What help does the Bible offer us amidst the challenges of national elections, increasing violence and global tragedy?

In Advent this year, I am releasing a four-part online video teaching series which will study the Old Testament prophecy of Habakkuk.

As we look at society in Habakkuk’s time, 600 years before Christ, we find an incredible parallel to society today. Habakkuk lived at a time when society was shaken by violence. Judah and Jerusalem had sunk deeper into disobedience towards God and the very fabric of national life had begun to fall apart at the seams.

Habakkuk lived and ministered in what was the unavoidable build up to the invasion of Judah and the ultimate destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. He was deeply concerned that God’s people had violated God’s law. They had violated the first three commandments covering their responsibility to God, and the remaining seven commandments which covered their responsibility to family and neighbor (and this is one of the main reasons for the continuing relevance of Habakkuk’s message).

Habakkuk begins with his own situation and he asks timeless questions about the problems of evil and the character of God. Our society today, over two and a half thousand years after Habakkuk, is being torn apart by exactly the same thing, violence of all kinds. The violence of war is now reproduced in a dangerously sanitized fashion in our homes through television.

Not only is there going war in Syria, according to one report, there are over 50 wars and insurgencies being fought around the world at this present time. Violence appears to have taken hold of so many aspects of our lives, on our streets and in our schools, making it dangerous to walk alone in both city and country areas. Teachers are sometimes in danger. Violence in the home has become wide spread by husbands to wives, by parents to children. In particular we hear increasingly frequent accounts of women being battered by their partners and children abused by adults. There is road rage, mob violence, drunkard mayhem, gang warfare, drug induced assaults.

In the United States, the suicide rate for teenage girls between the ages of 10 and 14 has tripled over the past three years. The Washington Post published an article describing sex trafficking in the United States as ‘epidemic’. The founder of the Project Meridian Foundation in Arlington, Virginia, which helps police identify traffickers and their victims, says that “no country, no race, no religion, no class and no child is immune.” He said that 1.6 million children younger than 18 [native and foreign-born] have been caught up in this country’s sex trade [1.6 million in our country].

We like Habakkuk live in a violent and broken world. But like Habakkuk we need to start where he begins in his dialogue with God, and say to the Lord – amidst all the violence, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?” Habakkuk 1:2. Habakkuk and his prophetic word is not regularly preached in the pulpit today.

The prophecy of Habakkuk is small, it consists of only three short chapters, and it is therefore described as one of the ‘minor prophets’. Habakkuk was a person who listened and heard the word of God, and passed it on, so that over two and a half thousand years later we can study and hear the word of God written.

It may not be what we want to hear, but if we listen carefully, we will hear God’s voice, and in that, we will see revealed what God is doing upon the face of the earth today. And so, as the United States faces changing political leadership, as the challenges of war, famine and tragedy confront us on a daily basis, we can be confident that our God is ruling and reigning and that his purposes will ultimately been seen as good, just and upright.

The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him. Habakkuk 2:20

The Lord is Risen Indeed!

The Resurrection of Our Lord | March 2016
After the long darkness of Lent, the brief exaltation of Palm Sunday, and the sorrow of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, Easter morning dawns. Lilies, trumpets, spring clothes, white and gold clergy vestments, ancient cantatas, the “Hallelujah Chorus,” the first light, fire, water, oil, bread, wine and… an empty tomb and Jesus is alive today! The Christian community gathers around a set of symbols that indicate the season has changed, that new life has come: In fact, Christians gather this Easter morning, on a Sunday – not a Saturday, because of the unshakeable conviction of Jesus’ early followers that something unprecedented and amazing had occurred very early in the morning on the third day.
The late Michael Ramsey (former Archbishop of Canterbury) once wrote, “The Gospel without the Resurrection is not merely a Gospel without a final chapter, it is not a Gospel at all.”
And what a difference the resurrection makes – the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the Jerusalem tomb sets Christianity apart from all other religions. Our Savior, the Savior of the gospels is a risen Savior. His tomb is empty and that makes all the difference in the world (and in the heavens)!
On this Resurrection Day, would you pause for a moment and consider a Persian Easter hymn written by Hassan Dehqani-Tafti, a convert from Islam, who then became bishop in Iran. He experienced the assassination of his son and survived a murderous attack on himself and his wife.
Spread the News, look abroad. 
He has risen to reign. 
Now at last heaven is open to earth once again. 
Now that death’s power is spent 
and is vanquished for aye, 
who should fear any storm? 
Who now cringe in dismay? 
Lift your eyes to the hills. 
Greet the bright rising sun. 
Now our hearts and our souls are renewed all as one. 
See the tomb is found bare with the work of God’s hand. 
See our Jesus now risen. In this faith may we stand.
Let us pray,
O God, who for our redemption gave your only begotten Son to die upon the cross, and by his glorious resurrection delivered us from the power of death and the devil: Grant us the grace to die daily to sin, that we may live with him in the joy of his resurrection, through the same, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit now and forever. Amen
 Christ is Risen… He is Risen Indeed!

