September 28, 2017 – John Stonestreet With so much devastation in the news, it’s hard not to ask God, “Why?” Here’s some help for responding to questions about natural disasters and God.
Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, a massive earthquake in Mexico. The string of natural disasters in the last few weeks has left many wondering: Where is God in the midst of all this suffering, loss of life, and destruction?
It’s a question nearly as old as time. As the Greek philosopher, Epicurus asked, Is God able to stop suffering but not willing? Then He isn’t all-good. Is He willing, but not able? Then He isn’t all-powerful. In both cases, He’s not really God.
And Voltaire, the French philosopher, famously argued in a poem that the All Saints Day Earthquake in Lisbon in 1755 made believing in an all-good, all-powerful God untenable.
Thankfully, many Christians have tackled this tough question. In fact, Colson Center Senior Fellow, J. Warner Wallace offers a few of his thoughts in an upcoming column.
First, Wallace points out that “natural disasters” aren’t always entirely, well, natural. Human freedom and planning leads to homes and cities being built in places susceptible to earthquakes, floods, and volcanic eruptions. Sometimes corners are cut on building materials or construction in order to save money. These choices can put people in harm’s way when nature turns dangerous.
And second, calamity often reveals the very best of human character, as opportunities abound to love those in need. In the early centuries of Christianity, pagan hearts were softened toward the Gospel when Christians ran toward great plagues and disasters, rather than away. In the same way Christians today provide the bulk of relief in the wake of the recent hurricanes. These disasters are terrible, but the displays of neighborly love are beautiful.
And finally, our visceral reaction to the tragedy and suffering caused by natural disasters, far from disproving an all-powerful, all-loving God, is actually strong evidence for His existence. C. S. Lewis admitted in “Mere Christianity” that as an atheist, he thought the injustice in the world was an airtight argument against Christianity. But then he wondered: “How had I gotten this idea of just and unjust?”
His argument depended on evil and suffering being objectively bad, not just inconvenient. But if we’re merely subatomic particles, then no arrangement of those particles can be morally better or worse than any other. Our hearts cry out that this world is not the way it’s supposed to be. And atheism can only reply, “Sure it is.”
But we know better. The world is broken. It’s not functioning according to God’s original design, and Christianity places the blame on humanity’s rebellion against the Creator.
But the Christian message doesn’t end there. God assures us that He’s with us in the hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and fires. In Jesus Christ, He entered the world’s brokenness and joined our suffering, crying out with a very human heart as He Himself tasted death on our behalf: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
The question that Jesus asked here points to the only answer to Epicurus’ question, because Jesus is the only God Who is all-good, all-loving, and knows what it means to feel the brunt of evil and suffering.
As Edward Shillito wrote in his poem, “Jesus of the Scars:”
The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.
Remember that the Suffering Savior is now the enthroned King. Suffering and death do not have the last word. Sin is a defeated foe. All will be made new again.
And so, in light of that Truth, or better yet because of the One who is Truth, we can give our best answer to the question of suffering by following the example of our Savior, and His Church throughout history, by running toward the disasters with love, with help, with grace, and with the Gospel.
In the midst of disaster, destruction, and suffering, believers have the example of Jesus Christ. He identifies with our suffering, and we can trust Him never to leave us or forsake us.
September 21, 2017 – Eric Metaxas If you think North Korea’s dictators are bad for the world, just imagine what it’s like to be a Christian there.
Anyone who knows anything about world missions and the global church knows about the Christians of South Korea. According to the Operation World prayer guide, “From the first Protestant church planted in 1884, South Korea now has possibly 50,000 Protestant congregations,” and 15 million Christians of all kinds. It’s also a missionary powerhouse, currently sending more than 21,000 missionaries to about 175 countries. Amazing!
But the Christians of North Korea? They’re virtually invisible—though of course not in the eyes of the Lord Jesus! Operation World says that although no one really knows their true number, there could be as many as 350,000 underground Christians living in the slave state of 24 million people. When you consider that the government there—whether run by the Japanese occupiers during World War II, or the current cult-like, totalitarian leadership—has been trying to stamp out all vestiges of Christianity for about 70 years, that’s also amazing.
