Thursday, April 30, 2009

Stopping the insanity

Yesterday's post introduced a book, Stop the Traffik, dealing with human slave labor and trafficking today. Throughout his Word, God is clear that we are to defend the weak, the widow, the orphan, the foreigner.

That clearly applies to this situation and so as followers of Jesus we can't find a way to excuse this sort of atrocity.

Some comments on the book:
  • The authors are passionate about their cause and present, through a series of anecdotes and statistics, a strong case for joining the cause against such trafficking.
  • Printed on glossy pages with creative graphics and compelling photos (not graphic at all), the book is a quality publishing project.
  • Although this book isn't written from a Christian point of view, neither does it denigrate churches but sees them as allies.
  • Sadly, because it is not from a Christian point of view, its points of actions do not include any sort of prayer or trust in God. The assumption is that we alone must make a difference.
  • And, the assumption is that the solution lies in the direction of new laws and state-sponsored initiatives. If we can raise awareness, the suggestion goes, then the state will rise up to wipe out the traffickers.

I would recommend this book as an bold and insightful look at the problem of humans sinning against weaker humans. The problem cannot be ignored and it is hideous.

But I would suggest some of the answers can be found in putting God's Word into action. We can pray and we can act as agents of God's generosity. This issue is a huge one but not overwhelming to those who live in the shadow of God's grace.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Amazing forgiveness

Maybe you'd like to watch the interview.....


The evening started off with the Whitaker family going to a restaurant for dinner. Nothing especially unusual about that. The home, one of many on the well-kept block in Sugarland, Texas. The family, typical. Average. Loving. Churchgoing. Indeed, there was nothing out of the ordinary about the Whitakers until an assailant's gun changed the course of their lives.


A few hours later, in ICU, Kent, who had been wounded, felt God's insistence that Kent decide whether he would forgive the attacker. Kent did, never dreaming that the assailant was part of a plan set in motion by his own son Bart, who now awaits execution on Texas' death row for plotting to kill his father, mother, and younger brother. Only Kent survived the shooting.


"The first night in the hospital, I forgave everyone who was involved in this," Whitaker told CBS News in an October 18, 2007 interview. "It is a gift from God that allows me to do this. I think he gave me that gift so that when I found out that it was my son, that it would be legitimate forgiveness."


ABC's 20/20 will broadcast a segment on Friday, May 1 at 10pm ET/PT in which the Whitaker family tragedy will be explored and Kent will explain why he chose to forgive everyone involved. The story is also highlighted in the bestselling book MURDER BY FAMILY, A True Story of Greed, Grief, and Forgiveness (Howard Publishing, a division of Simon and Schuster).

Stop the Traffik

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

I will post a review of this book tomorrow. It addresses an important issue: slavery today. I have several comments on content.


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


Stop the Traffik: People Shouldn't Be Bought & Sold

Lion UK (April 1, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Cherie Blair is a human rights lawyer and campaigner on women's rights and empowerment, wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and author of Speaking for Myself. Steve Chalke is UN.GIFT special advisor on human trafficking, and founder of Stop the Traffik. He is the author of several books, including Change Agents, Intelligent Church, The Lost Message of Jesus, and Trust.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $16.95
Paperback: 160 pages
Publisher: Lion UK (April 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0745953603
ISBN-13: 978-0745953601

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Wihini, aged nine, and her brother Sunni, aged seven, loved on Thane train station in Mumbai, India with their parents—both alcoholics. Wihini and Sunni went to a day centre where they learned to read and write and were given the chance to play.


One day Sunni and Wihini simply didn’t turn up. Street children often tend to disappear for days, as they try to scrape a living sweeping long-distance trains, but they had been attending the center daily for three months, so when a week or so went by the project staff became worried, and went in search of their parents. The workers found the father lying drunk on the station platform. When they roused him and asked about the children, he admitted that a man had come to him one morning offering money for them. He needed money for alcohol, so he agreed. The trafficker had taken Sunni and Wihini away for the equivalent of just 20 British pounds (currently equivalent to $30 US dollars). The father was angry because he had never received his money. Their mother wouldn’t speak about it. The children were never seen again.


What happened to Sunni and Wihini? Nobody knows. In that area of Mumbai, children often disappeared. They are kidnapped or sold into prostitution, forced labor, adoption, or even child sacrifice. The workers at the Asha Seep center had seen this before. But this was once too often.


Wihini and Sunni’s story proved to be a catalyst. The story was picked up and passed on and as evidence gathered we realized this is happening on a huge scale, around the world—and even on our own doorsteps. Not 200 years ago. Not even fifty years ago. It was—and is—happening today. And so STOP THE TRAFFIK was born.


Human Tafficking—A Definition

Human trafficking is the dislocation of someone by deception or coercion for exploitation, through forced prostitution, forced labor, or other forms of slavery.


