On December 2nd, 2019, a church in Burkina Faso was attacked just as Christians were exiting the church. Women were told to go back into the church; the men and boys were slaughtered one by one, as cloths were put over their faces. In all, 14 people died (source). Continue reading
In case some of you have not heard, Tyler Skaggs of the Angels baseball team passed away quite suddenly last night. No foul play or suicide seemed to be involved; Skaggs was 27. Continue reading
In another heartbreaking story, it was reported by the Christian Post that Pastor Andrew Stoecklein of Inland Hills megachurch committed suicide over this past weekend after battling depression and anxiety. This man of God, whose life was dedicated to sharing Jesus with the world, was undergoing extreme emotional pain that only a select group of people, if any at all, knew about.
My heart breaks at the news of this; it seems to not make any sense. But before we all start speculating and giving our two cents about his passing and what led to it, let us not forget that there are hundreds, if not thousands of people grieving his loss right now– especially his wife, 3 beautiful sons, and other family and friends. They need prayer and support right now more than other people’s speculations.
Let us also not forget that mental illness can affect anyone. If you are feeling depressed, isolated, and/or suicidal, please reach out for help. The suicide hotline number is 1-800-273-8255, and it is open 24/7. Please, please please, as a person who has lost a best friend to suicide, take it from me: there is always something to live for.
Please join with me in prayer and support this week for those closest to Pastor Stoecklein, as well as for the elders of the church, as they move forward in the wake of such tragedy.
“The Lord said, ‘I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.’”
(Exodus 3:7, NIV)
In the year of 2017, 215 million Christians experienced “high, very high, or extreme persecution.”1 Open Doors, an international organization documenting cases of persecution and advocating for persecuted Christians, stated in their 2017 report that now, more than ever, Christians are being heinously persecuted in places such as the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.
Sadly, the news gets worse. Pakistan, a country that is mainly Muslim, has risen above “even… Northern Nigeria” in terms of violence toward Christians. There was a 62% increase in the murder of Christians in Nigeria, and now, there is even a broader range of places where Christian persecution takes place—now reaching even to some places in Mexico and Columbia.
There have been high profile cases of Christian persecution, many of which have been written about on this blog (such as the case of Pastor Saeed Abedini). A well-known persecuted Christian, Asia Bibi, is living in prison, sentenced to death, for refusing to renounce her belief in Jesus; the Pope met with her daughter, Eisham, and Asia’s husband, Ashiq Masih, on February 24th to honor persecuted Christians worldwide. The pope also met with freed Christian Chibok girl, Rebecca Bitrus, during the day to honor persecuted Christians.
Around the world, on a daily basis, regular people like you and I are having to sacrifice greatly—sometimes their own lives—for the name of Jesus. They love Him with all their hearts, and have suffered horrific things for the love of Him.
Similarities between the Oppressed Hebrews & The Early Church
Reading Exodus 1-3, these precious, yet persecuted people have come to mind. The Israelites—a people who started with only the family of Jacob, about 70 people total (Exodus 1:5), were a blessing to the Egyptians, with God using Joseph to warn Egypt of a great famine, saving the lives of millions of people all over the area (read more about this in Genesis 41). The Pharaoh at the time knew that “the gods” were with Joseph (when of course it was truly YHWH with Joseph, only YHWH is God), and made him second in command over all of Egypt; but Exodus 1 says that “…a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt” (Exodus 1:8, NIV). During this time, the 70 people who belong to Israel’s family exploded “greatly.” This huge amount of people was a real threat to Pharaoh—and so, he made them slaves, oppressing them and cruelly causing them to work incredibly hard, hoping it would hinder their population growth. The Israelites did nothing wrong to Egypt, and even blessed Egypt (through Joseph)—and yet, Egypt forgot how they had been blessed, and treated them cruelly instead.
But Pharoah’s cruel idea did not thwart God’s good, Sovereign plan. Instead of hindering the Hebrew’s population growth, their population growth grew even more rapidly! At this, Pharaoh ordered the Hebrew midwives to kill every boy that was born; but they did not bow underneath the extreme pressure of Pharoah (Exodus 1:15-16). Instead, “The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live” (Exodus 1:17, NIV).
As many of you readers know, the Israelites only grew in the face of oppression—and were more and more cruelly oppressed, because of it—at this point, for 350-400 years2 (Exodus 1:22- Exodus 6). In fact, the Israelites had been so horrifically oppressed that their cry was heard by God, and He was deeply concerned for them (Exodus 2:24-25).
