Viewing the World through God's Word

Category: Missions

The Still-Singing Bird

O PreacherRecently I’ve read books about the persecuted church.  The suffering God calls his children to endure stuns me. For example, one man in an Eastern European country said, “We expect to be persecuted the same as we expect the sun to rise in the east every morning.”

While it’s critical we be informed of such hostility against Christians, it’s as important to be informed of God’s unstoppable saving work.  The latest blog from Ravi Zacharias balances our view–and should move us to prayerful repentance over the devillish lies America is exporting.

The Bird Still Sings: Why Christianity Cannot Be Silenced

Posted by Ravi Zacharias on August 7, 2015

In America now it seems fashionable to mock evangelicalism and try to silence the gospel message. But Jesus is growing His Church across the globe, and historic movements are taking place from China and Korea to the Middle East.

Years ago I read a powerful essay by my favorite essayist, F.W. Boreham, called “The Candle and The Bird.” With his brilliant sweep of knowledge of God’s working in history, Boreham traces how revivals have spread from continent to continent, how when the brilliant flame of God’s moving in the hearts of people seemed to be dying out in one place there would be a fresh spark igniting a God-breathed revival elsewhere.

From Germany through Zinzendorf to England through Wesley and Whitfield to Wales and Scotland, and then to the Evangelical Awakening in America, it is fascinating to see how God has done His work through times and seasons and locations. Boreham distinguishes between extinguishing a candle and chasing away a bird: when you extinguish a candle, the light goes out; when you chase away a bird, it sings its song from another bough. Hence, his title “The Candle and The Bird”—a beautiful metaphor.


In America now it is fashionable to mock the bird of evangelicalism and try to silence it. But the song is being sung on other boughs and historic movements are taking place. In China, Korea, and the Middle East, places where once the gospel’s saving message seemed to be extinguished, churches are packed with hungry hearts, the youth listening to the gospel message with rapt attention. In countries where there was once hostility, crowds fill the auditoriums. In Romania, where to believe in God was once to put one’s life at risk, ten thousand filled the auditorium in which I spoke. From senators and other political leaders there we heard of the dark days of the past and of the shining hope of the future. We prayed in chambers once inhabited by a tyrant and were told this was probably the first time a prayer had been publicly uttered. They have witnessed what Christ-less lives can birth, shattering their countries and their hopes. They can now see that the only possible hope for transforming a heart is Jesus Christ.

But mistakes were made across history and we still have not learned. When the gospel was first taken into places like India and China in the 18th and 19th centuries, it often came on the wings of western political expansionism and the so-called “gunboat diplomacy.” That incongruous combination spelt disaster for both groups. Political imperialism soon lost out, and with it went the missionary effort, seen as being in cahoots with political demagoguery. In a staggering change, now the agents of demagoguery are carrying a different message, basically, “We in America have evicted Christian values and beliefs. We have replaced them with naturalistic assumptions. Mores and the sacred are things of the past. We have silenced those voices … and so must you; if you don’t, you will forfeit all the monetary support we would otherwise give you.” Yes, that is what is happening, and rather than being an influence for good in the world, America is becoming a purveyor of ungodliness.

What those with this monetary “gun-to-the-head” attitude don’t realize is that other countries have seen through this hollowness, and what was once a respected nation is now viewed as a valueless paper machine sinking because it has lost its faith and values. They know it. They say it. They remind us of the emptiness of freedom without responsibility. We are too blind to admit that our gradual collapse has come walking in lockstep with our irreligious handmaiden, toward our disintegration. Jesus cautioned us about such scandalous blindness.

But there is good news. The very nations that evicted “gunboat” missions are now receiving the message of Jesus without the gunboat. Those giving heed to the gunboat of naturalism will accept the gunboat’s benefits but reject the naturalism it insists on because they have already been there and know why they were sinking and in need of assistance. I have had sheiks and mullahs tell me, “Please don’t stop coming; we need you here. We need Christians here.” Those were the very words to me a few years ago from the now assassinated Chief of Intelligence in Syria. He knew the healing balm of Jesus Christ was needed and as we left him, the church leader with me expressed his amazement at hearing such an admission. It just could not be made in public.

The church in China is the fastest growing church in the world. One professor in China told a Christian colleague, a friend of mine, “Stop criticizing Marxism…. It left the souls of the people empty, which is why they are listening to you now.” I can just hear a generation from now someone telling the next generation of preachers in America, “Stop criticizing naturalism. It has left the souls of people empty, which is why they are listening to you now.”

Ironically, in a powerful piece published some years ago in his very popular column in England, self-proclaimed atheist Matthew Parris said that after he had revisited Malawi where he had grown up, he was convinced against his ideological commitment to atheism that what Africa needs is not more aid but the gospel of Jesus Christ, which alone changes hearts. He admitted to speaking with a schizoid struggle, yet he strongly believed that the only hope for Africa was the Evangel: the gospel of Jesus Christ. He ended his article in The Times of December 27, 2008, “Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete.” That, from an atheist, is profoundly powerful.

