Wednesday, February 25, 2015

David Platt: Counter culture with gospel

                                     

It’s hard not to offend people these days, especially if you actually believe what the Bible says about right, wrong, sin and salvation.

Fearing the loss of friends, being dismissed as irrelevant — or worse, being called intolerant — many evangelicals jump on the bandwagon of popular social-justice causes, but lapse into uncomfortable silence on issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion. Some quietly abandon biblical positions on controversial issues altogether.

That path eventually leads to a deeper surrender, however. Because the entire foundation of biblical morality, not to mention the biblical basis of Christian missions, rests on the most “offensive” claim of all: the gospel itself.

“[T]he most offensive and countercultural claim in Christianity is not what Christians believe about homosexuality or abortion, marriage or religious liberty,” writes IMB President David Platt in his new book, Counter Culture: A Compassionate Call to Counter Culture in a World of Poverty, Same-Sex Marriage, Racism, Sex Slavery, Immigration, Persecution, Abortion, Orphans and Pornography. “Instead, the most offensive claim in Christianity is that God is the Creator, Owner, and Judge of every person on the planet. Every one of us stands before Him guilty of sin, and the only way to be reconciled to Him is through faith in Jesus, the crucified Savior and risen King. All who trust in His love will experience everlasting life while all who turn from His lordship will suffer everlasting death.”

That claim — and the idea that God became a man, died on a cross and rose again to embody it — is foolishness at best, anathema at worst to postmodernists, atheists, secularists, Muslims and other subsets of humanity comprising billions of people. It is increasingly costly, even dangerous in certain places, to proclaim it. Some cultures consider it blasphemy; others call it hate speech. That’s really nothing new if you peruse church history.

The main question for self-proclaimed Christians, Platt suggests, is this: Do we believe this gospel?

If we don’t, we should reconsider whether we really follow the Christ revealed in the Bible. If we do, everything else we believe and do must flow from it. We don’t get a pass on the toughest issues engulfing culture today, nor do we get to pick which ones to address. We must counter them all with the revolutionary, uncompromising love of the gospel. Hence the title of Platt’s book.

And the gospel is an equal-opportunity offender, as Platt has discovered in his personal spiritual life. He says God convicted him of his own silence about racism and abortion, among other issues. That’s why he’s speaking to other believers now.

“I sense a trend in the church among evangelical Christians — particularly younger evangelicals, but really broader,” he observes. “We have this tendency to pick and choose which cultural issues we’re going to stand up and speak out on and which we’re going to sit down and be quiet on, usually based on those issues that are most comfortable and least costly for us to speak out on. It is right for us to speak out against poverty and sex trafficking, and I’m thankful for increased awareness of issues like that and the way people are speaking out on those issues.

“The danger, though, is if we speak boldly on issues like that, but then when it comes to issues like abortion or so-called same-sex marriage — issues that are much more likely to bring us into contention with the culture around us — we’re much more likely to be quiet. Before we know it, our supposed social justice actually becomes a selective social injustice. … The same gospel that compels us to combat poverty compels us to defend marriage. The same gospel that compels us to war against sex trafficking compels us to war against sexual immorality in all of its forms.” (Hear Platt on “picking and choosing.”)

That kind of consistency won’t win us many popularity contests, but if we back up our words with lives of grace, truth and loving action, we will change culture rather than surrendering to it. (Hear Platt on whether addressing cultural issues hurts our witness.)

Why court controversy so early in his tenure as IMB leader? Platt began writing the book several years ago, while he was pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala. He submitted it to his publisher well before his election by IMB trustees last year. But he remains convinced the time is right for its message to an American church facing fundamental challenges.

“I trust that the Lord led me to write this and knew exactly where I would be when it came out,” he told IMB missionaries and staff in a recent message. “Further, I am completely convinced that these issues are not just American issues … these are global issues … . I want to use any platform the Lord has given to me to strengthen the church in this culture in order that we might send out and support brothers and sisters into other cultures with rock-solid confidence in God’s Word and with wisdom to apply the gospel to these pressing social issues.”

Only servants with that kind of confidence can make a real impact on the world’s lost, who suffer from the worst injustice of all.

“The greatest injustice in the world is the fact that a couple of billion people still don’t have access to the gospel,” Platt says. It is the gospel alone “that has the power not only to change cultures on this earth but to transform lives for eternity.”

