Category Archives: Suffering

How to Pray for Our Nation

I know that your hearts are heavy this week with the news we have heard from around the country.  As our elders met this morning to pray for you, we were also led by the Spirit to cry out on behalf of our nation.  The news of the bombing in Boston, the explosion in West, and the ricin letters at the capital can make us anxious and afraid.  Everyone feels the need to pray, but what should we pray?  How do we pray for our nation at a time like this?

1- First, we need to pray for the governing authorities that have the responsibility to enforce justice and keep us safe from harm.  The Bible says in Romans 13:1-7 that government is established by God to ensure a just society.  Our elected officials and law-enforcement are responsible for making sure just laws are established and enforced.  As Christians, we are commanded in 1 Timothy 2:1-2 to pray for all those in authority over us.  How should we pray for them?  For them to have wisdom, endurance, strength, and safety as they exercise their responsibilities.

2- Second, we need to pray for physical and emotional healing for the victims of these terrible incidents.  Those who experience the violent trama of a terrorist attack or a terrible accident will suffer physcial wounds that take years to heal.  But the emotional wounds can sometimes be even deeper and take longer to heal.  Our hearts especially go out to those who have lost loved ones this week.  We need to pray that they would experience the comfort of God (see 2 Corinthians 1:3-7) and see that the Lord Jesus Himself knows what it is like to experience terrible pain and loss.

3- Third, we need to pray for spiritual awakening in our nation and around the world.  The crimes we’ve read about this week remind us that without the grace and love of God, people are inclined to do terrible things to each other.  The evils around us and within us remind us that we need more than protection; we need transformation.  We need to pray for the people in our country to turn to God in their time of need and experience the life-changing grace offered in Jesus Christ.  Let us pray with Paul in Ephesians 1:18 that the eyes of our hearts will be opened to the surpassing greatness of God’s work in Jesus.

4- Finally, let’s pray for peace.  In these moments of national crisis, I am always reminded of the words of Jesus in John 16:33 – “I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.”  Jesus came so that we could have God’s peace in our hearts.  While we all will experience suffering and trials in this life, we don’t have to allow them to rob us of peace.  Jesus has promised us that He has overcome and conquered the suffering and injustice of this world.  Let us pray that all people will experience the peace of God in their hearts.

I hope this helps guide your time in prayer in the coming days as we lift up our nation to the Lord.

Longing for His Return-

Keith

Book Notes: The Insanity of God by Nik Ripken

insanityofgod

Nik Ripken’s book is intended to change the way you think about God, persecution, and Christian maturity.  To that end, Ripken shares his powerful personal biography.  From the incredibly dark years in Somalia (during the height of famine and genocide) to the soul-refreshing interviews with persecuted Christians around the world, Ripken tells a harrowing story that is hard to put down.  After experiencing deep loss in Africa (losing his ministry and his son), Ripken returned with his wife to the States.  He had one question that was eating away at his soul: is God still good and sovereign and involved in the world in the midst of such overwhelming grief and suffering?  

The rest of the book tells the story of Ripken’s travels to the ends of the earth to interview Christians who had experienced extreme persecution and suffering for the cause of Christ.  He desired to learn from his brothers around the world how to process suffering from a biblical perspective because he felt like his experience growing up in the American church had not prepared him for the real world.  He tells story after story of meeting with persecuted Christians around the world and learning to trust God and read the Bible again for the first time.

Ripken’s book reminds us that God is present even in the darkest places in the world, and that He is working even when we can’t see Him.  His book also reminds us that the world is full of evil and suffering, and that while we wait for the Risen Christ to return, we will face that evil and suffering face to face.  I was personally thankful for Ripken’s charge that persecution is normative in the Bible and is a sign that we are doing exactly what God wants us to do, not a sign that we are somehow outside of God’s will.  I was thankful to read this challenging book and thankful that Ripken took the time to share his experiences with believers around the world.

Resources in Light of Tragedy

All of us have been praying this week for the families of Newtown, Connecticut.  Our hearts are heavy as we think about their suffering and pain.  Our elders spent time this morning again asking the Lord to comfort these families and the community that has endured such unspeakable tragedy.

Besides praying, people also ask questions about God and the world around them during times like this.  I am a pastor, and I ask hard questions about evil and suffering and hope during tragedies.  Just the other night on national news, someone who was being interviewed asked, “where was God when all this was happening?  how could He allow this to occur?”

