Kristen Padilla

reflections on God, Scripture & the Christian Life


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Reflections on human-centered preaching

When we moved into our rental property this summer in Cambridge, England, our landlord left only a few instructions for us. One of those instructions was how to descale our appliances and how often we should do it.

Descaling appliances? I had no idea what she meant.

It didn’t take long, however, to learn. You see, we have very hard water in Cambridge. So what follows is a simple cause and effect equation. The continuous use of hard water builds up limescale on your appliances.

By the way, I hate hard water. (Just see a picture of our shower head below.)

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Not only does it make the appliances all yucky and green, but also it makes your skin dry, your hair like sandpaper, your clothes rough and your showers difficult to clean.

Another cause and effect at work

Growing up listening to a preacher who preached Christ-centered sermons kept me shielded from what I have since come to experience many times, and that is human-centered preaching. While my dad is not a perfect preacher (who is?), he faithfully preaches Christ week in and week out.

For a long time after I left home and went to college I heard sermons that – from what I know now – were human-centered. It wasn’t until I sat under Dr. Robert Smith Jr. in his preaching class at Beeson Divinity School and read one his required textbooks, Christ-Centered Preaching by Bryan Chapell, that I could put a name to these types of sermons.

Since then I have purposely kept my ears and eyes open to how these types of sermons were affecting its hearers. When you continuously wash with hard water, you will have limescale buildup. What do you get, then, when a preacher continually preaches human-centered sermons? What effects do these sermons have on people?

What is human-centered preaching?

(Disclaimer: We do not listen to sermons in order to find faults; at the same time we are to listen with discernment.)

Before we go any further we need to know what I mean by human-centered preaching.

First, I believe it refers to a certain kind of hermeneutic used of a biblical text. “Hermeneutic” is a big word, and what I mean by it is how one interprets a biblical text. A human-centered sermon will use the following hermeneutic: “What is in it for me?” This question is the grid through which interpretation and application always flow. And in this way, you and me, are the centerpiece of the sermon; it revolves around us.

Second, human-centered preaching will be heavily weighted with application. If the question, “What is in it for me?” is driving the sermon, then little time will be spent on expositing the text (its context, background information, meaning of words/phrases, genre, etc.) and the majority of the sermon will be application based (“here’s how you should respond”). Also, within human-centered application the responsibility will lie with the person and what he or she should do. It will be heavily works-based. God is not an active participant in the application, and taken in isolation it can be moralistic and secular at worse. Application alone is not bad and sometimes a certain text will be jammed pack with ways we are to respond or things we are to do or not do (just look at the Epistles!). But it is one thing to give application when the text demands it as a response to what Christ has done for us and out of worship of Him. It is another thing to force application void of the gospel and with the intended goal of feeling better about myself or doing it for myself. (As an aside: I wonder if some preachers often feel pressured to jump over the details and the theology of the text because there’s an expectation that people would stop listening if the sermon is not mostly about “self-help” techniques.)

Third, connected to the second point, human-centered preaching will have a tendency to use a lot of stories, illustrations and jokes to fill-in space and time. Often, if the time in giving illustrations is longer than the time spent on the biblical text itself, then it is probably a human-centered sermon. I remember very distinctly Dr. Smith talking about the use of illustrations in sermons in our preaching class. Illustrations are to be used rarely and when used they are to be short and to the point. Their purpose is not to be the content of the sermon but rather to reinforce a biblical truth. Often time, however, illustrations can be too much about the preacher. Also, overuse of an illustration is often used to mask a lack of grappling with the biblical text.

Here are some other indicators or tests:

  • Are God and Christ rarely mentioned whereas “I, you and me” are mentioned ad nauseam?
  • Who is the subject of the sermon? Does God take center stage? Is He the object of our worship? Is He the reason we respond in a certain way? Or, is God mentioned as a supporting actor? Is God the means or agent through which we get what we want or become a better person?
  • Is the sermon built around a text from which everything else flows or are biblical texts only used or mentioned to support a point in the sermon?
  • What is the end goal of the sermon? What does the preacher want you to walk away with? If God, the gospel, or Jesus Christ are not a significant part of the goal, application or response then it probably is a human-centered sermon.

What are the effects of human-centered preaching?

