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Travel keeps getting easier for Cuba’s surging Christian community even as practicing their faith keeps getting harder. Case in point: Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso, a Cuban Baptist pastor who once appeared on CT’s cover and has since become a Bonhoeffer-inspired activist blogger.
Last fall, Lleonart Barroso made an unusually high-profile trip to Washington, D.C.,visiting the Congressional Caucus on Religious Freedom and issuing a 30-point challenge to his Communist government. Last weekend, he found his house in central Cuba surrounded by security police, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
Security agents quickly seized the pastor as his wife and two children watched from inside the house. They held him in detention until night time, after which he was returned home and placed under house arrest. [He discusses his detention in Spanish here.] In a sign of the times, his wife Yoaxis has been live-tweeting their house arrest.
Lleonart Barroso, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Taguayabon, has been an outspoken voice against the Cuban government’s mistreatment of pastors and human rights defenders for at least four years. CT interviewed him during a 2009 Holy Week road trip on Cuba’s improbable Christian revival and how Cuban Christians have more freedom yet are not free.
During the detention, authorities took prints of his fingers and toes, a scent sample, and DNA samples from his nails and teeth by force. He refused to sign an Official Warning (Advertencia Oficial), which is often used as evidence in the Cuban judiciary system.
According to CSW, the pastor’s sister, Mirka Pena, remarked that the arrest of Lleonart Barroso is “part of a larger crackdown on political dissidents across the country … in anticipation of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) summit, due to take place this week in Cuba.”
Lleonart Barroso is gaining support from U.S.-based Baptists, who helped sponsor his first visit to America last September. Utilizing social media, he communicates with his supporters as well as further drumming up awareness for a pro-democracy Cuba. His Twitter account is regularly updated with up to 10 tweets a day. He has also blogged his experiences (sometimes translated into English) since 2010. His wife Yoaxis is also active on Twitter.
His self-description from his blog:
Inspired by the paradigmatic example of the Confessional German Churches which rose during the dreadful Nazi period, and by one of their most sublime expressions—the passion of Dietrich Bonhoeffer—I also stand over the gash which is the broken bridge of my village which carries an indigenous name: TAGUAYABON. And I stand here to DENOUNCE the causes which contaminate its water, which is scarcer by the day, and to ANNOUNCE rivers of live water, because Jesus came to bring good news to the poor. (Luke 4.18-19).
The pastor has faced setbacks before.
Hundreds of Christians resisted the Nazification of the Church in Germany…
“Some 807…pastors and leading laymen were arrested of the ‘Confessional Church’ were arrested in 1937, and hundreds more in the next couple of years. If the resistance of the (Martin) Niemoeller wing of the church was not completely broken, it was certainly bent. As for the majority of the Protestant pastors, they like almost everyone else in Germany, submitted in the face of Nazi terror.”
A newspaper in Germany published a collection of personal letters from one of the most notorious Nazi leaders.
The German paper “Welt am Sonntag” featured seven full pages of Heinrich Himmler’s letters, along with pictures of a smiling family shot during the war.
Himmler, who was one of the most powerful Nazi leaders that organized the ruthless killing of millions, reportedly wrote several love letters to his wife during the war. He signs one, “I’m off to Auschwitz. Kisses! Yours, Hiney,” never mentioning the horrific events that he was in charge of overseeing.
The Mirror explains the letters reveal Himmler “…as an insecure romantic fantasist who kept his mass murder program from those closest to him. He was happy to have millions killed, but did not want to upset wife…”
The pictures and letters are part of an eight-part series that re-examines the life of Himmler.
We Don’t Have to Read the Book or See the Movie to Know Heaven Is Real
“Have you read Heaven Is for Real?” I’ve been asked this question more times than I can count. So let me just tell you—no, I haven’t. I was actually asked by the publisher to read the manuscript to offer an endorsement before the book came out, but I declined. And clearly the lack of an endorsement from me has not hindered sales.
I’ve been hoping that the hoopla surrounding this book and so many of the other “died and went to heaven and came back” books would end. And then I went to the theater over the holidays and saw previews for the upcoming movie based on Heaven Is for Real. So before you ask if I am going to see the movie, let me just tell you—no, I’m not.
Do These Books Encourage Genuine Faith?
People sometimes say these stories encouraged their faith or the faith of someone they know. But I think they actually diminish biblical faith by elevating claims of a supernatural experience over the substance of the Scriptures. Most of these claims of seeing into heaven focus on earthbound concerns and stunted human desires that lack what the Bible describes as the heart of heaven—the glory of God, the Lamb who was slain, on the throne of the universe. In embracing these stories we’re saying the Bible is simply not enough, that someone’s mystical experience is needed to verify or “make real” what God has said. But saving faith is putting all our hopes in who God is and what God has said as revealed in the Bible. It is being confident of what we can’t see (John 20:29; Hebrews 11:1), not being convinced by something someone else supposedly saw.