We don’t want to give simple, trite answers to these tough questions, but we do want to attempt to bring the love and wisdom of God to these dark moments.  I thought it might helpful to post a few resources that are helpful in answering your personal questions during this time…

First, I preached a sermon called Tragedy and the Trinity last summer in the wake of the Joplin tornadoes.  I listened to the message again last weekend and was reminded how the Bible gives us a perspective, a person, and a promise to help us process injustice and evil.  You can listen to the message on our website or read the whole message here.

Second, our school district (Round Rock ISD) sent a helpful note to parents about how to talk to our kids about the recent tragedy.  My favorite idea from them was having your children sketch around their hand on a piece of paper and write down five adult names and phone numbers of those they trust and can call in a time of emergency.  This reminds kids of the trustworthy adults in their lives.

My only addition to this list is to help our kids remember that God is trustworthy. There are many great passages to read with your kids, like Psalm 136 (His love endures forever!) or 1 John 4:7-19 (God is love).  Remind your kids that God is our ultimate Father and that He will never leave us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6).

Finally, I personally was challenged by Dr. Russell Moore’s reminder that violence against children is ultimately part of the Satan’s attack against those that God loves.   I appreciated this biblical reminder of our role as Jesus-followers to protect and lift up the weakest among us, especially kids.

I hope these links and thoughts are helpful to you and your family during these dark days.

A Letter to Those Grieving Loss

The first six months of 2012 have been another season of grieving loss in the Ferguson family.  As for all people, these times come and go with varying degrees and severity.  But we have felt it personally with two miscarriages this spring.  We already have four children, sure, but that fact doesn’t make the loss of an unborn child any easier, just harder to process.  Life keeps on rolling, and our four kids keep on demanding time and love and care (as they should).  In light of these events, Barie and I have had to carve out intentional time to revisit our theology of suffering and grief.  I say “revisit” because we’ve been here before – both in terms of experiencing a miscarriage and walking through other kinds of loss.  But having a biblical view of suffering and loss is not enough when times of suffering come close.  Our beliefs are challenged once again.  Scriptures that we’ve read before must be revisited, and prayers we’ve prayed have to be said again.  We must draw near to the Lord and not just hear His voice but feel His presence.

As a person, I experience grief personally.  As a pastor, I experience grief vicariously.  Romans 12:15 commands me to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep.  This is not a call to simply understand someone’s grief or to even empathize with someone in their grief, but to share in their emotional experience.  To smile and laugh with those who are rejoicing, to shed real tears of pain with those who are shedding real tears of pain.  To enter into others’ pain and suffering as Jesus’ entered into our pain and suffering – not metaphorically, but actually.  In this way, I have not only seen grief personally, but seen it through the eyes of those who have lost so much so unexpectedly.  This seems to have been a season not just of personal loss, but also of corporate loss.  Of watching the people I shepherd go through deep loss and pain.  For my bride, for my church, for those walking through a dark night of the soul, for my own heart, I offer these words of encouragement.

To The One Grieving in the Face of Terrible Loss-

First, I am so sorry for your loss.  Regardless of what some might say about suffering being an illusion, your pain is real.  God knows that your pain is not a figment of your imagination.  Jesus wept when He lost his close friend Lazarus to death (John 11:35) even though He knew that God would soon raise Lazarus from the dead.  The loss of his close friend caused Jesus to grieve.  Your grief is normal.  Your tears are justified.  The grieving journey doesn’t have one stop – it has many.  As soon as you think you have healed in your soul, something will remind you of the loss you have experienced and the emotions will come rushing back.  Let them come.  Don’t beat yourself up for being sad.  Feel deeply the full emotional range that God has given you.  Don’t deny your loss or act like everything is okay when it isn’t.

Second, God did not originally create the world this way.  God looked at everything He made in the beginning and it was very good (Genesis 1:31).  God created a world without suffering and loss and pain.  He made men and women to live in perfect fellowship with Him without shame or death.   According to the Bible, all suffering and death and pain are the result of human rebellion against God, not the result of God’s original design.  This is important, because the Bible teaches us that God is not the author of the evil and suffering you are experiencing.  We all want to blame God for the pain and loss we encounter, but the Bible is consistent with one message – human suffering is the result of human rebellion.  But be careful here – the Bible is NOT teaching that your suffering is the result of  your rebellion.  Without divine revelation, we can’t tie personal loss to individual sin.  Please take this to heart.  You will not be able to find a specific reason for your loss in this life.  The Bible teaches that suffering is universal (John 16:33 and Acts 14:22), not individual.  Another way to say this is that the rationale for suffering and loss is a mystery to us in this life.  We will never have a complete answer in this life to explain the losses we experience.  And if you attempt to connect your suffering to your personal sin, you will slide into an endless cycle of depression.

