Tag Archives: Saeed Abedini

It’s True–Christians Don’t Fit In

Among the many complaints secular thinkers express about Christians, there is a common thread: Christians refuse to try to fit in. Secular thinking involves a great deal of consensus, and consensus requires that at some point, people who began the process differing in one or several points from the majority must sacrifice their differences to the common good.  The theory and practice of building consensus sound more loving than that, but that is the bottom line that makes consensus work.

                Christians cannot sacrifice their differences when the difference is founded on a principle of Christian teaching. For example:

  • God’s most precious gift is life. Abortion is death by order of the woman carrying an unborn baby in her womb. Christians know that God creates life, and that God has not given any human being the right to kill another human being whose existence is deemed inconvenient. Secular thinkers believe Christians should stop complaining and just “fit in” and agree that abortion is the best way to deal with a family planning failure.
  • God’s most precious gift is life. Sexual intercourse between a man and a woman is God’s gift of power and blessing to create new life, and the power of this relationship and its gifts is contained and controlled in marriage the way exploding rocket fuel is contained and controlled in rocket nozzles. If the explosion were uncontained, it would be destructive. Because it is contained, rockets can go to the moon, Mars, or beyond the solar system. Sexual energy contained within the relationship of marriage is a powerful force for good and passes its power on to succeeding generations. Secular thinkers believe Christians are being hateful and offensive when they reject the momentum created by activism to change the definitions of marriage and family and simply refuse to “fit in.”
  • Human marriage, the union of a man and a woman, is the model God has provided for us to understand the relationship of God with his people. The most poignant example of that teaching is the story of Hosea who obediently married a prostitute and loved her despite her flagrant infidelity, just as God loves his people despite their scorn for his teachings and rebellion against his authority. Secular thinkers believe Christians become Christians entirely due to the “carrot” of heaven in the afterlife. Christians know that our relationship with the eternal and infinite God begins right now, and his gift of life eternal is ours right now. Secular thinkers want Christians to stop quoting that “silly book,” the Bible. Christians stand firm in their commitment to God’s revealed truth and refuse to change it or abandon it in order to “fit in.”

God’s people have always faced the resistance of those who reject God and the temptation to go along to get along. This sort of problem goes back to the earliest human beings. Think how people scoffed at Noah building his ark in obedience to God. The three Hebrews in ancient Babylon risked being burned in a hot furnace, because they simply would not sell out their relationship with God. The pressure of the US federal government on people to finance behavior that God calls sin is no different than the requirement of King Nebuchadnezzar to worship the great golden idol. It is exactly the same problem: do what the government says or suffer the consequences.  It is the same problem the disciples encountered in Jerusalem when the Sanhedrin commanded them to shut up about Jesus; they answered, “We must obey God rather than men.” The entire marriage controversy now being discussed in the Supreme Court and throughout American culture often includes language that says in many different words, “You Christians are either silly or else you are completely hate-filled. Otherwise, you would get on the right side of history and shut up.”

Christians do not decide what is right or wrong based on what history is saying. The notion that there is a “right side” and a “wrong side” of history grows out a secular belief that human beings are evolving into wiser and better beings than they used to be. The Bible shows clearly that such an idea is a lie, because the Bible shows that people have not changed for the better since the most ancient of times. In fact, nobody needs a Bible to know that truth. The evidence is clear in documents accepted academically as recorded history. The evidence is clear in all the texts revered by other religions, too. History is not a force that shapes human individuals and human society for the better. History is simply a record that shows that human beings and cultures have only changed technologically. The moral and ethical questions of today are identical to those of past generations.

Christians do not choose between right and wrong by taking a poll of the culture to determine what everybody else thinks. Christians take instruction from their guide for faith and life – the Bible, the revelation of God. That guide does not change as history unfolds, because God does not change. God is the First and the Last, the unchanging God of all points in history. Christians take comfort in Christ’s birth, death and resurrection as evidence of God’s love and plan to redeem all people, yet they know that God never forces himself on anyone. History is littered with examples of people who have broken themselves on God’s unchanging laws, because they rejected God’s unchanging love. Christians know that God’s laws for human conduct are no different in that respect from God’s laws for the physical world. Someone who rejects the validity of God’s law of gravity and steps off a five-story building will fall five stories, no matter how many people agreed with him in his rejection of the law of gravity. Someone who rejects the validity of God’s law of honor for parents and family and proceeds with some noxious alternative idea will suffer the degradation of life that is the natural consequence of unnatural definitions of marriage and family, no matter how many people agreed with him in his rejection of God’s law of honor for parents and family. Sadly, people who rebel against God’s laws, whether physics or family, often take other people with them into the suffering, misery and destruction that are the natural consequences of their choices.

