SAVE LIVES THIS LENT – A Special Request From Bishop Julian Dobbs
SAVE LIVES THIS LENT – A Special Request From Bishop Julian Dobbs
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. [Ecclesiastes 3:1]
In 2015, I was working with Congressional Leaders endeavoring to help Assyrian Christians escape the constant danger of Islamic terror. I was thankful for a small but growing number of Democrat and Republican House and Senate leaders who were supportive.
The words of Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, Northern Iraq, showed the desperation faced by the Assyrian Christians: Throughout all these long centuries, we have experienced many hardships and persecutions, offering caravans of martyrs. Yet 2014 brought the worst acts of genocide against us in our history. We now face the extinction of Christianity as a religion and as a culture from Mesopotamia [ancient Iraq].
Despite ISIS’ targeting Iraqi Christians, the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) told me on January 15, 2015 there was no way that Christians would be supported in coming to the United States because of their religious affiliation.
When the PRM’s position about persecuted Christians was made public in 2015;
There were just suffering Assyrian Christians and the targeted eradication of Christianity from an ancient homeland.
Americas leaders turned their backs on Christians and looked the other way!
According to the Pew Research Center, in 2016 the U.S. admitted the highest number of Muslim refugees of any year since data on self-reported religious affiliations first became publicly available in 2002. However, religious persecution against Christians and other minorities continues to increase across Africa and the Middle East.
I am thankful that the United States of America has eventually recognized that persecuted Christians and other minorities can now be a priority for our great nation.
Recently, many commentators have cited Matthew 25 as the basis for Christian care and support for the poor of the world, the sick, the disabled, and the homeless. Some Christian leaders are teaching that Jesus was referring to refugees from other religions when he said, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” However the early Church, while providing pastoral care for many needy people, had an emphasis on caring for Christians.
Dionysius, Bishop of Corinth in the late 2nd century, wrote to thank the Church in Rome for the aid they had sent to his church. “From the beginning it is your custom to bestow your alms in all places, and to furnish subsistence to many churches. You send relief to the needy, especially to those who work in the mines; in which you follow the example of your fathers.”
A few years later, Tertullian noted how the non-Christians would comment with astonishment about the Christians, “See how they love one another.”
The early Christians sought to fulfil the teaching of Matthew 25:31-46, in which our Lord Jesus, in His story of the sheep and the goats, commends those who provide practical care for even “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine” (verse 40).
Jesus himself refers to His disciples as His brothers and sisters (Matthew 12:49-50).
To neglect to care and support marginalized and suffering Christian ‘brothers and sisters’ is to neglect Christ Himself.
While it is important and necessary that Christians work together for the good of all people, whenever there is an opportunity, they are called to prioritize their care and for their brothers and sisters in Christ. [Galatians 6:10]
Bishop Julian Dobbs
A new year has begun – it is 2017!
This year is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, when the Word of God became accessible to God’s people.
I often pray this prayer from the prayer book when I read the bible: Blessed Lord who has caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning. Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Savior Jesus Christ.
Through the turbulent early decades of the English Reformation, the public reading of God’s Word in the common language of the people was forbidden. The clerical elite closely guarded Scripture and its Latin text was jealously protected. However, through the grace and providence of God, His word written became available and Archbishops Thomas Cranmer’s dream of a renewed church in England was one step closer to reality.
By edict of King Henry VIII, the Bible was not only to be made available; it was also to be read in public. Churches were required to purchase and display the Bible in English. Clergy were instructed to put the Bible on display in churches and that no one should be discouraged from reading or hearing the Bible.
How is your own bible study going? This is such a very important question! The only place where God supremely discloses himself is in his Word. Martin Luther whose courageous actions triggered the Reformation said this, “The Bible is alive. It speaks to me. It has feet. It runs after me. It has hands. It lays hold of me. The Bible is not antique or modern. It is eternal.”