First, human-centered preaching feeds into and reinforces a narcissistic, me-centered culture. The gospel cannot co-exist in this kind of culture for it is antithetical to everything that makes the gospel what it is. Denying self is on the complete opposite scale of elevating self, and unless one denies self and acknowledges the sin in our lives then the gospel is rendered insignificant. Preachers, what kind of culture are you creating in your sermons? The effect of human-centered preaching is a culture that is unreceptive to the gospel, and once a church gives into this kind of thinking and living it is no longer particularly Christian. I cannot tell you how many times I have listened to a sermon and thought, perhaps without a few mentions to God and the Bible, this sermon could have been given in any secular context and welcomed.

Second, human-centered preaching results in depressed people. People were not created to turn inward in order to find hope, redemption or healing by looking at self. Rather, just like any other idol, turning inward is destructive. We were made and designed in God’s image to worship God. Preacher, if you believe that salvation comes only from God and by being in relationship with God, then resist the temptation to preach anything else. Unfortunately when people are fed on a diet of human-centered preaching it is like a poison to them and can result in depressed, messed up people.

Third, human-centered preaching gives way to theologically and biblically illiterate people. Pupils of human-centered theology and teaching do not know how to read the Bible any other way. In fact, I have witnessed people under human-centered preaching stop reading their Bibles all together. As a result, they do not know how to think or talk about God anymore, and because of this they are more prone to believing in and spreading false teaching.

To preachers

Preaching every week is a huge responsibility. It can be extremely difficult to prepare a sermon week in and week out in the midst of very busy schedules and needy parishioners, not to mention what’s going on in your personal life. My heart goes out to you, and I pray for you.

Yet, I want to caution you, as a sister who loves the Church and its ministers, to be aware and wary of human-centered preaching. It creeps up so easily because it is in our nature to focus on self.

James writes, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” Probably most of us take this warning seriously; perhaps some of us need reminding of it. The effects human-centered preaching have on people is serious, dangerous, and hurtful. To be even more direct with you, I believe human-centered preaching is sinful.

One way to keep us from preaching human-centered sermons is just by being aware of it. Here are some further suggestions I hope will help you to preach Christ, and only Him, instead of a what’s-in-it-for-me sermon.

First, after writing your sermon, review it with the these questions in mind. Circle all the “I, me and you” pronouns and compare their use to the mentions of God in your sermon. Time how long you are spending expositing the text versus giving practical application and illustrations. Is God the subject and object of your sermon or is He just a supporting actor? Is the biblical text so important that you want to spend most of your time there in it or are you trying to move as quickly through the text as possible to get to the application?

If we are honest with ourselves, perhaps part of the problem is that we are not spending time in preparation like we were taught in seminary. Spend time diagramming the sermon in the original language. Read up on different genres. Read reputable (and updated!) commentaries on a particular passage. Read some new biblical theology books that show the continuation of certain themes in Scripture. Spend more time with the text in your preparation than with prepping illustrations and application and it will show in your sermon. What happens in your sermon is a result of the kind of preparation you put into it (another lesson Dr. Smith taught his students).

Second, request feedback. Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C., meets weekly with a leadership team in which he invites and receives feedback on the service and his sermons. Here’s what was written about Dever’s leadership style in The Gospel Coalition:

“Structuring a time into a church leadership’s weekly schedule for giving and receiving feedback over Sunday’s services teaches men to evaluate, to think, and to love the congregation better. It grows them as leaders. Plus . . .

Be willing to receive criticism. Mark sets the example by inviting criticism. This gives other would-be leaders room to spread their wings. If you never invite criticism, you’re teaching everyone around you that they must conform to your preferences or be punished. Leaders don’t grow in this kind of environment. They whither or leave.”

Feedback and criticism help keep our sermons and us in check. It is called being held accountable. Listen to your sermon on the following Monday or Tuesday with one or two others and make some notes, just like you would in a preaching class, so that you can be exposed to blind spots where human-centered preaching might exist. Don’t be resistant to godly counsel.

Third, Read Bryan Chapell’s Christ-Centered Preaching.