Tragically, and infuriatingly, up to 100,000 of these brothers and sisters in Christ are locked up in harsh prisons or work camps.
Where did they all come from, and how do they survive? Well, in answer to the first part, it’s a fascinating story. Did you know that from the late 19th century until 1942, Pyongyang, North Korea’s Orwellian capital city today, was known as the “Jerusalem of the East?”
According to Providence journal, “a Presbyterian medical doctor named Horace Allen … became physician to the king of Korea and received royal permission to proselytize after saving the life of a royal family member severely wounded during an attempted coup. Presbyterian and Methodist missionaries from the United States followed, and along with Catholic and other Protestant missionaries from other countries, they found Koreans to be receptive to their message in large numbers. A quarter of a century later in 1910, Korean Christians numbered over 200,000, two thirds of them Presbyterians and Methodists, in a country of approximately 13 million people.”
If the city of Seoul was receptive to the gospel, and it was, Pyongyang was even more so. Following a series of revivals in and around the “Jerusalem of the East,” by 1910 the region was the most heavily Christian in all of Korea.
Of course, most of us know what happened next. After World War II, the communist regime of Kim Il-sung attempted to stamp out all foreign religions, especially Christianity, which was branded a tool of “Western imperialism.” Missionaries were thrown out, churches closed, and many Christians executed for their faith, with many more pouring into democratic South Korea at the end of the Korean War.
So how do those who remain survive? As with all of us, by God’s grace. Today, Open Doors USA reports, North Korea is the most oppressive place in the world for Christians. “Due to ever-present surveillance,” the agency says, “many pray with eyes open, and gathering for praise or fellowship is practically impossible. Worship of the ruling Kim family is mandated for all citizens, and those who don’t comply (including Christians) are arrested, imprisoned, tortured or killed. Entire Christian families are imprisoned in hard labor camps.”
It’s no wonder that one North Korean Christian lady who escaped continues to pray a simple prayer she learned from her mother: “Lord, Lord, please help!”
And the Lord, through agencies, is answering that prayer, providing Bibles and emergency relief inside the country as well as to fleeing North Korean Christians. They’re not invisible to Him—andnow, I hope, not to us, either.
Does it seem like the world is going to heck in a handbasket? Then it may be time for a reality check.
September 13, 2017 – Eric Metaxas It’s been a summer of rough news. Racism, riots, and political violence. Communities on the Gulf Coast continue wading through the devastation of hurricane Harvey, and now another storm is bearing down on Florida. We have plenty of reasons to be praying and doing all we can to alleviate suffering. There’s cause for grief about the news—but not for pessimism.
Writing at The Guardian, Oliver Burkeman suggests that despite a dragging civil war in Syria, heart-rending photos of drowned refugees, North Korea’s nuclear saber-rattling, disasters, terrorist attacks, and racial violence, the world is objectively better now than it’s ever been.
Hard to believe? Well, here are the facts: Swedish historian Mark Norberg breaks down global indicators of human flourishing into nine categories: food, sanitation, life expectancy, poverty, violence, the state of the environment, literacy, freedom, equality, and the conditions of childhood. And in nearly all of these categories, we’ve seen vast improvement in my lifetime.
Despite the fact that nine out of ten Americans say worldwide poverty is holding steady or worsening, the percentage of people on this planet who live on less than two dollars a day—what the United Nation’s defines as “extreme poverty”—has fallen below ten percent, which is the lowest it’s ever been.
The scourge of child mortality is also at a record low. Fifty percent fewer children under five die today than did thirty years ago.
Worldwide, 300,000 more people gain access to electricity every day. In 1900, global life expectancy was just 31 years. Today, it’s an impressive 71 years. And violent crime rates in the United States are the lowest they’ve been in half a century.
Nicholas Kristof wasn’t too far afield when he called 2016 “the best year in the history of humanity.” This year may see even more progress.
So why do these cheery pronouncements strike us as inaccurate—even outrageous? Why—according to a recent poll—do a vanishingly small six percent of Americans think the world as a whole is becoming a better place?
Burkeman lays much of the blame on the press. Thanks to a 24-hour news cycle that actively seeks out and overplays the worst stories, our perception of the world is skewed. “We are not merely ignorant of the facts,” he writes. “We are actively convinced of depressing ‘facts’ that aren’t true.” And no wonder! It’s hard to sell papers and get Web traffic with good news. No one reports when a plane takes off. They only report when they crash.