Third, while the Bible doesn’t offer you an explanation of why you are experiencing loss in your specific situation, it does offer you a revelation of a God who is sovereign over your grief.  This is the great hope of the Bible – not that your suffering has a reason, but that your life has a Sovereign.  God’s reign is not diminished or limited because of your loss.  You will be tempted during your grief to question God’s power in this life, to reason in your mind that God must not really be in control or “this wouldn’t have happened.”  I understand this thought and must own that it has crossed my mind from time to time.  But in the midst of grief over loss, the Bible points us to the majestic, overwhelming, sovereign power of God.  When Job questions the goodness, power, and mind of God in the face of his own loss, God gives Job a revelation of His character (see Job 38-39).  The biblical answer to our grief is not a smaller view of God, but a bigger view of God.  Our only hope in the face of our deepest loss is the sovereign power of God.  God can still work good from our grief because He is God.  If we diminish or give up on the biblical grandeur of God, we forfeit the only grounds we have for peace and joy to overcome our grief and despair.  

Finally, while your emotions don’t support this conclusion right now, you must receive the biblical teaching on the goodness of God. God is not only in control.  He is good.  While the evidence in your life right now leads you to believe that God is against you, please know that the biblical evidence is that God loves you.  How do I know that God is good even in the midst of terrible loss?  Because God is not just up in heaven saying that He loves us.  He has actually entered human history in the person of Jesus Christ and suffered the deepest kind of loss possible.  Jesus was betrayed and rejected and tortured and killed.  God in Christ went through suffering to redeem us from suffering.  Because Jesus died for us on the cross and rose again, we can be confident of the character of God regardless of what we go through in this life (see Romans 8:38-39).  This is your great hope in the midst of your unbearable loss.  God is good.  Even more, God is loving.  Better yet, God is good and loving toward you in Jesus Christ.  Your emotions may not receive this, but your soul can as you meditate on the promises of God.

In the end, the Bible teaches us that while our pain is real and deep and crushing, the good and gracious God of the universe will one day make everything sad come untrue (Revelations 21:3-4).  He has started that redemption process in the death of His Son, and will finish it at the return of His Son.  My prayer for you in the midst of your terrible loss is that you will not pull away from God, but that you will lift your eyes to your Help, the Maker of Heaven and Earth (Psalm 121:1-2).  God understands your deepest grief.  And He is able to hold you in His hands while you process your loss.

All my love and prayers are with you-

Pastor Keith

Book Notes: The Battle Against Cancer

Reading Dr. Mukherjee’s masterful biography of cancer titled The Emperor of All Maladies caused one reaction in my brain, one in my heart, and one in my soul.  My brain reacted in awe of how little I know about the physical world around me and in appreciation for those who have given their lives to fight this terrible disease.  The book would be best categorized as historical science, covering the human experience with cancer from the time of the Egyptians up to the modern era.  Of course, not much medical progress was made in the treatment or understanding of cancer until the last 150 years.  Until that time, medical practice tended to cause more problems that it solved – primarily from our inability to understand the microscopic world.  This fundamental misunderstanding of disease was not limited to cancer, but that is the emphasis of this book.  The Emperor reads quickly, even though it covers so much ground – both chronologically and medically.  Dr. Mukherjee takes us on a journey to hospitals and laboratories and symposiums around the world in his attempt to give a historical sketch of our understanding of cancer.  While he lost me in a few of the pages toward the end when he begins to discuss genetics and the frontier of cancer treatment, his book still reads remarkably well for a work on such a dense topic.

But The Emperor is not just an informational monologue.  The author also makes this journey personal, interspersing the stories of his patients and important patients in the history of cancer treatment.  This caused the reaction from my heart.  How can you not read the stories of those who have suffered so much at the hands of cancer itself and at some of the early primitive treatments without being deeply affected emotionally?  Dr. Mukherjee talks about his own journey on this front – facing death almost weekly in the cancer ward and learning how closely his own life would become intertwined with the patients that he treated.  His book doesn’t just move linearly from era to era; he also moves from one type of cancer to another.  And with each move in his book (from leukemia to breast cancer to brain cancer to lung cancer, etc.), a person would come into my mind.  Someone that I had know who fought this terrible disease and lost the battle.  And so my heart would sink with each chapter – knowing that while much progress has been made, cancer is still so deadly.