Many know the story from here. God saves Moses through Moses’ mother, sending him down the river in a basket made of papyrus; and he is adopted by the Pharoah’s daughter. He kills someone and flees to the land of Midian for 40 years; and God speaks to him through the burning bush, asking him to go back to Egypt and deliver God’s people, the Israelites, from their suffering.
But what does ANY of this have to do with the Persecuted Church? It can be seen as a vivid picture of the worldwide Church, and the suffering that is happening within it, today. Let me show you what I mean:
- The worldwide Christian Church, like the Israelites, are people chosen by God—a people that started with a small population (1 Peter 2:9; Acts)
- The early church, and the church in general, was and is extremely persecuted—yet it did not stop faith in Jesus Christ from spreading, “multiplying” Believers3 (Acts 11:19-21)
- Those in the early Church refused to stop speaking of Jesus and the Gospel, even under heavy political pressure (Acts 5:17-33)
- Because the early Church was from God, it could not be hindered, just like the Israelites (Acts 5:34-39)
- A “mixed congregation” left Egypt with the Israelites; this can be somewhat applied to how Gentiles came to know Christ (Exodus 12:37-38; Acts 28:28)
The worldwide Church today—Jews and Gentiles alike as the “true Israel” Paul speaks about in Romans 9, especially verse 24, is still thriving in underground/secret fellowships despite increased terrorism and persecution. People continue to come to know Jesus Christ in spite of suffocating political oppression, in countries all around the world. Missionaries and regular, everyday Christians risk their lives, speaking of Jesus and His Gospel despite fierce opposition, disdain, and rejection. And, because even “the gates of Hades will not overcome [the Church],” no one—no matter the amount of persecution, evil, murder, violence, or political/religious/worldly power—will be able to deride or overpower God’s People.
An End to the Suffering
But what about the exodus? The Israelites got freedom from their oppression; but what about the Persecuted Church? Revelation 6:9 speaks of these horrifically persecuted Christians—and Jesus’ comforting promise to them.
“When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’ Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been”
(Revelation 6:9-11, NIV)
Ultimately, Jesus will rescue those who are being persecuted—either through death and entering heaven, or through the rapture. “Just a little longer,” Jesus says to those who have been killed for their faith, as they wait for Justice. It will all be made right in His time.
As you and I pray for those who are suffering persecution of any kind, right now, let us thank our Jesus that we are able to worship Him together in freedom (if we are able to do so). And let’s also remember this: that Jesus wins out, every time. That no pain is wasted; and that Jesus is Sovereign. God came through before– He will come through, again.
This post is dedicated to those Christians currently suffering in Nigeria, especially Northern Nigeria. Please pray for them—and for the kidnapped Christian Chibok girls, still living in muslim captivity.
Do you know Jesus?
Most people know Moses as the one who God used to deliver the Israelites from their disgusting bondage to the Egyptians. But, most people might not know that Moses never entered into the Promised Land, Himself (Numbers 20:12). A man named Joshua did.
Though it might sound confusing, Joshua is a “type” of Christ: that is to say, he foretold of the Messiah to come, who would liberate the people and carry them into their Promised Land, a land of freedom, faith, and complete life transformation from the oppression the Israelites were under.
The Jewish people expected a King to overthrow the oppression of Rome from them. But He had much more in mind. Read more about Jesus Christ—and why He is THE Messiah—here.
Please pray for (Print out a “Prayer Points” sheet here)…
- Those who are being persecuted for their faith, right now. Click here to get a good understanding of which countries have the most persecution, here.
- For those who have family members and loved ones die from persecution. Pray that Jesus would comfort and strengthen their hearts, after losing those they love so much.
- Those who are currently in prison for their faith, and their families & loved ones. Pray that Jesus would carry them through; that they would not be ashamed of the Gospel, and that He would set them free from prison, be that His Will, soon.
- The country of the United States of America. We have, in our luxury, forgotten how incredibly fortunate we are to be able to believe in Jesus Christ—and worship Him openly—however and wherever we would like. May we have boldness to continue to worship Jesus and share His Gospel.
- For the Chibok girls (and all other kidnapped people from Boko Haram). Pray they would become free, very soon.
- For all Believers– including ourselves!– that we would be full of the Holy Spirit, bold, and loving as we share the Gospel!!! That we would be sensitive to the Spirit’s leading in that.
Thank you for your prayers!!!
