An Eerie, Unacceptable Silence

 

When I read the Gospels for the first time, the repetition confused me. Why revisit the same story four times? Yet it was in and through that repetition that I fell deeply in love with Jesus.

The Gospels invited me in, encouraging me to ask questions of God, to write myself into his story. They demanded an honesty and openness, with God and myself, unlike any I had experienced.

I even questioned the Creator himself. How could he do it? What kind of Father lets his Son be tortured, humiliated, and crucified? Perhaps what troubled me most was when the Son cried out to his Father, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). And what reply does the Son receive from his Father God? Nothing.

The Acceptable Silence

Bible scholars sometimes explain this “silence from heaven” as the Father’s necessary reaction to the Son who had actually become sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). The spotless Lamb of God had become sin for those who betrayed and crucified him. He had become sin for you . . . for me.

This painful silence may also point to the Father’s unspeakable pain at the suffering of his Beloved. In either case, it is a silence I can understand and accept.

There is a second kind of silence, however, that I cannot accept.

The Church the West Doesn’t Know

For more than two decades, my wife and I have embraced a pilgrimage that has brought us face to face with many of the most severely persecuted Christians of our time. This phase of our ministry began in Somalia, on the east coast of central Africa, a nation that has been shredded by an ongoing civil war that began in 1991. Watching the nation devour itself has been bad enough; witnessing the persecution of Somali followers of Jesus has been unbearable.

The statistics still shock me. When we arrived in Somalia in the 1990s, we learned of approximately 150 followers of Jesus from Muslim backgrounds. When we were forced from that country some eight years later, only four believers were left alive.

Four.

My honesty with the God of the Bible haunted me. What does one do when all seems to be crucifixion, and nothing resembles resurrection? In the face of a death rate among Somali believers higher than 97 percent, I could neither say nor pray among the Somali people that “he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

The questions in my heart demanded expression. Is Jesus still trustworthy? Is he still Lord for the really tough places of the world, the modern-day Roman Empires defined by severe persecution? Or is Jesus limited to the dressed-up, building-oriented, literate, theologically intolerant, and denominationally defined Western church?

My wife and I went on to spend many more years among believers in persecution, most of them gathered in house churches, behind the scenes, under the radar. We visited more than 72 countries and sat at the feet of more than 600 followers of Jesus who had lived — who do live — in settings of persecution, whether from communism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, or something else.

These modern-day giants of the Christian faith mentored us, taught us, and showed us the power of Jesus. They were men and women, young and old, literate and non-literate, rural and urban. Their names are rarely known outside their immediate communities. They don’t blog or tweet or post on Facebook. But they did teach my wife and me how to follow Jesus and make him known in environments of persecution. And because we begged them to, they showed us, not merely how to survive in seasons of extreme suffering, but how to thrive.

At a time when our world had been defined far too long by crucifixion, they showed us resurrection.

In the former Soviet Union, we interviewed two deacons who had been imprisoned for three years in a Siberian labor camp. They told us that one day some 240 pastors were brought into the camp, men who had refused to deny their faith.

These pastors were given the truly impossible job of plowing the frozen tundra outside the camp, using only sticks and broken tools. Each evening, as punishment for another day of inevitable failure, they were stripped to their underwear and doused with buckets of cold water. Within three months all had died of various diseases, each remaining “faithful unto death” (Revelation 2:10).

This is not ancient history. This story, and a hundred more like it, have happened within my lifetime. Some are happening right now. Today.

Persecution Is for Losers

Approximately seventy percent of Christians who are practicing their faith live in environments of persecution. In the West, most believers find it shocking — even unbelievable — that followers of Jesus should face real persecution at all, anywhere. In stark contrast, more than 90% of Christians in the West will never share the good news of Jesus with another person. Not. Even. Once.

Somehow the “gospel” we love has become so associated with health, wealth, and happiness that it leaves no room for persecution, at least, not for those whom God truly loves. If we think about persecution at all, we think its absence from our own lives is a sign of our special standing with God. No wonder we pray so little for our persecuted brothers and sisters. No wonder they hardly even cross our minds.

Rarely do sermons inform or inspire us about the suffering church. Seldom is a seminary course meant to prepare its students for suffering and persecution. We pray more for our military than we do for the suffering church. Even though Jesus said that he was sending us out as “sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matthew 10:16), most people in seminary or Bible school are trained for domestic ministry, staying as sheep among the sheep.

All the while, elsewhere on the planet, believing brothers and sisters, living daily in contexts of suffering and persecution, display the unquenchable power of the resurrection. And as a result their children are taken from them. They are beaten. They are imprisoned. They are martyred.

