From Media and Elam
The sound of marching feet
Thousands march, close-ordered ranks –
There are no guns or tanks!
Where once there was unjust despair
Now voices rejoice and sing:
“Jesus! Jesus!” Persia marches for her King!

Banished fear! Gone despair!
Feel the joy that’s in the air!
The thousands march: to North, to West, to East,
Gone the serpent, gone the beast,
A new star rises in the East.
The bells to heaven ring:
“Jesus! Jesus! Persia marches for her King!

Acts 2:7 shows Medes, Elamites and Parthians were among those who heard the Gospel in Peter’s Pentecost sermon. These groups dwelt in the geographical area of Iran/Persia.
To read this in context click the following link: http://biblehub.com/niv/acts/2.htm

“Remember those in prison, as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” Hebrews 13:3. To read this in context click the following link: http://biblehub.com/niv/hebrews/13.htm

An enduring TV image in my mind from the war between Iran and Iraq is the picture of thousands young Iranians marching off to war against Saddam Hussein. Thousands of these would have met their deaths in this war. Now I have a “vision” of a new Iran with millions of Christians “marching” for Jesus.

Here’s some background:

Religious and political persecution are rife in Iran, a “theocratic” state, with the real power in the hands of the Guardian Council (6 Islamic legal experts).Most Iranians are Shiites. The Armenian Christian church is tolerated: its services are not in the main Iranian language, Farsi. Recently many Farsi language churches have been closed down; so the majority of Iranians cannot access the Gospel. House churches are banned. “Threats to Iran’s security” is the usual “crime” Christians are charged with.
There have been several high profile cases of persecution (many more!):

June 9, 2013 Mohammad-Hadi (Mostafa) Bordbar, a Christian convert resident of Rasht, was tried by Judge Pir-Abbasi on the morning of in branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran. Mr. Bordbar had been arrested during Christmas holidays on December 27, 2012. He was sentenced to 5 years in prison for membership in a so-called “anti-security organization” [i.e. Christian church/housechurch] and an additional 5 years for gathering with intent to commit crimes against Iranian national security.
2013: Pastor Saeed Abedini  Sentenced to 8 years in Prison in Jan. 2013; born in Iran;  dual US/Iranian citizenship (US citizenship not recognised by Iran); married to Naghmeh, an Iranian-born US citizen; with 2 children; arrested while working on a government-approved orphanage; in Teheran’s notorious Evin prison, section 350; beaten severely; internal bleeding; denied medical treatment. Naghmeh has addressed UNO on his imprisonment. At least 30 people in Evin prison have since become Christians!
2012 October : Pastor Behnam Irani and 7 members of Church of Shiraz arrested.
2012: Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani released,  (initially sentenced to death; given 3 years for converting Muslims) after much international campaigning.
2012 January: a number of evangelical Christians arrested.
2011 December: Alireza Seyyedian -a follower of Jesus since 2006, arrested and sentenced to six years in December 2011. He is kept in the section 350 of Evin Prison.
2011 & 2010: 130+ Iranian Christians arrested just before Christmas. The Governor of Tehran  vowed to arrest more evangelical Christians.
2011: Rev. Leonard Keshishian, the pastor of the Assemblies of God, Isfahan, arrested
2010: Mehdi “Petros” Foroutan, a 27-year-old pastor in Iran, arrested and charged with crimes against national security and blasphemy against Islam (“standard” charges).
2010 December 26: Farshid Fathi arrested in a wave of arrests of believers in Tehran and other areas; sentenced to six years of imprisonment. Also in Evin Prison.

Useful links:

http://www.mohabatnews.com/ (especially Iran)

International Christian Concern (Website): http://www.persecution.org

International Christian Concern (Facebook Page): https://www.facebook.com/persecuted

Voice of the Martyrs: http://www.persecution.com/

Jihad Watch: http://www.jihadwatch.org/

Pastor Saeed Abedini (Iran) (Facebook Page): https://www.facebook.com/PrayForPastorSaeedAbedini AND https://www.facebook.com/StandingTogetherForHumanRightsInIran

http://www.familysecuritymatters.org/publications/detail/angela-merkel-calls-christianity-the-worlds-most-persecuted-faith 

Iran (a very comprehensive listing): http://www.farsinet.com/persecuted/

Prisoner Alert (a list of several Christians in various countries): http://www.prisoneralert.com

Gatestone Institute International Policy Council (World overview of persecution) http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org