 Easter, 2016

A religion of peace?

  • An ideological challenge – a religion of peace.
  • A biblical and pastoral responsibility [Christian refugees and the Church’s response]. 
  • A theological concern [are they the same – Jesus, Isa, Yahweh, Allah?]

Early in November 2005, in the Poso region of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, I was secretly escorted in the dark of night through very remote conditions to the family home of Alfina Yarni Sambue.  Just days earlier, on October 30 2005, Alfina (15) and her friends Theresia (15), Alfita (17) were beheaded by Muslim militants while walking to a private Christian school by a group of six masked men armed with machetes. I met that night with the grieving parents of Alfina, her sister and two brothers in their primitive home surrounding which had no electricity.  I listened to Alfina mother describe the horrific events, how when they retrieved their daughter’s body there was no head. The family told me the attackers dumped one head outside a church with a note which stated, ‘Wanted: 100 more heads, teenaged or adult, male or female; blood shall be answered with blood, soul with soul, head with head.’ The two other heads were found near the local police station.

I remember praying with Alfina’s family, consoling them and reassuring them of my love and support as a brother in Christ.  What I could not do, was to rehearse the popular western mantra that Islam is peace.

Many America Christians cannot conceive that Muslim men who behead innocent Christian teenagers could be heroes of Islam.  Many political and some Church leaders leaders in the West continue to argue that a connection between Islam and violence is invalid.  However, many so called moderate Muslims advocate that all Muslims should strive to gain political and military power over non-Muslims, that warfare is obligatory for all Muslims, and that the Islamic state, Islam and Sharia (Islamic law) should be established throughout the world. In a 2011 report, the Shariah Adherence Mosque Survey found that 80% of U.S. mosques provide their worshippers with jihad-style literature promoting the use of violence against non-believers and that the imams in those mosques expressly promote that literature.[1] Additionally, Omar Ahmad, the founder of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim ‘civil liberties’ group in the United States that works ‘to promote a positive image of Islam and Muslims in America,’ believes that Islam must become dominant in the US. ‘Islam isn’t in America to be equal to any other faith, but to become dominant. The Koran, the Muslim book of scripture, should be the highest authority in America, and Islam the only accepted religion on Earth.’[2]

Islam’s rule of abrogation, which states that wherever contradictions are found in the Quran, the later-dated text abrogates the earlier text. In addition to the Quran, scholars refer to traditions (hadith) recording what Mohammed said and did. Both these methods led Islam away from peace and towards war. The peaceable verses of the Koran are almost all earlier, dating from Mohammed’s time in Mecca, while those which advocate war and violence are almost all later, dating from after his flight to Medina. So the mantra ‘Islam is peace’ is almost 1,400 years out of date. It was only for about 13 years that Islam was peace and nothing but peace. From 622 onwards it became increasingly aggressive, albeit with periods of peaceful co-existence, particularly in the colonial period, when the theology of war was not dominant.

Some commentators believe that all we need today is time.  Give Islam time and the religion will reform. The ideal of an Islamic reformation has produced, among many other results, the global jihad movement, the push for sharia revival and reimplementation of the Caliphate.

ISIS has already declared their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as its caliph.  As a caliphate, ISIS claims religious, political and military authority over all Muslims worldwide. ISIS believes that Muslims should wage jihad until everyone on earth makes the Islamic declaration of faith, the shahada: “There is no god but Allah, Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.  The barbaric and evil actions of these Muslim reformers who follow the example of Islam’s prophet are available for all the world to see.

Last August, a father and his twelve-year-old son were among twelve Syrian converts from Islam to Christianity who were captured, then publicly slaughtered after they refused to renounce their faith in Jesus.  The 41-year-old father, his son (just two months away from celebrating his 13th birthday), and two other men were forced to stand before a crowd as IS militants ordered the believers to renounce Christianity and return to Islam. When they said they would never deny Christ, the militants took the young boy and in front of his father and the others, they beat him and cut off his fingertips. The jihadists promised to stop if his father converted back to Islam. He refused, and all four were beaten, tortured and crucified until dead.   The militants put signs beside them that read “infidels”. “They were left on their crosses for two days.” Another eight believers, including two women, were taken to a different site in the city on the same day. They too were ordered to renounce Christ and convert back to Islam, but refused to deny their Lord. In front of a crowd of spectators that the militants had summoned, the jihadists raped the two women and then beheaded all eight as they knelt, praying. Their bodies were then hung on crosses.[3]

A biblical and pastoral responsibility [Christians refugees and the Church’s response]

