The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: June 2015 (page 2 of 2)

Disappearing Christians

O Preacher“The Christian communities of Syria and Iraq . . . now tremble on the brink of destruction” (“The Wall Street Journal”, May 16, 2015).

What are the numbers?  Almost 1.5 million Christians lived in Iraq when the U.S. toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.  With the rise of the Islamic State three-fourths  have fled the country or died in the conflict.  In the 1920s 33%of Syrians identified as Christians.  Now only about 10% do.

What is the history?  Before World War 1 four empires ruled:  Ottoman, Russian, German and Austro-Hungarian.  After the war they all collapsed, leaving vast territory to be divided with bitter conflict between Serbs and Kosovars, Germans and Poles, Jews and Palestinians, Greeks and Turks, Turks and Armenians, Armenians and Azerbaijanis,   People groups became scattered but each retained their customs and beliefs.  That simply increased conflicts as did the nationalistic fervor and wars of independence or wars of religion.

Islamist fanaticism is the latest round of Middle East violence.  Christians are not the only victims.  Muslim communities have also been victimized.  But more often Muslims have been the attackers and Christians the martyrs, especially in Syria and Iraq.

How have they survived?  By staying “invisible”, which means living in remote areas or not drawing attention to themselves in urban areas.  In a line eerily in line with Jesus’ warnings, many Assyrian Christians fled to the mountains to escape the Ottoman persecution during World War 1.

They’ve survived by finding foreign protectors.  In the 19th century various ethnic groups looked to different Christian groups and different countries for help.

And they’ve survived by attaching themselves to strong rulers, especially in Egypt, Syria and Iraq.   They received a measure of protection, because rulers often saw them useful as supporters or scapegoats if things went wrong.

Times have changed. Those strategies are no longer effective.  So now they can either fortify themselves with arms in secure places, flee as millions have, or stay and wait to be killed.

Walter Russell Mead concludes his “Wall Street Journal” article (the resource for this blog) commenting on our response . . .

“We can help the region’s minorities ‘fort up,’ as the Israelis, Kurds and Maronites have done.  We can help them to escape and work with friends and allies around the world to  help them find new homes and start new lives.  Or we can do what history suggests, alas, our most probable course:  We can wring our hands and weep piously as the ancient Christian communities in Syria and Iraq are murdered, raped and starved into oblivion, one by one.”

Jesus is there.  A recent book by Tom Doyle, entitled Dreams and Visions, subtitled “Is Jesus Awakening the Muslim World?”, offers miraculous hope.  Click on the link below to read Ben Witherington’s blog and watch a short video about Jesus himself apparently appearing in dreams and visions to lost Muslims.  Below that is a map showing the extent of Islamic State’s territory in Syria and Iraq.  But, “under the radar” (not in green!), Jesus is doing his saving work!

Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS)
*Note.  Most of these  Christians aren’t “our kind”.  Customs, traditions, ways of worship, clothing, even some doctrines are different from us.  But to write them off as “non-Christian” without knowing them personally is the height of arrogance and foolishness.  Every part of the global Body of Christ isn’t just like us.  As I’ve heard for as long as I’ve been in the church, “When we get to heaven we will probably be surprised who’s there and who isn’t!”
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Lest They Be Forgiven

P.AllanOne of the most hard-to-take statements Jesus ever made—that’s what this is.

Before we get to it, recall Jesus just told “The Parable of the Sower and the Soils” (Mark 4:1-9—See “Got Ears?  LISTEN!”,   After that, Mark reports . . .

(10) And when he was alone,
those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables.
(11) And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God,
but for those outside everything is in parables,
(12) so that ‘they may indeed see but not perceive,
and may indeed hear but not understand,
lest they should turn and be forgiven'” (Mark 4:10-12).

TWO TYPES OF PEOPLE  in that parable-hearing crowd– “those around him with the twelve” and “those outside.”  Those with the twelve have “been given the secret of the kingdom of God”  (4:11).  Those “outside” “see but [do] not perceive” and “hear but [do] not understand” (4:12).  Jesus wants the first group to know the secret of the kingdom, but he doesn’t want the other group to understand “lest they should turn and be forgiven.”  Hear that?  Jesus does not want “those outside” to turn and be forgiven!

Epistrephosin (translated “turn”) literally means “to turn physically” and figuratively means “to change one’s ways or repent”.  Jesus uses it in Luke 17:4 where he teaches his disciples “if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”  Here, then, in Mark 4:12, “turn” implies repentance and repentance requires the granting of forgiveness.

BUT SOME JESUS DOESN’T WANT TO FORGIVE.  This flat-out contradicts everything we generally believe about Jesus.  Jesus is “Mr. Mercy”.  “Sir Soft-Heart”.  Lavish with love.  Frenetic to forgive.  But not here.  Here  he doesn’t want some people to understand his parables, because, then, they might repent and he’d be obligated to forgive them.

How could that be?  Jesus quotes Isaiah 6:9,10 where the Lord commissioned Isaiah for a strange prophetic ministry . . .

(9) Go, and say to this people:
“Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.”
(10)  Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.

WHY WOULD THE LORD SAY THAT?   In his commentary, The Book of Isaiah, E.J. Young writes, “[The Lord’s] nation had so sinned and hardened its heart that it contained within it the seeds of its own destruction” (Volume 1, p. 258).  Young is referring to the repeated calls to repentance prophets made to Israel—calls they repeatedly refused.  Young quotes John Calvin, “Such blinding and hardening influence . . . must be ascribed to the depravity of man . . . The whole blame lies on themselves in altogether refusing [the prophets’ words]; and we need not wonder if that which ought to have led them to salvation becomes the cause of their destruction” (ibid., p. 260).  In other words, our refusal to pay attention to the Gospel has a limit.  Reach it (only God knows when) and we’ve hardened our hearts permanently.  Repentance and forgiveness are no longer possible.

Glue that hardens in 60 seconds makes me nervous.  My hands shake squeezing out the glue and fitting the broken pieces together.  More than once I didn’t beat the clock–as warned the glue hardened.  That can happen to hearts too.

 PURITAN PASTOR-THEOLOGIAN JONATHAN EDWARDS EXPLAINS:  “We have here . . .  a tension-laden account of human unbelief: both the consequence of man’s refusal to heed the revelation of God and God’s judgment of the unwilling, confirming the hardhearted in their unbelief. Parables veil the truth to outsiders just as they reveal it to insiders. God both opens the eyes of the blind and blinds the eyes of those who have proved themselves uninterested and unwilling.”


The sower sows the word.
And these are the ones along the path,
where the word is sown:
when they hear, Satan immediately comes
and takes away the word that is sown in them.
And these are the ones sown on rocky ground:
the ones who, when they heard the word, immediately receive it with joy.
And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while;
then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word,
immediately they fall away.
And others are the ones sown among thorns.
They are those who hear the word,
but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches
and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word,
and it proves unfruitful.
But those that were sown on the good soil are the one who hear the word
and accept it and bear fruit,
thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundred fold (Mark 4:14-20).

This is “the word”—“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God  is at hand; repent and believe in this gospel” (Mark 1:15).  Let’s not let our heart become rocky ground, so Satan can snatch the word away! Let’s not let  our heart be rootless, so trouble drives us from Jesus!  Let’s not let our heart be cluttered with this-life cares or wealth’s lies or endless wants, so the word of the kingdom gets choked to death!  Let’s make our heart good soil that embraces the word and bears fruit!

In other words, “Pay attention to what you hear” (Mark 4:24)! 

Ears, Me, More & Homework

(A little prayer for a soft heart wouldn’t hurt either!)

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