in the eternal plans and purposes of God. It is not simply theological sentimentality to acknowledge that God has our times and situations in his hands, but a source of hope of the ultimate victory of Justice of the ultimate victory of Christ.

 

Jesus identified himself as the one who was dead and is alive again. Jesus is not just eternal Jesus lets them and us know that he has gone before, he has walked the road of suffering… of slander, poverty, imprisonment and torture, and yes even death. The encouragement that comes from that is encapsulated best in the words of the Spiritual from African American Slaves “ nobody knows the trouble I seen nobody knows but Jesus’.

More than that is the hope and encouragement in the resurrection, that Jesus overcame, that he is alive again. The hope and comfort for God’s people is that the crown of thorns is a victor’s crown. The promise for those who overcome is that they will receive eternal life that Jesus has won.

The letter outlines the present and past suffering of the Church; which seem to be a result of the reaction of the Jews in Smyrna. One of the things that Roman Society valued was civilizations more ancient than themselves. This meant that for the Jews that they were exempt from making sacrifices to the emperor as a sign of their loyalty. The early church was seen as a sect of Judaism and was originally afforded the same protection. But as Christianity continued to grow the Jews wanted to differentiate themselves from Christians. Jesus predicted in the verses that followed on from our reading in John 15 this morning that a time would come when they would put Christians out of the synagogue and would consider they were doing God’s work in killing them.

We do need to unpack some of the strong language used about the Jews in this letter. Jews who are not really Jews refers to the fact that the early Christians saw that in Jesus they had found the messiah and they were the true continuation of the Jewish faith. In Roman law for someone to be punished, imprisoned and bought before the justice system their needed to be accusers. In Jesus trial the gospels tell us people were found who were willing to bring false accusations, and Paul in the book of acts seems to have had to deal with similar issues. The Jews in Smyrna were willing to accuse the Christians …The word Satan means accuser and in this letter John is highlighting that they in their slander are acting in that role, and also pointing out that behind this is a darker evil force. But we need to note it is specific to this context and sadly this terminology has been picked up and used as anti-Semitic propaganda.

In the face of increasing suffering and persecution even to the point of death, the Church is encouraged to be faithful and not fearful. 

We as humans naturally react to fear in one of three ways… It’s the freeze, flight or fight reflexes. When we are faced by opposition to our faith be it from unkind words and unfair critiques of our faith by friends or work mates through to the kind of situations mentioned in this letter, it can cause us to freeze, to simply stop talking or living out our faith, or we can run away retreat, our faith becomes private or confined to Sunday mornings and the walls of a building, or we walk away or its to fight, to aggressively argue, maybe even to respond in un-Christ like ways.

But we are called not to be fearful but to be faithful… During the week I have been made aware of the stories of faithful people and to talk of what it means to be faithful in the face of suffering is best explained in their stories.

Maybe not really persecution but the Ebola Crisis is something that has makes people fearful, right, that causes great suffering. There has been some criticism in the west of the number of Christian medical workers in the area.  Stephen Rowden volunteers for Doctors without borders in Monrovia Liberia, his role is to manage the teams who collect the bodies of Ebola victims, they deal with about ten to twenty five bodies a day and risk becoming victims themselves. In a Radio interview with typical English understatement he spoke of “the sad case” of going into a house to collect the body of a four year child from its parents. Asked if he was a religious man he replied yes he was a committed Christian. The interviewer then asked if this was testing his faith to which he replied No “I Get great strength from my faith and the support of my family.” There is some criticism of the fact that there are so many missionary medical people involved in west Africa but no one is really lining up to replace them.

ISIS the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is also something that people are afraid of today… right… I’ve even had conversations with people who worry about it sparking a world war. We’ve heard stories of beheadings and the ultimatums to Christian populations as well as moderate Muslim populations of converting leaving without anything or facing death. What we don’t hear is the stories of  Middle Eastern Christians quietly at work in the refugee camps caring for the needs of the refugees.  Not too far away from the deadly frontlines they are there to care for the homeless and displaced. One Christian aid agency sends money to those on the ground to be able to buy locally sourced tents and food and gas stoves to give out. They share their stories…

An officer in the Kurdish militia fighting ISIS came to the Christian aid workers to see what was going on. He was suspicious of where the aid was coming from. But as the conversation continued he was impressed by the fact that the people doing the work were Christians, helping displaced Muslims…“You see the Arabs around you in the Gulf states, which claim to be religious Muslims, have not sent us anything but terrorists,” he told the ministry team members. “But you who follow Christ send love and peace and goodness to people every day.”  After a long conversation he too became a follower of Jesus and said it was the happiest day in his life.
In refugee camps tent churches are springing up. Centres of both aid and worship at one a muslim women was attracted to one by the singing and came to see what was going on. She asked if she was allowed in. She stayed and became a follower of Jesus. The next day she was back with her family and within a short period over sixty of her extended family had become Christians.    
When the aid agency how the Christian workers were coping the reply was that their faith is maturing and they are learning to be more and more dependent on Christ in new ways each day.
We to are called to be faithful and to show Christ’s love and proclaim Christ’s saving love.