This silence from the West is one I can neither understand nor accept.

Unacceptably Quiet

What does our silence do? It increases the suffering of believers in persecution. It breaks God’s heart. It demonstrates that we have forgotten our eternal family members who live daily with persecution.

What it may mean is that we simply don’t care.

My wife expresses the heart of the matter when she explains, “There is no such thing as a persecuted church and a free church. There is only the church! There is one church — one church that is at the same time free and persecuted.” Hebrews 13:3 beautifully captures our calling in light of this reality: “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body” — or, as the NIV puts it, “as if you yourselves were suffering.”

No nation and no form of government lasts forever. When persecution comes for us, will we be content to have others pray for us, carrying us, to the same extent that we pray for and carry our suffering brothers and sisters today?

There are times to be silent. But this is not one of them.

This is a time to tell the truth, to remember, to recite the stories.

This is a time to speak of God, to share the gospel, to sing the promises of God.

This is a time to pray, to cry out to God on behalf of our brothers and sisters, to count on the Spirit to intercede for us — and for them — when our words are not enough.

This is the time to be the church — one church, at the same time free and persecuted.

Indeed, there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven. Truly, there is a time to be silent and a time to speak.

This moment — the moment that belongs to us today — this is a time to speak.

 

2016 Copyright by Nik Ripken.  Article first appeared at desiringGod.org

Worthless Penny, Priceless Worship

 

A Story from the African Church

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”Luke 21:1–4

Missionaries are not immune to pity parties, and I was having a big one.

It was so hot where we lived in South Africa that before bed, we would moisten our sheets, take a shower, and jump into bed a little wet so that we could be cool for a few hours. The dust was so prevalent that it could find its way into a sealed jar! We cooked our food outside so as not to make the house even more unbearable.

We had a generator in a nearby building to pump water up into our storage tank and to have electricity for a few hours in the mornings and evenings. We had to drive hours through the mountains from our small town to a city where we could buy groceries and eat out in one of the city’s two restaurants.

We were such an oddity that people would walk from outlying villages into our small town just to see the white people. For the first fourteen months, we had people constantly in our house sharing both lunch and evening meals. We had a 1960s telephone that we had to crank the handle in order to “book” any calls we wanted to make through the local post office. Those who booked the calls became very fond of my wife’s sandwiches, cookies, and other treats.

We were weary, hot, sleep-deprived, tired of company, out of groceries, and daily I was complaining to God about all that we had to sacrifice in order to take the gospel to this particular end of the earth. Our boys thought we were on a great adventure, but I tired of this relentless camp-out and could easily list what we had given up to serve in this place. I envied my wife’s smile as she greeted the endless stream of guests in our home and around our table.

Thankfully our next weekend of ministry was a six-hour trip into the mountains bordering South Africa and Lesotho. A home had been arranged to host us. Beds had been borrowed so that we would not have to sleep on the floor, and we were looking forward to the higher elevation with mild days and cool nights.

Small Gift, Large Amount

Typical Christian worship in these small, rural churches was at least a four-hour affair. They were so thrilled to meet us, especially our boys. Our three sons had their white skin pinched and their blonde hair rubbed repeatedly by village children. I sometimes envied our sons their freedom to run through the village with other kids as we sat for hours as honored guests in every church or home we visited.

After hours of worship one day, I was happy to announce that our mission board back home in the States had granted the churches of our host country $10,000 to provide Bibles, train leaders, and start Bible studies in homes. Our sponsoring churches would not feel the loss of this amount of money, and perhaps that contributed to my slightly cavalier presentation.

But I have no excuse. I should have known better. We knew that most of our audience made only one dollar per day — if they had a paying job. For them, $10,000 was a staggering amount of money. And in the context of apartheid, this sum was overshadowed by the fact that white Christians cared enough to give black Christians a significant gift. Given this context, $10,000 seemed like a massively sacrificial gift. Because I had placed my cultural awareness in neutral, I was not prepared for what happened following my almost throwaway announcement.

A spontaneous offering broke out — and it lasted over three hours.

The whole church began to clap and sing, with the women making a trilling sound with their tongues (called “ululation”) that I have been unable to emulate for 32 years. They began to dance in groups of four to six. With mesmerizing grace, they would dance toward the handmade altar-table at the front of the church. They would sway together in rhythm, two steps forward and one step back, slowly making their way toward the front. Moving in harmony before the offering table, hiding money in their hands, they would mimic placing their money on the table and pull it away until, at a moment known only to them, they’d slap their money on the table. It was worship at its best. There was a joy of giving that was immeasurable.

