Aching World. Needing the Love of the Father.

images-1At times analysts feared full-on civil war in America. Warring parties became physical after Donald Trump won the vicious US presidential election. Street scenes were reminiscent of more lawless regions and it will take wise, even gentle wisdom to begin healing a very distraught nation.

When the masses voted for England to withdraw from the European Union, they called it Brexit. The ruling Establishment was rocked and the nation is in the process of working through the changes.

Independent political leaders in Europe have been encouraged by the fall-out. They feel energized to lead a mounting charge against the more recognized major political parties. Australian politicians have also stirred their supporters with lethal language and the fruit is beginning to appear with disturbing possibilities.

Christians have a vital role to be salt and light, and play our part to reverse the trend.

Spurgeon

June 28, 1903, the great preacher C.H. Spurgeon spoke on the ministry of reconciliation. “And (he) has given to us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians chapter 5, verses 18). He described how this ministry became necessary after ‘our first parents hearkened to the serpent’s voice and believed the Devil rather than their Maker.’

In the current international climate it is very obvious the voice of the serpent continues to influence many. The role of the Christian is to stand in the gap and represent our God who is love, who is peace. Spurgeon emphasized God gave this ministry to humans. He did not address angels or heavenly beings but the Church.

How can we begin such a vital influence and help the world around us adjust? It starts with an essential fellowship across the Kingdom. Sadly we have been too often, part of the problem. When I served in the Middle East, the churches united so that we maximized our strength. We often united for prayer and outreach. The goal was not to win souls for ‘our church’ but for the Kingdom of God.

To be effective our ministry of reconciliation must be applied with the full force of the Almighty. The moment we replace Him with selfishness, or replace humility with pride, His Spirit is quenched, and our influence is merely humanistic. Church can quickly become a club rather than a spiritual force of righteousness.

Study the headlines of this year and consider what they suggest might be the terrifying possibilities in 2017. God has set us apart to make a difference, but that Kingdom difference only comes in His name.

Jerusalem

imagesWhen my wife and I lived in Jerusalem, we learned Hebrew words used by the messianic communities to identify the characteristics of God. Jehovah Rophe means ‘Jehovah heals’ or ‘Jehovah my Health’ and it is by this name, He was known when the Israelites were lost in the wilderness. The people survived by following the pillar of cloud by day and by night. The children of Israel did not stumble around aimlessly, they focused on the Lord and followed when He led the way and only then. (Exodus chapter 15, verse 22) That sense of His divine Presence is a huge blessing in itself.

Another popular Hebrew name is Jehovah Shalom. The world desperately needs His shalom. There is an old saying that best describes the unrest in the world. It says, ‘No God, no peace! Know God, know peace!” So true.

The Israelites have known some very disturbing times. One tells us ‘every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” (Judges chapter 21, verse 25) They had backslidden and rather than follow Him they were moving selfishly caught up in their flesh. There are so many voices of anger and discontent today, the verse seems very applicable.

Author Marilyn Hickey explains, “Consider the word shalom. People in Israel say, ‘Shalom! Shalom!’ I once asked why they say it twice. It is because they want you to have peace in the inner man as well as peace in the outer man.” She added, “A final meaning of shalom is so beautiful that I wont expound upon it. It simply communicates ‘peace’ in the most perfect way imaginable.” Hickey explains it is used 170 times throughout the Bible, and then reminds us: “The prophet Isaiah announced that Jesus would come as ‘the Prince of Peace’ (Isaiah chapter 9, verse 6).

The most powerful outreach is not achieved by church professionals but more often by ordinary every day believers. I often found myself in animated conversations about my faith at my local golf club. The discussion often turned to be about a real estate agent and a store owner both members of our church. Their names came up when so many of my conversationalists referred to those men and shared how impressed they were with them in business. Their witness was profound and effective.

Years ago I was in a Youth With a Mission team working among Vietnamese refugees in a camp in Hong Kong. Our first request to serve there was denied by the supervisor. He eventually relented but warned us not to evangelize. Instead he assigned us, to restore a blocked and overflowing toilet system. When that unpalatable task was completed we turned up and asked for our next assignment. The Supervisor said he was stunned and did not believe we would be back but he then gave us permission to conduct evangelistic services and support programmes.

I will never forget the first refugee who came over to me and asked, “Why do you do this?” Our world is in desperate need of God, the Father. Jesus died for the lost and commissioned us to reach out to them. Have a joyous and blessed New Year and remember to share the joy.