Fourth, instead of asking, “What is in it for me?” ask, “What does the text have to say about God and how does it fit into the story of redemption?” Or, “What can we learn about God and His story of redemption?” Let that question drive your sermons. Don’t approach Scripture with a preconceived idea that you want to impose on it. Rather, in a spirit of humility, submit to Scripture and ask God to show you through His Word what you should say. Then, application should flow naturally out of this.

Lastly, my brother-in-law Alex suggests this question when thinking about application: How is Jesus the solution to the application? He says, “Sometimes I think we can do a great job of exposition and then when we get to the application we revert back to (human) works, which could be just as a travesty as missing the exposition. Our whole sermon should be Christ-centered, not just the exposition.”

More of Him, less of us

Parishioners, remember to pray, pray, pray for preachers who communicate God’s Word on a weekly basis. Be gracious to them knowing that they are humans like you and will make mistakes. At the same time listen with discernment. From my experience, most preachers preach Christ-centered sermons and are doing a great job of being faithful to the text. However, if you see a pattern of human-centered preaching, then approach the preacher (after lots of prayer!) about this concern, or in some situations, reconsider if you are at the best church. If a pastor preaches regularly human-centered sermons then it is very likely that the church is not being shepherd as a Christ-centered church. In these cases, pray for and seek wisdom and discernment.

Let everything we do, say and preach exhibit the spirit and example of John the Baptist who said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (Jn. 3:30)

 

 


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Survey: Women Called to Vocational Ministry

Hi readers!

I am working on a project near and dear to my heart for girls called to vocational ministry, and I need your help!

I have created a survey to help inform and shape my project, and I need women who have received a call to vocational ministry to complete the survey. Several ways you can help:

1. If you are a woman who has received a call to vocational ministry years ago or just recently, would you please take a couple of minutes to complete my survey?

2. If you are not a woman called to vocational ministry, would you still please share the following survey link on your Facebook page, on Twitter and/or via e-mail to people you know who are women and called to ministry? https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/WJG9YG7

The more responses I receive, the better the project will be in accomplishing what I hope it will do! As things develop a little further, I will fill you in about the project. In the meantime, will you pray for me and for this project? As always, pray that God would be glorified and that I would walk in obedience and faith as I follow God’s calling to do this project.

Grace and peace,

Kristen


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God of healing, reconcile!

When the bonds of love are breaking,
hands that linked withdraw and hide,
eyes that once had met in candor
now, distrustful, turn aside,
God of healing, reconcile!

When our tongues are silent, sullen,
closing doors through which love came,
or, when words are fiery arrows
wounding others with their flame,
God of healing, reconcile!

When the bridges that we travelled
have collapsed and left a void,
when the chasm seems to widen,
separating souls once joined,
God of healing, reconcile!

God, in Christ you crossed the chasm
when our hearts were far from you!
Grant us grace to reach to others,
broken bonds repair, renew!
God of healing, reconcile!

(Hermann G. Stuempfle Jr., 1923-2007)


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Silence and Solidarity

As I work on upcoming blog posts, I thought I would post this article written by my former dean Dr. Timothy George of Beeson Divinity School. He, along with the voices of others, continues to remind us of the plight of people in Iraq and Syria.

He writes, “And yet—and yet—there are times in human history when persons of faith cannot play neutral or simply stand by on the sidelines. There are times when they are compelled by conscience to call evil by name and speak out against it with conviction. And they must do this not merely out of a concern for their own personal or national self-protection but precisely as persons of faith—in the name of decency and love and of all that is human and humane. Today is such a time. … Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

May it not be said of Western Christians that we didn’t speak or that we didn’t act.

You can read the post on First Things here.

As always, let me know what you think.


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What is the love that we Christians have to offer to the world?

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He opened his arms of love upon the cross
And made for all the perfect sacrifice of sin.

 

It was my first brush with real hatred.

 

We had stopped at an international supermarket to pick up some plantains on the other side of Cambridge. Osvaldo had gone into the store to pay while I stood outside with Philip and our bikes.

 

“Who built the two towers?” an older gent asked me. He had darker skin tone, and a scarf decorated as his country’s flag hung about his shoulders. I knew he wasn’t English, and, given some peculiar behavior he had already been exhibiting, I assumed he was probably not all there in the mind.