“Conflict within, conflict without.” These are the words that best describe the state of affairs in Benue State, Nigeria. Though not brought up on this blog before, the volatile conditions in Benue State, which dub it “The Benue Crisis,” are not conditions to be overlooked.
What is the Benue Crisis?
In 2011, Fulani Herdsmen—a nomadic people group, known for being pastoralists— started grazing in areas where indigenous peoples, such as the Igbos and Idomas (located in Benue) lived. In what started a war between the two peoples, the people of Benue complained that Fulani Herdsmen coming to their land caused damage to their crops and worsened the health of their drinking water1. While this issue is only the tip of the iceberg (there is fierce ethnic and religious divides between the two peoples, as well2), it was this issue that broke the camel’s back. Enraged after Benue rejected grazing land for the Herdsmen3, Fulani Herdsmen killed 73 people at the beginning of this year in Benue, while rioting and committing arson in their towns and villages. Approximately 40,000 people have been displaced from the violence, and this crisis has made the Fulani Herdsmen Nigeria’s new biggest internal security threat.4
Reading of the sudden surge of violence, I’m filled with a sense of sadness. Nigeria has already been ripped to pieces by Boko Haram; the last thing it needs is fighting between fellow Nigerians, which breaks up whatever little amount of Unity there is. Yet, as I reflected on this news, it reminded me of another horrible thing, quite similar (but worse than) disunity within a nation: disunity and dissension within the body of Christ.
When the Church Hurts
“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” King David wrote in Psalm 133:1. The Bible is chalk full of scripture on the importance of Peace and Unity within the Church body, worldwide, as a whole—and it is obvious from Scripture that such unity leads to Love, growth, and a strengthened Church. Yet, for reasons rooted both in the flesh and in the powers of darkness, the worldwide Church is more fractured than ever, filled with “backbiters” and all kinds of evil.
This kind of evil is especially sad. People expect this kind of behavior from the world around them, since it does not know Christ. But dissension and anger in the Church, along with gossiping and other sins, can catch a person off-guard and severely wound one’s heart and soul. When someone is hurt by sin in a place where they are supposed to be genuinely loved, it can cause one to turn on the Church—and Jesus– forever.
And honestly, who would blame them? When Jesus’ church looks and acts just like the world around it, providing no real love or shelter for those who are in desperate need of it (all of us), it makes sense for a person to leave. But, while it is easy to leave broken relationships and try to find another church to belong to— be it another local church, the world-wide Church, or turning on Christ entirely—it is obviously not Jesus’ desire. So, how is the Christian supposed to navigate hurt or disagreement when such things take place?
Peace Through Christ
First, we must start with the foundation: Peace with God. Ephesians 2 reads:
“8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. 11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.”
(Ephesians 2:8-16, NIV)
In context, Paul the Apostle was telling the church in Ephesus that those who were once separated by ethnicity and religious background (for, Jews were taught to stay away from Gentiles, and even Gentile converts to Judaism couldn’t come as close in the temple as Jews5) were now one in Jesus Christ. Think of it—wait, we don’t have to, because it’s Truth! – people of every ethnicity, socio-economic status, skin color, culture, political stance, and even religious upbringing, upon believing in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, become ONE! Parts of ONE Body, baptized by ONE baptism, looking at ONE Hope—Jesus Christ Himself (Ephesians 4:4-6). This Truth changes everything.
This is not just some radical theology, or a truth-filled ideal. This is real. But how does it affect us, personally, on a day to day basis?
As Steven J. Cole so wisely asserts, “Being at peace with God is the foundation for peace with others.”5 To look for peace between people, one must first look to the cross.
Did someone gossip or lie about you? Look to the cross.
Did someone not invite you to a function you thought you’d be invited to? Look to the cross.
Has a difference in opinions or personal convictions (over a MINOR issue of faith) made you hard-hearted and divisive toward a fellow brother or sister? Look to the cross.
Has someone done something inconceivable to you, and you don’t know if you’re ever going to be able to forgive them? Look to the cross.
Listen: Jesus is the One who initiated reconciliation with you. He reached out first.
Not because of what you have done—but because of Who. He. Is.
So, my friend, my family in Christ: forgive. (Matthew 18:21-22)
Do not count someone’s sin against them, forever. (1 Corinthians 13:5)
In the midst of differences in opinion over non-essentials, give room for grace—and love them anyway. (Romans 14:1-4)
And– if safe and wise to do so– let the Power of Jesus’ Love and Forgiveness, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, allow you to reconcile.