Kids began to beg money from adults. They would take whatever change they received, run to the tiny store next door, and exchange their money for even smaller coins, so that they could dance to the altar with their coins multiple times.

Worthless Gift, Inestimable Value

Caught up in the exuberance of the moment, I noticed an old woman sitting by herself, seemingly unaffected by the joy of giving that surrounded her. After nearly two hours of spontaneous offering, this woman finally stood up and started making her way to the front of the church. She was aged, with wrinkled flesh, arthritic fingers, and a look of deep concern and determination on her face. She was too crippled to dance and too focused to sing.

As she limped toward the altar, she reached into the front of her blouse and took out a knotted handkerchief. With crooked fingers and teeth, she slowly unknotted her handkerchief to reveal a small coin. When she reached the altar-table, she slowly laid her coin on the rough wood. She stood by herself for a moment and seemed to caress the coin before slowly walking back to her bench.

After hours of spontaneous offering, I went up to the front of the church with one of the leaders. I picked up the coin she had given. I had never seen such a copper coin in the seven years we’d lived in South Africa. I gave it to the leader, telling him who had given it, and asked him if he knew what it was. He stared at me before taking the coin and walking back where the old woman was still sitting. After about ten minutes, he returned with her story.

All to Jesus

What she had given was a British halfpenny. It was her life’s savings and retirement fund. It was all that she had. What she did not know was that this coin was taken out of circulation in 1967. It had no value. It could buy nothing. Knotted in a handkerchief, stored in the front of her blouse, this coin had measured her hope for the future.

Still she gave it all to Jesus.

With the leaders’ blessing, I took that halfpenny, after placing a significant offering in her honor on that scarred table, and I’ve kept that coin for almost thirty years as a reminder. After hearing her story, we wanted so much to empty our pockets to help this old lady for her retirement. The local leader asked us to leave her alone. “Don’t you cheat her out of giving everything she has to Jesus. Don’t cheapen her sacrifice. She belongs to us and we will care for her. We will tell her story of sacrifice, and it will live for generations in this village.”

Ten thousand dollars was a generous gift from believers in America. Yet a worthless, British halfpenny taught me about sacrifice and giving all to Jesus, trusting him for the days to come. I can still see that old woman in my mind’s eye today. I recall the way she limped, and the difficulty she had unknotting her handkerchief. I remember the shock I felt after learning about her sacrifice — and her trust in God for all tomorrow would hold.

I’ve often heard “You can’t out-give God.” I’m not even going to try. I can’t out-give that old woman in the mountains of South Africa and Lesotho.

2016 Copyright by Nik Ripken.  Article first appeared at desiringGod.org

What’s Wrong with Western Missionaries?

 

Their words almost knocked me over. They hit me like a horse hoof to the gut.

When I was a young boy, I helped my father train quarter horses. And we always felt the danger of being the recipient of a wayward hoof. One day, not paying close attention, I was kicked, leaving a well-defined hoof print in the center of my stomach. Every ounce of breath left my body.

Decades later, challenging words delivered by believers from an Islamic background left me just as breathless.

Listening to Persecuted Believers

This event took place after we had visited over 45 countries, interviewing believers in persecution from backgrounds including communism, atheism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. We were learning from believers in persecution how to make Christ known and how to give birth to house churches that then would reproduce on their own.

After experiencing the devastation of Somalia, broken over the martyrdom of over 90% of Somali believers, our learning curve was acute. Believers in persecution were generous with their wisdom; they instinctively understood that investing in us gave deeper meaning to their own suffering.

Now we were returning to the world of Islam. It was in the world of Islam where most of the believers we knew and loved were killed. It was in the world of Islam where our middle son died on Easter Sunday morning of an asthma attack. Islamic environments at that time felt like the graveyard of faith.

Islamic Persecution Is Unique

We had already learned how important it was to listen. So we set aside time to listen to the believing culture inside a Muslim country, in rural and urban locations, among both young and old, both men and women, and those literate as well as oral communicators. They told us how they had heard of Jesus and his Bible for the first time. We were startled to discover that their experience was quite different from the experiences of most of the rest of the believing world.

In our earlier travels, we had learned that much persecution originates within governments and institutions of power. In the U.S.S.R. and China persecution was institutionalized. Persecutors were typically somewhere “out there,” and they employed means to find, punish, incarcerate, and kill believers.

In the world of Islam, we discovered that persecutors are typically not “out there,” but “in here.” In Islam, the persecutor often eats at your breakfast table, watches movies with you, and sleeps in your bedroom.