Anglican theologian and author, Dr. J.I. Packer has wisely written, “Western Christianity has become superficial and shallow. We do not give ourselves time to soak ourselves in Scripture and stunted development, which includes an undervaluing of the Bible, is the unhappy result. We need to be clear, other things being equal. It is the Christians who eat up the Scriptures on a regular basis who are likely to achieve most for our Lord Jesus Christ in the future just as it was Bible-fed Christians who achieved most for him in the past.”
As this Reformation 500 year begins, may God give us the passion to ‘eat up the Scriptures’ on a daily basis. I encourage you to develop the pattern of daily reading the Bible, taking your Bible to church on Sundays and reading from it as the Scriptures are proclaimed and the sermon is preached.
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105
“Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see. Hail the incarnate deity.”
Don’t breeze over those words – “Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see. Hail the incarnate deity.” You will never understand Christianity without getting hold of the message of the ‘incarnation’.
It leads us to the most important question anybody can ever ask, “Who is Jesus?”
The central fact of the Christian faith is not a philosophy; it is a person. To take that person out of Christianity is a little bit like taking the numbers out of math. It’s like taking doctors out of medicine, it’s like thinking of daylight without the sun. Take the incarnation away from Christianity and the whole thing unravels until there’s nothing left bothering about.
Charles Wesley’s famous hymn first published for Christmas Day in 1739 – “Hark the Herald Angel Sing” is a Christmas institution. It is sung at most carol services around our county. Verse two makes a staggering claim about Jesus, “Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see. Hail the incarnate deity.” This is the Jesus of the gospels, our Lord and our God who came among us – the incarnate deity. Charles Wesley is spot-on, everything we are and believe as Christians depends on this one thing, we see and know and meet Almighty God in Jesus Christ who is fully God and fully human according to the New Testament, the doctrine that Christian people have for millennia called the ‘incarnation’.
The apostle John wrote in His Gospel, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John chapter 1. We American Christians know these verses so well, we know these great cadences, we love them. But let us not allow our familiarity with the Christmas gospel narrative blind us to the shock and the incomprehensibility of how these verses in John’s gospel sounded to first century disciples of Jesus Christ in the land of Israel. John’s Christmas gospel doesn’t mention Mary or Joseph, it doesn’t mention the inn, or the shepherds, or the stable. In John’s gospel the story is behind the scenes, the story that you would not have seen if you had been at the inn or on the Bethlehem hillside and heard the angels.
This is the story you would not know if you had merely stood in the manger and looked at the baby. This is something incredibly profound and powerful and unique in the whole of the New Testament. It is the reality of Christmas not seen historically, but theologically. Theology is never a word that we should be afraid of, it simply means you are studying and considering the things of God. As John answers the question, “Who is this child born in Bethlehem?” John is stretching our minds almost to breaking point and takes us to the very mind of Almighty God. He takes us into eternity. If you want to grasp who Jesus is, says John, you’ve got to go back to the beginning.
John’s gospel chapter 1 reveals to us that Jesus is:
The Eternal One (vs 1-4)
The Revealed One (vs 4-5)
The Promised One (vs 6-8)
The Rejected One (vs 10)
The Saving One (vs 12-13)
The Glorious One (vs 14)
It all leads to this astonishing claim of verse 14, The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
My prayer is that you will more fully know the ‘incarnate deity’, Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, born to die on the cross, that we might be brought to God through Him who dwells among us.
Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and as we are sorely hindered by our sins from running the race that is set before us, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.
God bless you.
The Rt. Rev. Julian Dobbs, bishop with the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, has traveled to the Middle East, meeting with Christians facing horrendous persecution. With a focus on the plight of Christians in Syria, Bishop Dobbs shares with Jerry Newcombe on the persecution of our brothers and sisters in Christ in places like Aleppo. www.barnabasaid.org
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 that 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 situation and he ask 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 the same thing, a 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, but there are also 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 widespread 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 are 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 in 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 be seen as good, just and upright.
“The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” Habakkuk 2:20.