The letter to Smyrna expresses the Christian hope in the face of suffering in a series of paradoxes. They are poor but in Christ they are rich. They face death but in Christ they will find life. Satan is accusing them and causing suffering and death, but the sovereign God is using that to test and to refine their faith. About 20% of the logos for the city of Smyrna that archaeologists have found show the laurels of the roman victory crown a sign that the city is being rewarded for its faithfulness to Rome but to those who remain faithful to king Jesus they will receive a greater crown, they will receive eternal life in Christ. The call to us as a church facing struggle and trials is to be faithful not fearful listen to what the spirit is saying to the church.

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Vested Interests–Innoculating Against Belief

A High Opinion of One’s Own Virtue

It is commonplace in our age to sneer at the Christian faith and those who believe.  This attitude is used to cover over the hypocrisy, the cant, and the prejudices of  Unbelief.  Peter Hitchens in his book, Rage Against God documents Virginia Woolf’s reflexive arrogance and sarcasm towards those who believe, as an example of this cant.  But it is the arrogant who are usually the most blind–as Hitchens himself came to realise as he reflected on his years as a Prodigal Son.

The fury and almost physical disgust of the Bloomsbury novelist Virginia Woolf at T.S. Eliot’s conversion to Christianity is an open expression of the private feelings of the educated British middle class, normally left unspoken but conveyed by body language or facial expression when the subject of religion cannot be avoided.  Mrs Woolf wrote to her sister in 1928, in terms that perfectly epitomize the enlightened English person’s scorn for faith and those who hold it:
I had a most shameful and distressing interview with poor dear Tom Eliot, who may be called dead to us all from this day forward.  He has become an Anglo-Catholic, believes in God and immortality, and goes to church.  I was really shocked.  A corpse would seem to me more credible than he is.  I mean, there’s something obscene in a living person sitting by the fire and believing in God. 

Look at these bilious, ill-tempered words: “Shameful, distressing, obscene, dead to us all.”  There has always seemed to me to be something frantic and enraged about this passage, concealing its real emotion–which I suspect is fear that Eliot, as well as being a greater talent than her, may also be right.  [Peter Hitchens, The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), p. 23f.]

Most people in our day make the same mistake that Hitchens made at the time.
  He reasoned that if the illuminati, the celebrity-set, the educated, the intellectuals, and the cognoscenti of the Chattering Classes dismissed and sneered at Jesus Christ then this amounted to definitive proof that Christianity, the Bible, and Jesus Christ were lies and fakes.   But, as he later came to realise, he wanted “proof” all along and, therefore, became credulous and easily persuaded.  A lie repeatedly told easily takes on an air of infallible certitude if one wishes to believe it. 

This blatant truth, that we hold opinions because we wish to, and reject them because we wish to, is so obvious that it is too seldom mentioned.  I had reasons for wanting that proof [for Unbelief]. . . . I had spotted the dry, disillusioned, and apparently disinterested atheism of so many intellectuals, artists, and leaders of our age.  I liked their crooked smiles, their knowing worldliness, and their air of finding human credulity amusing.  I envied their confidence that we lived in a place where there was no darkness, where death was the end, the dead were gone, and there would be no judgment.  It did not then cross my mind that they, like religious apologists, might have any personal reasons for holding to this disbelief.  It certainly did not cross my mind that I had any low motives for it.  Unlike Christians, atheists have a high opinion of their own virtue. [Ibid., p.24f.]

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The benefits of rural roading

Some months back I wrote about how roading encourages economic development. This month National Geographic has a story on the benefits of rural roads that the author noted in Vietnam back in 1968.

While agricultural extension agents urged farmers in my district to plant the new IR8 rice, engineers were upgrading the rutted, largely impassable farm-to-market road that linked the eight villages. They finished the road through half of the villages.

Everywhere the new road went, farmers began using the new rice with amazing, almost overnight, results.

Farmers could now harvest two crops of IR8 rice per year. Each new crop produced a higher yield than the six-month floating varieties that had been planted for hundreds of years and had provided barely enough grain for subsistence. For the first time, smallholder farmers had a surplus crop and surplus income.

Families could now invest in metal sheeting to improve the roofs on their homes and purchase better clothing and more nutritious food for their children. The children stayed in school longer, thanks to the little “taxis” that carried them from hamlet to hamlet over the new road. Child mortality dropped, as mothers with sick children could get them medical attention early enough for effective intervention.

The most amazing change, however, was the impact that the new upgraded road had on security. Villages once beset by insurgents and underground guerrillas now became safe to travel both day and night. As the new road opened the way for commerce, information, and opportunities, young people no longer were enticed to join political military movements and uprisings.

Where the upgraded road ended, however, so did the planting of IR8. Life in the four villages without the improved road remained mired in poverty and malnutrition, unchanged from decades earlier. Houses were ramshackle, and children were thin, poorly dressed, and not in school. Security remained a constant and even worsening problem.

So the roads helped

  1. Increase income
  2. Improve housing
  3. Clothe children
  4. Feed children
  5. Educate children
  6. Medicate children
  7. Increase security

Seems like infrastructure development is more useful than handing aid money to despots to distribute.
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