Mainstream media tries to force the secular agenda on us during the Olympics, but Usain Bolt is one of the Christian competitors taking a stand for Jesus Christ in the most inspiring way.
Labeled as the “The Fastest Man Alive,” Jamaican runner Usain Bolt is the superstar of the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics.
Bolt won the hearts of every American at the 2012 Summer Olympics when he paused in mid-interview to honor the U.S. national anthem as it was being played. Bolt politely interrupted the reporter interviewing him and stood at attention, reminding the world what a class act looks like.
The Olympic legend is an inspiration to millions around the world, but it’s what mainstream media is hiding about Usain Bolt that’s touching hearts even more.
Usain Bolt is known for his extraordinary speed and joyous facial expressions while competing, and you don’t have to look too hard to discover where that joy comes from: Bolt is outspoken about his faith in Jesus Christ.
When I learned how mainstream media was hiding Usain Bolt’s devout Christian faith, I knew the world deserved to know the TRUTH about the fastest man alive.
Nik Ripken is a leading expert on the persecuted church, having researched extensively in more than seventy countries. A veteran missionary of thirty years (primarily in North Africa and the Middle East), Nik is also the author of The Insanity of God, which inspired the motion picture of the same name.
Let’s rewrite the biblical story found in Genesis 39–41. Let’s make it more Western. Let’s make the story fit the way most of us think about the church and the mission field.
Imagine getting this newsletter from one of your overseas workers. The newsletter says this:
Our brother, whom we love, has been arrested in Egypt and is in prison. Family whom he loved and trusted sold him into slavery and betrayed him to the authorities. We know that he has remained faithful to God, and has refused to pay bribes that would help him escape from prison. Because of his faith, he has been transferred to the dreaded central prison with the rest of the nation’s worst enemies.
How would we respond as the church? What actions would we take? Typically, the Western church would rush in to rescue Joseph. It’s a good impulse.
We would write and forward emails.
We would flood social media with appeals.
We would contact our political representatives.
We would highlight Joseph’s plight on radio and television.
The goal of our activity would be the release of Joseph from his unjust imprisonment. And we would feel justified in almost any action — perhaps even military intervention — to have Joseph set free.
The High Cost of Extraction
And maybe Joseph would be released. Followers and friends of Jesus would rejoice! We would thank God that our Joseph has been saved from prison. And we would even be satisfied that one of the conditions of his release would include Joseph’s relocation to another country where he would be safe because he’s no longer a thorn in the nation’s side.
Imagine then, years later, that a great famine hits Egypt and the surrounding countries. Because of his rescue, Joseph is not in prison when Pharaoh has strange dreams. Joseph is not there to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams concerning seven years of plenty followed by seven years of terrible drought. As a result of Joseph’s absence, Egypt squanders the food harvested in the seven good years. As a result of Joseph’s absence, Egypt is completely unprepared for seven years of famine.
The famine is so devastating, in fact, that Egypt does not survive.
And because Egypt does not survive . . . the Jews in Egypt do not survive, either.
And that is the end of the story.
A Better Plan for Freedom
Of course, the real story ends differently. Evidently, God knows when to leave Joseph in prison. God has a larger agenda in mind. God knows exactly what is necessary for the salvation of both Egyptians and Jews.
Do our churches, our sending agencies, and our organizations that study persecution know when to leave Joseph in Egypt? Despite our affection for Joseph, do we understand that ultimately Joseph belongs to God, and that God can do with him whatever he desires? Is it possible for us to become emotionally, psychologically, physically, and spiritually strong enough to know when to leave “our Joseph” with God in a seemingly dangerous place?
Advance or Extract?
Believers in persecution had much to teach my wife and me as we traveled among them for more than fifteen years. We listened to their stories. We learned that when Western workers become personally and emotionally connected to believers in persecution, extraction of these believers often becomes the main objective. In almost every case, we are desperate to get Joseph out of the hostile place, and away from persecution.
The apparent explanation for this is more than anecdotal, and less than statistical. It appears that Western workers who become emotionally attached to believers in persecution will attempt to extract about fifty percent of those believers to a safe country. This observation seems to apply to situations of persecution all around the world. In the Islamic world, the frequency of extraction seems even higher, approaching seventy percent. Imagine trying to start a church, even in the Bible Belt of America, if seventy percent of the believers were pulled out and taken to another country.