Let me be clear. I am not condoning that a person in a harmful or unsafe situation should stay in that situation— not all forgiveness leads to the complete restoration of a relationship.
But I am saying this: We, as Believers in Christ, belong to each other. As people heading to Heaven, we will know each other, forever. And truly Loving each other—getting through our hurts and disagreements, and still Loving each other after it all– is going to be the boldest, realest witness to Christ that the world will ever see. Hatred is not a political problem or even a religious problem, at least in the ordinary way religion is viewed. Hatred is a heart problem—and only Jesus can change hearts.
In a world where division and hatred is the norm, the world needs this witness now, more than ever. The Salvation, Love, and Peace of Christ is the ONLY true solution to such division as the Benue Crisis. Let’s pray that together, as the Church is strengthened in Love, that the Gospel would be shared—and that even more hearts would be changed: For He Himself is our Peace.
This post is dedicated to Deputy Heath Gumm, who was killed by a gunshot wound after responding to an assault-in-progress in Adams County, Colorado. It is dedicated to every peace officer dedicated to protecting society as a whole. Thank you, Deputy Gumm; thank you, America’s Peace Officers.
Do you know Jesus?
It’s one of the first lessons people come to understand as children: Hatred and violence are undeniable parts of our world. No matter where a person grows up, they soon learn the hard truth that this world is tough, and people are mean.
While people fight for love and peace, they have never gained the final victory over it. But Jesus Christ has. “For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. 15 He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. 16 Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death” (Ephesians 2:14-16). This passage is speaking about Peace between ethnically born Jews, and “Gentiles”—everyone who isn’t a Jew. In giving us Peace with God, Christ Himself has brought Peace to ALL people by His death on the Cross.
Jesus Christ gave us Peace with God. Removing the need to perfectly obey the law, we are given Peace with God instead through Jesus’ death on the cross. This is the true and lasting Peace that we need—and one day, Christ will come back to reign over the Earth, “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end” (Isaiah 9:7). Learn about this God-Man, who offers us lasting Peace with God and with one another, here.
- For any fractures within the Church. From hurt in the local church body to disdain and hatred between some denominations of Christianity, pray for Love and Unity, as Christ did (John 17:20-24). Reflect on your life—is there anyone you need to make Peace with? Make that Peace today.
- That Believers all over the world—both in Benue, and those as missionaries in Northern Nigeria—would extend the Gospel, Grace, Love, and Peace of God to both Fulani Herdsmen, and the indigenous people within the nation. Pray that these ministries would be built up, strengthened in knowledge of the Word and in Love, and given all they need to shine brightly during this dark time!
- That those in the Benue Crisis would seek God, and in doing so, would come to know Christ. “…God intended that they would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27).
Sources & References:
(This started being written on the morning of Monday, November 6th.)
It is Monday morning, and all I can do right now is sit here and cry.
Cry over and about the shooting that happened in Sutherland Springs, Texas, at the First Baptist Church.
The 26 victims who passed away ranged in ages from 5-72 years old, according to CNN. Approximately 20 other people were wounded. There is practically no one who was not affected in some way, shape or form by the shooting, in such a small town as Sutherland Springs.
The regular pastor was away with his wife, and a visiting pastor came to preach at the church. He passed away in the shooting; as did the regular pastor’s 14-year-old daughter.
Among the dead were eight people, apart of the same family, spanning across three generations and including a pregnant woman and her three children (source).
No one in the church left unharmed.
I sit here crying, not just because of the sheer horror of all of this, but because these congregants came to this church on a Sunday morning, to worship Jesus and to fellowship with one another. Because it struck deep, and held some of the same similarities to my own church.
There was a visiting pastor at the church I visited, yesterday. There were about 50-70 congregants in the service. The regular pastor and his wife were in a different city, guest-pastoring there.
As we lifted up holy hands and sang together in worship, and as chuckled with each other through the funny parts of the service, the Pastor taught us one thing: God is Love; and Love is the highest form of warfare.
It is patient. It is kind. It does not envy. It does not boast. It is not proud.
It does not dishonor others. It is not self-seeking. It is not easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects. It always trusts. It always hopes. It always perseveres. Love never fails.
(1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
The kind of Love Jesus has for us is Agape Love. This kind of Love is sacred, and selfless. Loving without ever expecting Love in return. This kind of Love is not a cuddly, warm, fuzzy feeling. Neither is it only an impulse. It is an action. It is a choice, to be made daily.