A mainstream press which has reported on persecution: http://www.washingtontimes.com   /news/2013/may/5/more-900-christians-killed-nigeria-last-year/

OneNewsNow  (AFN – a Christian news service): http://www.onenewsnow.com /persecution/2013/05/31/deadliest-place-to-be-a-christian-nigeria

http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews
/world/2013/April/Tanzania-Islamic-Persecutors-Target-Christian-Pastors/

Christian Solidarity Worldwide: http://dynamic.csw.org.uk/article.asp?t=press&id=1560

WHAT CAN WE DO?
Aquaint     ourselves with what’s going on
Come         before God in prayer
Tell         others (e.g. “Share” on Facebook, etc.)
Support –     in any other way possible (Prisoner Alert facilitates your writing letters to those in prison. NB Do NOT criticise their governments in your letter!). You can post your prayers on Praye for Pastor Abedini’s Facebook page ( https://www.facebook.com/PrayForPastorSaeedAbedini).

I went to the vet the other day. In fact just three weeks after my Mom died, I had to put my beloved cat down. The vet said Mr Tiggles was suffering and would not get better, and putting him down was the right thing to do.

Now we know this vet, and when other vets had given up with a previous problem, he had persisted until Tigger came right. I don’t class myself as an animal lover, but Tig has taught me a great deal: in fact he had previously taught me some things about God as well (which I intend to repost later); now in his death (as my wife, my daughter and I sobbed our hearts out) he was teaching me something again.

When a day or so later I was expressing some doubts about having The Tig put down, I was told, “D__ (the vet) knows him, and loves animals; you should rely on his judgement.” And here was the lesson. God knows when we should die.

Have you ever wondered why some people who are prayed for do not get visible healing? I have. And only recently have I begun to get the glimmer of an understanding about this.

Some years back our church had a lady who was a leader of a woman’s group, and was really loved and respected. She went down with an incurable disease relating to her nervous system, which led to a slow, progressive death. She was prayed for, and prayed for, and prayed for. I recall at one service the assistant minister said that we weren’t even going to pray for healing “if it was God’s will” because we knew it was God’s will for her to be healed, and so she WOULD be. I felt really uncomfortable about this, but at the time couldn’t articulate even mentally why I felt that way. Was I just in revolt because (according to the minister in charge) I did not speak in tongues and therefore did not have the Holy Spirit?

Both my wife and I had also been prayed for; been told; “You are healed: now walk in your healing;” and certainly still suffered. Because we weren’t healed, the blame (i.e. guilt) for that was plonked on us: not enough faith.

I belong to a kind of email-based intercession group. Some of the people we’ve prayed for have had healing (disease, injury, financial circumstances), and some (outstanding people in their churches) have not been healed as we know it, and have died. Did we not have enough faith? Did we not put in enough effort? Did we not twist God’s arm enough?

Whose healing is it anyway?

A close friend of mine has a very dear friend who has cancer. This has spread to various organs, including the brain. We have obviously been praying for healing; but, medically speaking, the outlook is gloomy. My friend was “tackled” for considering the possibility that her friend would die, the argument implying: if you admit to the possibility that your friend could die, you lack the faith required for him to be healed.

Again, as far as I am concerned, we have the heresy that faith implies that we can say there will definitely be a healing, and we usually mean of the physical sort.

To assert this is the same (I think) as saying Naghmeh Abedini’s pastor-husband, Saeed, is still in gaol in Iran because she doesn’t have enough faith that he’ll be released. If you believe that, you haven’t heard Naghmeh’s testimony.

If everyone were healed, we’d have people who were centuries old in their “current” physical bodies. It’s a fallen world: everyone has to die: “… people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,.” wrote Paul [Hebrews 9:27]. Under these natural (fallen) circumstances I have no wish at all to invite you to my 5304th birthday tea!

Of course, if all suffering is illogical and random, the only thing that matters is what makes us feel good.

Moreover, whose Sovereignty is it anyway? Is there any purpose in suffering? If our suffering has a purpose, then (firstly) it’s not all pointless and (second) it will stop only when that purpose has been achieved. If we hold that God is sovereign, then He has a right to choose, and that probably won’t sit too well with our quasi-democratic – and definitely self-centred – notions; but we don’t call the shots: God does.