But this book also impacted me spiritually.  I don’t think this was necessarily Dr. Mukherjee’s intent, but it was significant for me.  I say often to friends that one of the reasons that I am a Christian is because the atheistic worldview leaves humanity with only despair in the face of suffering.  And that truth was brought home to me again in this book.  This was the reaction in my soul – the confrontation again with the reality of death.  This book is full of death – from the first chapter to the end – as any book about cancer would have to be.  But it is also a book full of various responses to death.  Some fighting death with tenacious energy, others surrendering to their fate, and even more trying to enjoy the last days of their lives with those they love.  But in the end, they all came to the same place.  Dr. Mukherjee’s writing skill is a gift, one of many reasons this book has sold so well and also won a Pulitzer Prize.  But in the last page, he struggles to give hope.  He gives some medical hope – that treatments will continue to advance and lifetimes will continue to be lengthened.  But he struggles to give human hope.  Because this is the end of medicine.  The medical field is a wonder to behold, and this book as much as any other gives the reader a great appreciation for the skill, hard work, and determination of so many doctors over so many years.  But the medical field runs out of answers at the end of every personal story in this book.  And this is what touched my soul – the limits of science and medicine. The human being is more than the sum of his biological parts and Dr. Mukherjee’s book reminds us all that we need not less, but definitely more than the medical profession can ultimately provide.

Why pray if God is sovereign?

This week, I received an email question from a former church-member who recently moved out of the area.  Her question is a tough one (and a common one), so I thought I would post my response to her on the blog.  She asked the following, “How should we pray in light of God’s Sovereign plan?  If God is in control of all things and always accomplishes His divine will, why does it matter if we pray?  Should we just pray for a willing submission to God’s plan or actually pray that things would change?  I am asking because I was struggling to know how to pray for a 34-year old friends who is dying of liver cancer.”

Here was my response:

Friend,

Thanks for the email.  It is great to hear from you guys.

On your question about prayer & submission to God’s sovereignty, I would say a few things.

One, Jesus shows us how to pray in Matthew 6:5-15 (the Lord’s prayer) and in Matthew 26:36-46 (His prayer in the Garden).  I think we should take our cues from Him in this area.  He tells us and shows us (1) to pray to God as Father – this tells us we come to God as children in close relationship with our Maker (I hear echoes here of Hebrews 4 that tells us that we can come boldly now to the throne of grace now that we are in Christ) & that God cares for us as a good father cares for his children, (2) that we should pray for what we need (asking God to provide for our daily provisions & thanking Him when He meets our daily needs), and that we should ask for what we desire (as Jesus does in the garden), but that (3) we should pray in ultimate submission to the sovereignty of God.  Jesus says Himself, “not my will, but your will be done.”  Jesus teaches us to pray in Matthew 6, “May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  He is teaching us to pray in submission to the master plan of God.

In light of this, prayer is about asking God for what we need and want, but always with the recognition that God is God and we are not.  We submit to His final word in all situations.  And we submit joyfully because we trust that He knows what He is doing even when His plan makes no sense to us.

Two, we are commanded to pray repeatedly in the New Testament.  Paul instructs is 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to “pray continually.”  He says in Philippians 4:6-7 to take all of our requests to God in prayer, and that God will grant us peace as a result.  Jesus teaches us in John 15 that if we abide in Him and His Word abides in us, we can ask whatever we wish of the Father and He will hear us.  James 5:13-18 commands us to pray when people are suffering and sick, reminding us to make sure that confession is part of our prayers, and that we should pray with faith, believing that God hears and can respond beyond our understanding.

With those passages in mind, I would encourage you guys in a few ways.  One, you should pray often and with faith that God hears and is able to do more than you can even ask or imagine.  Two, you should pray in submission to the sovereign plan of God, knowing that sometimes God says “yes” to our requests and sometimes He says “no.”  Third, you should praise God when He answers prayer – don’t forget this important step!  Most people complain when God says “no” but forget to say thank you when God says “yes.”  He deserves our submission and our thanksgiving.

I hope those thoughts help.  In the specific situation you mention in your email, I see biblically that we should pray BOTH for Heather’s healing (in line with James 5) and for peace and comfort for those who will suffer from her death.  In addition (and don’t miss this part) – we should pray that all those involved will trust Jesus as Savior.  The ultimate healing that all people need is not physical but spiritual – they need to be reconciled to their Creator.  Thus, as we pray for physical relief, we must not forget to pray for the boldness to tell others about Jesus and for those that hear about Jesus to turn to Him in faith.

