Tired of Bible Pictionary? Play Omega: The End Times Board Game tonight!
How did you spend your Christmas? Different cultures in different parts of the world spend Christmas in different ways, even observe Christmas on different days. But for most of us, Christmas is a day of rest, of refreshment, and of joy. Not for the Christians in Iran, however. We recently received the following update from our friends at Elam Ministries, reporting that 70 Christians were arrested during Christmas day raids by the government.
In the early morning hours after Christmas day, the Iranian government arrested 25 Christians in Tehran and other locations. They also planned to detain sixteen others, but were unable to locate them. There are also unconfirmed reports that the authorities have arrested over 50 other Christians. According to BBC Persian, the Governor of Tehran has vowed to arrest more evangelical Christians.
One of those detained was able to make a call to friends from an unknown location on the morning of the arrests, leaving this message -
“Unfortunately early this morning the authorities came to our homes. They arrested us and many other believers. I want to ask you to pray for us.We are sure God will never leave us or forsake us. God bless you. Sorry for giving you bad news over Christmas, but I believe God will do something for us.”
Those who received the voice message were impressed by the caller’s courage and calmness.
Armed, plain-clothes, special security officers forcefully entered the homes of Christians while they were asleep, and verbally and physically abused them. They were handcuffed and taken for interrogation. Among those arrested were five married couples. One couple was separated from their two-year old baby. Another couple was also forced to leave their baby that the mother was breast feeding. A number of single young women were also among those taken.
Another sixteen Christians would have been arrested, but were not at home. The security forces broke into at least five such homes, ransacking them, taking personal possessions, changing the locks and placing a government seal on the door. Family members of these Christians have been called by the authorities and threatened and harassed. They were instructed to tell the Christians to surrender themselves.
After many hours of interrogation, eleven of the detained were released. The other fourteen are still in prison. There has been no contact from eight of the arrested. Six have been able to make a very short call to their families. In one of the brief calls, one of the arrested complained that they are being subjected to sleep deprivation.
None of them have been granted any legal representation. No charges have been made, though it is clear that they were arrested for their active Christian faith.There has been a gross lack of due process. The government authorities have not provided any written documents as to the reason for the arrests, any record of the items confiscated, and family members are not allowed to visit the detained.
There is an urgent need for Christians all over the world to intercede for our brothers and sisters in prison in Iran.
Let us pray that they will experience the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit, even in their prison cells. Pray they will have supernatural endurance and courage through this trial, and be shining witnesses to the guards and other inmates. Pray for peace and wisdom when they are being interrogated. Pray for their health. Pray for comfort and confidence for their families. Pray they will soon be released.
Pray for the welfare and protection of those the government is still seeking to arrest. Pray the Lord will guide their every step. Pray for the wider church in Iran to continue faithfully and fearlessly proclaiming the Good News of the Gospel. Pray for those who are working to help the persecuted and their families.
It is comforting to know that our sovereign, omniscient, all-powerful God knows about every single arrest that has been made, and that He will bring glory to His name through this suffering. He will cause this persecution to bring victory for His Kingdom in Iran.
Thank you for your prayers,
The Elam Team
For more information, visit Elam’s website and subscribe to their email updates.
I’ll admit that I haven’t seen the new True Grit, yet, but I’m really enjoying reading all the reviews. Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly thinks the new Coen brothers’ version displays in living color everything that is wrong with America. While professor Stanley Fish writes in the New York Times that the new version is a truly religious movie (of a Calvinistic variety).
Have you seen it? What do you think? Who gets it right, O’Reilly or Fish?
What would happen if you took Oprah at her word? About this time last year Robyn Okrant gave it a shot, and then wrote about her experience in Living Oprah: My One-Year Experiment to Walk the Walk of the Queen of Talk (Center Street, January 4, 2010). Here’s the description from an online bookseller:
What happens when a thirty-five-year-old average American woman spends one year following every piece of Oprah Winfrey’s advice on how to “live your best life”? Robyn Okrant devoted 2008 to adhering to all of Oprah’s suggestions and guidance delivered via her television show, her Web site, and her magazine. LIVING OPRAH is a month-by-month account of that year. Some of the challenges included enrollment in Oprah’s Best Life Challenge for physical fitness and weight control, living vegan, and participating in Oprah’s Book Club. After 365 days of LIVING OPRAH, Okrant reflects on the rewards won and lessons learned as well as the tolls exacted by the experiment.