Monday, February 9, 2015

Four threats and a promise

                                                        


Will a new Cold War begin over the hot war in Ukraine? Will the European Union crumble, sparking another global recession? Will Iran go nuclear? Will the tottering Arab world collapse?

Tyranny is cruel, but anarchy may be worse. Ask anyone living in one of the increasing number of failed (or failing) states around the world as 2015 stumbles toward … what?   

“Our age is insistently, at times almost desperately, in pursuit of a concept of world order,” writes Henry Kissinger, chief architect of U.S. foreign policy for Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, in his recent book World Order. During tumultuous times, Kissinger engineered Nixon’s historic 1972 opening to China. He also helped craft d├ętente — the easing of decades of nuclear-armed tensions with the Soviet Union.

Today, however, order and agreement are becoming hard to find.

“Chaos threatens side by side with … the spread of weapons of mass destruction, the disintegration of states, the impact of environmental depredation, the persistence of genocidal practices, and the spread of new technologies threatening to drive conflict beyond human control or comprehension,” Kissinger warns. “Are we facing a period in which forces beyond the restraints of any order determine the future?”

If Kissinger can’t answer that question regarding world affairs, I certainly won’t try. But here are four key threats to monitor this year, according to risk assessments from the Eurasia Group, the World Economic Forum, Stratfor Global Intelligence and other globe watchers:

1.      Russia and Ukraine — As conflict in eastern Ukraine intensifies between government forces and Russian-backed rebels, peace prospects seem to be fading. Western economic sanctions (and lower oil prices) have crippled the Russian economy, and the United States is now considering sending arms to Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin frames the struggle as a new assault by the West generally, and the United States specifically, on Russia and its essential interests — and threatens a return to Cold War footing. But will Putin stay in power long enough to act on his warnings? He’s popular at home, for now. But the longer the Ukraine crisis goes on, some observers say, the more likely it is that Putin’s regime will eventually collapse under the weight of economic trouble. “And if Russia destabilizes, it is the destabilization of a nation with massive nuclear capability,” reminds Stratfor chief George Friedman.

2.      Europe on the edge — National economies in Europe continue to stall or decline. Unemployment continues to rise, threatening the still-fragile global recovery from the Great Recession. Fear of social and political chaos grows as angry populist movements on the left and the right blame the continent’s ills on the European Union, economic austerity measures, immigrants, Muslims — and Europe’s age-old target, Jews. Ugly anti-Semitism is on the rise in the continent that has promised “never again” since World War II.

3.      State collapse — ISIS isn’t the only “non-state actor” with the potential to overwhelm whole governments. Rebels, terrorists and international criminal cartels have been able to do that for a long time. But this bloodthirsty band of Islamists has morphed from one faction in the Syrian civil war into an army that aims to conquer multiple countries. And they’re not alone. Kissinger: “In the Middle East, jihadists on both sides of the Sunni-Shia divide tear at societies and dismantle states in quest of visions of global revolution based on the fundamentalist version of their religion. The state itself — as well as the regional system based on it — is in jeopardy, assaulted by ideologies rejecting its constraints as illegitimate and by terrorist militias that, in several countries, are stronger than the armed forces of the government.”

4.      Iran versus Saudi Arabia — These two states, though challenged from multiple sides, will continue to struggle for effective control of the Middle East, influencing regional conflicts, the Sunni-Shia feud, the security of Israel, the price of oil and other flashpoints. If Iran develops nuclear weapons, the competition could escalate beyond control.

As followers of Christ, what are we to do in chaotic times? Fear not (the most frequent command in Scripture). Trust God. Pray hard. Act in obedience. And keep going to the nations.

Major gospel advances almost always come during periods of struggle and change.

“Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth,” the Lord declares (Psalm 46:10, NASB).


That is a promise, a guarantee — regardless of the historical moment. The church has flourished in harder times than these.  

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The rough edges of globalization

                                                     

Hannan* is hanging on, unsure what tomorrow will bring.

A doctoral student from the Middle East, she studies at a university in a major European city. Her potential is unlimited, but her resources are razor-thin. She and her husband, also a student, live off a tiny stipend they receive from their home country’s government. But political unrest has increased there, and no money has arrived for months. They’re using up what they managed to save last year; funds are almost gone.