There can be cultural consequence when Christians refuse to fit in, and there can even be legal consequences when Christians refuse to fit in, but around the world, Christians stand firm in their commitments to God and suffer the consequences. Saeed Abedini suffers the consequence of refusing to fit in with Iran’s demand that no Muslim convert away from Islam, because Saeed Abedini believes that his life of faith in Christ in both time and eternity is more important than any amount of pain or punishment in the realm of time and space. Asia Bibi is condemned to death in Pakistan for her faith in Christ, but she counts her life with Christ as priceless and by comparison counts her life in time and space as nothing to strive for. Just as the three Hebrews refused the order to worship the golden statue, these contemporary prisoners for Christ say, “our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king.But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods.” Saeed Abedini and Asia Bibi refuse to participate in the behavior required by their governments, choosing Christ instead. Christians in the USA will continue to refuse the behavior required by US culture and US government, choosing Christ instead. Compared with Christ, the value of cultural or government approval is as rubbish. Christians will not accept rubbish as the reward for being willing to “fit in.”

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Not Such Good News

The latest update on Pastor Saeed’s condition is disheartening. He continues to be beaten. His internal bleeding is becoming worse. When taken to the hospital, the doctors and nurses refuse to touch him, because Christians are considered ‘unclean.’ The latest word is that fellow prisoners threaten to suffocate him while he sleeps. The objective is to persuade him to recant his faith in Christ. He consistently refuses, continuing to testify to Christ despite brutal abuse. Christ promises: “If you conquer, I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God.” (Revelation 3:12)

Pray for Pastor Saeed

Dangerous Places

You have been hearing news over the past few weeks about Pastor Saeed Abedini, an American citizen imprisoned in Evin Prison in Iran. He was arrested in September, tried in January, convicted and sentenced to 8 years in prison, and his crime was that he worked with Christian house churches in Iran. He was accused of being a threat to national security, because of his work with the house churches.

Such an accusation sounds outrageous to American ears, but it is not uncommon in countries around the world. Iran is more familiar to us, because this nation has been considered a threat to the US since 1979 when the US embassy in Tehran was invaded and many Americans were held hostage there. News of Iranian hostility to the US is common. Sadly, while the arrest of Pastor Saeed is a direct insult to the US because he is a US citizen, Iran does not limit such arrests to American visitors in the country.

On March 10, five Iranian citizens,  Christians of Muslim background in Iran, were put on trial for charges related to public order, national security and evangelism. They were all arrested in October during a prayer meeting in a private home. Again, Christians were accused of being a threat to national security.

Over recent months, arrests of Christians during house church meetings or at the homes of house church members in Iran have increased. The government of Iran views Christianity as a deviant anti-government movement. That view only makes sense because the government and Islam are inextricably intertwined. The Islamic worldview is that there can be no distinction between the religion of Islam and the way of life of the people. Those who convert away from Islam are perceived as having torn the fabric of the culture.

Furthermore, the government of Iran considers Christians to be pawns of the West. The government ignores the fact that there have been Farsi-speaking Christians since the day of Pentecost. Travelers from Persia were in Jerusalem on that day. They heard Peter’s sermon, they were converted and baptized, and they took their faith with them back to the land that became present-day Iran. Sadly, the current escalating assault on Christianity recently added the shut-down of Christian worship in the Farsi language to the many prohibitions on Christians in Iran. Church buildings in Iran must be registered with the government, and the services held there must also be individually authorized. For many years, the government allowed worship in the Farsi language in two churches in Tehran, but in recent months, even those services have been prohibited. The pressure on Christians is justified as protection of the culture from pollution of Western ideas, and Christianity is viewed as a Western idea, despite its 2000-year history as part of Iranian culture.

There are many countries where it is dangerous to be a Christian. In some countries, the dangers arose via gradual cultural pressure that blended into legal and political restrictions. In countries like Iran, where Islam has become dominant through revolutionary action, the danger has dramatically increased as soon as an Islamic constitution takes effect. In other countries, Islam is becoming a threat to Christians as rebels simply overwhelm territories unprotected by weak governments, as in Mali. Some analysts actually consider Christianity to be the most heavily persecuted religion on earth at this time. Today, a Christian in the USA is free to believe and pray and worship and even wear religious jewelry, but there are forces in the culture that want to limit all these freedoms. We must pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Iran and other dangerous countries, but we must not forget to pray for our own testimony and courage to live our faith in the face of cultural and even governmental pressures to shut up.