In earlier interviews, we had been told of parents and grandparents who would hide a believing son or daughter from the government. Within Islamic settings, however, it was the parents and grandparents who would often have incarcerated, banished, or even killed their own believing children and grandchildren.

What Makes a Good Missionary?

As we talked with persecuted believers, we discovered that they often wanted to talk not just about their own persecution, but also about us, workers from the West. As darkness settled in, after a full day of stories and interviews, I asked these believers about Western missionaries.

“What do we do well? What things do we not do well? What should we start doing? What should we stop doing? What should we pick up? What should we lay down? What makes a good missionary?”

These believers looked at each other in horror. For hours, they had related their most personal stories.

They had shared accounts of rejection by parents and siblings. They had unpacked events where they had been shamed and beaten. They had told of other believers who were forced to marry nonbelievers. They had even recalled brothers and sisters who had been brutalized before being killed for their faith. They had not held back the most intimate stories surrounding their families, faith, and persecution.

But when I ask this final question about Western missionaries, they froze.

I pushed harder. I sincerely needed to hear what they would say.

Finally, with great hesitation, one of the believers looked at me and said, “I don’t know what makes a good missionary, but I can tell you the name of the man we love.”

When he told me that man’s name, I asked him the next obvious question, “Why do you love him?”

They said, “We don’t know. We just love him.”

The Man They All Loved

I journeyed to five different places in that country. For ten long days, I interviewed believers. Each time, as I reached the end of the interview, I asked the same question: “What makes a good missionary?”

The response was identical each time: “We don’t know what makes a good missionary, but we can tell you the name of the man we love.”

Amazingly, I heard the same name in every place!

When I asked why they loved him, the answer was always the same: “We don’t know. We just love him.”

At this point, I began to feel jealous. I wondered why people hadn’t loved me this much. I found myself developing a grudge against a man I didn’t even know!

The final interview in that country ended in the same way. After another long day of interviews I asked again, “What makes a good worker from the West? What makes a good missionary?”

While I silently prayed not to hear the same answer, they said to me, “We don’t know what makes a good missionary, but we can tell you the man we love.” By now, the next sentence was predictable and expected; they mentioned that same name that I had heard over and over again.

The Missing Ingredient in Missions

By this point, I was so frustrated that I told them firmly that I was not going to leave until they told me why this worker from the West was such a wonderful man. I insisted on an answer.

Finally, one of the men leaned across the table toward me and said forcefully, “You want to know why we love him? We love him because he borrows money from us!”

I was stunned. I thought to myself, Well, I can do that, if that’s what it takes to be loved by believers in persecution.

His statement, however, hinted at something much deeper, and I pleaded with him to explain. What I heard felt like that horse-kick to the stomach. The words knocked the breath out of my body.

The man said, “When this missionary’s father died, he came to us and asked for our help. We didn’t have much, but we gathered an offering of love. We bought him a plane ticket so that he could go home to America and bury his father. This man and his family give everything they have to the poor. They struggle to pay rent and school fees, and put meat on the table. And when he has a great need, what does he do? He doesn’t go to the other Westerners for money. He comes to us. He comes to the scattered and the poor, he comes to local believers, and he asks for, and gets, our help.”

“Do you want to know why we love him? He needs us. The rest of you have never needed us.”

We Need to Need the People We Serve

I was tearfully overwhelmed. And I confessed the arrogance of Western missionaries — and my own arrogance. So much of what we do is about us and about what we can provide. We travel around the world to meet needs, not to be honest about our own, nor to become part of their body of Christ. We are the “haves,” and they are the “have-nots.”

Though our motives are not always suspect, we generally come and tell other people to “sit down and listen” while we stand and speak. We are aggressive, and we expect local people to remain passive. We bring the gospel, Bibles, and hymnbooks. We provide baptisms, discipleship, and places to meet. We choose the leaders. We care for orphans, build orphanages, rescue the broken, and care for the crippled.

And those are all wonderful things.

But here’s the challenge: What’s left for local people to do? What’s left for the Holy Spirit to provide? Where do we model how to trust God and his provision through the local body of believers? Where do local believers find their worth, their sanctified sense of signficance? What gifts and sacrifice can they bring to this enterprise of taking the gospel to the ends of the earth?

Rarely did the apostle Paul create dependency upon himself. Often in his letters, Paul expressed how desperately he needed his brothers and sisters in Christ. He called those friends by name years later. He never forgot them. When possible, he returned to be with them. When he could not go, he sent them someone else. And he faithfully wrote to them, expressing his love, encouragement, and correction. In a word, he needed them.