But a great deal of the blame for our unjustifiably gloomy view of the world also falls on our shoulders. Quite simply, we often enjoy being angry about the state of the world, especially when it allows us to blame someone else. We are addicted to news-induced anger.
That’s why it’s so important—while acknowledging the desperate evil and suffering around us—to appreciate the good news, the progress, and the things we have to celebrate. After all, how can we truly comprehend what’s wrong with the world if we don’t recognize when something is going right?
War, famine, disease, and hatred should all remind us that God’s world, which He created and pronounced “very good,” is broken, and it’s our fault. But here’s the real comfort: It’s still—as the hymn says—our Father’s world. Let us therefore never forget that “though the wrong seems oft so strong God is the ruler yet.”
As Christians, we know where history is headed, and we know how the story ends—with the redemption and restoration of all things. We who have the good news should be the first to recognize all good news, not in spite of, but in the midst of the bad.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8
September 7, 2017 – John Stonestreet What do a Greek-speaking Egyptian rebel and an ancient king of the Nabateans have in common? They both point to the reliability of the Bible.
One of the most popular topics we cover at BreakPoint is the way that archaeology and related disciplines are continually confirming the biblical narrative.
It’s easy to see why so many Christians respond to this topic: unlike other faiths, Christianity is rooted in real human history. It tells the story of God’s actions in the same world that you and I occupy, as opposed to some mythical “once upon a time.”
The September/October issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR) presents the latest entry in a series of articles listing biblical figures whose existence have been confirmed in extra-biblical historical sources and/or archaeology.
The editors of BAR have told the author, Lawrence Mykytiuk of Purdue University, that his previous entries are among the most popular articles ever published in the magazine, whose readership is a combination of scholars and very well-read laymen. In his last entry, Mykytiuk focuses on political figures named in the New Testament. Some of them, like the four Roman emperors named in the New Testament, are obviously well-attested. Something similar can be said about the plague of the Herodians that feature prominently in the Gospels and the book of Acts.
But the New Testament writers don’t stop at the obvious. They, especially Luke and Paul, provide details that only someone who lived through the events or spoke to an eye-witness could provide. One confirmed example is found in 2 Corinthians 11. Paul tells the Corinthians that “At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me.”
Aretas, “a contemporary of Herod Antipas,” was a real person whose existence has been documented by both extra-biblical sources and archaeology. Coins and other artifacts bearing his name have been found from what’s now Jordan to Italy. What we know of his life and reign outside of the Bible argues for the historicity of Paul’s account.
A more obscure example is found in Acts 21. Paul has returned to Jerusalem, where he knows that imprisonment and possibly death await him. He is attacked by a mob at the Temple and only survives because he is rescued by Roman soldiers. The commander, upon hearing Paul speak Greek, says “Are you not the Egyptian, then, who recently stirred up a revolt and led four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?” Paul replied that no, he was a Jew from Tarsus, which he called “no mean city.”
This exchange was a reference to a rebellion chronicled by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. There was an Egyptian, who would have spoken Greek, who lead a violent uprising involving thousands of men in the wilderness at around the same time as the events in Acts.
While the Romans put down the insurrection, the Egyptian escaped and was believed to be in or near Jerusalem. Thus, what Luke records in Acts is exactly the kind of exchange that would have taken place at that time between Roman troops and suspicious Greek-speaking strangers.
These are just two examples of many, written in both parchments and in the very ground of the Holy Land, that attest to the reliability of Scripture and the historical nature of Christian revelation. You see, instead of being myths and fables or even disembodied ideals, Christian proclamation is about, as 1 John says, that “which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched . . .”
So it shouldn’t surprise us that the list of biblical figures and places confirmed by archaeologists and other scholars continues to grow. It’s exactly what we should expect.
August 23, 2017 – Finland has reportedly seen a flood of conversions from Islam to Christianity, with hundreds of asylum seekers from the Middle East turning to the Christian faith, officials in the Evangelical Lutheran community said.