In the US, it has for many years been possible to be complacent about Christian faith and its place in the culture. That is not justification for failure to live our testimony, but it may serve as a partial explanation. The letter to the church at Laodicea in the book of Revelation sounds a lot like US Christians:

14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.

15 “ ‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ ” Revelation 3:14-22

 

Pray for Pastor Saeed, who now needs medical care due to internal bleeding brought on by torture. Pray for all Iranian Christians imprisoned for their faith, that they may have strength and courage to continue to testify faithfully. Pray for yourself and your church that you may be faithful to testify to Christ in the US culture despite scorn and smirking and even vicious assaults on you and your faith. Pray that we who claim the name of Christ may, indeed, conquer the evil that assaults us both insidiously and obviously. May each of us hear what the Spirit says.

 

Language Alert — National Security

The term national security sounds like a matter for great concern. If something threatens national security, it sounds terrifying. Our nation might fall to an enemy if someone walking around loose in our country is aiding and abetting an aggressor nation that wants to conquer us. Ask most people what it takes to protect our national security, and they believe that it takes an army and/or a navy. We all understand that someone who sells information to an enemy is a threat to our national security, even though it takes a policeman, or someone more like a policeman than a soldier, to stop him. Whatever it takes, we want it done. We want to be secure within the borders of our nation, and we want all threats to that security destroyed.

Iran classified Saeed Abedini as a threat to national security and arrested him. He has now been tried, convicted, and sentenced to eight years in Evin Prison, because he is a threat to national security. Saeed Abedini was guilty of helping to start and operate Christian house churches after converting from Islam to Christianity. His conversion and his work in support of churches are considered by Iran’s government to be a threat to its national security.

In the USA, where we have no state church, and where everyone is free to belong to any church, to move from church to church, or to refuse to believe in any god or religion whatsoever, we cannot imagine how somebody’s religion or change of religion can possibly be a threat to national security. The people who founded the colonies that became the USA mostly came from countries that had state religions, and many of them fled their homes in those countries because they were treated like enemies of the state for belonging to the wrong religion. In countries with state churches, the religion is an integral part of the government. To do anything against the state religion is to act against the state. Ancestors of US citizens knew exactly what it meant to be persecuted for rejecting or undercutting the state religion. When they established a new nation, they made very sure that the new nation would not have a state religion.

This idea is actually quite unusual, even in today’s world. There are many nations in the world that declare that they protect freedom of religion, and most of them have signed the UN Declaration of Human Rights which declares freedom of religion to be one of the universal human rights. However, many, many nations that have signed this declaration have very unusual interpretations of their obligation to protect religious freedom. The problem usually centers in a state religion.

Iran is only one among many where Islam is the state religion or the dominant religion and the government regards an affront to Islam as a breach of national security. Islam-dominated cultures almost universally incorporate sharia law into the national law, and sharia law declares that anyone who converts from Islam to any other religion deserves to die. It is not common for the death sentence to be applied for this offense, but sharia allows such inhumane treatment of prisoners that many might actually prefer death to the suffering of imprisonment.

The World Watch List maintained by Open Doors International tells the story. This list is comprised of the 50 countries where it is most dangerous to be a Christian. Below is a list of 8 of the 10 most dangerous countries. #1 on the World Watch Rank is North Korea, which is the most dangerous, most repressed, country in the world, where it is dangerous for everyone but the top leaders. #10 on the World Watch Rank is Eritrea. Of the 10 nations in the world where it is most dangerous to be a Christian, 8 are countries where the state religion or the dominant religion is Islam. The story of Saeed Abedinin can be and has been reprised in various forms in all these countries.

 

WorldWatch

Rank

Country Name The role of Islam in the Country
2 Saudi Arabia No provision for religious freedom in the constitution of this Islamic kingdom. The legal system is based on sharia. All citizens must adhere to Islam. Conversion to another religion is punishable by death.
3 Afghanistan The Constitution of Afghanistan says:Article One

 Ch. 1. Art. 1: Afghanistan is an Islamic Republic, independent, unitary and indivisible state.

Article Two

Ch. 1, Art. 2: The religion of the state of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is the sacred religion of Islam.

Followers of other religions are free to exercise their faith and perform their religious rites within the limits of the provisions of law.

Article Three Ch. 1, Art. 3

In Afghanistan, no law can be contrary to the beliefs and laws [ahkam] of the sacred religion of Islam.