Hannan’s husband is completing his degree, but has no immediate prospect of a job — either back home, where things are falling apart, or in Europe. How will they survive?

A local church has befriended the Muslim couple, making sure they have enough food during the lean months. Moved by the love of Christians, Hannan and her husband have begun comparing the teachings of Jesus with their own beliefs. Their church friends hope they will accept a New Testament to learn more about the gospel.

There are millions of Hannans out there. They live on the periphery of a better life, but it often lies just out of reach. They are students, immigrants and their children, refugees, migrant and contract workers. They’re looking for prosperity or at least basic economic security. They’re also looking for purpose and hope. But unlike Hannan, most of them have no one to tell them about Jesus, even if they currently live in free societies.  

To echo a common phrase among economic and sociopolitical analysts, they live on the “rough edges of globalization.”

More than 200 million people are part of this global migration, according to John Brady, IMB vice president for global strategy. Some of them quickly find opportunities in the places they come to.

But many “are being left behind,” says Brady. “When I look at the unevenness of the benefits of globalization, I see a lot of the rough edges. And sometimes those rough edges are in pockets that are just a few feet away from the very smooth edges. We’ve got to find ways to get into those pockets just outside the wealthy core of the industrial world and the information world.”

First, these migrating millions want decent jobs. “But particularly in the populations that have vast numbers of young people, we see not only underemployment but just the sheer inability to be employed, so there’s a wasting away of human potential,” Brady reports. “They don’t have jobs; they don’t have hope; they don’t have education. They feel useless.”

Left on the edge of prosperity looking in, some turn to crime. Others turn to extremism if they fall under the influence of militant ideologies. Most struggle quietly with hopelessness and despair. That’s true for people who live close to opportunity but can’t quite grasp it — and for the masses who still live far from it.

“Pressure is building in many places over the world where there’s just this booming number of young people, and we’ve got to find a way to get to them with the gospel,” Brady stresses. “It’s not easy, but it’s essential. Utopia is not going to just appear out of the economic progress of the world. It’s not going to be an economic solution, though economics is important. It’s not going to be a political solution, though politics is important. It is going to be a kingdom of God solution.”

The practical ways to apply God’s solution globally are countless. But they always involve people reaching across barriers and differences in the love of Christ to make disciples.

“I see the nations, and I see His love for them,” says Brady. “I see His desire for those people in the highways and the byways and the hedgerows, all those people who are hidden away — the neglected, the least of these, the ones who are the most unlikely folks. He wants us to be obedient in passing what we’ve got to someone else. When the blessing goes to that person and through that person to the next person, it becomes unstoppable.”

*name changed

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

First things first

                                                 

The new year had barely begun when the usual round of bad news resumed: terror attacks, atrocities, massacres, war.

Some folks respond to the ugliness of world events by ignoring them. They try to create their own safe little world and pretend the big bad one doesn’t exist. Sooner or later, however, reality intrudes. Bills. Unexpected illness. Family problems. Job struggles. Life.

Even life’s pleasures become burdens if we depend on them for happiness. We create problems for ourselves by trying so hard to avoid problems. We can’t control our lives, but we never stop trying. It’s human nature, a manifestation of our need for security — and our endless temptation to usurp God’s role in decision-making.

Christians are as guilty as anyone of playing God, sometimes more so. With great fanfare, we dream up brilliant ministry plans and ask God to bless them. We consult our goals and action plans more often than we seek direction in Scripture. Doing something, anything, is easier than praying and waiting for God’s voice.

Our tendency, observes IMB President David Platt, “is to miss Christ in the middle of mission, to get so consumed in what we are doing for Him that we miss out on intimacy with Him.”

There’s a better way.

As his first full year of IMB leadership gears up, Platt is asking missionaries and staff — and anyone else interested in making the most of each brief, precious day of 2015 — to renew their commitment to seeking God’s direction. 

“Life in this world doesn’t last very long,” Platt says. “When we realize this, it changes the way we live. It’s in this light that I want to implore you in the beginning of this year to stop and think: What does it mean to trust in God when I’m not guaranteed tomorrow?” (Listen to Platt’s podcast on the topic HERE. Subscribe to his ongoing podcast through iTunes HERE or download audio files HERE.)

The Apostle James addressed the issue when he rebuked early believers for making their own plans: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.’ But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin” (James 4:13-17 NASB).