Interestingly, Jesus himself spoke of the uselessness of such testimony for generating genuine faith. Jesus told a story about a rich man in the place of the dead who calls out to “Father Abraham” to go and warn his brothers so they will not end up in the place of torment (Luke 16:19-31). The rich man wants someone who has died and gone to heaven to come back to life and tell about his experience so that his family members will believe what the Scriptures teach about the consequences of failing to become united to Christ by faith.
In Jesus’ story Father Abraham says, “If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, (meaning, if they won’t believe what the Bible says) they won’t listen even if someone rises from the dead.” Jesus is saying that everything we need to put our faith in the promises of God, everything we need to find comfort and hope regarding the life beyond this life, can be found in the Scriptures.
Testimonies You Can Trust
There are only five testimonies of seeing into the realities of heaven that we are obligated to believe. These testimonies clearly develop rather than diminish biblical faith. There is Isaiah, who saw the Lord high and lifted up, seated on a throne (Isaiah 6); Ezekiel, who was given a vision of the future new heavens and new earth that he describes as garden-like city in the shape of a temple called The Lord Is There (Ezekiel 40-48); Stephen, who, before he was stoned by the people of Jerusalem “gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God and said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God'” (Acts 7:55-56); John, who saw the risen and glorified Jesus seated on the throne of the universe being worshiped by all the people of the earth, all the creatures of the earth, and all the angels of heaven (Revelation 1, 4); and the apostle Paul, who was caught up into the third heaven and “heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter” (2 Cor. 12:1-7). Isn’t it interesting that Paul, who wrote most of the New Testament, did not include details about what he saw in his personal guided tour of heaven and said, in fact, that it should not be talked about?
None of these witnesses claims to have died and come back to life. None of these testimonies focuses on meetings with other people who have died. These witnesses are clearly captivated by God alone. We read that they fell on their faces as their eyes beheld the glory of God radiating from his being.
Of course, the Bible does tell us about some people who died and came back to life. Yet it doesn’t see fit to record their testimony about the experience. Evidently it just isn’t worthy of being presented to us as a foundation for faith. If it were, wouldn’t there be a book of Lazarus in which he gives us a run-down on those four days in the grave before Jesus called him back to life (John 11)? Matthew tells us that when Jesus died, “many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised” (Matt. 27:52). Amazingly that’s all we’re told. If the testimonies of those who have died and gone to heaven and come back to life provided something of value to help us to put our faith in the promises of God, wouldn’t the Gospels contain their testimonies?
How We Really Know Heaven Is Real
The question really isn’t about whether or not a 4-year-old’s description of heaven lines up with what the Scriptures teach. The question is whether or not we really believe that God in his Word “has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence (2 Peter 1:3). Admittedly the Bible does not provide as much detail about what awaits us beyond this life as some of us might like. It does tell us four significant things:
2. It will be far better than life on this earth (Phil 1:21-23).
3. We will be away from the body (2 Corinthians 5:6-8).
4. Our spirits will be made perfect—completely cleansed of sin (Hebrews 12:22-23).
Since we know that to be at home with the Lord is to be away from the body, when one of these books describes physical bodies in heaven that are healed and whole, we know instantly that it is not a genuine account of the current realities of heaven. One day the physical bodies of those who are united to Christ will be healed and whole like the body of the risen Christ (1 Corinthians 15:22-23; 1 John 3:2). But that will not be until the day Christ returns and makes all things new. Right now “we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body (Philippians 3:20-21).
I am currently reading William L Shirer’s classic book, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1960 ed.). Shirer makes it clear that Adolf Hitler wanted the churches in Germany to submit to his authority…
So far as the Protestants were concerned, Hitler was insistent that if the Nazi “German Christians” could not bring the evangelical churches into line under Reich Bishop Mueller then the government itself would have to take over the direction of the churches. He had a certain contempt for the Protestants (328-329).
41 years after Roe v. Wade, abortion still demands consideration
For The Maine Campus
Wednesday is the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case that legalized abortion in the United States. About 57 million fetuses have been aborted in the U.S. since then.
Looking back at history, we often struggle to understand how people can be blind — or just silent — to the evils around them. We don’t understand how the idea that racism and slavery are normal and unproblematic could be popularly held, or how Germans under Hitler could fail to notice the persecution of millions of Jews. But we are so much a product of our own time that it is nearly impossible to step back from ourselves and identify what we are doing wrong, and even if we do, we are usually too scared to say or do anything. This is not merely a passive mistake. In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor during World War II who was executed for his participation in a plot to assassinate Hitler: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
This is not a sideline issue: If these are human beings being aborted, then since 1973, as a nation, we are guilty of 57 million murders. That is what is at stake if you think abortion is right and you are actually wrong. To apathetically write this off is to choose to ignore a practice with more than nine times the death toll of the Holocaust.