-800,000 people are trafficked across borders each year (US State Department)

-It is estimated that two children per minute are trafficked for sexual exploitation. This amounts to an estimated 1.2 million children trafficked every year (UNICEF)

-In 2004, between 14,500 and 17,500 people were trafficked into the United States (US State Department)

-Human trafficking generates between 10 and 12 billion dollars a year (UNICEF)

-Total profit from human trafficking is second only to the trafficking of drugs (The European Police Office; Eurpol)


The numbers tell you the huge scale of this problem. But behind each number is a sea of faces. Behind the statistics are mothers and father, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, torn apart by trafficking; these are innocent lives ruined by abuse. These are human rights violations on a grotesque scale. And the problem is getting worse.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Titus: Boiling yet?

Read Titus 3:8-15


You probably know how to boil a frog, don’t you? You put a frog in a pot of cool water and slowly bring up the temperature. A frog would leap out if placed into a pot of boiling water but will remain in cool water, not noticing as the temperature slowly climbs.

We've been looking at Paul's instructions to Titus as he discipled the church at Crete.

Paul was concerned that the church there was like a frog, accepting gradual changes that would eventually kill them.

The believers had to be different from the world around them, not gradually getting used to the world’s ideas and ways.

Paul wanted the believers to do good because their actions, like ours, show what really mattered to them. Doing good didn't bring them eternal lilfe but revealed their perspective.

We have the same issues today as the Cretans had. Are we drawn to the world around us, which would have us become conformed to a common image, chasing after the same pleasures and goals that they pursue? They make their way look like the good life.

But notice again what Paul said in Titus 3:3. We were deceived and enslaved by the old life, which is the way of the world.

We're in an age where we can't coast anymore. We have to stop adjusting to the water that's about to boil us. We have to evaluate our lives.

What enslaves us? What are we doing or believing or considering that keeps us away from God's best?

Paul asked the believers at Crete to evaluate their actions an decisions. If we follow Jesus, we will be set apart from the world around us.

But when the goodness and love for man appeared from God our Savior, He saved us.

Titus 3:4-5

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Into the valley

I wonder if Carrie Prejean had a rush of adrenaline as Perez Hilton was announced as her questioner. You’ve probably heard the uproar this week as Carrie may have lost her chance at Miss America because of the answer to one question. (If not, take a moment and read this article.)

It appears that Hilton set the table for her defeat, asking a question designed to expose her Christian convictions.

Carrie didn’t toe the Hollywood company line. In fact, since that time a number of Hollywood celebrities have (nervously?) stepped up to show that they comply with the expectations of Hollywood.

Carrie honored her own convictions and her family. Knowing that her answer would unleash a blast of bitter retribution, she spoke simply and honestly. That’s courage on the front lines.

The Hollywood stance does not reflect a majority of American’s view; Carrie does. Many people are squeamish about homosexual marriage but afraid of the furnace blasts of the politically correct. Look at the state initiatives regularly passed by voters that define marriage as between a man and a woman.

Although Carrie was accused of being a hate-monger, the ugly words and hatred came from the politically-correct side. I haven’t yet seen any reports of accusations or insults from Carrie, and I suspect the press would love to find those. Rage would describe the response from Hilton’s side.

This is persecution. We can’t discuss “someday persecution” in America anymore. When we are not free to follow God’s teachings, when we are not free to express our opinions, we are being persecuted.

I want to let Carrie know that I appreciate her bravery and I hope that we can learn to stand with the courage she showed. Following Jesus historically has meant traveling through the dark valley of threats and attacks. But we are citizens of heaven and we can go where others have led.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me.
Psalms 23:4

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Blood of Lambs by Kamal Saleem

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


The Blood of Lambs

Howard Books (April 7, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Kamal Saleem was born under another name into a large Sunni Muslim family in Lebanon. At age seven, he was recruited by the Muslim Brotherhood and immediately entered a Palestinian Liberation Organization terror training camp in Lebanon. After being involved in terror campaigns in Israel, Europe, Afghanistan, and Africa, and finally making radical Islam converts in the United States, Saleem renounced jihad and became an American citizen. He has appeared on CNN, CBS News, and Fox News programs, and has spoken on terrorism and radical Islam at Stanford University, the University of California, the Air Force Academy, and other institutions nationwide.

Collaborator Writer, Lynn Vincent: Lynn Vincent, a U.S. Navy veteran, is features editor at WORLD Magazine, a national news biweekly. She is the author or co-author of six books, including the New York Times bestseller, Same of Kind of Different as Me.

This true story of an ex-terrorist reveals the life and mindset of radical Muslims. Now a US citizen, Kamal heralds a wake-up call to America.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $23.99
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Howard Books (April 7, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1416577807
ISBN-13: 978-1416577805



AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Beirut, Lebanon

1963

1
It was at my mother's kitchen table, surrounded by the smells of herbed olive oils and pomegranates, that I first learned of jihad. Every day, my brothers and I gathered around the low table for madrassa, our lessons in Islam. I always tried to sit facing east, toward the window above the long marble sink where a huge tree with sweet white berries brushed against the window panes. Made of a warm, reddish wood, our table sat in the middle of the kitchen and was surrounded by tesats, small rugs that kept us off the cool tile. Mother sat at the head of the table and read to us from the Koran and also from the hadith, which records the wisdom and instruction of Allah's prophet, Muhammad.