Evangelical Lutheran parishes have begun establishing confirmation classes for Muslim immigrants who want to become Christians. Exact figures on the number of recent Muslim converts aren’t available since such records aren’t kept – but conservative estimates on the number suggest several hundred in recent years within the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church, according to the Finnish news source Yle Uutiset.
Converts hail from Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq. As many as 20 Afghani men are enrolled in ‘pre-confirmation’ teaching on the Christian faith at the Tainionkoski parish centre in Imatra, Eastern Finland. Students are assisted by a New Testament in the Dari language, the variety of Persian spoken in Afghanistan. A Dari interpreter is also on hand via Skype to support the teaching given in English.
‘I haven’t been baptised yet, but I’m looking forward to it,’ said one convert, Aliraza Hussaini. Conversion from Islam is a divisive move however, one not readily accepted by many traditional Muslim families; some say that after conversion they are seen as ‘infidels’ in ‘exile’ by family in their home countries.
‘I haven’t been in contact with my family in Afghanistan for a very long time. If they find out I’ve converted, it would mean trouble for me,’ said another convert, Golamir Hossaini.
Many of the Imatra confirmation students reportedly cited a disillusionment with the Islamic faith, and say they will probably never return to Afghanistan.
August 17, 2017 – Joseph D’Souza has emerged as one of the leading Christian voices in India. As moderator bishop and the primate of the Good Shepherd Church of India as well as founding president of the ecumenical All India Christian Council, one of the largest interdenominational coalitions of Christians in India, he is primarily known for his work on religious freedom.
This year he spoke at New Wine, a major evangelical festival in Somerset, primarily about his work with Dalits, a poor and marginalised group of people in India.
D’Souza believes that the Church in the global South is the new centre ground for Christian thought. ‘I think very strongly that the Church of the global South now has the leadership, the theology and the practical experience of the past colonial era to speak into Western Christianity,’ he tells Christian Today.
Speaking of the rise of modernity and rationalism and the decline in church attendance across Europe, he continues: ‘I believe Western Christianity is reaping the fruits of individualism. ‘They do not understand the place of the word of God in historical Christianity for over 2,000 years.’
On the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, D’Souza says the job is only half complete. ‘I believe the full reformation of the Church is going on now with the insights the global south is bringing. The global south is much more in tune with how we believe God has made us to be.’
As a traditionalist, the debate around sexuality is critical for D’Souza and this is where he really sees, from his perspective, the global south holding firm. ‘It understands the critical nature of the family unit,’ he says. ‘They are actually more modern and radical in that the south is saying, “Who are you to redefine marriage?”
‘We believe this issue is an immensely pastoral issue even as we hold to the Church’s historic definitions of the family as male and female. I have friends who are gay and I love them and accept them and believe they are no greater sinners who need the grace of God than me.’
But it is not just the battleground of sexuality where D’Souza is unafraid to poke the Church in the West. ‘Christians have been nervous about entering the justice area,’ he said. ‘That has been a mistake of the Western Church.
‘If the church had grasped that justice and righteousness was at the heart of who God is, it would have taken a different stand in the apartheid area and in the whole issue of the civil rights in the US.’
It is in this context that D’Souza sees his work for religious freedom in India. ‘Religious freedom is for me a justice issue. It is the work of justice,’ he says.
Christian persecution is rapidly on the rise with Open Doors documenting a threefold increase in attacks. It is now estimated to be the 15th worst country in the world to be a Christian – worse than Egypt, Myanmar and Turkey.
August 3-5, 2017 – Masimba Chimwara, Chairman CBMC Africa shares highlights of his time with the CBMC Madagascar Team. He and Frik van Rensburg from CBMC South Africa spent 3 days in Antananarivo to encourage the team in their strategic planning and training.
“We were greatly encouraged by the group of 21 attending the training on Thursday and Friday which included new members. The group consisted of business men and women and a significant group of young people (students, graduates and young professionals).
The training covered the following areas: CBMC Orientation, Connect 3, Marketplace Ambassadors, and Discipleship.
On the last day the leaders had a Strategic Planning Session which outlined their immediate actions and also to ensure they grow the ministry over the next 2 years. Some exciting outcomes of the Strategic Planning sessions included: to grow from 1 to 5 teams of which one will be a ‘young professionals’ team; a leadership team was selected; to translate the Operation Timothy (OT) booklet from English to Malagasy. We are thankful that a donation of funds was given to enable the printing of OT book 1.
