The Insanity of God (book review)

This may be the most important book for Christians in our times I have ever read, after the Bible. I appreciated everything about it except the sub-title, which should have been WHAT THE PERSECUTED CHURCH TAUGHT ME ABOUT FAITH–

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–because this is a book which in the first half asks, WHERE IS GOD IN INJUSTICE, PAIN, LOSS, HEARTBREAK AND DEATH and in the second half answers with resounding conviction, based on interviews with 600 severely persecuted Christians in 60 countries, HE IS IN IT WITH US, BEARING US UP.

I love Jesus and I love stories–and this is a book of stories of how God is woven into all circumstances even when He seems indifferent and nowhere around. The questions Ripken asks are THE questions we all need answered, the basic questions Does God see? Does He care? Can He–will He–help? even in war-torn parts of the world where there is unbelievable brutality, where people starve to death, babies die needlessly and nothing makes sense?

Throughout the book there are shocking, scary, grief-producing parts that were exceedingly hard to read, that have burned their way into my memory for life. And throughout the book there are sweet, powerful, miraculous, life-affirming parts that were joyous to read and have burned their way into my memory for life. I am grateful for both, because the bottom line, underscored in the blood of 21st century martyrs, is that living for Jesus Christ is worth the loss of anything and everything.

Ripken comes to a jolting conclusion: Everyone is every part of the world is free to obey Christ’s last and greatest charge to preach the good news about Him and make disciples. The difference between “free” and “restricted” countries is not whether we are allowed to obey God or not. The difference is what may happen if we do.

When Ripken met secretly with pastors of underground churches in Muslim and communist countries, they spoke of almost daily instances of supernatural leading, protection, healing, deliverance from death and even resurrections from the dead. Ripken told them, “All the things God did for the early disciples He is doing for you. I envy you seeing so many miracles.”

To which they replied, “You say that in your country, millions of people openly worship Jesus in public, over the radio, TV and internet, that they can preach, pray, be baptized without recrimination. You tell us–which are the bigger miracles?”

I think about that every day, as Jerry and I pray aloud together, say grace aloud before a meal in a restaurant, listen to Christian music in our car and Christian messages on YouTube, gather openly with hundreds of others for worship in church on Sundays. We refer to Jesus Christ in emails, on blogs and on Facebook, over the phone and in conversations with neighbors, some of them from countries in which speaking His name or owning His book brings with it automatic rejection, prison or even death.

The hard but triumphant truth is that if we are willing to be obedient we have the opportunity to live in a constantly unfolding continuation of the book of Acts.

It is those who have been persecuted for their obedience–they refer matter-of-factly to their first 3 years in prison as “seminary”–who have all the answers to those questions and can tell us “Don’t be afraid of persecution. It can draw you closer to Jesus, make you stronger and prove life with and for Him is a privilege and an honor.”

 

(Note: Safely Home, a similarly moving, thinly-fictionalized novel by Randy Alcorn, has captured the story and heart of the persecuted church through the friendship of a nominally Christian American businessman and an underground Christian in China.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted in answers to prayer, Book Review, Christian persecution, faith, Jesus Christ, martyrs, pictures, prayer, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Snow on the Sahara Desert!

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On January 7, snow fell on Algeria–for only the third time in 40 years.  I love to think of the children–and adults–in Ain Safra waking up Sunday morning to find that the hot red sand dunes had become cold white ones.

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Photos from express.co.uk, watchers.NEWS, funnyjunk.com and maxfloyd AYOUB on Steller.

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An Open Letter to North Korean President Kim Jong-un

President Kim,

You claim to be God  but  you  are  not.  There is one God, the Lord of heaven.  He is God, and there is no other; He is God, and there is none besides Him.  He has no equal, no rival.  There is no one holy like the LORD.  There is no God like Him in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing lovingkindness to His servants who walk before Him with all their heart.  Nor are there any works like His.*

The Lord is a jealous God* and the worship and glory which are rightfully His He will not give to another.*

In the evil footsteps of your father and grandfather, you have dared to challenge the authority and majesty of the King of heaven.  You keep your people chained and imprisoned through lies, threats, starvation, and fear.  In your arrogance, you mock them, making them praise and worship you, a mere creature, for your “kindness, generosity, and abundant provision for their needs” when in fact you starve, beat and slaughter them, the sheep and lambs God entrusted to you.  In doing this, you defy the Creator and mock the blessings He yearns to pour out on them.  Millions of their cries have reached His ears and their blood cries out to Him from the ground.

Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin: God has numbered your kingdom and finished it.  You have been weighed in the balances and found wanting.*  You have spurned and ignored repeated appeals to reason, supplications for mercy, negotiations and attempts at conciliation.

The stench of your hubris has risen to the nostrils of the living God.  “How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!  How you are cut down to the ground, you who devastated your own nation!  For you have said in your heart: ‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.’*

You come to us with lies and taunts and threats of nuclear attack.  But we come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of heaven, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver His people from your hands… that all the earth shall know that there is a God in heaven and that the Lord does not deliver by sword or by spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and He will prevail.*

O Lord God of Israel, the One who dwells between the cherubim, You are God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth.  Incline Your ear, O Lord, and hear; open Your eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear the words of Kim Jong-un, which he has sent to reproach the living God.  Truly, Lord, he and his ancestors have laid waste their nation with their arrogance and unrelenting brutality… Now therefore, O Lord our God, I pray, save Your people from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You are the Lord God, You alone.*

Hubris: (in Greek tragedy) an excess of ambition, pride, etc, ultimately causing the transgressor’s ruin. …

*Adapted from various verses throughout the Old Testament;  Exodus 34:14;  Isaiah 42:8;  Daniel 5:25-28;  Isaiah 14:12-14;  I Samuel 17,   2 Kings 19:14-19 (New King James Version).

 

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North Korea is one huge concentration camp! (Book review)

A River in Darkness: One Man's Escape from North Korea by [Ishikawa, Masaji] One of Amazon’s most read and most sold books: Customer Review

     I just finished reading the best-selling autobiography of a Japanese/Korean man escaping from North Korea. (There is no other way to leave the country!) It took him 36 years.
     The book shocked me to my core. I already knew of the intense persecution of Christians in North Korea–tBut I did not realize that the average person there, anyone not actually part of the communist elite, lives in such government-enforced poverty and discrimination that the entire country is one big death camp.
     Except for men in uniform, plus fake church attendees and beautiful girls displayed at the peak of health to fool visitors from outside, the people are reduced to eating dogs, snakes, grass, tree bark, poisonous plants (the author says everyone “just gets used to always having abdominal cramping and diarrhea” in order to feel full). People are dying of starvation on a regular basis–one of his babies died because his wife was too starved to produce milk. He went door to door begging nursing women to help with their own breast milk. One refused him with, “Do you think I care if your baby lives or dies?” Some people even resort to cannibalism!
     Bribery is rampant for those who have anything of value. Lies and theft are a way of life among those who are too desperate to have any scruples left. 
     North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un (third generation of them) calls himself God and no one dares speak a word against him at the risk of their lives or family’s lives. Their only source of news or information is enforced propaganda about him. They must actively support and praise him constantly for his “kindness, generosity and abundant provision for them.” It’s a living hell.
     At one place on the Yalu River, China is only 30 feet away and shallow enough to be crossed on foot–but those who have the strength to try will be shot. Ishikawa managed to sneak into the cold water at night, lost consciousness, woke up on a beach and only realized he was out of North Korea because he heard a dog barking–and all the dogs in North Korea had been eaten! Even after escaping he has been unable to get food or medical help back to his family or even communicate with them in any way.
 
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How I pray for you…

When I found out that visitors to this blog come from 177 countries, I told you that I have been praying for you, because for years now I have prayed for one country a day.

I want to let you know as we start a new year how I will be praying for you throughout 2018.

If you live in a poor country, I pray for sufficient food and clean water for all of you, for housing and jobs and medical help.   I pray for your leaders–of families, tribes, government–to care about your condition and provide conditions where you can thrive.  I pray that any humanitarian aid from other countries will reach those of you who really need it.  I pray if you cannot read, someone will read the Bible to you and that your heart’s soil will be receptive to the good seed.  I pray you will connect personally with the God of the Bible, who promises, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for they shall inherit the kingdom of God.”  I pray you will know this God loves you and wants to know you and care for you and that He has a better life for you beyond this one.

If you have had to leave your home because of war or famine or disease, I pray that you will be welcomed and cared for even in foreign places.  I pray your family members will be re-united if they are separated, that in refugee camps you will be safe, make new friends, and raise your children in peace.  I pray you will find the God who loves the alien, whose own people were strangers in a strange land whom He is bringing back to their own land.  I pray you too can come home–and bring your new God with you.