Platt draws two basic truths from James’ words when it comes to setting priorities:

 n  Faith is humbly submissive to the sovereignty of God.

“We can become so consumed with the material realm, so consumed thinking about our plans and our strategies, [that] we become blind to spiritual realities,” Platt says. “The problem is not planning in and of itself. The problem is planning in such a way that God has no place in the plans.”

James by no means counsels “passive fatalism” or sitting back and doing nothing until God acts, Platt emphasizes. The Book of James is all about action: Its 108 verses contain more than 50 imperative commands.

“James is talking about activity and action the whole book,” Platt says. “But he’s talking about activity and action that are humbly submissive to the sovereign God of the universe, knowing that every accomplishment, every activity, literally every breath occurs only by the sovereign grace of God. … The key is a mindset that says, ‘I need the grace of God, and I am dependent on the will of God in every facet of my life.’ This is a radically different way to live in the world — particularly in the busyness and the business of our lives. … James says in the middle of it all: Submit to God. Don’t live like you’re going to be here forever. Live and plan and work like your life is short and you don’t want to waste it on worldly things. You want to spend your life humbly submissive to the sovereignty of God, and ultimately live for the glory of God. Make your life — this mist that comprises who you are for the short time you are here — count. Be finished with self-sufficiency. Live your life in radical God-dependency.”

n  Humble submission to God’s sovereignty leads to wholehearted submission to God’s will.

Sin isn’t just lying, coveting and other evil acts on a long list of don’ts. We sin when we fail to do what God has clearly told us to do: Live holy loves, love others as ourselves, and make disciples in our circle of personal relationships and among all nations. Platt:

“Holiness includes what we do in this world, how we obey in this world, so we’ve got to think, ‘What has God said to do today? He has given me today. He’s given me breath. He’s given me life. He’s given me sustenance. What has He told me to do with it?’ That’s a good question with which to approach today and this next year. If the Lord wills to give you an entire year in 2015, make the most of that mist which is here today and will be gone before you know it.”

That’s the approach Platt is taking this year — not only in his own life, but in planning and strategizing with Southern Baptist missionaries and mission leaders in their global gospel enterprise.

Rather than recycling a stale set of new year’s resolutions, why not consider it for your own life?


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Jesus in disguise

                                                  

Christmas 1914 on the Western Front witnessed a remarkable event.

The Great War, now known as World War I, had begun. Years of unimaginable death and destruction lay ahead. Yet during the week leading up to Christmas a century ago, many German and British soldiers put down their weapons, crossed battle lines and shook hands. The informal “Christmas Truce” brought enemies together to talk of home, exchange food and cigarettes and engage in impromptu soccer games. Some even sang hymns and carols together.

In the darkest places, Christmas brings light. Enemies make peace. Old hatreds die, and mercy is born. Christ is glorified.

On the first Christmas, God willingly entered enemy territory, disguised as a helpless child, to make peace with those who had rejected Him over and over through the ages. Only a few recognized Him when He walked among us. Even fewer followed Him. He was reviled, betrayed and denied before being put to death on a Roman cross. Yet He changed everything through His life, death and resurrection.

Have you encountered the Lord in disguise?

Jesus told his disciples: “For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me: I was in prison, and you came to Me. … Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me” (Matt. 25:35,36,40b NASB).

This Scripture passage formed the essential mission strategy of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who took Jesus’ words literally. For her, every hungry person, orphan and refugee was “Jesus in His distressing disguise.” The more distressing the disguise, the greater the need for our love.

In 1946 she sensed a “second call” from God to leave her original vocation as a teacher in a Calcutta convent and go to the streets, which were filled with the refugees of communal violence, poverty and indifference. One day she stumbled over a starving woman, eaten with worms, lying in the gutter. She picked up the woman and took her to a hospital, refusing to leave until someone cared for her. City authorities eventually gave Mother Teresa an abandoned Hindu hostel, where she could take the nearly dead to die in the arms of love. Thus was born her mission to “the poorest of the poor.” In 1950 she founded the Missionaries of Charity, gradually expanding her ministry to lepers, disaster and war victims, the unborn — even affluent Westerners afflicted with loneliness and isolation, which she regarded as the worst diseases of the developed world.

Mother Teresa carefully schooled her missionaries in simple acts, like touching.
 