Let’s go back to Naghmeh and Saeed: since he’s been imprisoned in Evin he has brought at least 30 people to know Jesus. Given that he is an evangelist, this means he is accomplishing his purpose while suffering in gaol: his life and suffering have themselves become a testimony. Naghmeh has addressed the issue at the UN – so those people have heard the Gospel. She’s been on US and BBC programmes in the Farsi language during prime viewing time in Iran, and has testified to Jesus; so thousands of Iranians have now heard the Gospel. Of course we all pray for his release, and that of all the others who are imprisoned or persecuted for their faith in Jesus.

My wife spent 3 weeks suffering in hospital because of a totally smashed ankle: during those three weeks, I learned the meaning of Grace. My friend went through suffering in her marriage; our prayers for her husband weren’t answered according to our wishes; but, having seen her suffering and tested, I know her faith is real, and that she’s not just some perennial optimist. And so she has been a massive blessing to me and my whole family – because of her suffering.

Let’s return to her friend’s suffering. Can her friend’s suffering have any purpose, and, if so, what would that be? As Christians our main purpose is to glorify God. While we can see that a healing would glorify God, could his suffering also not glorify God? I look at their rock-solid faith and I’m amazed (I know I shouldn’t be) at it and Who it’s inspired by; I see evidence of God’s Holy Spirit in him and in my friend as they go through this. I know theirs is not an airy-fairy feel-good, warms-the-cockles-of-my-heart kind of faith. It’s not the kind of faith that wheel-spins in vain in the mud: it’s got traction; it pulls them through because it’s engaged with God. It glorifies Him because God’s strength is shown in their “weakness” of suffering.

When my friend’s friend dies, I have no doubt that he’ll go to heaven and be with the God he has served so faithfully for decades, because he is in a right relationship with God. He’s getting promotion from this world to a world of glory. He’ll be no longer susceptible to suffering, pain and death. His promotion will depend on the Boss. What right have we to demand that God should heal him? Whose sovereignty is it anyway?

Does this mean I’m callous? I don’t think so: I’ve literally cried over their pain and because the happiness of their friendship will be cut short, and I still pray for healing.

I pray God will heal him and that, if it is not God’s will to heal him, that He will grant him:

1    unshakable CONFIDENCE is his salvation;
2    CONTENTMENT with his life;
3    the CONSOLATION that his salvation and God’s Grace afford in this life;
4    physical COMFORT in his suffering;
5    COURAGE to live each day trusting God.

Am I demonstrating a lack of faith? Am I hedging my bets? I don’t think so.

I do not doubt God’s ability to heal him physically; I don’t know if that is God’s will: there is a difference.

The leper in Matthew 8:2 illustrates what I mean: “A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean’.” He exercised faith in Jesus and recognised the supremacy of God’s will in this.

Are we going to accuse Paul of a lack of faith because he was not healed from whatever it was (some think, malaria) that he suffered from?

” Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. T.hat is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” [2Cor12:7] He wasn’t healed the way he would have wanted to be; and note the reason for the suffering: to keep him dependent on God and to glorify God.

Did Daniel say “Chuck me into the furnace and God WILL rescue me from it”?

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, ‘King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up’.”[Daniel 3:16]

Daniel considered the possibility that God might NOT rescue him, but he still demonstrated faith: “God CAN rescue me IF He wants to; but EVEN IF He doesn’t I’ll still listen to Him rather than to you.” Our faith must be an EVEN IF faith as well as a BECAUSE faith. Our faith must be in God and not in our own faith (which I have just learned is called “fideism”).

So, if someone who has had prayer for healing is not healed outwardly/physically (which is what we tend to mean – and God understands that), we mustn’t think it’s due to a lack of faith and heap guilt onto that person or on those who are praying for him or her. Who made us the judge? It’s God’s decision whether He will heal, not ours. It’s His agenda, not ours that must count; if we don’t respect that we are denying His sovereignty.

Like the vet, God knows when it’s our time to die. God is the loving, almighty, sovereign Lord – not a genie in a bottle.

 

To read the quoted Scriptures in their context, click on the links below:

Hebrews 9:7
http://biblehub.com/niv/hebrews/9.htm

Matthew 8:2
http://biblehub.com/niv/matthew/8.htm

2 Corinthians 12:7
http://biblehub.com/niv/2_corinthians/12.htm

Daniel 3:16
http://biblehub.com/niv/daniel/3.htm

This is again a somewhat unusual posting. My Mom died on 19 June this year of congestive heart failure. Bluntly, in spite of treatment she died from drowning in the fluid collecting in her lungs. Many funerals deal with only the deceased and the family, and, to most intents and purposes, sideline God. Mom forbade a eulogy: below is the second half of my.tribute. Gloria soli Deo.