It wages war on the self, or as the Bible calls it, “the flesh,” which wants self-gratification at any cost to those around itself. It wages war on the enemy, satan, and on his schemes to steal, kill, and destroy others through sin, deceit and spiritual attacks. Without this type of love, knowing everything in the world, having the greatest amount of faith, and doing even the most extremely selfless things, amounts to… well… nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
Jesus wins the war; Jesus, God, is Love, as 1 John 4:8 states (again, not the warm, fuzzy, super-tolerant ‘Love’; but the life-changing, transforming, in-your-face bold and beautiful kind of Love, that does not delight in evil or sin, but delights in the truth.). And, because Jesus is Love, Love will always win.
Over the apathy. Over the self-centeredness. Over the hurt, the pain, the anger and insult and tragedy. The horror. Love never fails.
Friends, Beloved, if we must get something right, let’s get Love right. Especially between our brothers and sisters in Christ. As Matthew 5, and 1 John 4, say:
“‘You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.” But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, “Raca,” is answerable to the court. And anyone who says,”You fool!” will be in danger of the fire of hell.
‘Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.
‘Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.'”
(Matthew 5:21-26, NIV)
“Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. … We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.”
(1 John 4:19-21, NIV)
That last passage, in 1 John 4, is super convicting, because the word “to hate” in the greek can also mean “love less,” or “esteem less.” In other words, if you do not care more for, and esteem your brothers and sisters in Christ as more than you do for yourself, you cannot truly Love God.
Harsh words, I know.
But in the wake of this horrific, horrific tragedy, I believe they must be said.
Because life is too short to not live a life of Real Love: for God and for others.
As 1 Peter 4 puts it, “The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:7-8, NIV).
There is a town in deep distress, right now. And many are right; people need to change. But please, let’s hold off on the politics and the scrutiny, if only for a day. Because wherever you stand on the political spectrum, if you are a true Believer in Jesus Christ, you know that politics cannot truly save people; only Jesus Christ truly can.
Instead of politicizing this tragedy right now, or making it about another gun law gone wrong, let us just sit. And cry, with them, and for them, as they face the most pressing loss they may have ever encountered. Let us love our hurting, reeling brothers and sisters in Sutherland Springs, Texas, right now, in the form of prayer, and of anything else we can give.
And let’s get Love right. Because truly, throughout all of our lives, He will win in the end.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”
(Romans 12:15, NIV)
Do you know Jesus?
“Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God!
Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine (Matthew 18:12-13).
I couldn’t earn it,
I don’t deserve it,
Still You give Yourself away;
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God!”
(Reckless Love, Bethel Music ft. Steffany Gretzinger)
Though this is just a song, it expresses the kind of Love Jesus has for us. 1 John 4:9-10 says, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
Jesus, God the Son, gave His Life, and God the Father gave His Son, so that we might have a chance to be with God forever. Learn more about this reckless Love– and what Jesus has done for you, in His Reckless Love– here.
- For the members of First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Please pray for the victims’ families, as they are laid low in deep grief, right now.
- For the churches all around the globe who have gone through the same thing, whether it would be because of ISIS, lone-gunmen, and/or the attacks of the enemy. Please pray that we would all stay united in Christ, and that we would pray for one another.
- For those who are feeling lost, alone, suicidal, homicidal, and are generally in a low point of their lives. This gunman was a violent man; please pray that men and women like him would come to know Christ before something like this can happen again.
- It has been reported that the gunmen spent a year in jail for domestic violence, by violently shaking his young son and abusing his wife on multiple occasions; but none of this information was relayed to police, which could have caused the ability for the shooter to obtain a gun.
Please pray for those who relay this information, and for any guilt that any person could have over not doing their job. Please pray that they would come to Christ, and would forgive themselves for any way they could have caused this.
- Pray for anyone in general who could have felt this way before, as well.
I love you, friends. Thank you for your prayers and support.
Injustice. It is everywhere, in the huge and in the small. Sunday morning, it visited a church in Southeast Nigeria.
Imagine. Your closely known brothers and sisters in Jesus meet with you like they do every Sunday, at your local church.
These are people that you hopefully do life with. People you worship Christ with. People who wrestle with the difficult things with you.
People you eat with, cry with, and laugh with. People you love.
And then– gunmen enter the building that houses the Church. Men, looking for one person, barge in, and kill these people. People you love. The sanctuary becomes a place of violence; a place of joy quickly becomes a place of bloodshed, a place where you lost those closest to you.