NOTE: Not  a single official church remains in Afghanistan.

4 Iraq Iraq’s Constitution, like those of many Islam-dominated countries, says, “Article 2: First: Islam is the official religion of the State and is the primary basis for legislation:

No legislation may be enacted that contradicts the established laws of Islam

The Constitution also guarantees religious liberty, but that liberty is confined within “the established laws of Islam.”

About 95% of Iraq’s citizens are adherents of Sunni Islam.

Christianity arrived in Persia as a consequence of Pentecost, and Christian churches thrived there until recently. In 2003 there were more than a million Christians in Iraq, but today there are less than 345,000.

 

5 Somalia Islamic religious leaders maintain that Somalia must remain a strictly Islamic state without room for Christians or churches. The largest known Christian church in Somalia has 5 members.
6 Maldives The government of Maldives considers itself to be the protector and defender of Islam. Anyone who converts from Islam to any other religion loses Maldivian citizenship, thereby becoming stateless. The law against importation of Christian publications is so strict that the personal Bibles of tourists have even been confiscated.
7 Mali Historically, Mali was a constitutionally secular state, and it did not even appear on the 2012 World Watch List. In April 2012, the northern part of the country was captured by militant Islamists who established an Islamic state under sharia law. Christian church buildings are being systematically destroyed, and the objective of the government is to eradicate Christianity with the nation’s borders.
8 Iran The arrest and conviction of Pastor Saeed Abedini as a threat to national security lays bare the truth that Iran has been arresting Christians as threats to national security for years. Islam is the state religion. Iran signed the UN Declaration of Universal Human Rights, but there is no evidence that the Islamic leaders who control the government feel themselves obligated in any way by that signature.
9 Yemen Islam is the state religion, and sharia is the source of law. Evangelism is prohibited. Converts from Islam to Christianity face the death penalty.

 

The logic behind the allegation that Christianity is a threat to the national security of Islamic states  is often linked to an accusation that Christianity is alien to the nation and the culture of the people. Most often Christians are accused of representing interests in the US and western Europe. Most importantly Americans need to understand that to Muslims, there really are none of the distinctions we make between the culture, the government and religion. Islam is a religion, because it worships a god and has teachings and practices like other religions. However, for a Muslime the government, the culture and the religion are all tightly integrated. Christians believe that they must live their faith in whatever culture or under whatever government they find themselves. Islam teaches that all these areas must be subject to sharia, which, in their view, is God’s law.

Today in the US, while Christians face very obvious cultural restrictions from secularism and even face government pressure due to secular redefinitions of historic principles, the pressure from Islam is more subtle. The shock Americans felt after September 11 has somewhat subsided, and the rebound effect is leading many Americans to feel they need to make extra efforts to be accepting and accommodating toward Muslims. Christians certainly do not want to be aggressive toward Muslims in the US, no matter what Muslims are doing in countries like Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan or Maldives. It is a challenge.

Interestingly, the Christian worldview that everything in life must be governed by a relationship with Christ does not at first sound so different from the Islamic worldview in which everything is subject to God’s law. Both Christians and Muslims believe that faith in their supreme being shapes everything they do. Unfortunately the two groups do not hear the same messages from their supreme lawgivers. Pour these two worldviews into a pot bubbling with the notion that every person is on his own to figure out right and wrong and that humans as a species are evolving new and different ideas as the species matures, and these are the ingredients of a very caustic stew.

Citizens of the USA must not make the mistake of automatically categorizing Muslims as threats to national security the way Muslims in Iran categorize Christians. To do so would be to fall into the same error as secularists who categorize Christians as sociopaths because some Christians exercising their faith appear to act in opposition to the cultural momentum. It is obvious that Christians in the USA must walk a tightrope between the pressures exerted on the culture by Islam and by secular thinkers. It is equally obvious that in this environment, it will not be easy to share Christ and his love for all people. In fact, that is exactly what Christians in Islam-dominated countries around the world have been jailed for. How can we ever do it?

What do you think is the most important principle for Christians trying to navigate the American culture with secularism, Islam and even numerous variant Christian viewpoints in the mix? What is the right way in this setting to live our mission to share Christ’s love and make disciples of the whole world?  What do you think the Christians sentenced to long terms in Evin prison in Iran would say? Do you think the USA will ever classify Christians as threats to national security?

Looking Back at Sunday’s Gospel

Sunday’s readings: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18     Psalm 27
Philippians 3:17-4:1     Luke 13:31-35

The Gospel: 

            At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”

He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.

’ Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ”     Luke 13:31-35 

One thing I asked of the Lord, that I will seek after; to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. … for he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent.” Psalm 27:4, 5 

When someone warned Jesus that Herod wanted to kill him, Jesus did not stop doing what he was doing. He did not run and hide. Nor did he rush to Herod and get in his face. Jesus pointed out that his death was essential to his work, and he was ready, knowing that only if he died could he rise again. He said, “On the third day, I finish my work.” Then he began to weep over Jerusalem where the temple represented God’s choice long ago for a point of contact between heaven and earth. He wept, because people had so thoroughly corrupted temple worship that it could not serve God’s purpose any longer, and the same people did away with anyone who tried to assert God’s purpose. Jesus looked ahead to the rending of the curtain that would end the useful life of the temple of stone, because Jesus was the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God on earth. In him, the kingdom of God drew near to everyone, but after Jesus returned to heaven, there needed to be another way for the kingdom to draw near to the people.

That goal would be accomplished by individuals. In Psalm 27:4 the writer said that all he really wanted was to live in the house of the Lord always. His relationship with God the sort of relationship God had in mind in the model of the temple. The psalmist felt that he was part of God’s family who could count on God’s presence and protection in time of trouble. This theme is repeated in many places in the Bible. Perhaps the best known is in the 23rd Psalm where David wrote, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” This theme is one of the places where the unity of God’s revelation in the Old Testament and the New Testament is very clear. It would be most vividly repeated when Paul wrote to the Corinthians that our bodies, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, are temples.

The temples where Israel worshipped in Solomon’s day and in Jesus’ day were gigantic stone structures intended to portray the greatness of God and to be places where God literally took up residence on earth. They were physical representations of that grand day in the future described in Revelation saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals.” Paul’s words make it clear that until the fulfillment of the prophecies in Revelation, we have that same role. We are the vessels of God’s presence among men, walking temples that bring the kingdom close to the people we meet.

That is a huge responsibility. It is more than we could possibly do on our own. Fortunately, the fact which makes it true is the same fact that empowers the reality. When the Holy Spirit dwells within us, we are no longer on our own. We serve God according to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, speaking and acting in obedience to our call to serve Christ and to be light and salt in the world.

The fact that the Holy Spirit indwells the people who serve God was known to the men who founded the United States. Those men believed that human beings were God’s servants and in the spirit of that belief, they also believed that no human institution should interfere with a person’s obedience to God. They would be appalled if they heard that the government of the USA had determined that only behavior confined to a building dedicated to worship was considered to be religious behavior. They were like the psalmist. They believed that in our hearts, we were always in the house of God and always subject to his sovereignty in our lives.

Because of our great responsibility to be agents of God’s in-breaking kingdom, we have an equal responsibility not to let human tendencies muddy our message. We have the right and responsibility to follow Christ’s teachings with regard to the sanctity of life and the meaning of family, but in the battleground of ideas, we must equally project Christ’s love for all people, even people whose agendas are in complete opposition to God. When Jesus heard that Herod was looking for a way to destroy him, he did not try to zing Herod with “nastier than thou” rhetoric. In fact, on the night of his trial, Herod gave him a chance to do just that, but Jesus chose to stick to his mission, the salvation of all people.

How should we respond to the terrible things people arguing cultural and political issues say about Christians and Christian ideas? We might learn something from Pastor Saeed Abedini. Pastor Saeed was able to send a letter to his family in America via Iranian relatives who are allowed to visit him. In his letter he said:

They are just waiting to see how I react to all of their pressures and persecution. What will come out of me during these intense times? But again, this is another golden opportunity for me to shine the light of Christ in this dark world and to let God to use me.

Yesterday when I was singing worship songs, the head of my cell room attacked me in order to stop me from praising but in response I hugged him and showed him love. … It is during these harsh conditions, that I deeply need God’s Saving Grace so that I can be the fragrant scent of Christ in the dark house of Evin prison.

Pastor Saeed shows by his behavior and attitude that the Holy Spirit lives in him. He truly is a little temple bringing the Kingdom of God near to his fellow prisoners, his guards and all who come in contact with him. When we are engaged in conversations and verbal combat on the subject of culture change demanded by secular thinkers, we need to remember how Pastor Saeed defeats his enemies. He prays to be the fragrant scent of Christ, the incense of prayer in a temple, in the dark house of Evin prison. We must pray to be the fragrant scent of Christ in the dark house of political discourse in the USA. 

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?
1 Corinthians 3:16

Read this week’s news from the persecuted church and the culture wars in the US at Living on Tilt the newspaper.