Finally, our belief in God’s sovereignty should not lead us to stop praying (because He has simply predetermined everything ahead of time) but should actually lead us to pray (because He is in control of all things and is able to do as He pleases).  While the doctrine of God’s sovereignty might seem to discourage prayer at first, it is actually our great hope in prayer.  For if God is not sovereign over all people and times and events, then why should we pray at all?  God must be able to answer prayer for us to be motivated to pray.  But because God is able to answer, He must also able to say “no.”  I pray that you will grow in your confidence in God and in your faithfulness in prayer.

what would you have added to my response?

Starving in Somalia

I entered Starbucks on Tuesday morning at 7:00am to order my drink and meet with a leader in our church.  While I waited, I walked over to the stacks of newspapers to the left of the counter and had the wind knocked out of me by this picture of a starving child laying outside a hospital in Somalia.  The picture covered a majority of Tuesday’s NY Times front page and was accompanied by an article describing the horrifying situation that is leading to the starvation of so many children.  I’ve seen many pictures of starving children in my life, but this one grabbed my heart.  In his crumbled frame, I saw my own son and wondered, what would I do if I couldn’t feed my kids?  What if this child was mine?  What if he was yours?

First, some context.  The Horn of Africa is already one of the world’s most impoverished and poorly governed areas.  On top of that, the region is experiencing its worst drought in 60 years.  This means that a population that regularly has a hard time finding enough to eat is now facing devastating famine.  Add to that a militant Islamic terrorist group called Shabab in charge of southern Somalia and you get the picture above.  International aid and relief agencies have the resources to get in and help those in need and yet, the Islamic group won’t allow them to enter because they represent “imperialistic Western cultures.”  So heartbreaking.

Second, some help.  What do we do in response to this crisis (and all the other ones in the world)?  When I see pictures like the ones above, I wonder if I should just quit my job and go to work for World Vision.  Am I in the wrong field?  And yet when I stop thinking with my emotions and start thinking with my brain, I realize that World Vision is already there.  The love and compassion of the people of Jesus is deep and funds some of the largest relief agencies in the world.  In fact, World Vision noted on their website recently that they had already received enough funding to fund their 24 month relief plan in Japan following the earthquake.  They are now asking for support for famine relief in the Horn of Africa.  You should give to their fund – they do great work.  But more food and money is not the final solution – the food is there but can’t get in.  We are confronted with the greatest challenge to feeding the poor and helping the impoverished – unjust leaders and corrupt governments.  Does this mean all hope is lost?  No.

Third, our hope.  The Scripture says that all of creation groans as it waits for redemption.  We groan together as we feel the weight of this broken world and the terrible suffering we inflict on each other.  How does a situation like this get put right?  I only see two ways that leave me with hope.  One, the gospel spreads to the hearts of people everywhere and they repent and are filled with the Spirit of God and actually serve those they lead rather than use them.  This is why I am in gospel-ministry and believe in missions.  The only way the countries of this world will change is when the people who lead them are truly converted.  Two, Jesus comes back and makes everything right.  These two options are not in opposition to each other – they are sequential to each other.  The gospel will spread and Jesus will return.  My hope today is built on the power of the gospel to change the lives of people so that they actually care about suffering in this world.  And my ultimate hope is that Jesus will come.  He will feed every mouth and bind every wound and comfort every broken heart.

Until that day, we preach and we serve and we give and we love.  With our whole hearts.  And we wait.

Revelation 22:17 – Both the Spirit and the church say, “Come!”

Our Suffering & God’s Sovereignty

I preached yesterday on the what the Bible has to say about our own suffering and the sovereignty of God.  The topic is one of the most challenging to address but also one of the most important.  If you missed church yesterday, you can hear the sermon on our church website.  You can also download the text of the sermon on this blog under the Sermons tab above – under the topical sermons section at the bottom of that page.  The study guide that goes with this message is also available under the Study Guide tab above.  God has grown me in preaching through this topic again.  I pray that this message helps you as you wrestle with the difficult circumstances and tragedies of life.