This Sunday morning, August 6th, 2017, St. Philips Catholic Church was attacked by men who are in the drug-trafficking business of southeast Nigeria. 11 churchgoers were killed when these men started shooting randomly inside the church, in pursuit of someone they thought was in the church building. He was not there (source).
Today, it was not just St. Philips Catholic Church in Ozubulu, Anambra state that suffered damage. It was not torn down architecture; it was a group of people, united in Christ– the true meaning of “the Church”– that passed away, and are now in the presence of their Lord and Savior.
In Hebrews 10:24-25, Jesus gives, through the writer of Hebrews, a very encouraging command– not one to be dreaded, or merely “checked off a list,” but joyfully done.
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
(Hebrews 10:24-25, NIV)
Today, the concept of church is too often seen as a corporation, or somewhere one goes to only on special holidays. But Christ had a very different design for the worldwide Church: it is His bride, and it is meant to be a safe place– a place where much of the process of discipleship and sanctification takes place, as Christ-followers seek to do life together, pursuing Christ all the more.
Though this is not always what happens, it is the goal. Like the early church of Antioch in Acts 11, the church is not just a building or a money-making system… it is a group of Believers in Christ, the One, True, Living God, living lives of Love and generosity to bless those around them (Galatians 6:10). During the famine in Jerusalem, the church of Antioch– the first church of gentile believers– generously gave of their own money to help the church in Judea, after a church member in Antioch named Agabus prophesied that there would be a famine in Jerusalem (you can read more about it here). Christ’s Love had so welled up in their hearts that their entire lives were changed; it was no longer about what one could gain from the church, but how one could generously give to those in need in the Church.
In this, two beautiful truths are found: We, as Christians, need consistent time with one another; and that the church is not supposed to look like the world, but the Church is supposed to love the world, as Christ did.
It is with all of this in mind, and an extremely heavy heart, that I write about what happened in Southeast Nigeria, Sunday. A group of men and women who believed in Christ were killed on Sunday, together. And it is with care, yet firm encouragement, that I write to my brothers and sisters in Christ: Do not forsake the fellowship of the saints.
You may have been scarred by the church.
You may have never been in a church where you felt like you belonged, and were loved.
You may be of the persuasion that you can walk this walk, alone, without a church body to love and help you (and visa versa).
But friends, I am here to tell you the Truth of the matter: I do not want to disregard the fact that you may have been hurt or jaded by your church experiences. But though you may be extremely scarred, and though you may have been tossed aside by some in the Church, you cannot walk this walk alone. You need deep fellowship with Christ, and with other Christians.
“For where two or three gather together in My name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20, NIV). Brothers and sisters in Jesus, we need each other. I pray, as I pray for these brothers and sisters in Southeast Nigeria, that you– and everyone else reading– would come to know Christ, and would come to know the joy of being in fellowship with one another.
As this body of believers is suffering the deep loss of their loved ones, may they be our loved ones too. Our Jesus never promised a life without the pain of injustice (John 16:33)– but he did promise us fellowship with Himself, and command that we do life with the people He has given us. May we receive His gift of other believers, gladly; and may we pray for, and mourn with, those in Southeast Nigeria who have lost these loved ones.
“…so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. …Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”
(Romans 12:5, 15, NIV)
Do you know Jesus?
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
(John 16:33, NIV)
Perhaps one of the most beautiful things in this life is relationships with other human beings; but, without a doubt, the most wonderful thing in this life is having a personal relationship with God, through His Son, Jesus Christ.
You may be thinking, “A person can have a relationship with God, without having Jesus in the picture.” But, Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”
(John 14:6. NIV).
Jesus came to earth, as God-in-human-flesh, to provide sinful mankind with the one way to know God the Father personally. Learn more about Jesus, and why He came to earth to fulfill this mission, by going here.
Please pray with me…
“Dear Lord Jesus,
Thank You for the people You have put in our lives, near and far from us. Thank You for the Church at large. Thank You for Loving us, and helping us to love others.
We pray in Your Name over all things that have happened in Southeast Nigeria, at St. Philip’s Catholic Church. Please hold the members of this church body close to Your Heart; please comfort them, and guide them as they grieve.
We pray for an end to the violence and destruction in Nigeria– and know that it can only come through all people coming to know You. Without You, Jesus, there is no Peace– please help us to share Your Gospel, and please bring us all closer to You.
Thank You for each person who knows You, Lord– please bring back the Chibok girls, as well as the thousands of others who are still in captivity. Please move mightily in their midst.
In Jesus’ Name I pray,
Thank you for your prayers!!!