 

“I don’t know,” was my reply. “Who built the two towers?” he pressed again. “I don’t know who built them, sir.” “Your government, that’s who! The same government that has invaded and destroyed my country.” “What country is that?” “Pakistan. You know, us Muslims.” He walked away just as Osvaldo was coming out of the store. I guess by the look of my face Osvaldo could tell something was wrong.

 

It wasn’t just the mere words that shook me up; it was more than that. It was his expression that wore anger and the way he directed his hate for the States at me. He didn’t care who I voted for President of the United States. He didn’t care to know that I couldn’t control the decisions being made by the heads of state. In fact he didn’t care about his hypocrisy as the all-American brand, Apple, was displayed on his body with earphones hanging around his neck, which connected to a device buried in his pocket. He hated America and Americans. He hated me in that moment simply because of my nationality, a factor out of my control. I saw firsthand for the first time the same kind of hate that has wreaked havoc on so many people, and which has caused the death of many.

 

The world needs love.

 

I have been watching, along with many other Americans, what has been going on in Ferguson, Missouri. While some facts are still unclear, it is obvious that there is a hate problem disguised as racism in that city. A white policeman kills an unarmed black teenager shooting him six times from a distance. A police force, which is 97 percent white in a majority black town, uses rubber bullets, tear gas and militarized weapons against its people, who again are mostly black, protesting. The rhetoric used by Ferguson’s police chief is reminiscent of rhetoric used in the 60s by racist Alabama leaders (read here).

 

Just like this Pakistani hated me simply because I am American, so too many people in the States hate people simply because of their race. Some whites hate those who are black, and there are blacks who hate those who are white. Being married to a Hispanic, I know there are many who hate Hispanics.

 

Those who hate are nonsensical; they don’t listen to reason. Those who hate do not care whether or not a person could control their circumstances, because really it isn’t about them anyways. The problem is with the person who engages in hatred. It’s a massive heart problem, a cancer really, that eats away at and eventually kills the person who has it, and unfortunately, can kill those at whom it is directed.

 

The world needs love, but not just any kind of love – the love of Jesus Christ.

 

I wrote last week about the persecution in Iraq, how ISIS members are killing Christians. Even though I didn’t mention them, there are others, most especially Yazidis, who also are facing death and persecution by ISIS members. Again, there is so much hate.

 

Hate. It was there in the beginning when Cain killed Abel. Hate. It knows no cultural, race, language, sex, or age bounds. We live in a world drowning in hate.

 

Love seems almost too obvious an answer to the problem of hate, but it is an answer held by both Christians and non-Christians alike. We sing the catchy lyrics, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love. It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of,” but is the love that the world speaks of the same as what Christians have to offer? In fact, what is love?

 

In 1993, an artist by the name of Haddaway asked the same question in his song, “What is love?” Made popular by Saturday Night Live, the song went like this: “What is love? Baby, don’t hurt me. Don’t hurt me no more.” (Thanks to me, the song is now stuck in your head, isn’t it?!) What is love? Love is how you treat someone. It’s the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do onto you. It is, “Baby, don’t hurt me.”

 

These examples (and there are many more!) assume the answer lies in man, that somewhere deep inside is enough goodness and strength to overcome hate and produce love (Oprah, Dr. Phil, Ellen). Yet, the world cannot answer for us what compels someone to love unconditionally. The love the world speaks of is easy enough for their friends but is it powerful enough to love his/her enemies? From where does the power come to turn hate into love?

 

For the Christians, the traditional love answer has been 1 Corinthians 13. “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” Equally as important to the Christian are the two greatest commandments: Love the Lord your God with all of you and love your neighbor as yourself.

 

The problem when these Scriptures are our starting point for defining love or when we isolate them from the rest of the canon is that we might begin to think that love is determinant on the actions of humans alone. Taken alone, the emphasis on love focuses on our response and behaviors we are to exhibit. And in isolation, this definition of love is not all that different than the world’s. Our definition and their definition collide making it difficult to tell which is which.

 

This is why, then, we must start our definition of love with this: “We love because he first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19).

 

We can love God and others because He showed us what love is first. He teaches us what love is, and He enables us to love. When we read Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees about the greatest commandment, we must go back to Deuteronomy where the commandment was originally given. What we find there is, “Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. … You shall therefore love the Lord your God and keep his charge …” (Deut. 10:15, 11:1). (See also Deut. 7:7-11.)

