At a biblical university with emphases on missions and church planting, discussion of the persecuted church occasionally drifts into conversation. Like pollen that is in the air, it lingers, unseen until it lands on something. It isn’t the perfect analogy, but for me, the pollen does not bother me too much, so I often forget its presence. When something becomes so common, believers fail to see it. For example, I can walk through an open doorway multiple times, but shift the location of the doorstop just a little bit when I’m not expecting it, and I could end up laid out in the hallway. So often, believers hear about the suffering church so much, but do not understand what makes the oppressed church so different.
These are the things that make the persecuted church look so different from the church of the Western world:
1. The persecuted church rejoices at persecution. There is a definite attitude among churches that suffer mocking and physical harm, and it is an attitude of grateful joy. Peter reminds believers that persecution is coming—it should not surprise us. He says to “rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12). The church around the world counts suffering as sharing in the suffering of Jesus Christ. Considering what Christ did for humanity in his death and resurrection, suffering should not be tragic. The church maintains “hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2), and with that the church can rejoice, knowing that suffering is creating character that glorifies God.
2. The persecuted church is strongly committed to the gospel. If it were not, the church would fall apart at the first hint of trouble. In many countries there exist blasphemy laws that prevent citizens from saying anything blasphemous to the culturally respectable religious leaders. Most recently, a Christian couple in Pakistan was sentenced to death for a text message supposedly sent by the husband that insults the Prophet Mohammed. Without a love for the gospel and a strong belief in the work of the Lord Jesus, this couple, Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kausar, have no reason to risk their lives.
3. The persecuted church does not compromise the gospel. It holds fast to the truth of the gospel as presented in the Bible. Now, there will always be exceptions, but the majority of churches in other parts of the world hold fast to the truth. If someone is willing to die for the gospel, they want to make sure the truth is not diluted with false teaching. In this, it is not dangerous to go back to the basics and understand the simplicity of the gospel. The church under pressure understands that it must be vigilant, expressing the whole gospel. In countries where suffering is a regular occurrence for believers, a gospel centered on loving God without a personal cost will not resonate.
4. The persecuted church is not focused on its own persecution. The church has not abandoned the Great Commission just because they are suffering at the hands of others. The suffering church is not a church of self-pity. In many ways, they see their affliction as normal, and aim to help those who are experiencing even greater forms of suffering. According to World Watch List, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan are the five countries where Christians are persecuted most. In order to allow the Body to function well in these countries, selfishness cannot be the attitude of the church.
The persecuted church is often overlooked because people make light of the situation. However, a day in the life of a persecuted church member would be a challenge to anyone’s faith. Christians around the world suffer trial and tribulation, oppression and violence, torture and death. Many newly converted Christians live in fear of accusations of blasphemy from members of their old religion. For some, persecution discourages them from accepting Christ, but for many, the example of other believers has inspired them to stand firmly on the promise of God’s glory and their own sanctification. Many believers do stand up to persecution with confidence in the power of Christ, trusting that whatever the outcome, both death and life will be used for the glory of God. Every day, people suffer for Christ, while many Christians in the Western world live lives of compromise and oblivion.
Written by: Emily Thornhill
How Great Thou Art, indeed!
Growing up in Baptist churches in New England my whole life, worship was somewhat conservative. When I say conservative, I mean that very few people raised their hands, few people had their eyes closed, and nobody was dancing. Yet, people were still praising the Lord with joyful expressions and thankful hearts. Needless to say coming to CIU was a new experience. I began to question my “praise practices.” Thoughts ran through my head such as, “Is it wrong to praise with my hands in my pockets?” “When should I raise my hands?” and “If I don’t raise my hands, is my expression of worship any less meaningful?” It was not until recently that I realized how foolish these questions were. My worship needed not to be based on whether my eyes were open or closed or whether my hands were in the air or on the chair in front of me. It’s all about the spirit. You see, my worship was not in the spirit of celebration of my Lord, rather my worship was in the spirit of comparison with my peers. I will not speak as to the physical expression of worship, but I will say that comparison in worship is wrong.