Right and wrong were very clear to Mom; as clear as black and white, with no shades of grey. And she was respected.

One thing that was always central to her life was the church. If she could help it, she wouldn’t miss, especially communion. If communion was at 08h00 and she had to sing in the choir at 10h30, well then, we went to two services. (We thank those of you who made her feel so welcome here, especially Yvonne, who became more like a daughter to her.) Her faith, she said, carried her, and at times when I was feeling pessimistic, she would say: “Have faith,” just like someone might say, “Have more common sense.”

Mom was stubborn – which in her later years she admitted. Sometimes stubbornness is a pain; sometimes it’s a virtue: Mom had a stubborn sense of duty. That manifested itself in the way she looked after us. When I was still very small, we were quite poor, but she always made sure that we looked clean and smart, especially our school uniforms. She also had a sense of duty towards God. She had her daily Bible readings from the lectionary (very Anglican!). Her faith was stubborn, and that’s really what carried her for years, but especially in more recent months, as she was walking through the “valley of the shadow of death”. I don’t think she was at all frightened about dying. As the hymn says:

Jesus lives! thy terrors now
Can, O Death, no more appal us;
Jesus lives! by this we know
Thou, O Grave, canst not enthral us.
Hallelujah!

Jesus lives! henceforth is death
But the gate of Life immortal;
This shall calm our trembling breath,
When we pass its gloomy portal.
Hallelujah!

Jesus lives! our hearts know well
Naught from us His love shall sever;
Life, nor death, nor powers of hell
Tear us from His keeping ever.
Hallelujah!

That’s what kept her alive; and that’s why she could die without fear. And that’s is why we could let her go. Granted, it was terrible watching her suffer; but death was more than the mere relief from discomfort and really difficult breathing.

In church, on the Sunday before she died, I had a vision, which is extremely unusual for me. It couldn’t have lasted more than a fraction of a second, but it was so powerful that it left me wobbly, physically and emotionally.

Imagine a picture in a frame. To the left is Mom. Then there’s a river. On the right of the river is a grassy field. On the upper right is an “empty” cross; between the cross and the river is Jesus, facing Mom and beckoning to her and calling, “Come!”.

So she has taken up His invitation and she is home with her Saviour.

I’ll close with the words of an sms from a close friend:
“Farewell to her, Amazing lady. Present with God breathing [the] fresh air of heaven.”

This is rather different from my usual postings.

Ever since just before Resurrection Sunday (Easter) my Mom had been in and out of hospital. She had water on the lungs and shrunken heart valves; so she had a bad circulation of badly oxygenated blood, and so felt she could not breathe. Because of her age, her frail condition and the state of her blood vessels she could not go through with the five operations that would have prolonged her life, or at least enabled her to be more active.

She had always been very independent and fairly active, doing her own housework past the age of 90. We all knew, when she turned down the operations, that she would have little time left, maybe two years at most . In simple faith she accepted that. However, none of us realised she would go so quickly.

Seeing her suffer, struggling to breathe, even though she was on oxygen, was very hard.

In church one or two Sundays before she died I had a vision (although I’m not a “vision person”. Mom was on the left bank of a river. On the other side was a grassy field. On the upper right was an “empty” cross; between the cross and the river was Jesus beckoning to her and calling, “Come”.

On the day she died it was so bad seeing her suffer, and the vision had given me such assurance; so that night I prayed for Jesus to come and fetch her.

About an hour later we were called to the hospital. By the time we had got there, she had gone. I smsed (texted) my God-sister to give her the news. She replied:

“Farewell to her, amazing lady. Present with God breathing [the] fresh air of heaven.”

The next morning I woke up with this short poem:

 

I cried –

Until you died.

O what pain

That we should gain

The green fields of eternity!

 

John 11:25

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

To read ths excerpt in context go to: http://biblehub.com/niv/john/11.htm

Lord, I wonder, why me?

While I’m honoured that this should be,
Wouldn’t it be better to get someone stronger,
One who can stay the course for longer?
I’m no Daniel in the lion’s den;
Like Peter I deny – again and again.
I’m more like Thomas, gloom and doubt,
Not like Paul with Biblical clout.
I’m not dedicated, like some monk;
My head and soul are crammed with other junk.

So, I say, why me?

I see others, higher up, who speak in tongues
While I occupy the lowest rungs
On the ladder of spirituality:
So, my Lord, why me?