Mother's Koran had a hard black cover etched ornately in gold and scarlet. Her grandfather had given the Book to her father, who had given it her. Even as a small boy I knew my mother and father were devout Sunni Muslims. So devout, in fact, that other Sunnis held themselves a little straighter in our family's presence. My mother never went out without her hijab, only her coffee-colored eyes peering above the cloth that shielded her face, which no man outside our family had ever seen. My father, respected in our mosque, earned an honest living as a blacksmith. He had learned the trade from my grandfather, a slim Turk who wore a red fez, walked with a limp, and cherished thick, cinnamon-laced coffee.

Each day at madrassa, Mother pulled her treasured Koran from a soft bag made of ivory cloth and when she opened it, the breath of its frail, aging pages floated down the table. Mother would read to us about the glory of Islam, about the good Muslims, and about what the Jews did to us. As a four-year-old boy, my favorite parts were the stories of war.

I vividly remember the day in madrassa when we heard the story of a merciless bandit who went about robbing caravans and killing innocent travelers. "This bandit was an evil, evil man," Mother said, spinning the tale as she sketched pictures of swords for us to color.

An evil bandit? She had my attention.

"One day, there was a great battle between the Jews and the sons of Islam," she went on. "The bandit decided to join the fight for the cause of Allah. He charged in on a great, black horse, sweeping his heavy sword left and right, cutting down the infidel warriors."

My eyes grew wider. I held my breath so as not to miss a word.

"The bandit fought bravely for Allah, killing several of the enemy until the sword of an infidel pierced the bandit's heart. He tumbled from his horse and died on the battlefield."

Disappointment deflated my chest. What good is a story like that?

I could hear children outside, shouting and playing. A breeze from the Mediterranean shimmered in the berry tree. Mother's yaknah simmered on the stove — green beans snapped fresh, cooked with olive oil, tomato, onion, and garlic. She would serve it cool that evening with pita bread, fresh mint, and cucumbers. My stomach rumbled.

"After the bandit died," Mother was saying in her storytelling voice, "his mother had a dream. In this dream, she saw her son sitting on the shore of an endless crystal river, surrounded by a multitude of women who were feeding him and tending to him."

I turned back toward Mother. Maybe this story was not so bad after all.

"The bandit's mother was an observant woman, obedient to her husband and to Allah and Muhammad," my mother said. "This woman knew her son was a robber and a murderer. 'How dare you be sitting here in paradise?' she scolded him. 'You don't belong here. You belong in hell!' But her son answered, 'I died for the glory of Allah and when I woke up, He welcomed me into jannah.' "

Paradise.

My mother swept her eyes around the kitchen table. "So you see, my sons, even the most sinful man is able to redeem himself with one drop of an infidel's blood."

The Blood of Lambs © 2009 Arise Enterprises, LLC


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Titus: Spikes

Read Titus 3:4-7


The spike had a word on it and I tried hard to read it as the soldier drew back his mallet to pound it in. I wish I hadn't looked:

Foolishness

That’s what the spike said.

More spikes lay close by, ready for use. There were words on them, too:

disobedience
deceived

I was getting a little uncomfortable.

There were more spikes ready to be driven:

selfish pleasures
malice
envy
hate

These nails were, one by one, being driven through flesh, pinning the man to the wood.

I knew the man was Jesus and I knew the nails were mine. Those were my pegs holding him to the cross.

Why would he allow the soldiers to pierce him with the nails meant for me? I was standing free and unpierced while he took my punishment.

Why would he do that? I lived a life of foolishness and disobedience and envy and hate…. All the things written on those spikes.

We weren't saved because of our clean living. Paul reminded Titus that God saved, not because of the righteous things we've done, but because of his mercy.

We forget about mercy sometimes as we pursue moral living. There's nothing wrong with righteous living until we trust it to get us to God.

We are heirs of eternal life, not because of anything we've done. We stood on the sidelines while Jesus did the hard work and we walk in victory by his grace.

that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
Titus 3:7

Monday, April 20, 2009

What have you got to lose?

"He [Jesus] lost nothing by giving all to God."

-Humility by Andrew Murray

Friday, April 17, 2009

In Ethiopia...

Contacts for The Voice of the Martyrs report that Jamal Abdo and his wife were recently beaten and chased out of a mosque in Ethiopia, where they both worked.

Jamal and his wife accepted Christ months ago. Soon after their conversion, Jamal's friends saw him speaking with some Christians and told the leader of the mosque.

Jamal and his wife were interrogated by Muslim leaders who attempted to persuade them to recant their faith and return to Islam. When they refused they were beaten and dragged out of the mosque.