 

 

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Faith Triumphs

Believers were first called Christians in Antioch, Turkey (Acts Chapter 11, verse 26). It was the appropriate place. Antioch was the homebase for missionary journeys by Paul. Theologians believe Antioch was where the Gospel of Matthew was written. It was home for the martyred Bishop Ignatius, the eloquent preacher John Chrysostom and among the teachers and prophets in the Antioch church were Simeon and Barnabas. That’s a rich pedigree.

images-5Turkey is a key geographic location for ancient Christianity but the faith is under growing pressure. Turkey shows signs of imposing more and more restrictions on the church. The seven churches addressed by John in the Book of Revelation were all located in Turkey. They provide an insight for us as we discern the trends today. Turkey is a member of NATO, once keen to be accepted into the EU. (I’m not sure that looks very inviting now). There is no love lost between Turkey and Egypt. Their differences went to press recently. The Egyptian newspaper Alyoum Alsabee likened Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Adolf Hitler. They forecast Turkey will be plunged into civil war as Erdogan seeks to consolidate his position and his power. Certainly, in January, Turkish media reported Erdogan offered as an ideal presidential system, Germany under Hitler.

Although government press releases tried to distance Erdogan from the Third Reich, his ambitions seem obvious. Simon Tisdall writing for the Guardian said: “Erdoğan, the founding leader of the neo-Islamist Justice and Development party (AKP), has ruled Turkey in increasingly authoritarian fashion since becoming prime minister in 2003. Barred under party rules from seeking a fourth term, he switched to the presidency last August and has been manoeuvring to increase his executive powers ever since.” (Erdogan Plan for Super-Presidency puts Turkey’s democracy at Stake, Simon Tisdall, the Guardian, March 25, 2016)

After the military coup the Erdogan regime rounded up an estimated 60,000 said to be part of the failed attempt. Among the 60,000 are judges, soldiers, police, civil servants and teachers. Turkey today exists under a militant state of emergency.

Persecution

images-6In this tense situation attacks against Christians have escalated to alarming levels “Shouting “Allahu akbar” (Allah is the greatest), a group of Islamists in Malatya stoned a Protestant church, breaking the buildings windows. Another group in Trabzon similarly attacked the Santa Maria church, breaking windows and using hammers to try to break down the door” William Reed reported for the Clarion Project. (www.clarionproject.org)

Attacks on Christians have been brutal. In 2006 a priest was murdered while kneeling in prayer in his church. The following year Christians working for a publishing house had their feet and hands tied and their throats cut by five Muslim assailants.

Last April, six churches in Diyarbakir, were seized by the government. Officials said this was for their own protection.

“But to the dismay of the city’s handful of Christian congregations,” notes a World Watch Monitor report, “this includes all its Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant churches. Unlike the state-funded mosques, Turkey’s ancient church buildings – some of which pre-date Islam – have been managed, historically, by church foundations. The new decision has effectively made the Diyarbakir churches – one 1,700 years old, another built only in 2003 – state property of Turkey, an Islamic country of 75 million.”

Uzay Bulut, is a Turkish journalist based in Ankara. Her work focuses on anti-Semitism and ethnic and religious minorities in Turkey. Last April she reported on a large mosque financed by Turkey in Maryland, USA, while ‘Christians in Turkey are waiting for the day Turkish state authorities allow them to freely build or use their churches and safely pray inside them.’

“In Turkey, some churches have been converted to stables or used as storehouses. Others have been completely destroyed. Sales of churches on the internet are a common practice,” she wrote (Turkey Builds Mega-Mosque in U.S., Blocks Churches in Turkey – Uzay Bulut, Gladstone Institute. April 18, 2016)

“Sadly, Turkey, a NATO member since 1952 and reportedly a candidate for membership in the European Union, has largely succeeded in destroying the entire Christian cultural heritage of Asia Minor.” Bulut wrote.

Smyrna

 “Some citizens put their cows and horses inside the church, while the inhabitants of the neighborhood complain that the church has been turned into a site of drug addicts and alcoholics,” reported the newspaper Milliyet. The church mentioned here was located in the Izmir province, home of ancient Smyrna. The Apostle John wrote to Smyrna prophetically, “This message is from Him who is the First and the Last, who died and came back to life….I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) ….Do not fear what you are about to suffer….Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation chapter 2, verses 8-10)

Those words from so long ago ring with relevance today. The name Smyrna means myrrh or bitterness.

The seven churches are Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. Each letter was addressed to a specific church for the benefit of real people who faced daily, persistent challenges. The advice these letters convey speaks powerfully to all believers.

John is told to reveal his revelation. “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near.” (Revelation chapter 22, verse 10)

The evidence from Turkey speaks volumes. Church buildings lay in ruins. Most are ancient sites for future research. But the message preached by Paul, Barnabas, Simeon and their peers is alive and winning hearts and souls beyond borders and boundaries.

The theme throughout the letters is clear. Judgment is real. The cares of this life and the world we live in may try with menace and manipulation to drown out the truths of faith. It is imperative we see beyond the deception and focus on the reality of the real living freedom and power.

The world system may swamp our symbols and centres of faith but it cannot conquer a heart which is with the Lord, no matter what!

 

Ron Ross is a Middle East consultant for United Christian Broadcasters (Vision FM). Previously he was radio news editor for Bridges for Peace in Jerusalem, Israel.

His career started at WINTV (Email: ronandyvonne@mac.com)

Ron Ross previous articles may be viewed at

http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/ron-ross.html