Now there has been a steady stream of such books. In fact it is a self-help genre all its own, that is, a humorous experiment in literal application for the sake of self-improvement, all the while admitting in a spirit of irony how down-right funny and challenging (if not impossible) life can be. Consider Julie Powell’s French cooking blog that became a popular book Julia and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously which eventually became a successful film with Meryl Streep as Julia Child.
The question I have concerns the origins of the self-help genre. Did it originally evolve in broader American culture, with evangelical authors and publishers following suit (and believe me they have!). Or did evangelicals themselves consolidate and extend the genre so as to make it a perpetual boom in American publishing? Is it possible that evangelicalism has contributed to the moralization (read “secularization”) of American culture? It’s difficult to say, but notice the publication dates.
First there’s the secular Jewish author A.J. Jacobs’s The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible (Simon & Schuster, 2007). A little while on Zondervan published a “Christian” version with The Year of Living Like Jesus: My Journey of Discovering What Jesus Would Really Do (2009) by Ed Dobson. By the end of this month we will be able to read How to be Perfect: One Church’s Audacious Experiment in Living the Old Testament Book of Leviticus (FaithWords) by Daniel Harrell, which was originally based on a church’s Facebook project to “Live Levitically” for the duration of a sermon series through the third book of the Bible. The publisher whets readers’ appetite with this description:
Influenced by A. J. Jacobs’s The Year of Living Biblically, Harrell managed to recruit 20 members of his Boston congregation to join him in a month-long effort at living Levitically. Holiness was the ultimate goal, but so was learning. People who take the Bible seriously never know what to do with the book of Leviticus. And yet Leviticus is historically considered by Jews, and thus by Jesus, as the pivotal book of the Hebrew Bible. It’s impossible to fully comprehend such key New Testament terms as sacrifice, atonement, or blood without some understanding of Leviticus. The “second greatest commandment,” which Jesus said was “Love your neighbor as yourself,” comes from Leviticus (19:18).
As a longtime minister and preacher who had successfully skirted Leviticus for most of his life, author Daniel Harrell wanted to come to grips with all that Leviticus teaches–not just loving neighbors, but the parts about animal sacrifice, Sabbath-keeping, skin diseases, homosexuality, and stoning sinners, too. Yet rather than approaching Leviticus with a view toward mitigating its commands, he decided to simply obey them.
The surprising lessons they learned impressed on Harrell both the power of obedience and the necessity of grace. This book traces the adventures of a group of people eager to understand the Bible by living it. (2010)
Remarkably, I have it on good authority that popsicle sticks were employed for the purpose of reconstructing small replicas of the temple, presumably in an effort to “simply obey the Bible.” Personally, I think I would actually prefer kosher eating laws to Oprah’s vegan diet, but I’d definitely want to think it over before making a year-long commitment either way. Maybe I’d score a book contract out of it, and I’d have to consider who would play me in the film version of my year of biblical diets. That’s a tricky one – Robert Duval is too old and may not want to eat locusts and honey.
Finally, we have Phil Callaway’s To Be Perfectly Honest: A Year of Living Truthfully wherein the publicist reports a “Christian author blends honesty and humor” to “try and not tell a lie for a full year.” Sadly, arriving so late in the game of this tired genre the author must be kidding himself (which is arguably a form of lying). In any case, it is possible that Callaway’s other books Making Life Rich without Any Money or With God on the Golf Course are more (self-) helpful reads. I am inclined to think, given his last name, that he may have a promising angle for the second of those.
For further reflection try this classic article by our editor in chief: “Are Churches Secularizing America?” (March/April 2008).
Ryan Glomsrud is the executive editor of Modern Reformation magazine.
There is a lot of talk these days about “living the gospel” or “being the gospel,” as if we ourselves are the good news. Some even say that the church is an extension of Christ’s incarnation, as if Jesus came to provide the moral example or template for us to complete. There is only one redeemer and head of the church. To him alone all authority is given in heaven and on earth. On this program the hosts encourage us to put the focus back on Christ and his gospel as they continue their new year long series on The Great Commission.