They have fled to a safe location where they are recovering.

Please pray for Jamal and his wife as they heal from their wounds and adjust to living in their new location. Pray the Lord will supply all of their needs according to his riches in glory and use them to reach people in their new community for Christ. Pray also for the salvation of the Muslim leaders.

VOM assists pastors and other Christians in Ethiopia through the Pastor Support Program and Families of Martyrs fund.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Breakthrough by Tom Doyle

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


Breakthrough: The Return of Hope to the Middle East

Authentic (February 15, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Tom Doyle pastored churches in Colorado, Texas, and New Mexico for a total of twenty years before becoming a missionary in the Middle East. His passion for Israel was fed through guiding tours there, eventually becoming a tour guide for the State of Israel. Tom also serves as the Middle East director for e3 Partners, a global church planting ministry. He is author of Two Nations Under God. He and his wife, JoAnn, have six children and two grandchildren.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $17.99
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Authentic (February 15, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1934068632
ISBN-13: 978-1934068632

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Can Anything Good Come Out of the Middle East?


The Middle East is the place where history, religion, and politics collide head-on. The lead news story of the day often emanates from this volatile region—and rightfully so, because of its instability. By watching the news on television, it would be easy to form an opinion about the people who live there. It would also be easy to form an opinion about the future of the region, and my guess is that your opinion would not be optimistic. How could it be? Is there ever any good news from the Middle East?


Yes, there is good news from the Middle East! In fact, there is great news from the Middle East! That is why this book was written. It is time for Christians to find out what is really going on in the Middle East. God is moving in this region in which Jesus was born, ministered, died, and rose again. This book will give you the news that the mainstream media won’t give you. Rather than viewing this part of the world with a sense of hopelessness, as we’re prone to do, we can celebrate the return of hope.


I’m involved in ministry throughout the Middle East. For the last ten years now I’ve heard people say, “Tom, you should write a book about all that God is doing in the Middle East.”


It’s rather ironic that I ended up ministering in this region. The story started with a trip to Israel. In 1995, professors Charlie Dyer and Doug Cecil invited me to join them on a biblical tour of the Holy Land. My initial reaction was that I was too busy, considering that our church was young and growing and I was the senior pastor. But my wife, JoAnn, convinced me that the church could survive without me for ten days. So off I went.


My life was changed. The Bible came alive, and my understanding of Scripture was transformed. Some people in our church even said that my preaching got better when I returned. (I think that’s why they were so happy for me to go back each year!)


I not only fell in love with Jesus again while in Israel, but I fell in love with the people there. Both Jews and Arabs found a place in my heart. And I was thrilled to discover that there was a vibrant, growing church in the Middle East. It was also refreshing to see Jews and Arabs who loved each other and had come together in the body of Christ. After four thousand years of strife between Isaac and Ishmael, peace between their descendants seemed too good to be true.


Of course there could be peace between them! I just had never been exposed to the Prince of Peace in action with Jews and Arabs. I didn’t even know one Jew or Arab where I lived. But isn’t that what the gospel is all about? Christ came to tear down the wall between Jew and Gentile and to bring peace to both. And I was seeing it! While leading a trip to Israel each year, my love for my Savior and the people of the Middle East grew. I didn’t realize it; but after leading a trip to Israel in 2001, my life was about to change dramatically.


Let me back up about a quarter of a century. In 1974, God called me to attend Bible college and then seminary to prepare to be a pastor. It was a dramatic experience as God clearly began to speak to me through important spiritual leaders in my life about going into ministry. Even though I resisted this for a while, God gave me great peace about serving him this way.


I loved being a pastor! How privileged I am to have served Christ in that capacity for over twenty years. I believe there are two things that pastors, as shepherds of God’s flock, are responsible to do: feed the flock and lead the flock. I was passionate about fulfilling, through the power of the Spirit of God, both of these responsibilities. For two decades I enjoyed giving maximum effort to these two assignments.


A sense of joy and excitement arrives on Sunday morning when a pastor is ready to teach the Word of God and feed the flock. But there is pressure too. Do I understand the true meaning of this passage of Scripture? Will I be able to convey God’s heart to his followers? Will my application of the biblical text bring hope to those who are hurting today?


Feeding the flock consistently is not an easy job, to say the least. I can liken preaching a sermon to having a baby. You’re excited about the birth, but you don’t know what the baby is going to look like. That’s how it is with every sermon! Preaching the Bible week in and week out is tough. Each week the pastor’s sermon is analyzed and critiqued. But more important for the preacher is answering the question, Did I faithfully bring God’s Word to his people today? Being called to teach the Bible and make it relevant to God’s people is a high honor and privilege.