 

We love because he first loved us.

 

And how did God first love us? “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him will have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16). It’s the most quoted verse in Scripture for good reason. God’s love for us was not just a lofty idea or principle. It took on flesh. It became concrete. It was active and not passive. It was sacrificial.

 

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us …” (1 Jn. 3:16).

 

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:6-8).

 

What is the love we preach and give to the world? It is that while we were God’s enemies fully deserving of death Christ died for us so that in Him we might be reconciled to God and be forgiven. This is love! How can we love God with all we got and love our neighbor as our self? Because we have been transformed by His love. His love compels us to love. His love is at work in our lives giving us the power to love, to love our neighbor as ourselves and to love those who hate us. And once clothed with Christ, the Holy Spirit dwells within us transforming our inability to love to an ability to love — the love that we see in 1 Corinthians 13.

 

The world knows hate. That’s why they must be given and see love as it is defined and personified in the person of Jesus Christ from Scripture: We deserved to be hated by God; we choose to sin and to be His enemies. Yet when we least deserved it, Christ died for us. A love that the world gives will only go so far because we humans cannot find the power to overcome hate and sin within ourselves. We humans can love the lovable on our own – our friends and family – but we do not hold the power to love the unlovable, those who hate us.

 

No amount of good deeds, social justice, and United Nation meetings will solve hate. People need to hear the love of Jesus.

 

This is why, Christians, we are commissioned to preach the cross and are bequeathed a ministry of reconciliation:

 

“For the love of Christ controls or compels us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

… Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:14-15, 17-21)

 

Let’s preach this love to the world. Let’s show this love to the world. Let’s practice this love with one another, knowing that the ability to love doesn’t reside in ourselves but in the power of God who has shown us what love is all about. A love that is preached or demonstrated devoid of the cross is only a poor attempt at and a poor representation of love.

 

I want to conclude with the words of this beautiful Christian hymn:

 

The world’s only loving to its friends,

But you have brought us love that never ends;

Loving enemies too,

And this loving with you

Is what’s turning the world upside down.

 

 


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Ask me

My goal in blogging since 2009 has been two-fold: to bring glory to God and to minister to my readers. For the most part, my posts have been driven by things close to my heart or issues that matter to me and which I think will matter to others. Even though at different times I have asked for feedback and input into the blog, I have not made a concerted effort to hear from you. That is until today.

Please check out my new page called, Ask me, found at the top right of the page. On this page you will be able to comment or reply with a question or issue you want me to address in my blog, and I hope you will. Or, if you want it to remain more private, you can e-mail me at kristenrpadilla@gmail.com with the subject line, Ask me. 

Thank you for reading along, and I hope to hear from you soon!


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Reflections on persecution

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“Save Christians in Iraq! Save Christians in Iraq!”

 

The crowd that had gathered in London across the street from Parliament was small but energizing. As we walked past the demonstrators with our friends and three kids in tow, I couldn’t help but be pulled into the rhythmic chant — “Save Christians in Iraq! Save Christians in Iraq!” Had the circumstances been different, I am inclined to think I would have left my role as tourist and traded it in as that of demonstrator.

 

“Save Christians in Iraq!” “Save Christians in Iraq!”

 

More than 30,000 miles away, though, the voices of Christians and those who would support them has been quieted. There is no demonstration in the streets of Baghdad today, no energizing chant that would seek to draw passerbyers in. Instead there is silence.

 

But maybe not. When a family of eight Iraqi Christians were given a choice to recant their Christian faith or be killed, they spoke. Whether by confessing out loud with their mouths that Jesus Christ is the only true God or by refusing to recant the faith in their silence, they spoke. The picture given to an Iraqi Anglican vicar showed their murdered bodies lying stilled next to their open Bible. The vicar wrote, “They would not convert (even if) it cost them their life.” Their martyrdom and confession spoke through a photograph and continues speaking to all of us who hear their story — that even in death nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.

 

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39)

 

As we speak Iraq’s Islamic State militants (ISIS) continues its persecution of Christians and of other faiths in Iraq and Syria. Right now it’s easy to find these stories on news outlets such as CNN or BBC, but you can always read more about the persecution of Christians around the world at www.persecution.org.