For God, conquering through persecution, rather than extracting from persecution, is the norm. The Western church typically takes the opposite approach. For us, extraction is the norm. Rescuing believers from persecution feels good. Significant funds can be raised to extract a family from persecution and resettle them in a safe country.
But if we gave as much energy and attention to spreading the gospel in hostile places as we have to extracting persecuted believers from them, the Great Commission may have already been finished by now.
The End of Extraction
Why is our view so different than God’s view? Here are some possible answers to that question:
We don’t want fellow believers to suffer for Jesus in ways we are unwilling to or can’t relate to.
We can’t imagine that prolonged suffering might be part of God’s plan.
We do not truly believe that Jesus is worth suffering for.
And because those truths drive our actions and attitudes, we replace a biblical theology of suffering with something less challenging. As a result,
We demand that persecution of followers of Jesus stop.
We demand that those persecuting followers of Jesus be punished.
We strive to install Western forms of democracy, human rights, and civil rights in foreign lands, believing these will usher in the kingdom of God. (Though, much to our surprise, there is no historical correlation between these Western forms and the kingdom of God!)
We make emotional appeals to raise huge sums of money to rescue more believers from persecution.
What is outcome of all of our seemingly good efforts? Critical masses of believers are removed from the environments where God has planted them.
In some places, the birth of the church is halted; in other places, the multiplication of the body of Christ is hindered. New followers of Jesus (perhaps people from Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or Communist backgrounds) come to believe that living in a safe, Christian country is necessary in order to live for Christ.
After long days of interviewing, we often asked followers of Jesus in persecution what they learned from Western workers. They typically looked at one another and refused to respond.
When we pressed them for an answer, they would reply, “Western workers teach us to be afraid. Western workers teach us that it’s possible to follow Jesus only in safe places.”
This is not simply a mistake. This is sin.
Not My Will, but Yours, Be Done
Before Jesus was betrayed, he prayed a prayer made up of two parts (Matthew 26:39). First, he asked his Father for the cup to pass. He prayed for the suffering to be relieved. He asked if there was a way to avoid the crucifixion. He wanted to avoid the pain and public humiliation. But then, he prayed something else. He asked that the will of the Father take precedent over his desire to avoid suffering.
Following Jesus’s example, we must pray both parts of his prayer. It’s only natural to pray for suffering to be avoided — for ourselves or for others. But it is then essential to pray that God’s will to be done, whatever the cost to us.
For many, this election year has already been one of the most difficult to bear in recent history. But the significant question is why it has been so difficult. It is a question of considerable theological and pastoral consequence, so Christian leaders need to be able to speak to this.
The reason most people would give for their frustration thus far usually has something to do with either disbelief that Donald Trump is actually the Republican nominee, or anything from distrust to disgust regarding all things Hillary Clinton. For these folks, though, there is probably another candidate that they would like to have as president, and the election of this candidate would leave them at least somewhat satisfied.
This has led a large number of voters to simply settle for whatever they judge to be the less disliked candidate of the two. Presumably, this would explain why a surprising number of evangelical Christians seem to still be willing to back Trump. The biggest frustration for me as a Christian, however, has come not so much with evangelicals who support Trump, but more so with the way that Christians everywhere seem to be so caught up in the business of endorsing and evaluating candidates in general — because “this election is different,” or because “stopping Trump (or Hillary) is so important.”
Whatever the justification, I believe Christians are taking these candidates much too seriously. The mistake we make is that we are meeting them on their own terms rather than our own. Let me explain.
The Failure of Christian Witness through both Endorsement and Denouncement
Yes, Wayne Grudem’s moral argument in favor of voting for Trump is bewildering, and Eric Metaxas’s defense of Trump is even more troubling. The latter should confirm, if there was ever any doubt, that Metaxas is no authority on Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
But what about the many Christians who are making the case for Hillary? The Rev. Dr. William Barber gave what was maybe the most powerful speech (sermon?) at the Democratic National Convention this year. And yet, he was still endorsing Hillary Clinton. Furthermore, Rachel Held Evans, for example — a good writer and a voice I appreciate — she too has called for support of Clinton. She even described her as an “extremely qualified but unpopular” candidate. Evans is well aware that there are problems with voting for Hillary Clinton. Nonetheless, I find this tacit approval of Clinton’s political record cringe-worthy, for reasons I will outline in “part 2” of this post. (Evans’ post was mainly about abortion, actually, and how she believes Clinton is in fact the better candidate for pro-life voters like herself to support).