If I Were to Start Over

If I were to start my missionary life over, I would bury my pride and unpack some humility. I would become a brother, a friend, and a peer. I would care more about the names of my brothers and sisters on the “mission field” and less about the numbers of baptisms, people discipled, churches planted, and orphanages built.

I would take to heart the lesson of John the Baptist, saying about a local believer what John said about Jesus: I must decrease so that he can increase (John 3:30). I would invite local believers to lead in the light while I served in the shadows. I would have pressed into what it meant to really need them.

During most of my ministry in Africa, I felt that I was the apostle Paul. I now know that I often need to be a Timothy.

For those of us in the West, this image should seize our hearts: Jesus taking the cloth from around his waist and washing the feet of the disciples, saying, “The last will be first, and the first last” (Matthew 20:16).

2016 Copyright by Nik Ripken.  Article first appeared at desiringGod.org

Should We Help Believers Escape Persecution?

 

Let’s rewrite the biblical story found in Genesis 39–41. Let’s make it more Western. Let’s make the story fit the way most of us think about the church and the mission field.

Imagine getting this newsletter from one of your overseas workers. The newsletter says this:

Our brother, whom we love, has been arrested in Egypt and is in prison. Family whom he loved and trusted sold him into slavery and betrayed him to the authorities. We know that he has remained faithful to God, and has refused to pay bribes that would help him escape from prison. Because of his faith, he has been transferred to the dreaded central prison with the rest of the nation’s worst enemies.

How would we respond as the church? What actions would we take? Typically, the Western church would rush in to rescue Joseph. It’s a good impulse.

  • We would write and forward emails.
  • We would flood social media with appeals.
  • We would contact our political representatives.
  • We would highlight Joseph’s plight on radio and television.

The goal of our activity would be the release of Joseph from his unjust imprisonment. And we would feel justified in almost any action — perhaps even military intervention — to have Joseph set free.

The High Cost of Extraction

And maybe Joseph would be released. Followers and friends of Jesus would rejoice! We would thank God that our Joseph has been saved from prison. And we would even be satisfied that one of the conditions of his release would include Joseph’s relocation to another country where he would be safe because he’s no longer a thorn in the nation’s side.

Imagine then, years later, that a great famine hits Egypt and the surrounding countries. Because of his rescue, Joseph is not in prison when Pharaoh has strange dreams. Joseph is not there to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams concerning seven years of plenty followed by seven years of terrible drought. As a result of Joseph’s absence, Egypt squanders the food harvested in the seven good years. As a result of Joseph’s absence, Egypt is completely unprepared for seven years of famine.

The famine is so devastating, in fact, that Egypt does not survive.

And because Egypt does not survive . . . the Jews in Egypt do not survive, either.

And that is the end of the story.

A Better Plan for Freedom

Of course, the real story ends differently. Evidently, God knows when to leave Joseph in prison. God has a larger agenda in mind. God knows exactly what is necessary for the salvation of both Egyptians and Jews.

Do we?

Do our churches, our sending agencies, and our organizations that study persecution know when to leave Joseph in Egypt? Despite our affection for Joseph, do we understand that ultimately Joseph belongs to God, and that God can do with him whatever he desires? Is it possible for us to become emotionally, psychologically, physically, and spiritually strong enough to know when to leave “our Joseph” with God in a seemingly dangerous place?

Advance or Extract?

Believers in persecution had much to teach my wife and me as we traveled among them for more than fifteen years. We listened to their stories. We learned that when Western workers become personally and emotionally connected to believers in persecution, extraction of these believers often becomes the main objective. In almost every case, we are desperate to get Joseph out of the hostile place, and away from persecution.

The apparent explanation for this is more than anecdotal, and less than statistical. It appears that Western workers who become emotionally attached to believers in persecution will attempt to extract about fifty percent of those believers to a safe country. This observation seems to apply to situations of persecution all around the world. In the Islamic world, the frequency of extraction seems even higher, approaching seventy percent. Imagine trying to start a church, even in the Bible Belt of America, if seventy percent of the believers were pulled out and taken to another country.

For God, conquering through persecution, rather than extracting from persecution, is the norm. The Western church typically takes the opposite approach. For us, extraction is the norm. Rescuing believers from persecution feels good. Significant funds can be raised to extract a family from persecution and resettle them in a safe country.

But if we gave as much energy and attention to spreading the gospel in hostile places as we have to extracting persecuted believers from them, the Great Commission may have already been finished by now.

