Mess of Pottage Blog

Luke's "Pro" Blog

Yousef Nadarkhani update – keep praying

The pressure is getting to Iran’s clerics, so they’ve started lying about what they’re doing:

“His crime is not, as some claim, converting others to Christianity,” said Gholomali Rezvani, deputy governor of Iran’s Gilan province, where the persecuted pastor was sentenced to death by hanging. “He is guilty of security-related crimes.”

Those crimes, claimed Rezvani, in remarks reported by Fars news agency (the Iranian government’s unofficial mouthpiece), include rape and extortion. “No one is executed in Iran for their choice of religion,” he insisted.

The Iranian provincial governor’s explanation of Pastor Nadarkhani’s death sentence does not square with court records of the trial, conviction and appeal of the leader of 400 Christian house churches – whom Rezvani disparagingly described as a “Zionist” criminal.

“Does not square” is a very mild way of stating the obvious: the provincial governor is lying. What a great political system they have there, that the governor has no compunctions about lying in describing the charges against someone.

The clerics may yet kill Pastor Nadarkhani, but the fact that they’vee changing their stories, and are now providing a different rationale is a sign that the pressure is getting to them. Remember what Jesus said: all that do evil hate the light (John 3:20).

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Bible Translation

Joel Hoffman has posted a series of articles about Bible translation at his “God Didn’t Say That” blog. A good place to get started is with this one about the false dichotomy between accuracy and readability.

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Single and Loving It

Here’s an ad for a girl’s outfit that should make you think:

Read the rest of this entry »

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Thankfulness

Thanksgiving’s coming!

Thanksgiving is a weird holiday, isn’t it? There’s the food: too much of it, usually, and things you don’t see the rest of the year, like cranberry relish and yams. There’s the spectacle on TV, starting with parades and ending with as many football games as you can fit into 24 hours and 30 channels. Then to bed early, so you can be up early for Black Friday and Phase II of the Christmas buying season.

Thanksgiving is weird because it’s a secular nod to religion, and it gets more weird as the secular culture becomes less willing to nod. Increasingly we see celebrities and politicians urging us to be thankful without saying whom we should thank. Each other, I guess, or no-one in particular.

As Christians, however, we know whom to thank. There is an object of our gratitude: our God, who is the source of all good things. The Psalmist put it this way:

The LORD is my strength and shield.
I trust him with all my heart.
He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy.
I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.
Psalm 28:7 NLT

I’ve always found that thanksgiving is the easiest form of prayer. When I’m asking God for things, I often don’t know what I should ask. Even when I know what I ought to ask, what I want is sometimes another story. It leaves me wondering whether to sign off with “not my will but thine, Lord … except that you need to be aware that this is something I really, really want you to do for me. Amen.”

Thankfulness is easier, because the answer is usually staring me in the face. Like this: as I write this, I’m looking at a computer screen. I’m thankful it isn’t a typewriter, because it makes it so easy to fix my mistakes, and when I’m done, I can just email what I’ve written into the Panorama. It also reminds me of my career in the computer industry, and I’m thankful for that, because it’s where I met my wife. Among the countless reasons I’m thankful for her is that she invited me to her church, where I met Jesus. Thankfulness is a snap.

He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy.
I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.

What has God done for you lately? Has God helped you, and how has it given you joy?

If you’re going to have Thanksgiving dinner with anyone this year, someone’s sure to ask you what you’re thankful for. Think what a great answer you could give — how you could practically burst out in a song of thanksgiving — if you started working on it now.

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National Day of Prayer – One Opinion

Earlier this month, Federal Judge Barbara Crabb ruled that a national day of prayer is an unconstitutional call to religious action. Since the ruling, atheist and religious groups have been arguing for and against both the ruling and the national day of prayer itself.

Many people of faith, especially Christians, have seen the ruling as a further whittling away of the status of faith in society. “First,” the logic goes, “they came for prayer in schools, then high school baccalaureates, then public nativity scenes at Christmas, and so forth, leading to this latest ruling against the national day of prayer.”

I, too, was disappointed by the ruling, but not because it whittled away Christianity. Christianity doesn’t need help from judges. Christianity doesn’t need an act of congress or a presidential proclamation.

Historically, the Church has flourished most when it had the least help from the state. Remember how the Church grew in its first couple of centuries. It began as a tiny handful of followers of a crucified rabbi in a backwater province, and became the most numerous religion in the world’s greatest empire — and did so despite official neglect, and frequent persecution, at the hands of the state. Or, more recently, consider how the underground Church grew so dramatically in China under Mao.

By contrast, the Church’s lowest moments have occurred when it was most tightly connected with the state. The crusades, the inquisition, the Thirty Years’ War between Protestants and Catholics, even Hitler’s domesticated “German Christian” church in Nazi Germany — all these occurred when the Church sought the power of the state and so became entangled with it.

No, if this ruling will harm anything, it will be our nation. Certainly the Church will not suffer, for there is no power in all creation – Jesus said not even the gates of Hades — that will prevail against the Church (Matthew 16:18).

It isn’t my place to argue the constitutionality of a national day of prayer. I leave that to lawyers. But as a believer, I am called to pray for my country. “Fear God,” Peter writes, and “honor the Emperor.” In Jeremiah 29, the prophet calls Jewish exiles to pray even for Babylon. Regardless how the legal issue plays out, please join me and other people of faith next week in praying to the Lord for our nation.