Leading the flock is also an honor, though it will drain a pastor of every ounce of energy. There are highs and lows. One week you may experience the joy of performing a wedding; the next week you may be called upon to perform a funeral. Like feeding the flock, leading the flock is not an easy job. People have problems. They die. Their marriages fail. Their children walk away from God. Then the pastor is called in to help God’s followers get through the crisis. How awesome to bring God’s love and compassion to his people in time of need. Only God can heal the hurts and give his people the strength to make it through the difficult trials of life. The pastor gets to see this up close and often. This too is a privilege.


Go East, Young Man!


This was the world in which I lived. This was my calling, and I thought that I would be feeding and leading the flock for the rest of my life. But on the first Sunday in June 2001, God called again. I had just preached a sermon at my church, Tri-Lakes Chapel in Monument, Colorado; and while we were worshiping near the end of the service, God began to speak to my heart. The message was clear: This is the last sermon you will preach at Tri-Lakes Chapel.


This impression came across so clearly that I responded, Lord, is that you? Or am I imagining this? I was in a state of shock. The people sitting nearby must have thought, Is the pastor having some kind of meltdown? He’s just staring straight ahead!


I left the service shaken and immediately headed for my wife, JoAnn. JoAnn and I have been married for twenty-eight years. She is an amazing wife, mother of our six children, and now grandmother. She also has an insight into people and situations of which I am often clueless. I said, “JoAnn, the strangest thing just happened. I think God told me that we are going to leave the church. I don’t understand this, do you?”


“Yes, I do!” she replied immediately. “Over the last few months I have felt that God was beginning to release us from Tri-Lakes into another ministry field altogether. Let me ask you a question. If you weren’t a pastor, how would you want to serve God?”


I thought for a moment and then said, “I think it would be in missions.”


JoAnn then asked, “And where do you think that would be?”


That was an easy one. “In Israel and the Middle East.”


“So do I!” JoAnn replied. “Tom, I believe that God is calling us to leave local church ministry and to serve him on the frontlines in missions.”


We didn’t waste any time. The next day I went to the elders and told them what was on our hearts. Wanting to make sure this wasn’t just a whim, they graciously counseled me to take three weeks off and seek the Lord. That was great advice, and I will always thank the Lord for their godly direction. Those three weeks were pivotal in our spiritual journey. Both JoAnn and I began to sense God’s calling so strongly that it erased any doubts that we might have had previously.


Making the jump from pastor to missionary sounded like some sort of midlife crisis to some of our friends, and not all of them were as enthusiastic as we were. But God was burning into our hearts a call to go to the mission field. We lived in the Colorado Springs area, where well over a hundred ministry organizations are located. Many staff members of those organizations went to our church. With so many great ministries in existence, how were we to know which one to join? We needed direction from God—and that direction would come quickly.


A longtime friend, Curtis Hail, called and said that he was going to be in our area and wanted to drop by for a visit. Curtis had served in missions for about fifteen years, and I had been on mission trips with him to the Soviet Union and Argentina. Curtis and Nathan Sheets had just formed a new ministry called EvangeCube. Curtis stunned us when he said, “We’re looking for a Middle East director—someone who will work with pastors.”


JoAnn and I broke into laughter. “Are you serious? That is exactly what we believe God is calling us to do!” When God is in something, he sure knocks down the barriers. We have found that those barriers often are not real but only in our minds. After some concentrated prayer, we knew that God had opened the door for us at EvangeCube, which later changed its name to e3 Partners.


At the end of June, we said goodbye to our church after nine wonderful years of ministry. I was supposed to preach a farewell sermon, but in both services I broke down and began crying. I couldn’t get any words out. I felt so badly that I wasn’t able to preach one last message to these people I dearly loved. But JoAnn reminded me that God had clearly impressed on my heart on that first Sunday in June: This is the last sermon you will preach at Tri-Lakes Chapel.


My days as a pastor were now over. It was on to the mission field!


The next few months were dedicated to raising support for our new ministry. The thought of raising support was intimidating and funny at the same time. As a senior pastor, I loved missions; and missions became a major part of our church life. But I had often said, “I don’t know how our missionaries do it. I could never raise support. With six kids, that would be insane!” Ironically, that is exactly what God called us to do. And we soon found out that his ability to provide is more than we can imagine. He has been so faithful.


Middle Eastern Terrorism Goes Global


Within a couple of months, something happened that changed everything in our new ministry.


As I was driving home after dropping off our daughter at school, ABC News interrupted the radio station I was listening to with this: “An airplane has gotten off course and has just slammed into the World Trade Center.” Since I had led tours to Israel and Jordan, I was tuned into the terrorism threats that emanated continually from the region. My first thought was There are no flight patterns through Manhattan—this is a terrorist attack!


When I got home and turned on the TV, JoAnn and I saw the second plane hit the World Trade Center. America was under attack.


After the four coordinated strikes, the country was in shock. The stories of those who had lost their lives were devastating. This tragedy woke us up to the fact that we had enemies who were calling for our nation’s destruction. I remember being glued to the television and watching Fox News go live to the Gaza Strip where crowds cheered in the streets over al-Qaeda’s attack on us. As the drama unfolded over the next several days, I wondered more than a few times how we could ever go to the very places that were the hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism.