The End of Extraction

Why is our view so different than God’s view? Here are some possible answers to that question:

  1. We don’t want fellow believers to suffer for Jesus in ways we are unwilling to or can’t relate to.
  2. We can’t imagine that prolonged suffering might be part of God’s plan.
  3. We do not truly believe that Jesus is worth suffering for.

And because those truths drive our actions and attitudes, we replace a biblical theology of suffering with something less challenging. As a result,

  1. We demand that persecution of followers of Jesus stop.
  2. We demand that those persecuting followers of Jesus be punished.
  3. We strive to install Western forms of democracy, human rights, and civil rights in foreign lands, believing these will usher in the kingdom of God. (Though, much to our surprise, there is no historical correlation between these Western forms and the kingdom of God!)
  4. We make emotional appeals to raise huge sums of money to rescue more believers from persecution.

What is outcome of all of our seemingly good efforts? Critical masses of believers are removed from the environments where God has planted them.

In some places, the birth of the church is halted; in other places, the multiplication of the body of Christ is hindered. New followers of Jesus (perhaps people from Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or Communist backgrounds) come to believe that living in a safe, Christian country is necessary in order to live for Christ.

After long days of interviewing, we often asked followers of Jesus in persecution what they learned from Western workers. They typically looked at one another and refused to respond.

When we pressed them for an answer, they would reply, “Western workers teach us to be afraid. Western workers teach us that it’s possible to follow Jesus only in safe places.”

This is not simply a mistake. This is sin.

Not My Will, but Yours, Be Done

Before Jesus was betrayed, he prayed a prayer made up of two parts (Matthew 26:39). First, he asked his Father for the cup to pass. He prayed for the suffering to be relieved. He asked if there was a way to avoid the crucifixion. He wanted to avoid the pain and public humiliation. But then, he prayed something else. He asked that the will of the Father take precedent over his desire to avoid suffering.

Following Jesus’s example, we must pray both parts of his prayer. It’s only natural to pray for suffering to be avoided — for ourselves or for others. But it is then essential to pray that God’s will to be done, whatever the cost to us.

It seems to be our highest aim to avoid crucifixion — for ourselves and for others. We cannot imagine that God would choose to use our suffering for his purposes. It makes no sense to leave Joseph in harm’s way.

But God’s ways are not our ways. Crucifixion, suffering, imprisonment, and persecution open doors for resurrection and for gospel advancement. Those terrible things make salvation possible.

Let’s trust God with Joseph — and with our own suffering. And in our trust, let’s watch and see what God will do.

 

2016 Copyright by Nik Ripken.  Article first appeared at desiringGod.org

Fox News & CNN

We have witnessed many painful things through the last 30 years overseas.  These include famine, civil war, demonic possession, alongside internationally ingrained racism that defies imagination.

Yet it could that $10,000 has caused the most pain?

But is not about money.  It is about who sets the agenda for God’s people. Those early years in Somalia were horrific as we buried scores of children, witnessed an abuse of women which became the norm, and encountered an environment that was potentially worse when we left than when we arrived. As our ministry grew in Somalia, believers from all over the world responded spontaneously to the need. Sometimes as much as $10,000 a month was given to this ministry from unexpected places around the globe. Such sacrifice became the norm.

Then Black Hawk went down.

Our team was not very far away from that tragic event. Many young American Rangers lost their lives. Possibly more than 700 Somalis were killed. It was a horrible time. In such an environment, episodes as these were not unexpected, though this particular event broke our hearts and had unforeseen consequences. Immediately after “Black Hawk Down,” gifts to our ministry from believers and churches around the world went from $10,000 a month to $100. I was shocked, confused, and then hurt. For the first time in my life I understood clearly who sets the agenda for the church, for the bride of Jesus Christ. Perhaps I was naïve, as I believed that the church received her marching orders from the Bible and the Holy Spirit.

The truth was, and is, who sets the agenda for the church in the West is most often Fox News and CNN.

Believe you me I am not picking a fight! Well, maybe I am, but I want to pick the right fight. Can we pause a moment and ask ourselves, who sets the agenda for the people of God? Where do you get your information? What sources influence the decisions made by the church, where it goes and what it does? Please hear my heart as I speak through tears and hurt. Seldom do we as a church spend a great deal of time in prayer and Bible study before deciding where to go and what to do in regard to ministry. Is the church, across denominational lines, gathering together, informing one another, breaking bread together, reading our Bibles, and then deciding where the Holy Spirit would have us go both across the street and across the globe?

Or are we turning on the television, tuning in Fox News or CNN and then rushing to the famine of the week, involving ourselves in stopping human trafficking, or being inundated by the next civil war with the ensuing images of yet more women and children at risk? From where does the church get her agenda?

