The recent massacre of Christian students in Kenya by Islamic militants was another gruesome reminder of the increasing persecution of Christians around the world. According to Open Doors USA, “2014 will go down in history for having the highest level of global persecution of Christians in the modern era.” Open Door predicts it will only get worse. In its annual World Watch List, Open Doors identifies the top 50 countries where Christians face intense persecution. It takes many forms including torture, imprisonment, loss of home or assets, rape and death. Each month, on average 322 Christians are killed for their faith, 214 properties (churches or Christian homes) are destroyed and 722 acts of violence are committed. Estimates are that over 100 million Christians are persecuted worldwide, making us the most persecuted religious group in the world, with Islamic extremism being the main source in 40 of the 50 countries on the list. Last week, on April 14, it was one-year since the kidnapping of 276 girls from Chibok, Nigeria. They remain in rebel custody and little is known about their whereabouts or their circumstances. A small number who managed to escape from the Boko Haram camp reported being raped almost daily and that some have been killed because they refused to renounce their Christian faith. Dr. Stephen Davis, an Australian negotiating to secure their release, says, “I have visited many villages and towns attacked by Boko Haram. I have seen firsthand the devastation and talked to families in the attacks. These are tragic stories of loss of life, slaughter, rape and the worst abuses of human life one can imagine.” Read More >>>
Our Easter celebrations have come and gone so quickly!
We stopped to celebrate the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ only a week ago, yet we are back into our normal routines before we know it. Yet, the resurrection is so profound its truths transform every part of our lives, and in a very real way Easter lives with us every day. In his first letter to the believers living in Corinth Paul writes how “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, [and] that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). While his death dealt with our sins, God vindicated Jesus by raising him to life again. His resurrection changed everything. It transformed Peter from a mistake-prone bungler who denied and disassociated himself from Jesus, into a bold provocative advocate who stood in front of thousands of people on the day of Pentecost and called them to repent. What changed Peter? He later wrote, “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). The resurrection radically changed Peter for ever. Peter’s life demonstrates a powerful insight, that the resurrection is more than a victory to be celebrated it is a reality to be lived. It’s not by chance that the early church began meeting on Sundays, the day after the Jewish Sabbath. Read More >>>
On the morning of his resurrection Jesus walked through the near-empty garden unnoticed. Well almost.
Had he not asked Mary Magdalene why she was crying he would have remained hidden. Then even as she answered Jesus’ question she didn’t recognise him. That is until he called her by name, then the recognition came. (John 20:11-18) There is a mystery about the presence of God. In Matthew’s gospel when he relates the story of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God,” implying that if one is not pure in heart then God may be hidden from view. Although the Bible makes clear that God is present everywhere and in everything is God’s presence (for instance Psalm 139:7-12), the darkness of our heart distorts our perception.
Lord, your symbols are everywhere, Yet you are hidden from everywhere. Though your symbol is on high, Yet height does not perceive that you are; Though your symbol is in the depth, It does not comprehend who you are; Though your symbol is in the sea, You are hidden from the sea; Though your symbol is on dry land, It is not aware what you are. Blessed is the Hidden One shining out!
St. Ephrem uses the word “symbol” in its ancient meaning >>> Go to page two
In these weeks leading up to Easter I am focusing on the “Seven Sayings of Christ from the Cross.” This week it’s Jesus’ words of abandonment taken from Matthew 27:46, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which translated means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Hanging on the cross, his body in agony from the torture of crucifixion, Jesus uses the opening verses of Psalm 22 written by David to express the depths of his agony. But it was not the physical pain that was the source of his cry, although it was no doubt intense, it was something far deeper and darker. In that excruciating moment, he felt the unbearable painfulness that comes from rejection and separation. Jesus entered into a place where, as Paul the apostle expresses it in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (NIV).