What these examples reveal, I think, is that the political theology of most Christians continues to be such that public advocacy for as well as denouncement of a major party candidate of a global super power is seen as both faithful and necessary. This has nothing to do with being progressive or conservative. And I include denouncement because, insofar as it remains a speech act on the same plane as an endorsement, the level of discourse isn’t changed by it. It just tries to move in the opposite direction.
It reminds me of how, when asked why he would not support reform within the German state church, Bonhoeffer replied, “If a train is on the wrong track, it does no good to get on board and run the other way.” Not that the United States and Germany are equal by comparison, but I believe the analogy stands. (And keep in mind that Bonhoeffer went on to get his hands dirty and made the ultimate sacrifice for his plot against Hitler).
The point is this: There is nothing inherently Christian about supporting or denouncing either of the candidates this year or any candidate in U.S. politics. Yet ostensibly Christian endorsements and denouncements persist on both sides.
A Web of Systemic Sin
It’s important to stress, therefore, that as Christians, we do not necessarily object to the endorsement of a candidate like Hillary Clinton because we think she is so terrible, or because we think Christians absolutely mustn’t vote for her. Whether she is immoral, dishonest or beholden to the status quo is somewhat irrelevant. The president is still limited by an imperfect web of systemic sin and moral gridlock, even if he or she is the most influential person in that web. It’s what Reinhold Niebuhr called the dilemma of Moral Man and Immoral Society. This will continue regardless of who is elected. And so actually, I agree with Evans that Clinton is indeed very “qualified” — qualified to lead the web of systemic sin that is the U.S. government.
To be clear, this is not to say that as Christians we shouldn’t vote. But I’m also not saying that we must! The point is, there’s a difference between voting for a candidate, one the one hand—perhaps reluctantly—and using one’s Christian platform to fervently ask people to vote for him or her, on the other hand. The latter betrays the emptiness of a Christendom political imagination. It doesn’t matter whether we are talking about mainline liberals or evangelicals. Both have this problem.
I suppose you’ve noticed all the gallows humor going on regarding the presidential election. And for good reason.
So, have you heard this one? Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are stranded at sea on a life boat. Who survives? Ha! America does!
Ok, now that I’ve offended everyone: What a bizarre election year this has been. As my BreakPoint this Week co-host Ed Stetzer has said quite a few times, “When political historians look back on the early 21st century, the phrase we’ll hear the most is, ‘except for 2016’.”
Now, despite the dire warnings from both candidates about the consequences of electing their opponent, the most important thing about this election is not who becomes president. The most important thing about this election is what it reveals about us as a society.
Nearly 40 years ago, in a famous speech at Harvard University, the great Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said: “There are meaningful warnings which history gives a threatened or perishing society. Such are, for instance, the decadence of art, or a lack of great statesmen.”
Talk about prophetic!
Folks, I might as well just say it: I am convinced that this election is an indication that God is judging America.
Now claiming to know God’s mind both for what and with what He is bringing judgment is theologically indefensible and only makes us look silly. (You may recall a few notable Christians who stuck their foot in their mouths after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina). And yet, as Stephen Keillor argued in his book “God’s Judgments,” it is also theologically indefensible to not acknowledge God’s working in history, including through acts of judgment.
And in this case, I am ready to say, God is judging our country. Why? As my colleague Roberto Rivera often says, “The five scariest words in the Bible are, ‘…and God gave them over’.”
The most common way God judges is with the natural consequences of our choices and behavior. This is especially true in politics, which is mostly downstream from – and a reflection of – the broader culture. In other words, especially in our country, we tend to get the leaders we deserve. Which is why this November we should cast our vote with fear, trembling, weeping, praying for mercy, and maybe even while wearing sackcloth and ashes.
Whenever I think of stepping into the voting booth on November 8, I somewhat melodramatically think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Christmas letter: “One may ask,” he wrote, “whether there have ever before in human history been people . . . to whom every available alternative seemed equally intolerable, repugnant, and futile…”
Look, I realize that many of my brothers and sisters in Christ have found a level of clarity about the upcoming presidential vote that I have not–perhaps out of resignation or from some political calculations. Perhaps I will too, but until then, I hope there are some things on which we Christians can agree.