I once heard worship described as ascribing worth to God. I suppose you could call it “worthship.” Comparison during worship does not attribute worth to God. In fact, as soon as you compare during worship, you immediately lose sight of your vertical relationship with God and shift your focus to a horizontal relationship with your peers. Worship becomes about the individual, not God. Instead of marveling at the goodness of God, you become concerned with your image. Worship should be an abandonment of all love of self and an embracing of the concept of God’s majesty. If we fail to surrender our love of self, then our worship becomes increasingly difficult.
In my search for remedies to this problem I struggle with, I have found one quick fix. Close your eyes. If you are distracted, close your eyes. Think about what is being sung. Meditate on the Lord and his attributes. Yes, some may argue that by closing your eyes, you miss out on the atmosphere of corporate worship. However, though the word corporate may come first, worship is the priority. If corporate becomes the focus, then again, we’ve lost our focus. Worship should be a natural expression for the Christian. I think of so many people throughout the Bible and in my life who were so full of the joy of the Lord that their heart sang of the praises of the Lord. In everything they did, they couldn’t help but worship. They paid little attention to the worship of those around them because they were so caught up in the greatness of God, that they couldn’t be distracted if they tried. The majesty of our Lord should be so overwhelming that we can’t help but focus on that alone. This is why closing your eyes is so crucial. In doing so, you create an isolated environment that makes it so much easier to focus on the Lord and Him alone.
Consider King David in 2 Samuel 6:14. After David and his men had returned the Ark of the Covenant, he rejoiced. The Bible states, “David danced before the Lord with all his might.” David was so caught up in what the Lord had done and so overwhelmed by the Lord’s blessing that he rejoiced with everything he had. When David returned, his wife, Michal, was very quick to rebuke him. She was judgmental of his behavior and at the end we see that she was wrong in doing so. As believers we must be careful how we judge the practices of others in their worship. We go to a school with a very specific approach to worship that is different from many other types. Yes, there is a variety of worship styles here at CIU, but as a school collectively, CIU has its own style. But what happens when you leave your Baptist church for a week and go to a Presbyterian service? What is your reaction when your conservative church background is shattered by the one guy in the front row who is dancing in circles? This is his form of worship, as standing still may be part of yours. Plus, if you’re busy judging your neighbor, then once again you’ve neglected your obligation of glorifying the Lord.
We serve an amazing and wonderful God. He is worthy of all praise and of all glory. As believers, bringing Him glory should be a priority, and anything that distracts us from this priority is a serious problem. Worship should never allow for you to bring yourself glory or for you to judge others, because in both situations, you are making yourself like God. It’s something I’ve wrestled with for a while, and it’s no easy thing. But you are surrounded by a Christian community that can support you and a community that can remind you that you are not alone. Worry not, but examine your heart and ask what the intent is behind your worship. In the words of one of my beloved professors, “It’s not about comparison, it’s all about celebration.”
Written by:Tim Lapointe
We live in a society that’s accustomed to instant gratification. Take fast food or Netflix, for example. We want what we want when we want it. And advertisers know it. They appeal to consumers on the basis of ease and speed, and our culture eats it up.
It’s no surprise, then, that in a culture such as ours waiting on God can be incredibly difficult. Waiting challenges the impatient and controlling tendencies of our humanness, and the difficulty is amplified when we’re used to immediate results. As I’ve contemplated this topic recently, I started to wonder what it really means to wait on God. Here’s what came to mind:
Waiting on God is living with a settled confidence that God will do the right thing at the right time.
When we truly wait for God to answer specific prayers or guide our decision making, we aren’t just letting time lapse as we look for opportunities to take matters into our own hands. True waiting on God means having a deep, abiding assurance that God’s timing and ways are perfect. Waiting on God acknowledges His goodness, power, and wisdom.
Inability to wait on God reveals a lack of trust. Sometimes we doubt His goodness, other times we doubt His power or wisdom. Often it’s a combination of the three. Our impatience brings our heart’s questions to the surface: Will God actually get this right? Will He come through in time?