As a result of the atrocities perpetrated against Christians I have made numerous attempts together with other Christians leaders to urge our government to act on behalf of Christian minorities.  I have co-labored with courageous and skillful advocates such as Nina Shea from The Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom and Faith McDonnell the Director of Religious Liberty Program at The Institute on Religion and Democracy [Faith is a member of our provincial Islam Task Force].  I was appealing on behalf of a group of Assyrian Christians desperately in need of rescue from northern Iraq. Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, Northern Iraq: Christianity in Iraq is going through one of its worst and hardest stages of its long history, which dates back to the first century. Throughout all these long centuries, we have experienced many hardships and persecutions, offering caravans of martyrs. We now face the extinction of Christianity as a religion and as a culture from Mesopotamia

While some European and South American government have issued special visas for Christians from Iraq and Syria. The United States refuses to do so.  Recently I interacted with the State Departments Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM). informed State Department officials of a plan by one well-known Christian international aid agency to provide safer housing for Iraqi Christians. Christians are trying to survive in unfinished concrete buildings – such as shopping malls – in the Christian enclave of Ankawa rather than in the UNHCR camp with the other refugees, because they are even threatened by some of the Muslim refugees.

Donors in the private sector have offered complete funding for the airfare and the resettlement in the United States of these Iraqi Christians that are sleeping in public buildings, on school floors, or worse. But the State Department would not support a special category to bring Assyrian Christians into the United States. The United States government has made it clear that there is no way that Christians will be supported because of their religious affiliation, even though it is exactly that – their religious affiliation – that makes them candidates for asylum based on a credible fear of persecution from ISIS.

Paul write in Galatians 6, “do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers (Galatians 6:10),” I am very willing to discuss with you ways you can be supportive of these ur suffering and displaced brothers and sisters in Christ.

A theological concern [are they the same – Jesus, Isa, Yahweh, Allah?]

I was given an article by a very popular North American Christian author.  Many of you will have read his books. In this article published in Christianity Today, this author argues that Christians, Jews and Muslims have the same understanding of God and that they are involved in building the same kind of kingdom.  He argues that we shouldn’t allow doctrine to come into govern our discussion.  Rather he says, what unites us is Abraham and Moses and the prophets.  There is not a single reference to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

When people ask me what about Abraham?  I reply, “What about him?” Jesus himself said  (John 8:56) Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad.  Even Abraham himself realized that faith in God wasn’t about him, he realized it was all about Jesus – he saw and he was glad. When people say to me, “Surely the similarities of of the Jesus of the gospels and the Jesus of the Quran provide a platform for a common faith in God.”  I reply like this:

Running unmistakeably through the Bible is the unshakeable conviction and insistence that the God who is working in history and who has already established his rule in Jesus Christ will one day bring history to a goal or climax in the Son of Man’s coming in glory.  You can’t read the New Testament and be in any doubt about that.  Does not the Bible and do not the creeds of the Christian Church, categorically insist that basic truth, that underlying fact, that fundamental reality; that Jesus is coming again to judge both the quick and the dead?” That is our Christian hope.

 On the other hand, Islam predicts that when Isa returns it will be as a Muslim.  The Muslim Jesus (Isa) will return to do 4 things

  • Convert the world to Islam
  • Destroy all crosses
  • Kill all pigs
  • Kill all Jews

The Muslim Jesus will marry, die, and be buried in the Mosque of the Prophet, in Medina and during his life, he will have revealed that Islam is the true word of God. The Islamic State expects to play a major part in accomplishing this End Times vision.

How can Christians and Muslims have the same understanding of God when Islam denies that Jesus is the Son of God, a person of the Trinity, when they deny the fatherhood of God, when love is not an intrinsic part of divine nature?  How can the author of the article referenced above believe that?  How can he believe they’re building the same kingdom?  When for Christians it’s a Kingdom of love, based upon Jesus Christ, and that love going out to men and women, boys and girls, so that they are saved through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. Islam by comparison is building a kingdom based on the sword.

This is no longer just deception. It is no longer just heresy.  This approaches apostasy, and many Christians accept it.  What is apostasy?  It is backsliding, desertion, disloyalty, faithlessness.

On the Temple Mount in Jerusalem today stands the mosque of Omar, built in the 8th century – this mosque stands on the site of the Jewish Temple, the House of God. On the southern end of the Temple Mount there is another mosque, a smaller mosque called the mosque of Al Aska and that mosque stands on the site of Solomon’s Portico where the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Day of Pentecost. Here in the very heart of Jerusalem where all Jewish religious life was focused and where the Christian Church of Jesus Christ was born, stand two mosques at the very center of this entire conflict. Inscribed three times around the tiled walls of the Mosque of Omar is the phrase: “God has no son”, right there in the very place that Jesus the Son of God, worshipped his Father.