It’s not about the $10,000. It’s about the need for the people of God kneeling before the throne of God seeking the will of God that haunts me.

It’s About Jesus

Many followers of Jesus are unaware of one of the lesser-known benefits concerning persecution. Persecution is a reflection of a great harvest. One of the fastest ways to discover where an unexpected harvest is taking place globally is to watch and listen for persecution. One of the principles of persecution is that often the bad guys know when God is up to something long before the church is even aware. This is a sad fact. Often the church, especially the church in the West, is not expecting God to do the unexpected; so we are unaware when God shows up in an outside of the formal church manner. Satan is so fearful of any unusual activity of the Holy Spirit that he is always on his guard; ready to hinder and harm any unusual activity of God.

Satan is fearfully watching for the activity of God; more so than the church.

Many believers in the West, especially pastors, say to me that persecution is coming to America. When I ask them to elaborate on their statements, they talk about their stances on abortion and homosexuality in an ever-increasing liberal governmental and cultural environment as evidence to a growing hostility toward Christianity. Is this what the church in the West wants to be known for? Is it our social stances that define us? Are our conservative social stances concerning homosexuality and abortion defining for who is a follower of Jesus? Is there not a fatal flaw in such an interpretation?

Conservative Christianity’s stance in opposition to homosexuality and abortion is the same stance you would find in Saudi Arabia.

One must stand firm in regard to social issues in an ever-increasing non-biblical environment. Yet we cannot be defined by social stances that are in harmony with some of the most conservative Islamic countries on the planet. Believers in persecution can avoid being persecuted if they simply leave two things alone. If they will leave Jesus alone and witness alone they can avoid persecution. But they refuse. They insist on picking up Jesus as their Lord and Savior and they refuse to keep Him to themselves. Let’s be honest; in much of the world if one simply accepts Jesus as their ” Lord and Savior,” keeping Him privately to yourself, then you can die at an old age in your sleep. If one refuses to pick up and witness then they can live in relative safety as a Christian in places as hostile as Saudi Arabia and North Korea.

Where there is a great harvest there is great persecution. And you can flip that around; where there is little harvest, little witness, there is little persecution.

Social stances are a lot safer. Social stances can increase your audience both politically and religiously. Social stances are important. Yet social stances do not make one a follower of Jesus; just ask a follower of Islam in Saudi Arabia.

What should define us? It’s two things. We have decided to follow Jesus and we have, secondly, determined that we will never keep Him to ourselves.

Is God Insane?

The title of our first book, The Insanity of God, has caused trouble for itself. Many people, especially those of us of a more mature age, feel that the title implies that God Himself is insane. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many who have been concerned about the title have implied that it was chosen purely for marketing purposes. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The longer that one is, generationally, within Christianity the more they cease to look at the kingdom of God from a point of view of one who is outside of that kingdom. To those, when one talks about a God who would give his only Son to die on a cross, this would be the act of someone who is insane. What God would do such a thing? When we are asked about where we have gone and what we have done the last 30 years, talking about being salt and light in places like Somalia the stares and comments we receive question our sanity. We have been told that we are crazy.

The title, The Insanity of God, was a result of a lot of perspiration in seeking God’s title for the book. About seven of us struggled for weeks over this title. Finally the day came when we had to come up with a title. For hours we talked about titles that included words like “sheep among wolves, the foolishness of God,” and other biblically based, well–used themes. We had possibly 10 poster-sized sheets of paper posted around the room. We knew there was a title “out there” that God wanted us to use, but we were having difficulty placing our fingers on the pulse of God.

Finally we took a break to clear our heads and to start over again.

Walking back into the room my eyes were drawn to the many sheets of paper and the dozens of titles and subtitles posted about the room. I thought about all the conversations we had had concerning the content of this ministry. Without thinking I looked at our friends who had struggled alongside of us for most of a morning and said to them, ” everything we have talked about today represents from God’s word and our experiences the insanity of God.”

Our literary agent, a man sent from the throne of God, slapped his hand on the table in front of him and said, ” God has given us His title.”

From the world’s point of view the cross of Jesus will always be a stumbling block. From the world’s point of view God does not come and die, God comes to control and destroy. From the world’s point of view, if we were God, we would act from a position of power, not from a stance of love and humility. Today, as throughout all of history, a God who “so loves the world that he gave his only begotten son” is an act of insanity.

For those of us who know Jesus, we want to model such insanity to all the peoples of the world because it is an insanity motivated by love, sacrifice, and obedience. It is an insanity motivated by going not staying. It is an insanity motivated by giving not receiving. It is how the world looks at God. This should be how the world looks at us.