First, our deepest problems aren’t political ones, and the state is not able to address them. Looking to the state for hope is always misguided, but every four years we seem to fall for it.
Second, although the presidential race is the only one being talked about, the most important political decisions we will make this year, I’m convinced, will be the local ones. The only thing to mitigate the chaos created by an ever-encroaching federal government convinced of its own indispensability is a stronger local, civil society.
Third, as Eric said recently on BreakPoint, the Church must be the Church. Look, the Church is not reliant one bit on the state to do the life-giving, Gospel-proclaiming, brokenness-restoring work God has called it to do. The Church is the most effective institution of social change, period.
Hilliary Clinton Is an Enemy of Religious Liberty, Bonhoeffer Author says…
(Photo: The Christian Post/Sonny Hong)
Eric Metaxas speaking at the In Defense of Christians Inaugural Summit, Washington, D.C, Sept. 11, 2014.
Bestselling author Eric Metaxas has responded to Hillary Clinton’s recent claim that she has worked for years to defend religious liberty by saying that if ever there was an enemy to religious liberty, the former Secretary of State would be it.
Metaxas, who authored a number of books including one on the “forgotten promise of American liberty” and one on prominent religious freedom advocate Dietrich Bonhoeffer, appeared on Fox News Thursday to comment on the Democratic presidential nominee’s recent op-ed in a Mormon-operated newspaper in which she claimed that she is the best candidate for religious freedom voters in the 2016 election.
“I’ve been fighting to defend religious freedom for years,” Clinton wrote for the Utah-based Deseret News this week. “As secretary of state, I made it a cornerstone of our foreign policy to protect the rights of religious minorities around the world — from Coptic Christians in Egypt to Buddhists in Tibet.”
Clinton went on to suggest that Donald Trump — who has previously called for a ban on Muslim immigration — would “undo centuries of American tradition and values.”
They (the Bonhoeffer family) had a very strong sense of what was proper; they also had the quality, often ascribed to the British, of treating daily routines of life very seriously, whereas the really disturbing matters, where all was at stake, were treated as if they were quite ordinary. The stronger the emotions, the more necessary it was to dress them in insignificant words and gestures.
In ministry leadership, there is not a week that goes by without having some type of difficult conversation.
Some days you just get mentally weary and emotionally drained.
You say to yourself, “Here we go again!” So you compose yourself, gather your thoughts and try your best to speak the truth in love.
Honestly, some days I am not in the right mindset. I am physically exhausted, emotionally frazzled, mentally cluttered, and spiritually unfocused.
I was sitting in my office the other day having one of those moments.
You know, making a list of the 15 other jobs I could be doing besides this one. Feeling sorry for myself, dreaming of other opportunities instead of focusing on the responsibilities right in front of me.
When we are in those moments, we reveal our desperate need for a renewed mind.
God says when our minds are renewed, “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).
A renewed mind changes our perspective.
A renewed mind is the ability to see God, the world around you, your circumstances, and yourself from God’s viewpoint.
When we put in the work to renew our minds, we experience the reward of God’s perspective.
Here are eight rewards of a renewed mind.
Eight Rewards of a Renewed Mind
1. A Renewed Mind Sees God and His Will as Holy (Romans 12:2)
When my mind is renewed, I see God as He is, not how I wish He could be. I see the perfection of His plan and accept the reality of it.
2. A Renewed Mind Sees People as Possibilities (I Samuel 16:7)
A renewed mind sees people from God’s perspective. It does not judge their potential from the standards of our culture but by God’s standards.
3. A Renewed Mind Sees Enemies as Victims (Matthew 5:44)
It is only through a spiritual mind that we can see our worst enemies through the lens of compassion.
4. A Renewed Mind Sees Problems as Opportunities (James 1:2-4)
When my mind is renewed, I can find joy in the midst of the trials and temptations because they produce something inside of me that could not be produced without them – maturity.
5. A Renewed Mind Sees Pain as Stretching Points (Romans 5:3-5)
A spiritually renewed mind sees the pain we experience from a different vantage point. It reminds us that this physical world is not our home and our hope is not in the comfort we experience but in the God who saved us.