Christians who seek for common ground with Islam tend to ignore or suppress the real differences between the two faiths. A new “Jesus” is emerging, stripped of uniqueness based on deity, incarnation, passion, crucifixion, resurrection, redemptive mission and universal Lordship, and remarkably similar to Muslim perceptions of ‘Isa. This new thinking affirms the ‘Isa of the Qur’an as also the Jesus of the New Testament, and its proponents are reducing Christianity to something less than traditional, orthodox Christianity to make it compatible with Islam.

In John 17 Jesus said, “Father the hour has come, glorify your Son, so that the Son may glorify you since you have given him authority over all people to give eternal life to all whom you have given, and this is eternal life that they may know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Jesus uses that lovely phrase, the only true God. When Jesus says that his Father is the only true God, then we must recognize that Jesus infers that there are gods who are false.

No matter how sincere the worshippers of other gods are, there is only one true God. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Christianity is founded on the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

I implore Christians today to understand that reformation in Islam would mean making it more Muhammadan. Death for apostates, stoning adulterers, cutting off the hands of thieves, enslaving one’s enemies, and killing non-believers, following Mohammad’s example.[4] I implore Christains to be a voice for displaced, suffering and voiceless fellow Christians, to remember them, to pray for them and to be one with them. I implore Christians to resist at every and any level, all attempts to find common faith with Islam through Abraham.  “Christ is our Cornerstone, on Him alone we build; on His great love our hopes we place of present grace and joys above.”


[1] https://www.centerforsecuritypolicy.org/2011/12/15/study-shows-u-s-mosques-are-repositories-of-muslim-brotherhood-literature-and-preachers-2/

[2] The Fremont Argus newspaper, California

[3] https://barnabasfund.org/news/Syrian-Christian-captives-crucified-for-refusing-to-deny-Christ-but-another-Christian-leader-is-released

[4] http://blog.markdurie.com/2010/01/they-are-reformation.html

God is working his purpose out!

Bishop Julian writes that Almighty God is the Lord of history and that He is working his purpose out even when we cannot fathom his ways.
As one calendar year closes and another year dawns we are given the opportunity to pause and reflect on God’s work in our lives and in the world. As light dawns on 2016, our world is engulfed with tragedy and conflicts. At least 36 deaths in Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee as a result of unprecedented Christmas weather conditions. Although under pressure in some regions, ISIS threatens the continued existence of Christians in Syria and Iraq. In Nigeria, Boko Haram has killed  more people than those who died in the entire ebola epidemic.  It could be said that respect for God, respect for property and respect for life are at an all time low.

However, the word of God continues to speak into the circumstances of our world.  In the late 7th century B.C., God spoke through the prophecy of Habakkuk into a world which draws many comparisons to global circumstances which confront us at the dawn of 2016.

Look among the nations, and see;
wonder and be astounded.
For I am doing a work in your days
that you would not believe if told.   Habakkuk 1:5

 As the dawn breaks on a new year, consider these insights from Habakkuk chapter 1 verse 5.

1. Look at the ‘big picture’. History will be God’s story. If we only look at ourselves, at our nation, our people, our church, our denomination then we will miss what God is doing upon the face of the earth.

2. Look for a big surprise.  We so often limit God through our own thought processes.  We allow our culture and personal circumstances to be the filters through which we study the Bible.  In verse 5, God says Habakkuk will be astounded!

3. God will do something ‘in our lifetime’. In verse 5 God reassured Habakkuk that He will act and He will act during Habakkuk’s lifetime. Anyone can believe in God, what we must each decide is, do we believe that God will do what He says He will do in His Word?  If we believe that God will act according to His word, then we have faith in Him.

4. God can and will act in a manner beyond our imagination.  Habakkuk is told by God in verse 5 that He would not believe what God was about to do, even if God told him beforehand!  The apostle Paul writes in Ephesians chapter 3, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

5. God is already at work.  In verse 5, Habakkuk is told that God is already at work.  In verse 6, God describes how He has chosen to work and Habakkuk is surprised. From this we learn that God is at work to will and to act according to his purpose and not ours!  

In his 19th century hymn “God is working his purpose out” which was dedicated to the Archbishop of Canterbury and first published in the Hymn Book of the Church Missionary Society in 1899, author Arthur Campbell Ainger provides a clear testimony that God is the Lord of history, that he “is working his purposes out”  even when we cannot fathom his way.

May God’s eternal faithfulness encourage us to stand firm in the faith and be strong whatever circumstances we encounter throughout 2016 and beyond.

God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
whose years never fail and whose mercies are new each returning day:
let the radiance of your Spirit renew our lives,
warming our hearts and giving light to our minds;
that we may pass the coming year
in joyful obedience and firm faith;
through him who is the beginning and the end, your Son, Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.