What did You see in me, I ask,
When You gave me this specific task?
Yes, I’ll willingly undertake it,
But without Your help I just won’t make it.
I’m full of resentment, anger and stuff,
And You know how I buckle when things get rough.

I’d like to be a lot bolder,
A real Christ-soldier,
Receive Your Spirit
And be totally soaked in it.
Something always holds me back,
But You, You know what I lack.

Give me, please, Your Spirit-power
Minute by minute and hour by hour.
In times of crisis let me stand on Your Word;
Let me be, not shaken, but stirred!

 

[If you have a Christian poem that you would like me to publish, please submit or contact me via the comments.]

[The latest James Bond film has just been released in South Africa.We as Christians are called to undertake an entirely different sort of mission which calls for faith, courage and the energising of the Holy Spirit.]

Though my bones be dry or ache,
Though the earth tremble and quake,
In the midst of it all
Even though the sky should fall,
Let me hold on fast to Your Word
Let me be not shaken – but stirred.

Ezekiel 37
The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord….”
To see this in context click: the following link:
http://niv.scripturetext.com/ezekiel/37.htm

Psalm 46
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea.
To see this in context click the following link:
http://niv.scripturetext.com/psalms/46.htm

For those who don’t know, the latest James Bond film is called Skyfall.
For info about Skyfall click the following link:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skyfall.

 

We recently had some minor alterations done to the house, and that started me thinking …

Andrew:    Hello, what are we up to today, my friend?

Wilhelm:    Dunno what you’re up to, my china, but I’m fixing this door.

Andrew:    Isn’t it a new door?

Willem:    Yes, the carpenter put it in this week, R1350 to split, reframe and hang it.

Andrew:     It looks good to me. Wow! Feel how smooth this pine is. Why on earth are you using coarse sand paper on it when it’s so smooth? Aren’t you messing it up?

Willem:    Ja, it looks good and it feels good, but at the moment it’s no bloody good!

Andrew:    Come again?

Willem:    It’s no bloody good! What’s a door supposed to do?

Andrew:    Like, open and close?

Willem:    Exactly! You’re doing well today, my china!

Andrew:    So?

Willem:    The left-hand side doesn’t close against the magnetic catch. This strip here catches the door at the bottom when it closes. So it wants to come open again.

Andrew:    What’s that strip for?

Willem:    You check how great this door frame looks? Nice, fancy architrave, hey?

Andrew:    Ja.

Willem:    This thing is damn skew. Looks good, but it’s vrek skew. This strip is to compensate. The hinge is recessed a little at the top and a lot at the bottom. That makes it properly upright.

Andrew:    And?

Willem:    Well, it’s so recessed at the bottom that the strip needs to be sanded back before it closes properly, like I mos told you.

Andrew:    And this nice smooth piece you’re attacking with P40?

Willem:    Ja, it’s nice and smooth, hey? And it’s a nice fit, hey?

Andrew:    Yes, looks great to me.

Willem:    But what will happen when this nice smooth wood has been painted?

Andrew:    Ah, it won’t close.

Willem:    Ah, you twig sharp, my bru. It won’t bloody close. What’s the point of it looking good when it doesn’t fit?

Andrew:    So you’re making it a bit smaller?

Willem:    That’s it. I’m taking it down with P40, and then I’ll use some P100 and round off with P180. Then you won’t know the difference. It’ll be as smooth as a baby’s bum AND it will fit when painted. So it’ll look good and be good.

Andrew:    You know ….

Willem:    What?

Andrew:    That’s the perfect illustration of what God –

Willem:    Not again, your damn holiness! Can’t you keep God out of it, man? I don’t believe in your God and you know it!

Andrew:    No, but look, seriously: this sort of explains what God does. We think we’re OK and life is going smoothly; and then he comes along and roughens it up to make us better fit his purposes. You’re making space for paint and he makes space for grace.

Willem:    If you like I’ll sand you with P40 and a belt-sander!

Andrew:    Seriously, Willem, you’ve explained something that’s bugged me and is a huge challenge for me, seeing so many minor things upset me.

Willem:    What’s that?

Andrew:    All this roughening up in my life is to get rid of the bumps and bits and make me fit God’s purposes.

Willem:    You’ve got some bumps and bits to come off? Just pass me that chisel. I’ll start with your tongue; then you can shut up about religion, so help me –

Andrew:    So help me –who?

Willem:    Oh shut up!