Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Word From the Inside

It's pretty easy for Christians in religiously free countries to take that freedom for granted. Even when we are made aware of the terrible circumstances that our brothers and sisters in Christ face in countries or environments that are hostile to Christianity, we can be tempted to ignore it since all it does is make us feel sad and guilty. But the fact remains, the world is hostile to the Christian faith and many faithful believers die each day because they consider Jesus Christ more important than anything else.

I used to think that the best thing to do for the persecuted Church was to raise awareness and, of course, pray for the persecution to lessen or cease altogether. The former is necessary but, I just read a book that changed my perspective about the latter. The book is Back to Jerusalem by Paul Hattaway, titled after the Chinese house Church movement that goes by that moniker. I won't say much about the book other than I think that anyone interested in what God is doing in the world must read this book. God's Church may finally breakout in the Muslim and Buddhist world through these faithful brothers and sisters who will do anything to bring their Savior to the lost.

But what I want to share here are a few words from one of the leaders of this movement who has suffered a good deal of persecution for his faith. This representative perspective should cause us to rethink our prayers for the persecuted Church. Rather than praying for the persecution to cease, we should pray for faithfulness and perseverance in the midst of the persecution.

From Brother Yun:
"Sometimes Western visitors come to China and ask the house church leaders what seminary they attended. We reply, jokingly yet with underlying seriousness, that we have been trained in the Holy Spirit Personal Devotion Bible School (prison) for many years."

"Sometimes our Western friends don't understand what we mean because they then ask, 'What materials do you use in this Bible school?' We reply, 'Our only materials are the foot chains that bind us and the leather whips that bruise us.'"

"In this prison seminary, we have learned many valuable lessons about the Lord that we could never have learned from a book. We've come to know God in a deeper way. We understand his goodness and his loving faithfulness to us." (p. xi-xii)

"The past fifty years of suffering, persecution, and torture of the house churches in China were all part of God's training for us. He has used the government for his own purposes, molding and shaping his children as he sees fit. That is why I correct Western Christians who tell me: 'I've been praying for years that the Communist government in China will collapse, so Christians can live in freedom.' This is not what we pray! We never pray against our government or call down curses on it. Instead, we have learned that God is in control of both our own lives and the government we live under. ... Instead of focusing our prayers against any political system, we pray that regardless of what happens to us, we will be pleasing to God."

"Don't pray for the persecution to stop! We shouldn't pray for a lighter load to carry, but a stronger back to endure! Then the world will see that God is with us, empowering us to live in a way that reflects his love and power."

"This is true freedom." (p. 57-58)

My prayer life will certainly be different as a result of Brother Yun's testimony and that of the other members of the Back to Jerusalem Movement. May they stand firm and may the Kingdom increase as they continue their service to the Lord.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

And the Lion Shall Lie Down with the ...

Lev Eleos Oldenburg was born on Friday, May 28 at 2:25 AM. Here he is with his brother who, until that Friday, seemed like the smallest three-year-old boy in the universe.

Now picking up Dietrich is like picking up a big bag of rocks and I feel like Lev is simply one of Dietrich's stuffed animals. Everything was new with D but, with time, a lot of those new and "unforgettable" experiences have been forgotten, or at least pushed way back in the memory. With Lev it is all coming back again and it is all precious and "unforgettable," just like the first time.

OK, enough with the comparisons. Lev is a Slavic name that means lion, hence the title of this post. We wanted a name that worked well here and, once we thought of Lev, we couldn't get it out of our heads. He is not named after Leo Tolstoy, although Lev was Leo's real name. From what we've been told, Lev is a rare, dignified and manly name around these parts, but we just like wildlife, and the Messianic connotations. Eleos is the Greek word for mercy, which we feel Lev represents after our previous, tragic birth experience. A great passage using the word is I Peter 1:3-5. All of the beautiful descriptions of the salvific realities in which Christians abide are all by the mercy of God. For us, Lev exemplifies that mercy.

We love Lev and, whether you pronounce it with a Russian tongue, like me (Lyehv), or with Ukrainian tongue, like Josie (Lehv), we think you will love him too.