Please pray with us that God would raise up men and women to assist with funds needed to continue to grow and support this ministry in Madagascar.
We praise God for our timely visit, for the committed men throughout the years and for the NEW men and women He has brought into the ministry. Over the years we have planted and watered; now we eagerly trust God to grow it. We are thankful to CBMC SA and CBMC International for financing this mission. What a privilege it is for us to invest time, talents and treasure into building His Kingdom!”
August 4, 2017 – Eric Metaxas What happens when a civilization forgets—or rejects—its roots? We’re seeing it right now.
“Europe is committing suicide. Or at least it leaders have decided to commit suicide.” Those are the opening words of Douglas Murray’s controversial best-seller, “The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam.”
What Murray means when he says that Europe is “committing suicide” is that “the civilization we know as Europe is in the process of committing suicide.” It’s a fate that neither his native “Britain nor any other Western European country can avoid . . . because [they] all appear to suffer from the same symptoms and maladies.”
It’s Murray’s diagnosis of these “symptoms and maladies” that should interest Christians.
As the subtitle suggests, Murray’s book covers much of the same ground as other recent books by authors such as Mark Steyn, Bruce Bawer, and the French novelist Michelle Houellebecq. These books seek to warn readers about the threat to European institutions and values posed by mass Islamic immigration.
While Murray is, to put it mildly, skeptical about the possibility of successfully assimilating millions of Muslim immigrants and their children, this mass migration alone wasn’t enough to cause the “strange death” alluded to in his title.
As Murray tells readers, “even the mass movement of millions of people into Europe would not sound such a final note for the continent were it not for the fact that (coincidentally or otherwise) at the same time Europe lost faith in its beliefs, traditions and legitimacy.”
In other words, it is mass Islamic immigration plus Europe’s spiritual exhaustion—my words not his—that threaten to put an end to European civilization.
And at the heart of the loss of faith Murray cites is Europe’s turning its back on Christianity.
In one chapter he writes about a sense shared by many European intellectuals, including himself, that “life in modern liberal democracies is to some extent thin or shallow and that life in modern Western Europe in particular has lost its sense of purpose.”
According to Murray, “Here is an inheritance of thought and culture and philosophy and religion which has nurtured people for thousands of years and may well fulfill you too.”
The “religion” Murray refers to is, of course, Christianity, which he calls the “source” of European ideas about rights, laws, and the institutions that protect them. He tells his secularized readers that “There is no reason why the inheritor of a Judeo-Christian civilization and Enlightenment Europe should spend much, if any, of their time warring with those who still hold the faith from which so many of those beliefs and rights spring.”
He also derides the varieties of “European Christianity [that] have lost the confidence to proselytize or even believe in their own message.” This lack of confidence, in Murray’s estimation, is why some young Europeans turn to Islam, which doesn’t suffer from the sense that “the story has run out.”
What makes Murray’s account especially interesting is that he is a self-described atheist. His reasons for disbelief aren’t particularly persuasive, but that doesn’t negate his much-needed reminder of Europe’s debt to Christianity and how its rejection of its Christian past threatens its future. The same, of course, could be said about America.
As Murry writes, “If being ‘European’ is not about race—as we hope it is not—then it is even more imperative that it is about ‘values.’ This is what makes the question ‘What are European values?’ so important.”
It’s a question that can’t be answered without first acknowledging the source of those values.
July 19, 2017 – Frans van Santen, CBMC Europe (Europartners)
As you know, Europartners recently had our very first weekend of the Young Professionals Academy in Cluj, Romania. Ron Zwaan and I myself were teaching for two days and had a great time together with 22 participants. Thanks to our volunteers Corneliu and Stephanie Niste, the weekend was very well organized.
Together we discovered our calling and destiny as leaders. It was in a productive, intimate and open climate to which everyone contributed. At the end of the program we had communion, remembering that we all are Christ’s own and live to honor Him.
We would like to share this video with you that Stephanie made. In it you will meet those who were impacted by this weekend and what they plan to do about it. Worth watching!