The bird is singing from different boughs … it is not silent. In a twist, down the road our rabid atheism here may one day awaken society to what it has squandered. Yes, it can happen that the bird will start singing again in Washington, New York, Los Angeles, and throughout this land. You would be amazed at the letters we get expressing the disillusionment of people from within their own worldview without values and without God. One professor in California told me that when he was young, he was a radical activist for all the causes that challenged our shared meanings of the past. Now in his veteran years he deeply regrets that wrongheaded life of his youth.

The bird still sings its songs. We hear it and see it as we travel—and I would be remiss if I did not say many thanks to all our supporters who make it possible for our team to get to these places.

The words of Arthur Hugh Clough say it well:

For while the tired waves, vainly breaking,

Seem here no painful inch to gain,

Far back, through creeks and inlets making,

Comes silent, flooding in, the main.

And not by eastern windows only,

When daylight comes, comes in the light;

In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly!

But westward, look, the land is bright!

The mockery will not have the last laugh. You see, dancing on the grave of an extinguished Christianity is farcical at best. Because the grave is empty. And the one who knows the way out of the grave sits in the heavens and laughs.




Growth by Persecution

P.Allan“Persecuted believers have become the new face of genuine Christianity.  They are filled with passion to live or die for Christ, and we in the West have much to learn from them.”

Product Details

So writes Tom Doyle in his book, Killing Christians:  Living the Faith Where It’s Not Safe to Believe.  Tom  pastored for 20 years in CO, TX & NM before launching into missions in the volatile Middle East.  His eye-opening book is available from Amazon . . .

I just started reading it, but I couldn’t get past the Introduction without commenting.  Listen to Doyle . . .

Persecution Malfunction.  “Oppressors over the centuries have never recognized that the persecution of Christians is always a failed initiative.  It just doesn’t work.  To the contrary, killing believers routinely accelerates the spread of the gospel and the growth of the church.”

This reminds me again of Psalm 2:4a about the nations who rage against the LORD and his Anointed . . .

He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the LORD holds them in derision.”

Radical Islamists like ISIS and antichrist governments like Iran may vow to destroy Jesus’ followers, but their plots (according to Doyle and history) produce the opposite results.

Why?  “Because Jesus’ message of love and reconciliation thrives in a climate where hostility, danger, and martyrdom are present.  Persecution and the spread of the gospel are as inseparable as identical twins.  Suffering propels the growth of Jesus movements around the world” (Doyle).

Muslim vs. Christian Growth.  Can that be true?  Are persecuted churches really growing, especially when they are virtually all little house  or underground churches?  Certainly our mega-churches far exceed their growth! But Doyle writes what all American-church studies have shown:  “For those of us in the West, the threat of persecution is virtually nonexistent, but statistics show church growth in America—which experiences no persecution—has leveled off during the last twenty years.”

Nevertheless, one gets the feeling that Muslims are out-growing us.  Not so, writes David Garrison, author of Church Planting Movements (in 2012).  “The annual global growth rate is currently 2.6% for evangelicals, 1.2% for historical Christians, 1.2% for the world population growth [and] 1.9% for Islam (with 96% of that growth estimated to come through biological births).”

Global vs. American Church Growth.  Whew!  Gospel-spread remains ahead of Islam-spread!  Globally.  But in America church growth has been level for two decades.  And I would argue that much “growth” we see in most local churches has come mainly from “church shoppers.”  Four-plus years ago, when we moved into our new church building, newcomers visited about every Sunday.  A new church building attracts “shoppers.”  So does the latest and loudest praise music.  And smoke and disco lights.  And a coffee bar with free Sunday newspapers.  And a “multi-plex” where six different-style services are held simultaneously.  That’s church growth by Madison Ave. marketing.  Books have unashamedly argued for it.  Many pastors have bought into it.  Only recently have they learned that  church growth by marketing usually produces consumer “Christians.”

Growth vs. Gospel.  The term “church growth” implies we’re playing the numbers game.  Counting people is biblical (see Acts), but only as a sign that the Gospel is spreading and converts/disciples are being made.  That’s how I’m using the term here.  Not bodies in a building, the Spirit of Christ in lives.

Persecution and Gospel-Spread.  We should ask why “persecution and the spread of the gospel are as inseparable as identical twins.”  Listen again to Doyle:  “As inconceivable as it is to Christians who have not faced life-threatening persecution, the suffering produces immense blessing through the radical transformation of individual believers.  Each one comes away marked, never truly returning to the same life.  Sometimes survivors are unrecognizable even by their own families because, in the midst of their brutal afflictions, they experienced Christ in an hour of need as few of us ever do.”

How sobering!  Apparently the higher the cost of following Jesus the deeper the devotion to following Jesus!