I wasn’t the only one who had questions. Here are a few of the questions we were asked after 9/11: “Won’t you be killed if you go to the Middle East?” “They hate Americans in all the Muslim countries. Can’t you go somewhere else?” “Are you sure that God didn’t say the Far East instead of the Middle East?!” “How can you even think of going there with your wife and six children?” (That last one really hurt.)


And these were the comments just from our relatives!


As the days went by, however, JoAnn and I came to the realization that this was indeed the time to be involved in missions in the Middle East. We realized that it is normal for us Americans to typecast people. “We’re the good guys and they’re the bad guys. We wear the white hats and they wear the black hats.” It would be easy to conclude from the news that all Muslims are terrorists (and watch out if you ever see them—because they probably have bombs strapped to their bodies). But the Muslims we met in Israel and in Jordan were far from that. They were just normal people. We had friends who practiced Islam, and they didn’t hate us or the West.


More important than that was the fact that people in the Middle East are created in the image of God, just like everyone else in the world. They need and deserve to be reached with the good news of Jesus Christ, who died for their sins as well as for ours. JoAnn and I weren’t naive. There was no question in our minds that Islamic fundamentalism is a threat to global security. And if we wanted to share Christ in the Middle East, of course there would be dangers. But that certainly didn’t erase the Great Commission of Matthew 28, in which Jesus commanded us as his followers to “go and make disciples of all nations.” Notice that Jesus didn’t say to “go and make disciples of the nations that like you and are relatively friendly.”


The Door Is Open


A good friend of mine in Jerusalem recently said, “As believers, we often hear people say, ‘These people are open to the claims of Christ,’ or ‘The door is wide open in this country for the gospel.’ But I don’t see that as a biblical concept. The question is: Are we open to sharing the gospel?”


I agree. After all, Jesus promised, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18). In other words, with Jesus all doors are open. He has sent the church to all nations, no matter what the current trends appear to be. I believe that we can get into any nation with the good news of Jesus Christ. And there is a new generation of Christians in the Middle East today who believe, deep in their hearts, that with Jesus all doors are open. In reality, if you don’t have that attitude, it would be easy to give up and quit.


So, in 2001 we joined a group of believers in various ministries who are passionate about sharing the life-changing message of Jesus Christ in the Middle East. I have personally seen that Muslims in the Middle East, and throughout the rest of the Muslim world, are eager to hear about Jesus.


Since I began traveling extensively in the Middle East, I have also learned that the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful and not into jihad. They just want to feed their children, send them to good schools, see them get married, and enjoy a houseful of grandchildren running around their home when they break the fast each evening during Ramadan. From Egypt to Iran, the Muslims we talk to are sick of the Islamic fundamentalism that isolates them from the world and makes them all out to be bloodthirsty killers. We must reach out and love these people with the love of Jesus.


Arthur Blessitt has carried a large wooden cross in every country of the world. That amazes me, and it also makes me proud that someone would have the nerve to do such a thing. Showing up with a cross in some places on the globe could get you killed. Arthur has been in such danger many times. I am honored to call Arthur a friend. When I am with him, he always reminds me: “Tom, just keep it about Jesus! That is our message, and it’s a simple one. Once we get off of that, we lose people.”


How true that is. As we soon found out in our ministry in the Middle East, Muslims were ready to talk about Jesus. We also found out that they weren’t all calling for the destruction of America.


I remember walking through the streets of the Gaza Strip a few months after 9/11 when a woman in an abaya approached me.


“You’re from America, aren’t you?” she asked. “I can tell by your blue eyes.”


“Yes, I am.”


She continued: “Did you see on the news the people in Gaza celebrating in the streets when the buildings collapsed in New York City?”


“I am afraid I did,” I replied sadly.


“Well, I wasn’t cheering. I was crying for all of those families who lost their loved ones. That was a tragedy, and many of the Muslim people were grieving with you.”


With that, the woman walked away. She obviously needed to get this off her mind, and I was glad to be the one to hear it. I believe that God prearranged this conversation for my sake and for the sake of the small group with me. Here was this woman reaching out to me, which would have been considered out of bounds since she was a practicing Muslim. But she did it anyway.


I thought to myself, We can work with these people! This woman’s message showed that she cared and that not all Muslims want to wipe out the West. Her heart came through, and I could see her grief as she recounted the tragedy that America had just endured.


Why Breakthrough?


I have been privileged, over the years, to minister in Israel—including the Palestinian territories in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip—Iran, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Afghanistan. Some of the books I have read recently about the Middle East were written by people who don’t spend much time there but were merely reacting to the news that they hear on television or on the Internet. But there is so much more—a story that is not being told, in my opinion. Since I work in the Middle East, I am privileged to see this story unfold time after time. The story is this: Jesus is reaching out to the people of the Middle East in a powerful way, and the people are responding in record numbers. Millions have given their lives to Jesus Christ in the last ten years1. That’s right—millions!