Join the insanity.

OneCry Prayer Summit

Daily we hear reports about violence against Christians all around the globe. But how does this affect us as believers in America? During the first week in November, we will take the opportunity to seek God for nationwide spiritual awakening as we learn from and uplift our brothers and sisters who are suffering for their faith in Christ.

This hour-long concert of prayer broadcast consists of teaching by Nik Ripken, author of The Insanity Of God, interviews with ministry leaders, music by Meredith Andrews and prayers from our studio prayer team made up of students at the Moody Bible Institute. The goal of this hour is to bridge our need for awakening with the experience of those awakened by persecution as we cry out for a new work of the Holy Spirit in America.

For more information about the OneCry movement, visit www.OneCry.com.

Listen to the program.

Why are the Unreached Unreached?

With the modern missionary movement shifting into high gear, attempting to access unreached peoples, it is advisable to pause and ask, “What are the obstacles to giving a viable Christian witness to those who have never heard?” New buzz words abound as the AD 2000 movement, and others, lead the evangelical community to look through the “10/40 window,” striving for a “church” for every people group by the year 2000.

Looking at the obstacles to reaching the unreached will move mission personnel beyond sticking pins in maps, gaining institutional satisfaction from the initial command to “Go.” “Going” is substantially easier than “staying,” developing a viable long-term Christ-like presence among those who have yet to hear clearly, especially where many are openly hostile to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Recognizing the hindrances that would allow the Gospel to take root among unreached peoples will enable mission agencies, churches and missionaries to plan means overcoming these obstacles.

What are some of those obstacles, not necessarily in their order of importance?

Read Nik’s Article

My son died today

It was 16 years ago when I watched my 16-year-old son die in Nairobi, Kenya, as a result of a severe asthma attack. 

His death on an Easter morning wounded the hearts of an entire community.

People asked me, How can God allow your son to die on Easter? You were only seeking to serve and praise Him among peoples unreached and untouched with the Gospel. How can a father handle watching his son die long before his child’s dreams could be realized?

I imagine God’s thoughts when Jesus died on the cross could have been similar to this:

My Son was a skilled carpenter, but I knew that He was made for something more than shaping wood with His hands. He was made for shaping lives with His words, with a touch or even with His tears. 

His life’s work was that of doing the miraculous He healed the sick, fed thousands, allowed those without worth and unclean to touch Him and to be touched by Him. 

He could weep over the death of a friend and almost in the midst of a sob call him from the grave to life again. People were enamored with the miraculous things He said and did. A few people began to discern that it wasn’t what He did that was miraculous. 

The real truth, they began to discover, was not that He did miracles but that He was The Miracle.

Others feared what they did not understand. I saw my Son arrested and ridiculed. Their spit ran down His face, their jeers rang in His ears and their tools of torture caused blood to disfigure His countenance.

Cheers from the days before when He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey turned to the jeering of a mob as they watched my Son drag His own cross up to a hill of death, where they raised His mutilated body, nailed upon a wooden cross, to the sky.

Today, I watched my son die.

The political and religious leaders of His day thought this was the end of the threat. Those who had followed Him believed their hope was dead, so they denied they had ever known Him. Both sides deeply believed this was the end of the story, this death, this killing of My son once praised, now once and for all, crucified to death.

And here was everyone’s mistake, their misunderstanding. They believed that crucifixion was the end of the story, that death ended all things the threat to the reigning government and the people’s hopes for an earthly Messiah.

Everyone was wrong. My Son was not to be defined by the waving palm leaves of the adoring multitude or by the shouts of the jeering crowd. Neither would He be defined by a crucifixion.

There was more to come more to the story. This was my plan. The crucifixion by man was a prelude to the resurrection by the Father. I allowed and watched my Son die, to be crucified, to demonstrate my love and forgiveness for all people, for all times. 

But I am not only a Father of love, I am a Father of power.

And while my love allowed for the crucifixion of my Son, my power would not allow Him to stay dead because I had determined that crucifixion was just the prelude to the resurrection.

For my family, the anniversary of my son’s death at Easter brings this bittersweet reminder There is no shortcut, no easy way out, no way to avoid wounds made inevitable by living in a broken, imperfect world.

Like God’s Son, my son died way too young and, at least for a season, for unacceptable reasons.

But my family knows that this earthly life is just a prelude to the eternal life we can have through and with Christ. Jesus’ crucifixion was for a moment in time. His resurrection is forever.

John 3:16-17 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” RSV