If you live in a country where many gods are worshiped, I pray that you will be freed from the fear of trying to serve and please them all through the truth that there is only one God and that He loves you.  I pray you will come to know the God who does not need to be approached and appeased through sacrifices, because He Himself gave the one and only sufficient sacrifice for all our sins.  There is nothing left to add to His sacrifice; you may help yourself freely to His grace.

If you live in a country which forbids you to acknowledge a divine Supreme Being, I pray that you will not believe the lie that you are alive by chance or accident.  I pray you will KNOW your life has meaning and purpose because you were created by a higher Intelligence, a personal Intelligence, and you are made like Him, in His image.  I pray you will find Him through His Son Jesus.

If you live in a prosperous country, I pray you will be generous as your Father in Heaven is.  I pray you will share your abundance with those who have little and that others with more abundance than you will share it with you.  I pray you will not allow sufficiency to make you think you don’t need God.  I pray He will show you that everything you are, have and do is possible only by His grace.  I pray you will be contented in Him yet be earnestly helping others find Him, too.

If you live in one of the countries where there is a restriction on your freedoms, especially on your religious freedom, I pray that you will have freedom in your spirits to know, worship, and serve God.  I pray He will bring you dreams and visions to lead you to the God who says, “Blessed are those who have been persecuted… Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.  Rejoice and be glad for your reward in heaven is great…”

I pray especially for women who are restrained from blooming into the free, equal, joyful women God designed them to be.  I pray for all who are under the yoke of injustice, that God will see your suffering and hear your cries and bring you freedom in Him.  I pray the God who has made Himself known to us through the Bible as the God/man Jesus will make Himself known to you in the depths of your heart as the One who made you, loves you and deserves your worship.

If you live in a country where you must endlessly repeat rote prayers to a God who is cruel and impersonal or indifferent, I pray you will know the God who lets you call Him Father and invites you into an intimate friendship with Himself.

I pray if you personally believe in the one true God, you will keep Him first in every part of your life. I pray you have opportunities to fellowship with other believers.  I pray you will be filled with the peace and joy of the Lord Jesus and that His light will shine through you in all your relationships.  I pray you will be good citizens, representing the kind and just son of God.  I pray you will share with all you come into contact with the facts of Who He is and the great things He has done for you and for all of us whom He has made.

 

 

 

 

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He saved my life

On our chilly walk today we passed Dave, a neighbor wearing a T-shirt, work pants and a woolly cap, finishing up a brick flower bed. Jerry called to him, “You look like you’re having fun!”

Dave turned around and said “What?” but even after Jerry repeated himself twice, Dave was uncomprehending. He walked over to us, covered his ears, hidden beneath the knitted cap, with both hands. “I can’t hear,” he said. “A bomb, a big bomb went off– Do you remember 1984? Do you remember what happened?”

We were struggling to figure out which “happening” he was referring to.

“Do you remember who was president? Peanut king?”

“Oh–yeah. Jimmy Carter.”

“Well, he sent us all to Desert Storm–that was all right–but a bomb went off near me and blew spinal fluid out of both my ears.” He spoke earnestly, almost cheerfully. “In the hospital an Iranian surgeon put me back together. When I tried to thank him for saving my life, he wrote on his hand–I couldn’t hear anything–”

Dave spelled out the letters into his own palm.  “G-O-D.”

 

 

 

 

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Merry Christmas, AD 0000

AD 0000 Gari Melchers

It was a tortured birth

the end of jolting travel and all unwelcome doors;

the prince of darkness fought with everything he had

to stop it, prematurely snuff the life

that guaranteed his doom.

 

Now, lying in the battle’s blood,

sweat-wet hair across her brow,

combat fatigue takes her down.

His mortal father, heavy with

responsibility, attempts to guard them both.

 

Small brilliance flashes from the manger,

a light which even now is blinding

confused shepherds trying to make sense

of glory-illumined flocks of angels. They will

be arriving soon to seek its source.

 

“The people who walked in darkness

have seen a great light;

those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,

on them has light shone.”

It glows and spreads until the Baby,

 

grown, declares himself at Hanukkah:

“I am the Light of the world!

He who follows Me

will not walk in darkness

but will have the Light of life.”

 

That first flickering hope

blessing a darkened stable

now reaches every one of us

with fulfilled promises of light enough

to see God visible in flesh.

 

Jessica Renshaw

 

Painting by Gari Melchers (1860-1932)

Isaiah 9:2, Matthew 4:16; John 8:12

 

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