Psalm 145 answers these questions and more. God doesn’t just do things well; He does them perfectly. As you read through the Psalm, notice the all-encompassing nature of David’s statements: The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made (Ps. 145:9). The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises and faithful in all he does (145:13).
God is good, powerful, and wise. As we wait for Him to act, we can go on with life trusting that all His ways are perfect. We don’t know more than Him, and we can’t do better than He can. Waiting on God is an affirmation that God is God.
God knows what He’s doing, and He is able to use our waiting to accomplish His purposes for His glory and our good. As Aaron Keyes sings, “You are working in our waiting, sanctifying us, when beyond our understanding, you’re teaching us to trust.”
Your waiting will never be wasted.
Written by: Abbey Le Roy, MA in Theological Studies from CIU's Seminary and School of Ministry
What can Christ help you overcome today?
Teaching at Kirkland prison has been surprising in the best possible way...
The first day I walked the yard at Kirkland Penitentiary, I was jittery. Going through security, being questioned as to where I was headed, being buzzed through multiple heavy metal doors, and walking the prison yard avoiding eye contact with crowds of tan-clad inmates made my palms sweat and my heart beat faster. Prison scenes in movies flashed through my mind, and I was relieved to make it to the library where I would be teaching English as a Foreign Language.
Meeting the men I would teach was a surprising experience. Where were the hardened criminals I had been anticipating? The students were calm, respectful, grateful, even cheerful. Though shy at first, they greeted me in broken English and thanked me when I left.
The ice was broken when we did our first skit. Somehow, standing up and acting opened the floodgates of hilarity and brought gales of laughter and a permanent sense of friendship and warmth to the group. After that week, stories began to flow in the in-between times -- each student shared openly in a blend of Spanish and English about their former lives and about how God had radically changed them. Even the worst of crimes are no match for the precious cleansing blood of Christ!
When Pedro, a former drug-lord, was arrested, he heard God speaking to him: "Look up!" As they put the handcuffs on his wrists, he looked up and knew that God was there and was calling him to a different life. He began reading his Bible and now is a regular preacher in the Hispanic dorms on weekends. He actively disciples younger Hispanic inmates like Javier, who goes along with him during his preaching to serve as his assistant -- a Paul and Timothy set-up.
Javier was a self-admitted terror when he was first incarcerated. He was angry and frequently got involved in fights. As a punishment, he was moved to a dorm where he was the only Hispanic, which was intensely difficult because he spoke very little English. He was completely isolated, and the only Spanish he had access to was a Spanish Bible someone had given him. He started reading, and it changed his life. "I started praying," he says. "I told God, 'I don't want to live like this anymore. I don't know how to change. Will you change me? I want to live a new life.’" Providentially, he was transferred to another prison almost immediately after his conversion, where he met Pedro, his mentor and father in the faith.
The men share earnestly that being arrested, being in this prison, has literally saved them from themselves. "Before I was arrested, I drank, I smoked, I did drugs, I partied," one says. "I didn't eat well, I didn't sleep well. Now, in prison, I don't do any of those things but I eat well and I sleep well. I learn things. I work. It is good for me."
Activity of any kind is a blessed relief. Each student has a job somewhere in the prison – in the commissary, in the cafeteria, in the laundry room, in the infirmary. One has lost 140 pounds by working out diligently doing “esquats.” Another copies down entries from the English dictionary and breaks out his notebook whenever he can to ask me analytical questions regarding word usage. Two others are chess buddies.
"Thinking too much is not good," they agree. "Thinking about your family, about the past -- it's too stressful and it doesn't do any good. It's better to work and to learn. It makes the time go by." Hearing this helps me to understand why the students enjoy English class so much, even though I nitpick their pronunciation -- "school, not eschool" -- and make them do brain-cramping conjugations that make them sigh "Ay ay ay." Learning something new means forgetting what lies behind -- if only for a moment.