6. A Renewed Mind Sees Failure as Life Lessons (Psalm 51:13)
It was through a renewed mind that King David saw his personal failures as forgiven and learned life lessons to teach others who desired to follow God.
During the recent Democratic National Convention the delegates voted to adopt their party’s platform, a document that outlines the statement of principles and policies that the party has decided it will support.
Why should Christians care about a document that few non-politicians will ever read? Because of the influence the two major party platforms have on public policy. While the platform is not binding on the presidential nominee or any other politicians, political scientists have found that over the past 30 years lawmakers in Congress tend to vote in line with their party’s platform: 89 percent of the time for Republicans and 79 percent of the time for Democrats. For this reason we should be aware of what is proposed in these documents and how they may affect the welfare of our nation (Jeremiah 29:7).
This article will provide, without commentary, an outline of the Democratic platform as it relates to several social issues. Every statement is either a direct quote or a summary of the platform’s position. (Last week, we examined the GOP party’s platform and stance on these and related issues.)
Supports appointing judges who defend abortion rights.
Opposes efforts to limit or prohibit taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood.
Opposes any laws that limit abortion.
Supports the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funds from being used for abortion services.
Supports free abortion and contraceptives for all women.
Supports “sexual and reproductive health and rights around the globe.”
Opposes the “global gag rule” and the Helms Amendment that bars American assistance to abortion throughout the developing world.
Criminal Justice Reform
Supports reforming mandatory minimum sentences and closing private prisons and detention centers.
Supports working with police chiefs to invest in training for officers on issues such as de-escalation and the creation of national guidelines for the appropriate use of force.
Encourages better police-community relations.
Supports requiring the use of body cameras.
Opposes the use of “weapons of war that have no place in our communities.”
Opposes racial profiling that targets individuals solely on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, or national origin.
Supports a requirement to make the Department of Justice investigate all “questionable or suspicious police-involved shootings.”
Supports states and localities “who help make those investigations and prosecutions more transparent, including through reforming the grand jury process.”
Supports assisting states in providing a system of public defense that is adequately resourced and meets American Bar Association standards.
Supports reforming the civil asset forfeiture system to “protect people and remove perverse incentives for law enforcement to ‘police for a profit.’”
Supports removing barriers to help formerly incarcerated individuals successfully re-enter society by “banning the box” (persuading employers to remove from their hiring applications the check box that asks if applicants have a criminal record). Supports executive action to “ban the box for federal employers and contractors, so applicants have an opportunity to demonstrate their qualifications before being asked about their criminal records.”
Supports expanding re-entry programs, and restoring voting rights for felons.
Supports, whenever possible, prioritizing prevention and treatment over incarceration when tackling addiction and substance use disorder.
Endorses the use of effective models of drug courts, veterans’ courts, and other diversionary programs that “seek to give nonviolent offenders opportunities for rehabilitation as opposed to incarceration.”
Supports abolishing the death penalty.
Discrimination and Racial Issues
Supports ending discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, language, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.
Supports promoting “racial justice through fair, just, and equitable governing of all public-serving institutions and in the formation of public policy.”
Supports removing the Confederate battle flag from public properties, “recognizing that it is a symbol of our nation’s racist past that has no place in our present or our future.”
Calls for a “societal transformation to make it clear that black lives matter and that there is no place for racism in our country.”
Supports U.S. ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
Supports adding the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Drugs and Drug Abuse
Supports the federal government removing marijuana from the list of “Schedule 1” federal controlled substances and to appropriately regulate it, “providing a reasoned pathway for future legalization.”
Supports states that want to decriminalize marijuana or provide access to medical marijuana.
Supports policies that will allow more research on marijuana, as well as reforming our laws to “allow legal marijuana businesses to exist without uncertainty.”
Supports expanding “access to prevention and treatment, supporting recovery, helping community organizations, and promoting better practices by prescribers.”
Supports expanding access to care for addiction services, and ensuring that insurance coverage is “equal to that for any other health conditions.” Education
Supports making community college free for all students.
Supports the federal government pushing “more colleges and universities to take quantifiable, affirmative steps in increasing the percentages of racial and ethnic minority, low-income, and first-generation students they enroll and graduate.”
Supports “ensuring the strength of our Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority-Serving Institutions.”
Supports refinancing of current student loan debt.