In the message I preached yesterday, I shared how the Bible gives us a perspective by which to understand process our suffering, a person to trust in the midst of our suffering, and a promise to hope in after our suffering.  What I didn’t mention yesterday is how we should now live in light of what the Bible teaches us.  Let me give you three ways that I believe we should respond in view of the Bible’s teaching we looked at yesterday:

1- We need to prepare for tragedy and suffering in our own lives.  The Bible promises suffering & trial in this life.  Anyone who promises you any different has not read their Bible.  It is not a question of if, but when.  While we can’t ever be 100% prepared for bad things to happen, we should not be caught off guard when this life is difficult.  We live in a cursed, broken, fallen world, and we must be prepared for suffering.  How do we get prepared?  We walk with God every day, we stand on His promises, and we live in community with others who will help us keep our faith in our darkest days.

2- We respond to others’ suffering with deeds of compassion.  The Bible commands us to love and serve our neighbor first, not explain to them why they are suffering.  When Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan – he does not command us to present a theology of suffering first. He commands us to bind the wounds, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and shelter the homeless.  In other words, to love our neighbor first.  We will have time later to listen and talk, but our first response needs to be acts of compassion – including prayer.

3- We respond to others’ suffering with words of truth.  While we serve, we don’t just serve – we speak.  We have something to say – to ourselves and to others.  God exists.  He is sovereign.  He is good.  He loves us and sent His Son to save you and me.  If we can understand the perspective, the person, and the promise that the Bible gives us, then we have something to say beyond the normal meaningless platitudes that drive us all crazy in the midst of suffering.  Be sure to listen and be ready to share God’s Word – not your personal opinion.

In our most tragic moments, we need God, we need His truth, and we need each other.  By God’s grace, He has given us all three.

 

Tragedy & The Trinity

This Sunday at church we are taking a one-week break from our series in Galatians to address the hard topic of tragedies and the nature of God.  Every human being who personally experiences suffering in this life or witnesses the suffering of others asks questions about the nature of God and the nature of our world.

Our minds want to know how to make sense of what we are experiencing and what the Bible teaches about the sovereign, good Creator of the Universe.  Our hearts don’t know how to feel about what we are seeing and hearing – we just sense deep down that things are not as they should be.  And our souls doubt the convictions that we have held – challenging the validity of long-held beliefs.

The Bible has much to say about the nature of God and the reality of sin and suffering.  The Scriptures are full of revelation about the nature of God (which we obviously struggle with during tragedy) and examples of extreme suffering (which we observe all around us).  So, this Sunday at church, I will attempt to allow the Bible to speak to us about how to think, feel, believe, and behave in response to the tragedies in our world.  If you know someone who has struggled with how to have faith in God in light of their suffering, I hope you will invite them this Sunday morning.  I’ll post more on this topic after sharing the message on Sunday.

Also, if you are in the Austin area and are looking for a way to help in the immediate aftermath of the Joplin tornado, you can partner with the efforts of our grandmother church, HCBC NW.  They have more information on their website.  They are collecting supplies and preparing to send another team to the area later in June.

Another Look At Persecution

I wrote last week about some of the insights that God gave us while we were overseas in November.  In response to that post, I heard privately from one of our dear friends who serves in one of the hardest mission fields in the world.  By “hardest,” I mean an area where believers in Jesus Christ are most persecuted for their faith.  After sharing my short-term insights on how facing persecution can be good for the purity and simplicity of the church, I wanted to share his insights on how persecution also suffocates the church.  Here where his wonderful insights (which should lead us to pray for our persecuted brothers today)…

Concerning persecution, I wish that believers in our area had room to breathe. It is really tough. The pressure is from government (and this pressure is real–real prosecution, real legal implications). The social and family pressure is also very intense. There seems to have been a little momentum building over the past few years. But after some things happened last year, believers are afraid to even be seen with each other. And they are very afraid to be seen with foreigners in too close of a way. It has been a hard thing to see the very weak and struggling body of Christ, take such a hard set back. I once heard of a group of 13 adults and 7 children meeting together to read scripture. That is a mega church here.

And our work is also very sensitive. The locals who help in our work really feel like if people knew what we were doing, that we wouldn’t live much longer. If there is enough of a group then persecution is strengthening, but it seems that without a critical mass of some sort; the effects really are strangling. Satan wants to stop the proclamation of the truth of the good news. There are many tools used to do this.  Here fear is a huge weapon used very effectively. I praise God for the people that find the courage that only comes from the Lord. We realize in vivid ways that the only way that we can go forward is under the protection and care of God every day.  But isn’t that always true! What a blessing to be reminded of it so often. Pray that we would know how to be harmless and wise, bold and meek, faithful and fruitful.