 

How do we make sense of it all? Leaving the demonstration last weekend, I was left feeling helpless and needing to wrestle with the current issue of persecution.

 

Suffering and persecution of Christians is nothing new. In fact our faith hinges on Someone who was killed — crucified even. We proclaim His death, and not only do we proclaim it but as His followers we take seriously the mantra, “Take up your cross and follow me.” We follow behind our Lord, who was rejected, persecuted and killed, knowing that we might face the same fate as He. This was very real for early Christians in Antiquity when they knew that being baptized would mean immediate and sure death. Almost all of Jesus’ apostles were either killed or exiled. According to tradition, Peter was crucified upside down because he didn’t think he was worthy to die in the same manner as his Lord. Paul was beheaded for his devotion to Christ. These are just a few examples.

 

But when a mantra suddenly turns into a real piece of wood and nails or a noose or a sword or a gun, what keeps that believer from recanting? What brings a persecuted believer comfort in the midst of persecution?

 

And what should those of us on the sidelines do? Should we turn a blind eye because there’s nothing we can do? Or, should we chant, demonstrate and raise our voices to help? Should we become radicals seeking out persecution and idealizing the life of a martyr because we have bought into an idea that only those who are killed for their faith have a genuine faith?

 

It’s hard to feel helpless. It’s even more difficult to face death for what you believe.

 

But here’s what I see when I read Scripture. Scripture interprets life for me; it gives me the framework from which to work through things outside my realm of understanding. First of all, there’s no teaching in Scripture that says we should cultivate a desire to suffer or die, that we should actively seek it out, or that it is a prerequisite into heaven. (Maybe you don’t think there are people who believe this, but just look a little harder and you will find them.) I would wager that any Christian suffering in these ways would gladly change places with one of us who can worship freely and openly and who can proclaim Christ with no bonds of law or of fear.

 

Secondly, for those facing death, exile and other unimaginable sufferings I humbly say that I have no clue what you are going through. I cannot understand the depths of loss or of fear. However, I imagine that in the moments leading up to your death that what comforts you and keeps you strong is the belief that as Jesus Christ died and then came back from the dead alive so too those in Christ after they die will live. Knowing that persecution is nothing new helps us to learn to not be surprised if it happens to us too. It also brings comfort knowing that other believers have walked this path. But in the end it is believing in the resurrected Christ which helps fasten our feet to the ground unmovable and unshakeable when it does happen.

 

For we confess it is the grace of God “which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” (2 Tim. 1:10) And also, “If we have died with him, we will also live with him.” (2 Tim. 2) God will not abandon His people; death does not have the final say.

 

But there’s one more thing that brings us Christians comfort that I imagine would bring current persecuted Christians comfort. It’s knowing that though our voices might be silenced the gospel will continue speaking loudly for all who hear. The gospel cannot be silenced. “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!” (2 Timothy 2:8-9) The Word of God is not bound. Say that again, “The Word of God is not bound!” It has to be beautiful irony that the family of eight believers were killed next to an open Bible. Though their voices had been silenced, God continues to speak. His Word will still go forth because it belongs to God. He has already conquered death and His Word will continue testifying to it until He returns.

 

Where does this leave those of us living freely, watching helplessly from the sidelines? As our hearts break, we can be comforted in the same way those persecuted Christians are comforted. (See above quoted Scripture passages.) We also can learn from their examples so that if the wind changes direction and we find ourselves on the end of persecution, we, too, will be strong in the love and knowledge of Christ.

 

Let’s not idealize what they are suffering nor pray for the same. Let’s learn from the past and not forget the persecuted Christians in the past while at the same time not become calloused to the persecution or the persecuted of the present. Let’s continue to pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters that God would rescue them, end their persecutions, comfort them in their affliction and help them to remain strong even if it means death. Let’s speak up for them, cry for them, thank God for them and love them. And if nothing else, let’s not lose heart because we know and believe that Jesus has gone before us, He is with us, and His Word cannot be restrained.

 

In the meantime the chant has become my prayer, “Save Christians in Iraq!”

 

And at times when it’s just too much, when chanting just doesn’t seem to do much good, I pray, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come.”

 

(For the story about the family of eight Iraqi Christians, read more here.)

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