“We train ourselves to be extremely kind and gentle in touch of hand, tone of voice and in our smile so as to make the mercy of God very real and to induce [others] to turn to God with real confidence,” she said before her death in 1997.

Which brings me back to my earlier question: Have you ever encountered Jesus in a “distressing disguise”? How did you treat Him?

Maybe He showed up in your town recently, speaking a strange language and carrying all His possessions in a plastic U.N. refugee bag. Maybe He’s sitting in the county jail, with no visitors except an overworked public defender. Maybe He’s working at the convenience store near your house and has nowhere to go for Christmas.

Maybe He’s living in an Ebola-stricken area of West Africa, in a refugee camp on the Syrian border or among a spiritually lost people group never touched by His modern-day followers, wondering if anyone will come bringing light and hope.

Were Jesus’ words about visiting Him by visiting others symbolic? Perhaps. But Mother Teresa’s lovingly practical approach to the “least of them” makes a lot of sense to me. One thing is for sure: God Himself personally visited us on the first Christmas in the form of a child, walked with us as a man, died and rose for us as a Savior.

One day in eternity, He we will ask us who we visited in His name.

 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Creed: His glory their reward

                                                               
 
Here’s a creed worth adopting — if you dare.

As a follower of Christ: I am called not to comfort or success but to obedience. Consequently, my life is to be defined not by what I do but by who I am.
Henceforth: I will proclaim His name without fear, follow Him without regret and serve Him without compromise.
Thus: To obey is my objective, to suffer is expected, His glory is my reward.
Therefore: To Christ alone be all power, all honor and all glory, that the world may know. Amen!

Those 83 words challenge a number of things we hold dear as modern Americans: personal independence, success, comfort, unlimited options. They comprise the creed, which is first memorized, then lived out, by students accepted into Fusion (imbstudents.org/fusion), a challenging year of mission training and action for college-age Southern Baptists.

Fusion, now in its 10th year, is a partnership between IMB and Midwestern Baptist College, the undergraduate program at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri. It puts students through far more than an academic overview of missions. They spend the fall semester living and studying in a close discipleship community, participating in specialized training programs, doing ministry and evangelism in the Kansas City area and holding each other accountable to their commitment. For the spring semester, they head overseas to join IMB missionaries in various locations. Fusion teams are trained to go to the least-reached people groups, so they often travel to physically challenging or high-security areas around the world.

Wishy-washy believers need not apply. Well, they can apply, but they won’t stay wishy-washy for long.

Gwen Noonan* found that out for herself when she signed up. Noonan, now 20, entered the Fusion program in the fall of 2012. She was as an enthusiastic 18-year-old from California searching for exciting ways to serve the Lord. In Fusion training, she soon learned that God seeks more than our service; He seeks our whole being.

“During our contingency training, we were put into scenarios that felt so real even though they weren’t that I really had to ask myself whether or not the gospel is worth my life,” she said. “Is Jesus, really knowing Him, worth all that I have to go and glorify Him in the nations?”

She also learned about Karen Watson, whose words and life helped inspire the Fusion Creed. Watson, another Californian, was one of four Southern Baptist relief workers killed by unknown gunmen in Iraq in 2004. A former law enforcement officer known both for her toughness and her passion for God, Watson knew the risks of working in Iraq. She had willingly returned there shortly before her death after several previous close calls with death. 

“When God calls there are no regrets,” Watson wrote in a now-famous letter found in a sealed envelope marked “Open in case of death.” She left it with her pastor when she departed for the Middle East in 2003. “I tried to share my heart with you as much as possible, my heart for the nations,” Watson said in the letter. “I wasn’t called to a place; I was called to Him. To obey was my objective, to suffer was expected, His glory my reward, His glory my reward.”

Fusion training confronted Noonan with spiritual reality. “Learning more about Karen’s story helped me realize His Glory really is my reward and really is worth it,” she said. “Knowing the sweetness of Jesus even in the midst of these hard things, knowing Jesus even in His sufferings, was something I would be willing to lay my life down for.”

Noonan’s commitment deepened when she went to her mission assignment overseas, which involved developing friendships with Muslims in order to share the gospel. It wasn’t easy, but she found Christ already was there.

“I went through a time of loneliness,” she remembered. “Jesus was just so faithful during that time, and He used the creed to encourage my heart. [He said] ‘I am so worth it. I have suffered for you and to obey My Father. Abide in Me and know the sweetness of laying your life down.’”