Such is the mystery and the majesty of the salvation of humanity that we can’t possibly know the depths of what Jesus felt in that moment. We can however appreciate it in some measure. Why? Because Jesus was as human and you and I are. His experience was that of every human being. His suffering was a mirror of our sufferings. There are times when many of us, perhaps all of us, have experienced dark times when it felt like God had abandoned us. Life was hopeless, prayers went unanswered and despair was overwhelming. It such moments we too cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But that’s not where the story ends. Read More >>>
As Christians we are perhaps more familiar than most with the slow and painful execution by crucifixion. Invented by the Persians around 300 BC and perfected by the Romans by 100 BC, crucifixion describes the process where a convicted criminal is tied or nailed to a large wooden cross and left to hang until dead. Did you know that the word ‘excruciating’ comes from the Latin, ‘to crucify’? It means pain like the pain of crucifixion, which is variously described as unbearable, severe and excessive mental and physical pain. It is believed to be the most painful death ever invented. Shockingly, it is used by ISIS in the Middle East today. In Roman days, the condemned were usually stripped naked, nails were then driven through the wrists and just below the ankles, ropes provided reinforcement to tie the arms to the crossbeam, and then they are raised on the cross to hang. Although this process alone would cause severe pain and blood loss, it was not normally be the cause of death. With crucifixion, people die by suffocation. Read more >>>
As we draw towards the end of another year and focus on the astonishing reality of the incarnation—when God entered into our humanity in profound ways—we are again reminded of our own fragility, weaknesses and the need to rely on each other.
When Jesus was born, like every other new born baby he was totally reliant on those around him. Vulnerable and defenceless he committed himself into the care of a teenager and her fiancé. Then throughout his life, Jesus never rose above that fragility of humanity but experienced it to the full, right through to death. We don’t like feeling vulnerable, weak or fragile so it is no surprise that so much in our lives is committed to alleviating these feelings. We use our jobs, our finances, our organisations, families and friends to mask the inherent feelings of brokenness we carry with us every day. Some suggest “we never look our best in transition” and change is perhaps when we most likely feel vulnerable. When we navigate changes in our lives it is often hard to be at our best. It takes so much energy to deal with change . . . Read More >>>
There is a lot to be encouraged by in Jesus’ words to his disciples, “I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18).
Jesus says “my” church, which reminds us the church is not ours but his. He also says that he is building his church, underlining again that the task is his, not ours. Not that we are passive, mind you, we still have work to do, but Jesus makes clear where the authority and responsibility for the church really lies. All this is heartening. Despite the challenges we face in the church in Australia today, Jesus is taking the lead and it is not all up to us. The church will prevail not because of our hard work or intelligence, but because of Jesus and that “the gates of Hades” cannot stop it. Despite what we might feel, there is ample evidence from around the world that affirms this reality. In a recent interview in Christianity Today, Dave Garrison talks about his new book, A Wind in the House of Islam. His book describes how around the world Muslims are coming to faith in Jesus Christ and it is believers from Muslim backgrounds who are leading these Muslims to Christ in increasing numbers. Most of this is taking place in Muslim-majority nations rather than the West and almost completely under the radar. Read More >>>
It is never easy to fully appreciate how others see the world. As an Australian Christian who believes in one God, my first visit to India opened my eyes to the completely different world of polytheism (many-gods). What was fanciful and strange to me, was normal to millions of people. Bowing, praying and worshiping to multiple deities was way outside my understanding of what religion was all about. Just as strange, but in a different sort of way, is the view of some that there is nothing but the natural world—no God, no gods, no higher intelligence—nothing. However, I am yet to find a “pure” atheist, most seem to accept that there may be something. Did you know that the early Christians were considered atheists by the Romans? It started with the Jews. Read More >>>
It’s my belief that it is getting more difficult for Christians to live in our community which is founded on Christian values yet increasingly rejects the God of Christianity. We have much to learn about living in such an environment. While on holidays recently, walking around Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hiroshima, Jenny and I became increasingly aware of the yellow tiles with raised patterns, about 30cm square, running along almost all footpaths. In shopping malls and railway stations, on footpaths above and underground arcades below, there they were again. We’ve seen them in Hobart, but not in such abundance. They tiles are for the blind so they can find their way. Using their stick to run across the patterns,they can navigate their way around. It’s perhaps one thing our world should be commended for – giving attention and care to the disadvantaged in our community, in this instance the blind. Yet, while it should be applauded most people are totally unaware that this valuing of all people is part of our community because of its Christian heritage. Read More >>>
In a recent interview, British theologian, N. T. Wright, warned when “anybody — pressure groups, governments, civilizations — suddenly change the meaning of key words, you really should watch out.” It happened in Nazi Germany and in post-1917 Russia, and, he suggests, is happening today. He gives the example of trend to speak of “assisted suicide” rather than name it as a “killing.” Wright then turns the current debate around same-sex marriage. He says that the word marriage has “for thousands of years (and across-cultures) meant between man and woman. Sometimes it’s been one man and more than one woman. Occasionally it’s been one woman and more than one man . . . but it’s always been male plus female. Simply to say that you can have a woman-plus-woman marriage or a man-plus-man marriage is radically to change that, because of the givenness of maleness and femaleness.” Read more >>>