And learn they have. Mario, now an advanced English student with a natural ease of expression, proudly shared with me, "Before I was arrested, I knew no English. All the English I have learned has been in prison." This same story is repeated in several conversations I have after class in the moments before the guards clear the men to return to their dorms. Many lived and worked in 100% Hispanic communities, having no contact with English speakers and no opportunity to learn. Prison has opened doors of communication for them, and several now interact confidently with Americans. Others are still struggling through irregular verb conjugations and the twists and turns of umpteen synonyms all saying the very same thing -- but they are on their way.
Yes, they are on their way. These men represent to me the very best of what can happen in a prison. They are changed, reformed -- no, transformed. And yet it has not primarily been through a program or a service offered by the prison. It has been the Word of God alive and active in the prison, just as it is everywhere. More than modifying their behavior of these former criminals, the Spirit of God has changed these men from the inside out. Their faces now radiate the joy and peace that can only come from Him. "Physically, I am chained," says Pedro, "But in my heart I am free. That is true freedom."
Amen. "...If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:36).
Written by: Jessie Udall
At Open House, you will get to meet faculty, tour campus, and learn more about the five core values that drive everything at CIU:
1. We believe in the authority of scripture.
2. We strive for academic excellence and also personal growth in Christ.
3. We prepare you to reach your generation for Christ and impact the world.
4. We rely on God through prayer and faith.
5. We live in unity with Christians who hold different convictions.
Join us for Open House on Saturday, April 26 and see how CIU can prepare you for a life of impact.
Have a blessed weekend everyone!
“Christ died for nothing.” Every time I read the words, I feel uncomfortable. Saying them out loud seems inappropriate and irreverent. Just looking at them makes my stomach turn and puts a bad taste in my mouth.
This week the Church is reflecting on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus as we anticipate the arrival of Easter Sunday. Many will hear the life-changing story. Some will watch reenactments of the gruesome events. Others will contemplate the failure of the Romans’ highly regarded justice system.
It’s difficult to grasp the full extent of what Jesus suffered at the hands of sinful men – not only the physical torment but also the spiritual anguish of being forsaken by His Father (Matt. 27:46). Can you even begin to imagine if all of it was meaningless?
The words “Christ died for nothing” come from a hypothetical (but impossible) assertion in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. His goal in the epistle is to remind his Christian readers that they are both justified and sanctified by grace through faith. Initial salvation and ongoing spiritual growth are both attributed to the grace of God alone. As Paul reiterates these realities in Galatians 2:21 he remarks,
“I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
The conjunction “if” tells us that Paul’s statement is hypothetical. If it were possible for people to earn and maintain right standing before God through the law, then Christ’s death was “for no purpose” (ESV), “in vain” (KJV), and “needless” (NASB).
As M.R. De Hann wrote in his commentary titled Galatians, “To be saved by the law demands perfect, complete, uninterrupted obedience. If this were possible for a sinner, faith would be made void and the sacrifice of Christ a needless, colossal blunder.” Later on he adds, “If the law could have given life…then Christ would never have needed to die…His death was all of no avail, if man can save or keep himself by works of the law.”
It is easy to assent to the intellectual veracity of Paul’s argument, but it is much more difficult to live consistently in light of its truth. In my head I believe that Christ’s death was both meaningful and efficacious, but sometimes my life subtly whispers, “Christ died for nothing.” Although I realize that “complete, uninterrupted obedience” to the law is not on my résumé, thus rendering me in need of a Substitute who kept the law perfectly on my behalf, I live as if I have the ability to earn the eternal acceptance and approval of God on my own.
All who experience the salvation of God do so by the keeping of the law. Either these individuals keep the law perfectly on their own (a theoretical reality, but a practical impossibility), or they trust in the perfect law-keeping of Another. There is no other Name, and no other way, under heaven by which men can be saved. If there were, Christ died for nothing.
Written by: Abbey Le Roy, MA in Theological Studies from CIU's Seminary and School of Ministry
Shane and Shane featuring John Piper. Happy Friday!