During that time Noonan, a musician, also completed a song based on the Fusion Creed that she had begun writing during training. When she returned to the United States, she recorded “The Creed” and participated in the making of a video featuring the song: https://vimeo.com/112718306.

This year, Noonan has become a Fusion “advocate,” one of the alumni who return to help prepare the next generation of Fusion trainees not only for their overseas assignments, but for a lifetime as disciples who make disciples. In January, 59 people now in Fusion training anticipate going in teams to North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia to glorify God. Noonan will lead a team of three young women back to the area where she served last year.

Her reward? His glory. 

*Name changed

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The rise and fall of walls


                                                          
                                 
                 
Walls of the mind and heart are harder to tear down than walls of brick and stone.

The fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago brought great hopes of a new birth of spiritual and political freedom, not only in the communist orbit but around the world. In many ways, those hopes were realized. Old tyrannies began to crumble. The Cold War ended after more than a generation of East-West conflict. Churches and believers long imprisoned by persecution and fear were released into the sunlight of liberty.

The collapse of the Soviet Union followed the glorious opening in Berlin. Waves of Christian workers from the West flooded into Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics to assist their brothers and sisters in the faith. An exciting era of evangelism and church planting began.

That era continues, despite the turmoil that has followed Soviet communism’s demise.

“The wall was an outward symbol of an inward reality,” Mark Edworthy, IMB strategy leader for Europe, told IMB writer Nicole Lee. “Communism had erected a spiritual barrier with its incessant denial of God’s existence and its cycle of cruelty. Spiritually, we eagerly took up a hammer and chisel to work against that greater barrier.” A quarter-century later, “we can see greater trophies than stone and mortar as the Lord has continued to build His church throughout the former Soviet sphere.”

But believers are working with urgency in Eastern Europe, Lee reported, “because no one knows how long the door to some of these countries will remain open. The ongoing war in Ukraine highlights the fact that, although the Cold War is over, communism and other secular philosophies are still at work.”  
The social and economic chaos of the immediate post-Soviet years led to yearning in Russia, at least for a “strong hand” at the helm, which has resulted in new tensions with the West in recent years. Those tensions are pushing the world to the “brink of a new Cold War,” warned former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev at a Nov. 8 event in Berlin marking the Wall’s fall. Gorbachev, whose reforms helped hasten the end of the Soviet empire, criticized global powers for failing to work together to end conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, the Middle East and Ukraine.

For now, open ministry continues.
“We really don’t see any comprehensive political pressure that hinders the advance of the gospel. Materialism and consumerism have replaced communism,” said one Christian worker based in Russia. Still, he added, “Our time might be short. Have we planted an apostolic burden among Russian church leaders? There are some who [are passionate about reaching the lost], but we need many more.”

The message is one that has been repeated again and again throughout history: There are no guarantees except for the presence and sovereignty of the Lord. Walls may fall, while others rise. In the political realm, the Tiananmen Square crackdown in Beijing occurred in 1989, the same year the Berlin Wall came down. Yet the Chinese church, which suffered one of its darkest hours during the savage persecution of the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, continues to grow in size, vitality and passion for global mission.
“God may seem silent on occasion. At other times, people simply don’t trouble to hear his voice,” writes Philip Jenkins, distinguished professor of history at Baylor University, in Christianity Today. “As an example, we might look at the experience of China, which over the past two millennia has remained the world’s most populous nation. The story of Chinese Christianity is a recurrent cycle of mighty boom years followed by what seemed like total annihilation at the time, an obliteration so absolute that on each occasion, it was quite clear that the church could never rise again. That cycle has occurred five times to date since the ninth century. On each occasion, the Chinese church has reemerged far more powerful than at its previous peak. Each successive ‘nevermore’ proved to be strictly temporary.”

Today, the very existence of the church in the Middle East, the cradle of the Christian faith, seems threatened by the advance of Islamic extremists. But God will not leave Himself without a witness. 

“Even when institutional churches vanish, believers persist in many different forms,” Jenkins writes. “As Anatoly Lunacharsky, the frustrated Soviet minister of education, complained in 1928, ‘Religion is like a nail: The harder you hit it, the deeper it goes into the wood.’ Sometimes it goes in so deep, you can’t even see it.”

One day that nail reappears, stronger than ever.