(Originally published in the Hi-Desert Star, April 28, 2010.)

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Easter vs. Fear

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust;
I am not afraid; what can flesh do to me? Psalm 56:3-4

According to a recent survey (http://bit.ly/czmm53), only 2% of Americans realize Easter is the most important holiday in the Christian faith. Even among Protestant Christians, just 78% recognized Easter as a religious holiday, and only a bare majority (51%) could connect it with the Resurrection of our Lord.

I always encourage people to participate in worship services during Holy Week, like our own Maundy Thursday service at 7:00 p.m. on April 1, or the community Good Friday service at noon on April 2. The reason is that, like Easter, Palm Sunday is a joyous occasion, and we can gloss over what happened in between the two. But without an appreciation of the price Jesus paid, and the impact it had on his first disciples, it’s easy to forget why Easter is so important.

There’s a fascinating example of that in Mark 15:43. Jesus has just died on the cross, and Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Jewish ruling council, requested the body so it could be buried. (Standard Roman practice was to leave the bodies of crucified people hanging, as a warning to others.) Our pew Bible says he “went boldly to Pilate,” the governor, to request Jesus’ body. But that is surely too weak. The word translated boldly means “to be so bold as to challenge or defy possible danger or opposition.” Paul uses the same word when says (Philippians 1:4) that even though he is imprisoned by Caesar’s imperial guard, he “dares to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear.”

The amazing thing about what Joseph of Arimathea did was that it happened before the Resurrection. We know how hard it can be for us to be unafraid-and we know that Jesus rose from the grave; we know that he will return to claim his church, when the dead will rise to meet him (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17) and even those who have not yet died will be changed (1 Corinthians 15:51ff). Joseph didn’t have that assurance. He dared to ask Pilate for Jesus’ body, not knowing if it would cost him his own life-if he would end up hanging on a cross next to Jesus’ body. The reason Joseph could risk so much was that he was “expectantly waiting for the Kingdom of God” Jesus had proclaimed (Mark 1:18).

Is there anything you are afraid of? Easter reminds us that the worst thing that can happen to us-death-has been defeated. If death has lost its sting, how much more the trivial things most of us worry about. What can that reassurance do for you? What freedom does it give you? What things does it enable you to dare, like Joseph of Arimathea did?

I hope to see you during Holy Week!

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Dictation Software Chuckle

In my work, I use MacSpeech Dictate, a voice-recognition program for the mac, a fair bit. (It’s pretty good software: the kind you swear by as much as you swear at. Most bad software you either throw out or become resigned to. Dictate I like enough to entertain hopes they’d improve it. Another sign of my regard: I’m thinking about getting their new product, MacSpeech Scribe, so I can have non-interactive voice recognition. Think, sermon transcriptions.)

Anyway, one of the ways I use it is to save myself the trouble of typing some of the prayers in the PC(USA) Book of Common Worship. Mostly, the software does a good job, but once in awhile you get something amusing, like this:

Two.
Grant us, O Lord,
the grace always to do in pink
what accords with your purpose;

That’s an interesting image. It was supposed to be “and think.”

Maybe this was an “inspired” error: it’s a lot easier to think about things than to do them. So, to combine two slogans (from Nike and the breast-cancer awareness people): Just do it. In pink.

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Praying for Deliverance

One of the questions I received last month when I was preaching the “Let Us Pray” series about prayer was this one:

How can I pray to thank God for saving me from illness, disaster, etc., when others have died or are dying from the same illness, disaster, etc.?

This is a tough question. It is the key question we can ask about God’s grace. Why me? Why me and not them? What did I do to deserve this grace, and what did they do not to deserve it?

I’m reminded of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural address, speaking of the people in the north and in the Confederacy:

Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. … The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. … as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether’.

Lincoln knew that part of the answer to this kind of question is to admit our ignorance. We will not know, on this side of eternity, the fullness of God’s purposes. We must simply trust that the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous.

But while we do not know all its fullness, there are things the Scriptures tell us about God’s purposes. First, they tell us that God may not deliver us from trouble, but that God will certainly deliver us through trouble. Consider the story of Joseph (Genesis 37, 39-50) or David (1 Samuel 16f).

We may say, looking at the victims of a natural disaster, “God answered my prayers by sparing me, but not theirs.” But in fact, if we could ask them, they might tell us how they experienced God’s presence in their great troubles, and feel sorry for us because we were so distant from God in our lesser misfortunes.

The other thing the Scriptures consistently speak of is the idea that we are blessed to be a blessing. Consider the story of Joseph again or Esther (Esther 1-10). God doesn’t just save us from troubles for the fun of it, or even because he loves us. God delivers us from our troubles so that we can be a blessing to others, and bring him glory.

Each breath any one of us takes is a gift from God. But some of us have experienced a disease or other calamity that brings that home in a way the rest of us haven’t experienced. For some of us that’s more real than for others.

So if we are having trouble finding words of thanksgiving, maybe God wants more than just words. It could be a hint that God isn’t finished with us yet. Maybe God wants us to use that gift, the new lease on life he’s given us, to help others somehow. I don’t know how, but God does. So why not ask God what you should be doing with your life in thanksgiving for your salvation?

I enjoyed preaching the series on prayer, and hope you found it helpful. It’s over now, but I’d love to keep the conversation going. Whether you’re a “prayer ninja” who wants to share your insights, or a pilgrim like myself asking questions about prayer, I’d love to talk with you.

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