This story is more important than the latest suicide bombing, the latest threat of war, or the latest prophecy about Jesus’ return. Of course I believe all of those things are important; but often lost in all of that is the fact that Jesus is building his church in the Middle East and that it is filled with former Muslims.


Maybe Jesus will return in our lifetime. How humbling it is to ponder that we could be the chosen generation that welcomes his arrival. But if biblical prophecies point to that, then we, as Jesus’ church, need to be making the greatest effort to reach the world with his message. Once Jesus returns, it will be too late.


One of the most important regions of the world is the Middle East. After all, this is where the church was birthed. For centuries the church has been small and almost unnoticed. We can no longer say that, however. Jesus is not being ignored in the Middle East today. The new generation of believers who serve Christ is willing to give their lives to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to hear of Jesus’ offer of grace and forgiveness. They are willing to risk everything to make sure that new believers have a Bible and can grow in their new life in Christ. They put themselves in harm’s way daily as they start new churches in places that have had no Christian presence for centuries.


In our work in the Middle East we have met some of the most godly, loving, and committed believers we have encountered any place in the world. They are constantly watched and often persecuted. They have a special calling as they live with the understanding that today might be their last day. Yet they often state, “We pray for you believers in the West every day.”


Many of the leaders we work with were at one time terrorists. In the following chapters you will be introduced to many of them. God miraculously transformed them, and they will never be the same. Their testimonies remind us of two things:

1. No one is unreachable . . . not even a terrorist.

2. The worst place to be a believer is really the best place to be a believer.



1. Joel C. Rosenberg, Epicenter: Why the Current Rumblings in the Middle

East Will Change Your Future (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2006), 211.

Titus: before and after

Read Titus 3:1-3

Ever taken at peek at those weight-loss ads in the Sunday magazine? The ones with the full-color "after" where the person looks vigrant, healthy, and, of course, slender. The "before" photos are usually pretty dismal.

Weight-loss ads have to include the phrase "weight loss not typical" but Paul's letter to Titus didn't need that phrase, because he wrote about genuine change.

As Paul wrote this letter to Titus, he wanted the church in Crete to remember that believers are different than non-believers and their actions will be different as well.

Sometimes we forget that, too. We want to blend in, because those who act differently are often laughed at. And who wants to be laughed at?

But just like those fit and slender "after" photos draw us, so does Paul's list.

Here are Paul's description of believers. These are the "after" shots. Look at these:
  • Subject to rulers and authorities
  • Obedient
  • Ready to whatever is good
  • Slander no one
  • Peaceable
  • Considerate
  • Humble
Now look at verse 3, where he lists traits for “what we were”:
  • Foolish
  • Disobedient
  • Deceived
  • Enslaved by passions and pleasures
  • Living in malice
  • Envious
  • Hated and hating

Do you see much difference between the two lists? Believers were changed - not into moralistic puppets - but into those who love others and live by God's grace and love.

People were drawn to Jesus' love and kindness. Do we shine with that? Does our "after" snapshot look good?

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.
Titus 3:4-5




Friday, April 10, 2009

In the digital age

It felt as impossible as unscrambling an egg, this separating my culture from my Christianity. I’m on a journey to find what is mandated in the Bible and what is mandated by tradition, for the second doesn’t hold the weight for me that the first does.

That may be why I found Flickering Pixels so interesting. Author Shane Hipps explores how the technology of our culture affects how we think. And that affects how we believe.

Until the invention of the printing press in 1440, people lived in largely an oral society. Most were not literate and, within the church, were dependent on the priest to read and interpret God’s word to them.

That fostered community, for information largely came in group settings. Societies were interconnected, talking to one another, depending on others.

The printing press changed society dramatically. When Gutenberg began a new industry – that of churning out books and pamphlets and newspapers – people learned to read. This didn’t happen instantly, of course, but in the over-500 years since the printing press was invented, cultures have been radically altered.

Information could be found individually. Not longer did we need to depend on a priest to give us God’s word: we could read it for ourselves. The age of the printing press encouraged independence, logic, analytical thinking – all skills gained from reading.

Today we are moving into a digital age where the internet, cell phones, and televisions are king.

Hipps shows us how those change us. We understand how sound bytes have altered elections. We have seen how visual images have reigned in marketing and campaigns.

Where once a person had to learn to read to gain information, one need only have access to a TV or radio today. Little skill is required.

As we march forward into the digital age, how will the internet affect our culture? Hipps commented that our knowledge is becoming a mile wide and an inch deep as we can surf sites, almost overwhelmed by the easy access to ideas, opinions, information.

Hipps does not advocate withdrawing to a cave in the Egyptian mountains in an attempt to avoid the digital culture. He suggests that Christians can understand how the new technology affects us.

God is the creator and master of communication. Texting and tweeting don’t throw him off track.