Recently Bill O’Reilly interviewed David Silverman, president of the American Atheists Association regarding a new billboard they’ve put up in Alabama which says of religion, “You Know They’re all Scams.” O’Reilly’s chief argument in defense of God’s existence? The tides. The tides? Yes, that’s right, the tides. O’Reilly: “Tide goes in, tide goes out, there’s never a miscommunication. You can’t explain that.” I am a homeschooling parent and I actually used this particular clip as a teaching opportunity for my kids. After watching it together, we talked about the weakness of O’Reilly’s “God of the gaps” defense and contrasted this approach with the kinds of arguments we actually find in Acts and the Pauline epistles which focus on the historical resurrection of Christ, along with the fact that it was all done, “according to the scriptures” (Acts 2:22-32; 26:22-29, 1Cor 15:1-6).
During the interview David Silverman appeared to be so dumbfounded by O’Reilly’s weak argument that he failed to give a solid comeback. But I told my kids that what he should have said was that the gravitational pull of the moon on the ocean causes the tide to ebb and flow. Enter Stephen Colbert. On the Jan. 6th, 2011 episode of the Colbert Report, the faux conservative news anchor poked fun at O’Reilly by saying that “like all great theologies, Bill’s can be boiled down to one sentence: ‘There must be a God, because I don’t know how things work.’” Later, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson showed up to explain to Colbert that the tides are affected by the moon’s gravitational pull. The science lesson didn’t end up working for Colbert though. He ended up deciding that we should all become moon worshipers.
In case you haven’t seen it, an ad was recently created by Media Wave Productions featuring a pastor who is concerned about his dwindling congregation. So he initiates a new church growth technique that involves replacing the bread and wine of communion with Doritos and Pepsi Max. The title for this thirty second spot is Feed Your Flock. Until recently, this ad was in the running to be broadcast on SuperBowl Sunday, but it failed to make the final cut, partly due to the controversy it generated. It’s hard to imagine such an ad being created only a few decades ago. The trivialization of the sacred in this piece is nothing less than astounding. And that’s just it. There isn’t anything sacred anymore. Everything’s a joke.
I recently visited a church in my city that had three huge mega-screens featuring music videos and advertisements for various things before the service began. All along the right side and back of this expansive worship area, people were selling CDs, books, T-shirts and cappuccino. It was all in the same room. The pastor told a number of jokes and preached a sermon on the subject of his latest book. At the end of the sermon, he actually pleaded with us to “go to the back and take a look at the book!” Though there was no communion service, there was a fifteen minute video infomercial on the virtue of tithing, followed up by, you guessed it, the offering basket.
Undoubtedly there is a loss of the sacred in today’s secular and cynical culture. But should we really be surprised by this? It’s “secular” culture after all. Why shouldn’t secular types think that everything’s a joke unless we give them something to believe in. What is more troubling I think is the trivialization of God, the shallowness of discipleship, the evacuation of the sacraments, the commercialization of worship and the general chumminess with which we all approach God in our own churches. These are things that concern me greatly.
UPDATE: The ad has been pulled from both YouTube and the Doritos website, but you can watch a good portion of it in this clip from the Jan 5th, 2011 edition of The O’Reilly Factor. You can also watch a “behind the scenes” video of the Feed Your Flock commercial here.
On this edition of the program the hosts introduce their new theme for 2011: The Great Commission. In this important mission statement, Jesus does not begin with the imperative, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” Rather, he first tells his disciples that, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Christ has already accomplished redemption, therefore the great commission is not a plan for us to execute, or an ideal toward which we strive. We are not extensions of the incarnation, and our work is not redemptive. Rather Jesus has conquered sin, death and hell, and calls us as his ambassadors to announce this good news to the world.
Michael Horton recently had the opportunity to talk with Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith, author of Soul Searching and Souls in Transition. Dr. Smith coined the phrase “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” to describe the faith of most religious teens, and the religion he fears of their parents as well. In this interview, Mike talks to Dr. Smith about his various writing projects, his view of youth ministry, and his suggestions for the way forward.