Oh, we do suffer.  Chronic physical pain.  Broken heart over a broken marriage.  Loneliness from losing a loved one.  This is real suffering— but suffering common to fallen humanity.  It’s not suffering because we follow Jesus (even though it genuinely, and sometimes cruelly, tests our faith).  Nevertheless, despite the growing threat to religious freedom,  I’d guess 99% of us aren’t suffering for Christ. 

Action Suggestions.  So what can we do?  Pray for persecution?  That’s not being a fool for Christ, that’s just being a fool!    Here are three sensible suggestions . . .

  1. Read Killing Christians or Dreams and Visions (both by Doyle and available from Amazon), or other books or websites about persecuted Christians (Voice of the Martyrs-  Media news says little about Christian persecution.  So most of us are only vaguely aware of what’s happening.  We’re left with a truncated view of the Body of Christ and presume all Jesus’ followers live in a “Disney World” somewhat resembling ours.  Consequently, we’re blind to the life-and-death war that following Jesus drafts us into.
  2. Mentally compare our Jesus’ following with theirs.  Even when we are informed, it’s easy to dismiss what we read.  How much greater impact when we measure our life of following Jesus with the lives of believers in the Middle East!  Let’s read, but then imagine our following Jesus potentially costing our job, our home or our lives.  How would we respond if Jesus invited us, “Come, follow me and die”?
  3. Repent of lukewarmness and pray for the Holy Sp[rit to inflame our hearts with passion for Jesus.  In the final analysis, reading and comparing are only aids.  The Holy Spirit alone can inflame our hearts with passion for our Lord.  What changes he might work if we regularly prayed,  “Lord, ignite my heart with passion for you.  Deepen my devotion to you, so that I’ll die more to myself and live more to you.”
  4. Pray in daily devotions for the persecuted church.  Lois and I have established that habit.  It reminds us of our suffering brothers and sisters everyday.  And who knows what the Lord might do in response to our little prayers for a “little” believer in Iran?
  5. Ask the persecuted church to pray for us.  We may have beautiful air-conditioned buildings and overflowing  libraries of books and the freedom to argue secondary theological points.  But what I’m reading tells me they have the heart, the passion and the devotion to Jesus that we’ve lost (if we ever had it).  So maybe when we send our missionary offering each month, we should send this humble prayer request . . .

Will you please ask the Jesus’ followers you serve
to pray earnestly for us in America?
We so need the faith and passion and life-or-death devotion to Christ they have!


“Backdoor” Muslim Missions

O PreacherSuppose you were Muslim and Jesus appeared to you in a dream and called you to follow him?

Product Details

Dreams and Visions is a collection of stories from the world of Islam by Pastor Tom Doyle.  Doyle has spent 11 years as a missionary in the Middle East and Central Asia.  During this time he’s encountered a staggering number of Muslims who were first introduced to Jesus through a vision or dream so powerful they eventually turned from Islam to Christ.  Conversion can result in execution, but these stories tell how former Muslims have found hope and peace from knowing Christ (based on Amazon web site—link below to order book).


COMMENT #1.  Skeptical about dreams and visions?  Remember:  Pharaoh had them (Genesis 41).  So did Isaiah (Isaiah 6) and Daniel (Daniel 7; 8; 10) and Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:1-19).  In fact, in his Pentecost sermon, the apostle Peter quoted the prophet Joel . . .

And in the last days it shall be God declares
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophecy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams . . . (Acts 2:17).

According to Joel and Peter, visions and dreams are characteristic of the last days—the days between the first and second comings of Christ.  This may make us uncomfortable because of the abuses we’ve seen of spiritual gifts.  Or certain doctrines might drive us to reject this.  But God’s saving work is more important than our comfort.  And when we get to heaven we’ll find that all our doctrinal systems had little holes here and there!

COMMENT #2.  God must be laughing.  Preposterous to presume a country can “close” itself to God!

Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves
and the rulers take counsel together
against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.”
He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the LORD holds them in derision (Psalm 2:1-4).

 COMMENT #3.  These miracles don’t eliminate missionaries.  When Jesus commissioned disciples to go and make disciples of all peoples, he promised to be with them (Matthew 28:18-20).  This is Jesus being “with them” in a surprising and truly wonder-full way!

COMMENT #4.  We can be encouraged to pray and to give and (if the Lord calls) to go.  Islam seems an impenetrable mission field.  Radical Muslims are spreading their doctrines with force and violence:  “Convert or die!”  But Jesus is Lord!  So let’s pray!  Let’s give!  And, if the Lord calls us, let’s go!  We know how it all ends!  John’s vision in Revelation 5:11 will be fulfilled . . .

And [the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders]
sang a new song (to the Lamb), saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nations . . . ”

 jesus the king jesus saves jesus smiles jesus smiles again jesus rules ...

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