Grounded in the Faith
Kenneth Erisman | Review by: Jonathan Saunders
Kenneth Erisman. Grounded in the Faith: An Essential Guide to Knowing What You Believe and Why. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2013. 288 pp. $17.99.
A few years back a younger student who approached me interested in being discipled. I was already ministering to a number of guys, so my schedule wasn’t open to another. But I knew an older man in the faith whom I thought could be a perfect match for this young guy. This man had raised godly children, had a strong marriage, had served as a church leader for a number of years. He loved the Scriptures and exemplified godly discipline. Everything you’d ever want in terms of Christian maturity, this man had. And yet when I asked him about meeting with a younger college student, he was completely overwhelmed. He didn’t know what to do. And this student was as easy as they come—a fairly normal college guy who was serious about growing in his faith and even took the initiative to meet with an older believer. Still, this older saint was lost. He knew he needed to be teaching disciples, but he had no clue how to begin.
My hunch is there are many more people like this one—godly men and women who want to make a difference in the lives of others, but are completely stuck as to how to start. That’s why I am thankful for a book like Kenneth Erisman’s Grounded in the Faith: An Essential Guide to Knowing What You Believe and Why. A pastor and church planter, Erisman recognizes the need for theological training in a disciple. As a result, he’s given us a resource that can function as training wheels for those who want to help ground fellow believers. It’s not a book in the normal sense. You just don’t read it. You read it, discuss it, and then apply it. Think of it as an extended catechism that majors on the majors while attempting to apply the truth to one’s life. And while the book could function as a sort of devotional guide for private use, I imagine the benefit would be multiplied if used in weekly meetings between younger and older believers.
As a campus minister I work with students who have just become Christians as well as with those who come from typical evangelical churches that have excelled in creating passion but haven’t done a good job rooting people in God’s Word. It would be a great joy to have a number of older men and women in my church pick up Grounded in the Faith and begin to meet with these younger students, walking them through the basics of the faith. Erisman does a fabulous job of touching on the key points: justification, biblical reliability, knowing God’s will, the Trinity, and so on.
I suppose there’s always more to be said (worldview and church are two that come to mind), but you can only say so much in one volume. For the most part Erisman covers all the bases. And for aspects of the faith that are a bit more heady, he explains and unpacks the theology in a way that’s both truthful and accessible. Each chapter contains questions that help apply the truth. In short, the content and structure make for a great resource.
Vision for the Church
It’s entirely possible to be busy with good, Christ-honoring things and not be making disciples.
by JOE CARTER
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a United States federal holiday marking the birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is observed on the third Monday of January each year, which is around the time of King’s birthday, January 15. Here are 9 things you should know about MLK:
1. The campaign for a federal holiday in King’s honor began soon after his assassination in 1968, but Martin Luther King, Jr. Day did not become a U.S federal holiday until Ronald Reagan begrudgingly signed the holiday into law in 1983. (Reagan was concerned that a paid holiday for federal employees would be too expensive.) Only two other persons have U.S. national holidays honoring them: George Washington and Christopher Columbus.
2. King’s literary and rhetorical masterpiece was his 1963 open letter “The Negro Is Your Brother,” better known as the “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” The letter, written while King was being held for a protest in the city, was a response to a statement made by eight white Alabama clergymen titled “A Call for Unity.” An editor at the New York Times Magazine, Harvey Shapiro, asked King to write his letter for publication in the Magazine, though the Times chose not to publish it.
3. While much of King’s philosophy of nonviolence was derived from Christian — especially Anabaptist — sources, a significant influence was the work of Indian leader Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi. While in seminary King’s gave a presentation he prepared for a class entitled “Christian Theology for Today,” in which he included Gandhi as one of a number of figures he identified as “individuals who greatly reveal the working of the Spirit of God.”
4. In 1964, King became the second African American — and the third black man — to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
5. In his autobiography, King says that in 1960 he voted for John F. Kennedy and that if the president had lived he likely would have made an exception to his non-endorsement policy for a second Kennedy term. But it was JFK’s brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, who issued a written directive authorizing the FBI to wiretap King and other leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The FBI agents investigated him for possible communist ties, recorded his extramarital affairs and reported on them to government officials, and mailed King a threatening anonymous letter that he interpreted as an attempt to make him commit suicide. While King was in jailed in Birmingham, JFK’s wife, Jacqueline Kennedy, even called Coretta Scott King to express her concern—neither of them realizing the phone was being tapped.