Hipps’ book is a fascinating read and an important one for Christians who want to engage our evolving culture. You’re reading this on a digital outlet – a blog – so find a copy of the book and see what Hipps has to say.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Flickering Pixels




Flickering Pixels is an interesting and relevant book about how our modern technology affects our way of thinking. When offered a free copy to evaluate, I jumped at the chance to review it.

You can check out the Amazon listing for Flickering Pixels by clicking on the cover above or by going here.

Author Shane Hipps explores how technology changes the way we interact and think. For example, a society that depends on oral traditions - passing on of legends and stories verbally - is much more dependent on one another. Because information is not stored but must be preserved through memories, people gather more to tell and re-tell the information. People in that society remember well what they hear and interact verbally well with others.

Societies that store information in a written format allow members to become more independent, for the re-telling of the stories is not key to hanging onto the information. The way we process stories and other information is quite different from an oral society. It affects our thinking in many ways - from how we relate to community and how independent we become.

I'm going to discuss more specifics about the book in another post but for now want to give you a chance to explore. You can visit author Shane Hipps' website here.

Other bloggers discussing Flickering Pixels this week are listed here, in case you'd like to follow other threads of conversation.

Tomorrow I'll look more at how our modern technology affects our faith walk.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Titus: TV and Reese's

Read Titus 2:11-15


Homer loved Reese’s, Mt. Dew and Cheetos. Every afternoon, he gathered his snacks and settled in front of the TV to play Swords and Heroes.

“Homer,” his sister said, “get some fresh air. Homer, go, get some exercise!”

Homer didn’t want to get some fresh air or exercise. He wanted Reese’s and Mt. Dew and Cheetos.

He also hated the word “self-control,” which is what his dad had been talking about last weekend. As in, “Homer, you need some self-control.”

Homer didn’t want any self-control. He wanted to do what he wanted to do.

But after awhile, he seemed to catch every cold that went around. And inbetween times, he didn’t feel so good anyway. His pants didn’t fit anymore. “Well, I’m growing!” he told his mother, who scowled as they moved into the husky section of the jeans rack.

He didn’t do much at game time because he ran out of air so fast. He stood in the corner panting while the other boys were running. They were stronger than he was, anyway, and he’d rather go home and sit on the couch.

What would you tell Homer?

Homer hated self-control because he thought it was better to do what he wanted to do. But what he wanted wasn’t good for him.

That’s not news we always want to hear. We want to do what we want. It may not be candy and video games. It might be the right to lose our temper or be selfish or expect a certain gift on our birthday.

We want what we want. We want to be in charge.

But Paul’s advice to Titus was to teach the people in the church about self-control. Paul wanted the people to life self-controlled, upright and godly lives. How on earth could they do that?

By the grace of God. We sometimes think our own gritted will power will get us to self-control. It won't. We need to trust God's grace.

God’s grace is amazing, isn’t it? Our own selfish choices make us like Homer, intending to please ourselves but actually hurting ourselves. God wants better things for us.

"...we wait for the blessed hope--the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good."
Titus 2:13-14

Monday, April 6, 2009

Win a free game!

My friend Maxine is giving away a free game at her blog, The SG Notebook. There are several ways to get your name in the pot, so go on over and take a look. She also sells resources to families, especially homeschoolers. Check out her Speakable Gifts website, too!

Voice of the Martyrs

If you haven't checked out Voice of the Martyrs recently, it's worth a visit to their website. They have lots of tools to help in praying for and supporting our Christian family who face persecution in other places. They make it easy to be involved.

Here a few ideas that they offer (there are more on their website):

  • Become a member of the Be-A-Voice network so you can promote prayer for the persecuted church by printing the Be-A-Voice prayer bulletins for distribution in your Bible study group, prayer group, Sunday school class, etc.and send your friends free copies of "Tortured for Christ".
  • Write to imprisoned Christians. You can do this on your own or with a group (www.prisoneralert.com).
  • Distribute VOM newsletters to members of your church.
  • Distribute brochures offering a free VOM newsletter and resource.
  • Show a VOM DVD to a congregation, Sunday school class, or Bible study.
  • Use VOM material for a vacation Bible school.
  • Encourage your church's high school youth group to watch Underground Reality Vietnam DVD (www.UR-Video.com).
  • Suggest your church host a VOM Saturday conference (888- 330-8015 ext. 429).
  • Sponsor a church worker, either individually or through a group (www.pastorsupport.com).
  • Send Bibles to those who do not know Christ in a hostile or restricted country: you can order a Bibles Unbound DVD from www.biblesunbound.com.



Friday, April 3, 2009

"Jesus didn't come to make bad people good
but dead people alive."

-Ravi Zacharias

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Update on Weston

I've been praying for Weston Brewer and following his progress for over a year now. He was a 12-year-old boy from Myrtle Beach, SC who was accidentally shot in the head by his father. Although the family was told he wouldn't survive, he not only survived but is now going through therapy to learn to walk. Here's a video update: