His Divine Truth Will Not Return Void

It actually happened.  The on again-off again United States-Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (US-DPRK) Summit in Singapore finally took place at the Capella Hotel on the island of Sentosa on 12 June 2018. N Korea USA_1.jpg

The joint declaration between both US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un commits to new US-DPRK relations; joint efforts to establish lasting peace and stability in the Korean peninsula; the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula; and the recovery of prisoner of war and missing-in-action remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.

However, the joint statement has left world leaders and political observers divided over the document’s place in history due to its vague wording and generic nature. Some feel the summit marks the first meaningful step in a long journey towards a safer and more peaceful world.  Others admit to being underwhelmed and insist that key issues such as complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation (CVID) have remained unresolved.  Some question “the art of the deal” and warn that President Trump’s decision to end the “provocative war games” with South Korea, i.e. the joint military exercises that have for decades served to be a major deterrent to North Korea, is a huge unreciprocated giveaway to Chairman Kim.  North Korea does not have a good track record of keeping its promises – eversince they signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1985, its regime has violated signed agreements, flip-flopped and reneged on its promises time and again.  In other words, the leaders of North Korea cannot be trusted.  How then can anyone be sure it will be different this time?

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Yet Chairman Kim has declared the meeting in Singapore “very historic”, promising that “the world will see a major change”, even as President Trump announced that both leaders had developed “a very special bond”, with the added comment that the   North Korean leader would be setting in motion the peace process upon his return to Pyongyang.

Only time will tell if this is merely “much ado about nothing”, a highly anticipated and publicised photo opportunity on the world stage, amidst all the political rhetoric, showmanship, and mutual “feel good” smiles and promises of global peace and good will.  However, at least a nuclear war has been averted for now.

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This month, we remember the persecuted Christians in North Korea.  While many are familiar with the terrifying totalitarian rule of the Kim dynasty (Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un) as well as the fact that North Korea ranks No.1 on Open Doors’ World Watch List (click here for details) as the world’s worst persecutor of Christians, fewer are aware of its rich Christian heritage.

The first known Protestant missionary to land in Korea was Karl Gutzlaff, a German missionary working with the East India Company in the 18th century, who shared the gospel, and also distributed bibles and tracts.  When his ship was denied permission for further trade, he left reluctantly with these words:

“Can the divine truth, disseminated in Korea be lost? This I believe not, there will be some fruits in the appointed time of the Lord…The Scriptures teach us to believe that God can bless even these feeble beginnings.  Let us hope that better days will soon dawn for Korea”.

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However the first Protestant martyr in Korea was Robert Thomas, a young Welsh missionary who led a trip to Korea in 1865 to distribute bibles along the coast.  On his second trip, while his ship came under attack as it ran aground and unfortunately began firing canons, Thomas tossed bibles to the people on the riverbank, before being executed when he made it to land.  On the day of Thomas’ execution, God was already working in the hearts of the Koreans.  Choi Chi Hyang, aged 12, turned to Christ soon after receiving one of Thomas’ bibles.  He later became an elder in the Pyongyang Church.  The executioner, Park Chun Won, later became a Christian, along with his entire family, and his house became the site of one of the first Protestant churches in Korea.

Soon after Thomas’ death, Korea opened up to world trade, with American missionaries arriving around 1885.  The Church grew amidst persecution.

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Then in Wonsan in 1903, a medical missionary called Dr Hardy was moved by the Holy Spirit to confess his prejudice against the Korean people.  The Korean congregation began to weep and confess their own prejudice against him.  This started the Wonsan revival, with more than 10,000 Koreans receiving Jesus into their hearts.  In 1907, missionaries gathered in Pyongyang and prayed for revival for six months, resulting in “the Great Pyongyang Revival”.  By mid-1907, there were more than 30,000 converts, and by 1910, there were reportedly more than 250,000 Christians worshiping in Korea.  North Korea’s capital Pyongyang became known as “the Jerusalem of the East”.

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However, during the Japanese Occupation from 1910 till the end of WWII in 1945, many Korean Christians were imprisoned and martyred for refusing to bow down at Japanese shrines.  There were also many church leaders who succumbed to the pressure of persecution by leading their people in bowing down.  It was a heart-wrenching time for the Korean Church.

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Miraculously, the Church still grew against the odds and by the time of the Communist takeover in 1948, there were an estimated 3,000 churches throughout Korea, most of which were located in the North.

N Korea S Korea_1.pngThe Korean people faced another major trial when their country was divided into the North and South, with the USA and the USSR each establishing a Korean government in Seoul and Pyongyang, respectively, which later led to “the Forgotten War”, i.e. the Korean War in 1950 – 1953, and the subsequent loss of about 3 million innocent lives.

Over time, the two respective systems of communism and capitalism in the North and South led to different outcomes for their citizens.  Backed by the Soviets, North Korea had a good start with her Juche ideology of self-reliance and the Songun “Military First” policy, and began to build her nuclear capability around the mid-1950s to early 1960s.  The Pyongyang regime was faring much better in the 1960s while impoverished South Koreans stumbled and struggled through economic and political instability for several decades.  To this day, in large part due to her initial success and the onslaught of propaganda (Kim-centric patriotic songs, literary works, festivals, parades, flags, badges, statues, monuments and revolutionary sites), indoctrination, the stratified Songbun hereditary system, restricted travel, inminban surveillance neighbourhood watch groups, imprisonment, torture, executions as well as media censorship and blackouts, many North Koreans are still convinced that reunification of the two Korea’s is necessary for the relief and rescue of South Koreans from their suffering and inferior Capitalist way of life.  From 1959 to 1984, ethnic Koreans living in South Korea were even led to believe that North Korea was a form of “paradise”.  Unfortunately, many lived to regret their decision to resettle in the North under the Kim regime.

Through the years, in tandem with her economy, the Church in South Korea has however flourished and is known globally for her prayer and missionary zeal.  In contrast, her counterpart in the communist North has endured several decades of hardship and persecution.

It is noteworthy is that many of the original ruling elite of communist North Korea were from Christian families or received a Christian education.  What is even more surprising is that Kim Il Sung, who was the revered Supreme Leader of North Korea from 1948 till his death in 1994, had a grandfather who was a Presbyterian minister (other sources also mention an uncle).  His parents, Kim Hyong Jik and Kang Ban Sok, were also devote Christians serving as elders in the Presbyterian Church, before they were used for propaganda purposes to build their son’s cult of personality.  (In South Korea, “Ban Sok” is a name that is also given to baby girls.  It means “Peter”, who was one of the 12 disciples of Jesus.)  Some sources state that the young Kim Il Sung grew up in church and was even an accomplished organist.

It is also rumoured that before an important surgery years later, the Supreme leader prayed with his doctor.  Unfortunately, it is believed that Kim Il Sung resented the high living standards of foreign missionaries in contrast to the poverty and suffering of his countrymen.  He found yet another reason for rejecting Christianity when despite fervent prayers uttered by Christians, his father failed to return home after his capture by Japanese soldiers during their family’s exile in China.  This marked the start of Kim Il Sung’s stubborn repudiation of his Christian heritage, the horrific persecution of Christians and the cruel destruction of Christian properties.  Warped Christian elements can be found in the subsequent use of propaganda to strengthen the cultification of Kim Il Sung through songs, teachings, the study of the writings of Kim Il Sung in small groups, and the confession of “sins” in weekly confessionals, with deification of Kim Il Sung as “god” and his son Kim Jong Il as “the son of god”.

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It is now believed that the Supreme and Great Leader Kim Il Sung, who since 1998 has been posthumously named the “Eternal President of the Republic”, was gradually undermined and subtly usurped by his own son Kim Jong Il in a masterful stroke, even as the younger Kim appeared to support his father and encouraged the promotion of Kim Senior as a cult figure.  As the son of Kim Jong Suk, Kim Il Sung’s first wife, Kim Jong Il managed to outsmart his enemies in a power struggle to emerge as the ruling “Dear Leader” of North Korea from 1994 until 2011.  He took three years to consolidate his legitimacy through numerous purges, ridding himself of his once-powerful step-mother Kim Sung Ae – Kim Il Sung’s second wife – and her son Kim Pyong Il – the original heir to the throne – along with many other family members and friends who were executed throughout the country through the practice of “guilt by association”. There were also bizarre schemes that deployed trusted lieutenants to study and then infiltrate the South Korean psyche, culture and society through local-sounding poetry that was supportive of the Kim regime; the kidnapping of unsuspecting South Koreans and Japanese; the use of attractive North Korean women to have dalliances with influential figures in Japan that resulted in the birth of foreign children who were then moved to North Korea to be groomed as agents of the state.

Meanwhile, the nation-wide “Great North Korean Famine” of the mid-1990s, which was caused by economic mismanagement, the loss of Soviet support, droughts and floods, was promoted to North Korean citizens as the “Arduous March”/”The March of Suffering”.  The people persevered throughout the land even as they were made to believe that their Dear Leader Kim Jong Il was himself soldiering on and inspiring them by surviving only on one riceball a day.  The famine was so severe that it is believed to have led to at least three million deaths, many of whom were children.  Even rice farmers had difficulty growing enough rice, and families were accustomed to rationing rice by counting out the grains or consuming meagre grains of rice diluted with bowls of water.  International aid in the form of food packages, medicine and clothing almost never reached the general populace, and subsequent world-wide economic sanctions over the years have since further bankrupted and impoverished the country, hindering the recovery and growth of a nation with a reputation that ironically once fooled about 100,000 ethnic Koreans to leave Japan for communist North Korea under a repatriation programme from 1959 to 1984.

Thus while the privileged few in North Korea even today enjoy the trappings of a lavish lifestyle, living in luxury apartments or mansions and enjoying access to foreign goods such as cognac, cigarettes, ice cream and expensive handbags, it is the poor ordinary citizens who continue to suffer from deprivation at every level.

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The high level of scepticism amongst many world leaders and political observers is therefore understandable despite the ongoing talks of peace on the Korean peninsula. Afterall, the current North Korean leader, Chairman Kim Jong Un is believed to have ordered the execution of his uncle, Jang Song Thaek, who as Kim Jong Il’s brother-in-law was considered second in rank only to the late Supreme Leader, taking charge of national affairs when Kim Jong Il was ailing towards the end of his life.  Kim Jong Un is also rumoured to be the mastermind behind the fatal poisoning and assassination of his older brother Kim Jong Nam while the latter was at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia in February 2017.  The Otto Warmbier incident, in which a strapping young American student was incarcerated in North Korea for theft of government property in January 2016, followed by his mysterious medical condition and death soon after his return to the United States in June 2017, remains disturbing in recent memory.  Scores of defectors have since told many a horrific and cautionary tale as well.  The North Korean regime has always been perceived as opaque, dangerous, unpredictable and not to be trifled with.

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The persecution that Christians face in North Korea is unmatched, despite Pyongyang’s claim that religious freedom exists.  There are only three state-sponsored churches in North Korea – two Protestant and one Catholic – and they are essentially government establishments and not genuine places of worship concentrated in Pyongyang to give some semblance of religious tolerance to visitors from the outside world.  Hundreds of thousands of Christians have mysteriously disappeared over the years.  Threats, intimidation and public executions are commonplace, especially in provinces far from Pyongyang.  Three generations of a family can be thrown into prison camps simply for possessing a bible or practising Christianity.  Christian groups like those from South Korea cannot meet their counterparts or potential converts face-to-face in North Korea.  Tourists who visit North Korea are closely chaperoned by state-employed guides and proselytising is prohibited.

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In desperation and despair, tens of thousands of North Koreans have risked their lives and defected to South Korea and beyond, through the Chinese border.  Countless more never made it alive.  Even those who have made it to China need to remain in hiding to avoid repatriation as well as certain torture and death, with most resorting to suicide when they  are captured by Chinese or North Korean authorities.  Only the very fortunate have managed to escape to freedom, with Good Samaritans to help them along the way. Persecution_1.jpg

Against such a background, it is therefore truly amazing that the underground church has survived as a body of believers that has held out for generations, even after years of persecution and attempts to destroy Christianity.  It is believed that there are now at least 200,000 to 400,000 Christians in North Korea.  While the Church remains invisible, it is growing.  Believers memorise scriptures and hymns, and gather in secret.  Sparks of revival are happening even now, as thousands of North Koreans are quietly giving their lives to Christ.  It is the hand and work of our loving and sovereign God.

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“Our prayers can go where we cannot…there are no borders, no prison walls, no doors that are closed to us when we pray.” – Brother Lawrence

So while we cannot claim to fully understand or imagine the hardships and atrocities fellow believers in North Korea are facing even today, we want to come confidently to God’s throne of grace and stand in the gap for our brothers and sisters in Christ.

We know that behind every evil person is Satan.  But behind Satan is our all-powerful, holy and sovereign God.  So we are not powerless. We have direct access to Almighty God, our Heavenly Father.  There is power in His word, and we will and must use it to push back the darkness.  For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.  The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.  On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.  Across the world, as children of the Living God, we unite in prayer for North Korea/DPRK:

O Lord God, You are the Alpha and the Omega, the Great I Am and our Creator God.  Nothing in all creation is hidden from Your sight.  Everything is uncovered and laid bare before Your eyes.  You are omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent.  Apart from You, there is no other. 

How Your heart must ache when You see the suffering of Your precious sheep in North Korea, with its capital Pyongyang once known as “the Jerusalem of the East”.  Yet to those who are faithful, You show Yourself faithful.  You have granted Your sheep the grace to persevere in the faith, and the grace to remain true to You even in the face of death.  For those who have perished because they bear Your name, You have rewarded them with the Crown of Life and the White Robe of Righteousness.  Their names are written in Your Book of Life forever. 

For those still persevering in the faith, we know that the Lord Jesus is standing by their side to give them strength.  O Lord, may Your love, word and truth continue to be planted, watered and strengthened in the hearts of the faithful.  We know that Your eyes range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to You.  Even when they have little strength, may the Holy Spirit embolden and enable them to do what is normally humanly impossible – to stand firm and not deny Your name even in the face of severe testing.  Abba Father, may You watch over all believers.  May You keep their faith from wavering.  May the flame of faith remain ablaze within their hearts as they shine brightly as Your witnesses, as Your light in the darkness.

Lord God, You know how Your sheep are singled out for harsher treatment.  In their hunger, we pray that You will strengthen their frame and lead them to food sources.  Lord Jesus, You are the Bread of Life.  We pray that You will build them up even as they languish helplessly in labour and re-education camps, or even as they starve and are brutally tortured while in prison.  May You draw near to each one.  We pray that Your strong presence and peace will comfort them by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

O Lord, we pray for the sick.  May You send them the medical help and expertise they need, including supplies of medication that will reach them.  Lord God, You are the Great Physician.  May You heal each one physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.  

We pray that You will send brave and compassionate people who are in the position to help Your sheep – to love them, shelter them, protect them, defend them, feed them, clothe them, pray for them, visit them and help them by all possible means, even in the presence of danger. 

We pray for the vulnerable young girls and women who are in constant danger of being raped and trafficked. O Lord, may they sense Your presence, love and peace.  May You comfort and strengthen them, protect them and rescue them from captivity.  May each one have the opportunity to finally live a meaningful life of blessing, dignity, peace, fruitfulness and safety.

Lord God, we also pray for those who have managed to flee and defect.  May You plant godly people along their way so that they may experience Your unconditional love.  May You continue to reveal Yourself in dreams and visions, or miracles and other creative ways reminiscent of the awakening and revival that swept across North Korea in the early 1900s.  May refugees and defectors hear the Good News either en route or wherever they settle, and experience the joy of putting their trust in You.

Lord, revive and rebuild Your Church in North Korea.  May You watch over believers who are faithfully serving Your people through the broadcast ministry and those who have answered Your call and made appropriate preparations to return to their homeland as Your salt and light.  May You bless and prepare many more Christ ambassadors for future ministries throughout the land.   

O Lord, You are the God of Truth and Justice.  May You open the eyes of the 25 million people who have been deceived and taken advantage of all these years. May You cause a strong sense of injustice to stir within the hearts of every single person.  May You convict their hearts and embolden them, and cause them to arise.  May You, O Lord, the only One True God, raise an army of prayer warriors and intercessors, to pray unceasingly for a miraculous breakthrough and divine delivery from bondage and suffering. 

May You also raise an army of God-fearing, astute and capable men and women who truly love the people of North Korea, to stand for truth and boldly oppose anything that is ungodly and unjust.  May they arise to lead the people and shout: “Enough! We deserve and demand dignity and respect for the ordinary men, women and children of North Korea.” We know that it will be such an army that the sheer size of it will cause the enemy to tremble – for the first time in their lives, their once-arrogant eyes and hearts will register fear. 

The day of reckoning is at hand. O Lord, may boys and girls, men and women, young and old, altogether arise in unity and power across domestic borders, to end injustice and persecution in the land.  They have already endured much, and they will be unstoppable.  May they stand together, fearless and strong, for they far outnumber those who have been manipulating and oppressing them.  And because You, O Lord, are on their side, nothing will get in their way.  You, O Lord, will help them turn the tide and experience victory in Jesus Christ, the Author and Perfecter of our faith. 

In Your wisdom and timing, may You summon and gather allies from around the world as well.  May You scupper all the grand plans and devious schemes and devices of the oppressors.  May all their masks and trickery be exposed.  May all perpetrators of evil who do not repent be dealt with by You ever so severely, that they will know that You alone are God.  Let Your Holy and Almighty name be known throughout the land, O Lord.     

May Your love and power manifest in ways that will melt hardened hearts and terrified hearts alike, and cause each one to turn to Christ.  May the Holy Spirit continue to stir, convict and work in the hearts of those who have cowardly served the wrong master.  May Your power remove the scales from their eyes and the barriers from their hearts.  May You turn hearts of stone into hearts of flesh.  May they each encounter You wherever they turn and run.  May there be true repentance as they turn away from their wicked ways, and begin to see an alternative way to truly serve the people.    

We know You do not want anyone to perish but You are also a Holy God who punishes those who oppose and reject You, and those who harm Your precious children, precious sheep and precious servants of God.  You punish those who touch Your anointed and faithful ones.  Almighty God, may Your will be done.  

Heavenly Father, open doors for Christians around the world to respond as the Body of Christ to the suffering of our fellow Christians in North Korea.  Send professionals who are willing to help in key areas such as humanitarian work, education, agriculture, finance, business and management.  May each Christian serve as a faithful incarnational witness for You, O Lord.   

May everyone also work prayerfully, intentionally and in unity, to come up with wise and creative ways to encourage, strengthen and rebuild the Church in North Korea.  May You enable Your truth to travel across radio airwaves, other forms of media, emerging technologies and cyberspace.  May the truth be revealed.  Let Your Light shine through.  O Lord God, may You continue to watch over, guide, and grant wisdom and creativity to all those who risk their lives to serve You and Your people throughout the land. 

May You also grant world leaders and those in positions of influence to have the wisdom, integrity, compassion and ability to accurately address the issues at hand, for the good of the people of North Korea and the world.  May leaders exercise restraint in their rhetoric and actions, and consider interests beyond their own.  May You use godly men and women of influence and grant them favour and courage as they provide wise counsel to all the world leaders involved – may they be modern-day versions of Joseph, Daniel, Meshach, Shadrach, Abednego, Deborah, Abigail and Esther who You can use for good governance and the saving of souls. 

Lord Jesus, You are the Light for the world.  May Your light shine in the darkness and flood the nation of North Korea.  Let every deception and evil deed be exposed by Your light.  Lord Jesus, You are the Way, the Truth and the Life.  May Your truth go forth and penetrate hearts, so that many will acknowledge that the only way to eternal life is through You and You alone. 

May the current dire circumstances in North Korea precipitate a genuine breakthrough and a sincere desire for positive and lasting change, guiding those in leadership to the path of peace for the good of all Koreans, and especially Your beloved sheep.  May your precious sheep be relieved of the decades and even centuries of pain, loss, sorrow, separation and suffering that they have endured stoically, to fully experience the joy of knowing You and the freedom of living their God-given lives victoriously.  We trust that Your word will not return void.  In Jesus’ mighty name, we pray. By the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.       

“Can the divine truth, disseminated in Korea be lost? This I believe not, there will be some fruits in the appointed time of the Lord…The Scriptures teach us to believe that God can bless even these feeble beginnings.  Let us hope that better days will soon dawn for Korea”. – Karl Gutzlaff, first known Protestant missionary to Korea in the 18th century

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The Great Multitude in White Robes

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In the seventh chapter of the Book of Revelation, we are introduced to a great multitude that “no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb”.  They are those who have “come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb”.  They are “before the throne of God and serve Him day and night in His temple, and He who sits on the throne will spread His tent over them.  Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst.  The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat.  For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, He will lead them to springs of living water.  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”  What comforting words for the persecuted church and everyone who stands firm in the faith right to the end.

I had the privilege of travelling to several countries in the Middle East recently.  I met many wonderful people – persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ, new believers, earnest seekers, and of course, faithful followers of Jesus serving Him in the midst of hostility, discrimination and oppression.

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In these parts, it is common to have church buildings – if they exist at all – barricaded, and for worshipers to pass through an X-ray security scanning machine before entry.  Needless to say, photography and filming are prohibited.

I was struck by the beauty and strength of the faith of these “followers of Jesus”.  They shared with us about their lives, and about how, with God’s help, they had been able to persevere in the faith despite various obstacles and circumstances.  They also shared how they always prayed for the Lord’s guidance whenever they made crucial decisions and choices.

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We met a pastor and his wife, who, despite a golden opportunity to emigrate to a beautiful and safe country in the West, laid down their rights, died to themselves and chose to obey God and remain in their city so that they could serve the influx of refugees from Syria and other neighbouring countries.

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We visited a very busy refugee school run by an international team of teachers and administrators, serving children from African nations such as war-torn Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea.  These children are making friends and excelling in their studies and making their teachers and parents proud.

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There was a pastor and his wife, who in obedience to God’s call, uprooted themselves from their country in East Asia, to set up a school for Syrian children living at a refugee camp.  They shared that they were living the lives of those in the Book of Acts – people joyfully receiving Christ, worshiping and serving Him faithfully in the midst of great persecution and danger.

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We met medical professionals who had given up lucrative jobs in their respective countries to set up a clinic to provide refugees with much needed medical treatment at significantly lower rates.  We also met media professionals from around the world who leverage the power of the media to reach believers and seekers throughout the Middle East.  Indeed, God is at work!

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We also met a family faithfully serving the Lord after fleeing persecution in their own country.  They remain separated from a close family member whose once flourishing career took a nosedive once he professed his Christian faith in his home country.

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However, our most memorable time was our encounter with the incredibly beautiful Syrian children at the refugee school.  They excitedly sang a host of songs of praise and worship to Abba Father in Arabic each day (which they had gleefully memorised!), their eyes shining brightly as they grinned from ear to ear and clapped and danced to the music – their intense joy and easy laughter belying their individual experiences of immense pain, loss, trauma and suffering.  Their joy was infectious.  Their hugs were almost life-giving as they were life-changing.  They spontaneously flung their little arms around us and we would often collapse into a heap from all the weight of so many tiny bodies piling on top of each other in one loud collection of giggles and laughter.  It made me tear up uncontrollably.  The Holy Spirit was truly at work here and we sensed God’s strong presence, love and peace…in what seemed like a god-forsaken place.  Indeed, God sees and He knows.  God is at work!

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It is truly hard to describe the experience.  How could all these people, all these children, despite all that they had gone through, and are still going through, hug each of us so unreservedly and laugh so spontaneously with such joy? “The joy of the Lord is your strength” from Nehemiah 8: 10 comes to mind.  Psalm 16: 11 as well:

You make known to me the path of life;
You will fill me with joy in Your presence,
with eternal pleasures at Your right hand.

Even as I pen this, tears are flowing down my cheeks.  We were told that the children were very different when they first arrived at the school.  It took them about a year to warm up.  But once they knew the joy of the Lord, they became unstoppable.  Even new students who joined them later were infected with the unquenchable joy almost instantly! Teachers and volunteers work tirelessly at the school each day but they say the children help them get recharged.  Thank You, Lord, for what You are doing in all their lives.  To You, every one of them is precious in Your sight.

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When I returned home, I was almost immediately struck by the indifference of some of those who had cursorily but politely asked me about the trip, almost as if they were asking only out of courtesy, with scant interest or even thinly veiled scepticism.  It was rather disturbing.

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For Christians residing in the busy “first world”, we really have to protect our time with our Lord, listen to Him attentively, reflect upon His word, and search our hearts, lest we become far too distracted by individual and worldly pursuits…and lose our own crown.

In Revelation 3: 11, we are reminded by Jesus: “I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.” There is also 2 John 1: 8: “Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully.”

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Jesus says this in the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:10: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”.   He continues with verses 11 and 12: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

The irony is that persecution and trouble can draw faithful believers much closer to God and to what is on His heart and on His mind.  Very much like gold purified and refined by fire, these precious followers of Jesus come out stronger and that much more beautiful, ready to be used fully by God our Father, for His glory.

As we reflect on this, we are of course aware of all that has been happening around the world at this time – the Lower Puna volcanic eruption and earthquake in Hawaii (3 & 4 May); the Democratic Republic of the Congo Ebola virus outbreak that is currently confined to Congo’s Equateur Province (first reported on 8 May); the overthrow of former PM Najib Razak and his party in Malaysia following a momentous, watershed election (10 May); the Paris knife attack (12 May); five bombings in Surabaya, Indonesia, sadly involving families with children (13 & 14 May); the Sante Fe shooting in Texas and the Cuban airliner crash (both on 18 May); and the recent cancellation (and ongoing possible reinstatement) of the US-North Korea summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un originally scheduled to take place on 12 June 2018 in Singapore (24 May).  Yet at the same time, for days, weeks and even months, media outlets and people across the globe were mesmerised by the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on 19 May 2018.

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It is strange and almost jarring to see people suffering and grieving under some of the most difficult circumstances on the one hand, while there are others on the other hand who are obsessing over wedding invites, family gossip and squabbles, cake, fascinators, gowns and celebrities, against yet another backdrop of the excesses of corrupt politicians and their families with their astounding haul of US$300,000 Hermes Birkin bags, wads of cash (RM109 million or about US$27.5 million) and multi-million dollar properties.  Alas, this is the world we live in.  Let us pray unceasingly.

O Lord, we live in an imperfect, broken and distracted world.  O how we need You, Lord Jesus.  Where there is confusion and blindness, may You reveal Truth and Light.  Where there is fear, emptiness, loneliness and insecurity, may You bring Salvation.  Where there is rejection, may You bring Love.  Where there is strife, may You bring Peace.  Where there is pain and suffering, may You bring Comfort and Healing.  Where there is despair, may You bring Comfort, Peace and Joy.  Where there is testing and persecution, may You bring Grace and Peace.  Where there is injustice, may You bring Justice and Righteousness.  Where there is defeat, may You bring Hope and Victory. 

Abba Father, You are the Great I Am.  There is no other.  You are the Only One True God.  Nothing in all creation is hidden from Your sight.  Everything is laid bare before Your eyes, for You are the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.  O Holy Father in heaven, thank You for Your everlasting love for us.  Thank You for sending Your one and only Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross for us.  Only Jesus is able to save us from captivity and deliver us from sin and death.  Thank You, Lord Jesus, our Good Shepherd, for Your love and obedience even to the point of death on the cross for us.  We repent, for we have sinned, and we know we do not deserve such grace and mercy.  O Lord Jesus, we praise and worship You for Your unconditional love, and for conquering Satan, sin and death on the cross.  Thank You, Lord Jesus, for Your gift of salvation to all who believe in You.  Thank You, Lord Jesus, that for all who believe, our sins are forgiven and we are cleansed by the righteous blood of the Lamb.  Thank You, O Lord, that through You, we who believe have the precious gift of eternal life. 

We know that the life we live on earth is only temporary, for earth is only our temporary home.  We do not fear persecution or death because we look forward with certainty and great assurance to our new and eternal home with You.  As we wait for that day, we ask for Your divine power, favour and grace to persevere in the faith as You continue to prune and mould us.  May we honour You in all that we say and do, pointing others to Jesus. May the Holy Spirit fill us and transform us to be more like Jesus, day by day. May we continue to run our race of faith well, and to finish it well, at the appointed time.  May we be found faithful like the great multitude in white robes, O Lord.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, our Counsellor, Comforter, Encourager and the Spirit of Truth.  In Jesus’ most powerful and precious name, we pray.  Amen.

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Testing and persecution bring out the beauty and purity of our faith and faithfulness.

Wake up!

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Wake up! Wake up and pray…

While political observers are currently monitoring the recent charm offensive of North Korea’s Kim Jong Un towards South Korea, China and the USA, Russia has, for the second time, successfully test launched its new Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), the “Sarmat”, which NATO has ominously nicknamed “Satan 2”.  Flexing its military muscles following its recent tit-for-tat expulsion of at least 50 diplomats from 23 countries and 60 from the USA alone, this reciprocal move by the Kremlin is in quick response to the expulsion of Russian diplomats by the USA and its allies as an act of solidarity with the UK over the nerve agent attack on former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter on 4 March 2018.

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Elsewhere in France, French policeman Lieutenant-Colonel Arnaud Beltrame was hailed a hero for having fatally swapped himself for a hostage in a supermarket siege by an Islamist gunman who was trying to secure the release of Salah Abdeslam, the only surviving member of the 2015 Paris jihadist attacks that killed 130 people.

As usual, terror attacks have continued in March 2018, with just a small sample of incidents below:

  • 2 March 2018 Ouagadougou shooting and suicide car bombing on the French embassy and cultural centre in Burkina Faso and the country’s army headquarters, resulting in 30 deaths and 85 injured.
  • 20 March 2018 rocket attack, resulting in at least 44 deaths, of mostly women and children, and 35 others wounded, when terrorists attacked a busy market in Damascus, Syria.
  • 21 March 2018 Kabul suicide bombing near a Shiite shrine that killed at least 33 people and injured 65 others as Afghans celebrated the Persian New Year.
  • 23 March 2018 Lashkargah suicide car bombing that resulted in at least 20 people killed and 55 more injured at the Ghazi Muhammad Ayub Khan stadium during a wrestling match in Afghanistan.
  • 30 March 2018 shooting and clashes on Palestinian Land Day, resulting in at least 16 persons killed when the Israeli army opened fire on a rally taking place at the border of the Gaza Strip.

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Why Good Friday is good

In spite of the troubles around the world, Christians are commemorating Good Friday and celebrating Easter because our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs all the trials and tribulations in this earthly life.  Good Friday is good because our Saviour and Lord, Jesus Christ, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, humbled Himself and became obedient to death on a cross for the salvation of the world.  Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God, was the only One able to rescue all of us in our helpless estate, from eternal damnation, by paying the ransom with His own life, with His own precious blood.  We know Abba Father loves us deeply because He did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all.  God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

French Lieutenant-Colonel Arnaud Beltrame’s actions were heroic and even Christ-like.  It takes a very special person to swap his life for that of a stranger in the face of danger, without the prospect of any personal gain.  Yet it is only our Lord Jesus who is able to rescue us, such helpless captives, from eternal death, in order to grant us true salvation and eternal glory.  This is the precious gift that we who believe in the Lord Jesus have.  As we remain in Him and He in us, this gift of salvation can never be taken away from us.  So we may be hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed.  It is indeed a Good Friday.

Happy Easter

On Easter Sunday, we celebrate and remember how Jesus has overcome and conquered death and Satan on the cross.  We celebrate His resurrection and victory.  We have hope for a better future, and we joyfully look forward to the glory of our eternal home in a new heaven and a new earth.

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But wake up! Wake up, pray and act…

With grateful hearts, let us persevere in our faith and service to God.  Let us lay aside all distractions and not serve Him half-heartedly with leftovers:

“Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die…” (Revelation 3: 2)

“You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised.  For in just a very little while, ‘He who is coming will come and will not delay.  But my righteous one will live by faith.  And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.’ But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.” (Hebrews 10: 36 – 39)

Even if we are not serving with leftovers but are disheartened by the apparent lack of tangible “results”, let us remind ourselves that it is the approval and glory of God we seek, not the approval of men.  Let us stay focused:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12: 1 – 3) 

We are all in positions of influence – wherever we are.  We need only look around us and open our eyes to all the opportunities under our very noses.  May God grant us wisdom, discernment, faith, courage and grace to serve Him as salt and light in this world we live in.  Let us speak His truth and speak up for the voiceless and marginalised.  As children of God and ambassadors for Christ, if we can do something to make a difference to a situation or someone’s life, let us just do it.  And even in places where we are unable to physically go to, let us set aside precious time to pray and intercede for the people there, as God’s still small voice prompts and leads us.  Let us stand in solidarity with the persecuted church throughout our world.  Let us pray for the lost.

God hears our prayers.  He is pleased when we feel what is on His heart.  When we see our world through His eyes, feel how His heart feels, and pray as we are aligned with Him, He will surely act and answer according to His divine wisdom and will, and perfect timing.

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This month, with the help of Prayercast, we pray and intercede for the following nations (do click on hyperlinks below):

Syria

Turkey

Iraq

Iran

Israel

Egypt

Lebanon

Yemen

North Korea

China

Abba Father, hear our prayers.  In Jesus’ mighty name.  By the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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By standing firm you will gain life

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Dear beloved prayer warriors and members of the persecuted church around the world,

Your praise, thanksgiving and prayers are surely a fragrant offering unto our Abba Father and faithful Creator God.  How encouraging it is to know that we have so many of you standing in the gap alongside us at GIPPC – people from all over, including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ghana, Honduras, India, Ireland, Malaysia, Namibia, Nigeria, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, the UK and the USA.  The beautiful heartfelt prayers that you send us are surely reaching the ears and heart of our loving and faithful God.  It is also a privilege to receive every one of your prayer requests.  We always go through each prayer request and join you in prayer and intercession for our Almighty God to answer and act, in His wisdom, according to His will, and in His time.

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Many of us have been praying for those affected by the tragic shooting and killing of 17 students and mentors in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  We pray that God’s comfort and peace will be with those who have lost loved ones, been injured and/or been traumatised by such a horrific incident.  May God use the Church and godly Christians not only to pray but also to galvanise people into concrete action to prevent such unnecessary loss of lives and injury in the future.  As we once again consider the frailty and brevity of human life, may more people who have been distracted by the many trappings of our fast-paced world find a restlessness and a relentless stirring within their hearts that will cause them to earnestly seek Him, find Him and be found by Him.  May each of us be part of God’s plan and divine appointments.  May God plant us to cross paths with those who have yet to know Him.  May He use us to be salt and light for Him.  May He use us to speak His truth to the lonely and the lost.  May He use us to comfort and help those in need, and point them to Jesus.  Amen.

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We would also like to pray for the following countries:

Nepal

Abba Father, Lord Jesus, Holy Spirit, we acknowledge You as our Triune God, our one and only True God who is omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent.  Almighty God, we pray for political stability in Nepal following the November & December 2017 elections, and the recent forming of a new government.  May there be fair and wise leadership in the country, even as we pray that You will continue to bless and strengthen our Christian brothers and sisters in Nepal.  We know that Your grace is sufficient and Your power is made perfect in weakness.  Thank You, Lord.  Amen.

Yemen

Lord God, we lift up the war-torn nation of Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East, with a population of more than 25 million.  The United Nations (UN) has identified Yemen as the country with the most people in need of humanitarian aid, with a severe famine caused by blocked food imports due to the ongoing civil war that is further complicated by Saudi military intervention.  With a famine affecting at least 17 million people and the world’s worst outbreak of cholera due to the destruction of water infrastructure and the lack of safe drinking water, we pray for Your help, O God.    Lord Jesus, may You comfort and protect those who have been caught in the violent crossfire between government and separatist forces.  May they experience Your presence, love, peace and power in their grief and pain.  With the ongoing violence of war, we also remember the more than 14 people killed and at least 54 people injured in the suicide car bombings on 24 February 2018 alone.  Lord Jesus, may the faith of our Christian brothers and sisters arise.  May they experience Your strong presence and power, with You standing at their side to grant them courage, grace and strength to stand firm and remain faithful to the end.  May gospel radio programmes and other initiatives reach the ears of the lost, and capture the hearts and minds of seekers all over Yemen.  We know that Your word will not return void.  May it accomplish Your divine purpose, for Your glory.  Amen.

Afghanistan

Father in heaven, we bring before you all those who have lost loved ones in the Inter-Continental Hotel in Kabul on 20 January 2018, as well as the many shooting incidents, including attacks by the Taliban on 19 February 2018 that resulted in the deaths of at least 24 policemen and on 23 – 24 February 2018 that led to the deaths of 25 members of the Afghan army. We also remember the more than 40 people who were either kidnapped, killed or injured on 27 February 2018.  As with many countries around the world that face armed conflict and terror attacks on a daily basis, there are simply too many incidents to mention.  But You know them all, O Lord.  We ask for Your love, comfort and truth to shine on those who are suffering.  We also thank You for the Christians who are living and serving in Afghanistan.  May they point others to Jesus by their faithful and loving witness.  Father God, we pray for the persecuted church in Afghanistan to be enveloped in Your love and power.  We pray that they will be strengthened to respond in a way that would honour You, for we know that Your eyes range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are committed to You, and that You will honour those who honour You.  Amen.

Bangladesh & Myanmar

Almighty God, we thank You that Bangladesh and Myanmar have agreed to complete within two years the repatriation and return of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who fled an army crackdown in Rakhine State, Myanmar in August 2017.  May You grant wisdom and guidance for the ongoing cooperation between the governments and officials of both countries.  O Lord, even as we are aware of the violence that caused more than 300 Rohingya villages to be burnt down, we pray for Your strong presence and ask that You will watch over the vulnerable Rohingya people.  We pray for the safe passage of these refugees as they return home, and ask for suitable locations to be found for them to live.  We pray that You will send practical help in the form of compassionate and caring brothers and sisters in Christ living and working in Myanmar, that many of the victims of the recent “ethnic cleansing” will have the opportunity to experience Your love, peace and truth, to open their hearts and lives to You, for You care for them and do not want to see anyone perish.  Amen.

Syria

Lord Jesus, the ancient land of Syria is where You walked, preached, taught and performed miracles, and our brothers and sisters in Syria are always in our prayers. You also preached the Sermon on the Mount on Mount Hermon, where many believe the Transfiguration also took place. You even appeared to Saul, the terrorist-turned-apostle Paul, on the road to Damascus.   Syria is special in so many ways, but more recently, also because of the seven-year war that began in March 2011.  O Lord, the war has ravaged this once beautiful historical land, claiming the lives of at least 470,000, and causing 7.6 million to be internally displaced and more than 5 million to flee as refugees.  It is no wonder that Syria is ranked last on the Global Peace Index, making it the most violent country in the world due to the devastating civil war and proxy wars.  In spite of this, we thank You for successful aid drops to refugee camps, including the one-off delivery of aid from the UN to tens of thousands of Syrian refugees living along the Jordan-Syria border.  We pray especially for the estimated 2.5 million Christians (about 10% of the population), a number of whom have chosen to remain in Syria by choice, who have been going through so much persecution, especially under the brutal hands of the Islamic State (IS), up until its collapse in November 2017.  Despite the collapse of the IS, it does seem that it would take a miracle for armed conflict to cease due to the involvement of world and regional powers such as the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Lebanon and Israel.  In the midst of the war, we thank You for the incredible courage and faithfulness of our Christian brothers and sisters in Syria, and pray that they will continue to experience Your divine power and grace to enable them to stand firm in the face of so much opposition, danger, pain and devastation.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, we pray that the faith and faithfulness of our brothers and sisters in Christ will pierce, move, touch and change the hearts of those who persecuted or are still persecuting them.  We pray that even though we cannot explain all the bloodshed, pain and suffering, we will continue to trust in Your love, wisdom, sovereignty and divine plan for Syria.  Bless Your sheep in Syria, Lord Jesus, our Good Shepherd.  Amen.

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Almighty God, as we pray and intercede for the nations and especially the persecuted church, we claim Your promises found in Your word:

“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14: 6)

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me, Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23: 4)

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all surpassing power is from God and not from us.  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed, perplexed, but not in despair, persecuted, but not abandoned, struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4: 7 – 9)

“Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4: 16 – 18)

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed.  If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.  If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.  However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” (1 Peter 4: 12 – 16)

“So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” (1 Peter 4: 19)

“But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it.  And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth.  The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom.  To Him be glory forever and ever.  Amen.” (2 Timothy 4: 17 & 18)

“Then He said to them: ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.  But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you.  They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors and all on account of My name.  This will result in your being witnesses to them.  But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves.  For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.  You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death.  All men will hate you because of Me. But not a hair of your head will perish.  By standing firm you will gain life.” (Luke 21: 10 – 18)

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.  In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.  ” (1 Peter 1: 3 – 7)

“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (2 Corinthians 13: 14)

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Additional notes:

On 21 February 2018, Billy Graham died of natural causes at his home in Montreat, North Carolina, at the age of 99.  Please click on the following links to find out more about how God was able to use a humble man who obeyed His call to preach the gospel across the globe over several decades:

“Evangelist Billy Graham Has Died” by Marshall Shelley, Christianity Today

John Piper & Desiring God Team’s Tribute to Billy Graham

The significant role played by godly but lesser known or unknown mentors also encourages us to persevere in faith and faithfulness within our respective spheres of influence, for the glory of God:

“The Day Billy Graham Found Christ”  by Billy Graham Evangelistic Association

Do also read about the little-known Robert Chapman, one of the most humble and influential Christians in 19th Century England, who had prominent English leaders such as Charles Spurgeon, George Müller, Hudson Taylor and Prime Minister William E. Gladstone seek his counsel in his time:

“The Best Leaders Are Often Least Noticed: Robert Chapman (1803 – 1902)” by Jon Bloom, Desiring God

Do also check out the following links about the major influencers, including nameless German Moravians, in the life of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism:

“John Wesley, Methodical Pietist (1703- 1791)”, Christianity Today

Suzanna Wesley: Mother of Methodism

 

“Who dares despise the day of small things…?” (Zechariah 4: 10)

“…Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17: 20)

 

 

 

 

Preach the gospel, die, and be forgotten

These are the words spoken by missionary Count Nikolaus von Zinzendorf, the Austrian nobleman who in 1731, together with the intrepid Moravians, sent out the first Moravian/Protestant missionaries of the modern era, antedating William Carey, often known as “the father of modern missions”, by more than 60 years.   (For more of the Austrian nobleman’s quotes, please click here.)

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In this digital age of ours, Count Zinzendorf’s words are entirely counter-culture.  Afterall, we live in a world dominated by technology and social media, where the emphasis is on self-assertion, self-projection, self-promotion and self-affirmation.  The idea is to see and be seen – to be recognised, applauded, adulated and followed.  The dopamine-driven feedback loops offered by social media platforms keep us going.  We find that we simply cannot let up or drop out of the picture – even momentarily – for we detest the idea of going unnoticed, unmissed, unanticipated…or forgotten.

Yet there is increasing evidence that social media is like a dangerous drug, and many have developed an unstoppable addiction to it, preferring digital engagement to actual human interactions.  We are not just talking about “computer addicts” who are glued to their smartphones, tablets, laptops and TV screens, actively engaging in every waking moment.  It is now also a known fact that passive scrolling and reading of posts on social media platforms such as Facebook actually causes depression (millennials using Snapchat, Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter will say Facebook is passé).  This is not surprising at all, considering how underneath all the perceived sense of perfection in captioned photos of smiling faces is a myriad of often vacant and empty lives trapped in what a former Facebook executive has aptly termed “fake brittle popularity”.  Nobody can be that happy all the time.  In fact, some might say that there is so much sadness, disappointment, frustration, meaninglessness and hopelessness in their lives that all of this is simply a sentimental and vain attempt to capture brief moments of happiness.  Yet there are those who would passively scroll and read, and lap it all up before promptly getting disillusioned with their own boring, mundane lives.

Computer addiction_1So, as in the case of any other addiction, if we know something is harmful, why do we keep indulging in it? Could it be loneliness? Or athazagoraphobia – the fear of being forgotten? Or pure escapism? Or simply the modern fear of silence? Afterall, silence forces us to face and confront ourselves.  It strips us of our facade and bravado, and exposes our weaknesses, insecurities, fears and anxieties….and that can be really scary.  Suddenly without anything or anyone to distract us, we are forced to face uncomfortable truths about ourselves and our lives.  But what is even scarier perhaps is when we are forced to be with God…and to listen to what He has to say about our lives.

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Let us look at Philippians 2.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (verses 3 & 4)

Then it goes on to say, in verses 5 – 11:

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is LORD, to the glory of God the Father.”

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If this is our humble LORD Jesus, then why are we spending so much of our time trying to impress and be impressed? While we know and appreciate that every good and perfect gift is from above (James 1: 17), perhaps we should ask ourselves why it is so important that we constantly inform everyone else other than our closest and dearest how and what we are doing.  We might want to consider the fact that while we are elated (and inflated), rejoicing in our circumstances, there are many others out there who are totally deflated, defeated and in despair, trying to cope with grief, trauma, war, tragedy, poverty, illness and/or persecution.

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It is still January in a brand new year, yet at the time of writing, there have already been several terror attacks around the world, especially in Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria and Syria, with the 15 January 2018 Baghdad suicide bombings that led to about 40 dead and 105 injured being the deadliest so far.  Every day, there are deaths, life-threatening injuries, displacements, hardships and/or traumas caused by neverending civil and proxy wars, widespread famine and drought, debilitating diseases or incurable illnesses and natural disasters such as earthquakes, mudslides, snow storms (or “bomb cyclones”/Bombogenesis), tropical cyclones, floods, heatwaves and forest/bush fires, as well as modern day slavery/human trafficking, discrimination, sexual abuse and harassment, religious persecution, “ethnic cleansing”…and the list goes on.

This is the world we live in.  We can safely say that these people do not have the luxury of enjoying a nice meal or holiday, let alone the chance to snap a photo of their latest indulgence with their loved ones.  Let us pause just for a moment to reflect on this.  Let us embark on the occasional fast from technology and social media, and seek solitude, which is an intentional, self-chosen, self-imposed silence.

 

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To help us do that, here is a lovely prayer from an article by Tony Reinke entitled “Why We Should Escape Social Media (And Why We Don’t)”:

Lord, search me, know me, and deliver me from any social-media habits that treat digital media as a cocktail of emotionally stimulating drugs I mix for myself. Cure me of this appetite to be seen by men. Kill in me this desire for endless digital acknowledgement. Draw near to me. Confront me. Comfort me. Equip me to love again. Make your presence known to me again, as I learn what it means to embrace becoming completely forgotten by this world, yet in Christ, always fully known and loved before your eyes.

So, friends, let us pray and be open to what the LORD is saying to us.  Let us check our hearts for stubbornness, pride…and false humility.  And let us really take the time to intercede for those the Holy Spirit brings to mind…those who are ill, those who are grieving, those we come to hear about through the grapevine, as well as those we have come to know about in the news.   And of course, let us not forget our brothers and sisters in the persecuted church.

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This is not the time for finger-pointing or condemnation.  This is the time for Christ-centered soul searching, repentance, heart-felt prayers, a godly response and genuine love in action.  “Dying” might involve physical death or dying to self, or both, exemplified by our Saviour Jesus Christ and all His faithful followers through the ages. As we consider this, let us honour and give thanks to God our Heavenly Father for His precious gift of life in Christ, praying with faith and in quiet confidence for His wisdom, guidance and grace to help us forget ourselves and focus more on those around us.  May Abba Father help us be more like Jesus, be salt and light, humble instruments of His word and love, and a blessing to those around us.  May our Heavenly Father help us run our race of faith well…and finish it well.

Unsung heroes of faith

 

“Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints.” – Ps 116: 15

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Most of us are familiar with Hebrews 11, which is all about faith.  There are popular verses such as:

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11: 1)

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” (Hebrews 11: 6)

The chapter mentions many men and women of faith.  For a start, there are Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  We are told:

“All these people were still living by faith when they died.  They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.  And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.  People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.  If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.  Instead, they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11: 13 – 16)

The chapter goes on to commend Joseph, Moses’ parents, Moses, Rahab, Gideon (yes, him), Barak, Samson (yes, even him), Jephthah, David, Samuel and “the prophets”, who “through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies” (Hebrews 11: 33 & 34).

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But what follows next is also the mention of many anonymous unsung heroes – and heroines – as evident in verses 35 to 38:

“Women received back their dead, raised to life again.  Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection.  Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison.  They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword.  They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated – the world was not worthy of them.  They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.”   

The chapter concludes with verses 39 & 40:

“These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.  God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”

Some of those not mentioned in Hebrews 11 include Elijah, Elisha, Nehemiah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and his friends, Esther, John the Baptist, Peter, the apostle Paul, Stephen and John.  Heroes and heroines of faith also include Jim Elliot, Corrie Ten Boom, David Livingstone, Fanny Crosby, Hudson Taylor, William Wilberforce, Eric Liddell, William Carey, John Wesley, Florence Nightingale…and the list goes on.

As we consider all these wonderful examples of Christ followers, the following lyrics of an old song, “Find Us Faithful” by Steve Green come to mind:

We’re pilgrims on the journey
Of the narrow road
And those who’ve gone before us line the way
Cheering on the faithful, encouraging the weary
Their lives a stirring testament to God’s sustaining grace
Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses
Let us run the race not only for the prize
But as those who’ve gone before us
Let us leave to those behind us
The heritage of faithfulness passed on through godly lives

In these modern times, we have our own heroes of faith too.  Every day around the world, there are believers who are persecuted or who die for their faith – the most recent known case being the bombing of a Methodist church in Quetta, Pakistan, with 8 dead and at least 45 injured.  Let us pray for the injured and bereaved.

Many of us have also read or heard about the death of brilliant Christian apologist and speaker Nabeel Qureshi (1983 – 2017), an American Christian convert born to Pakistani immigrants who fled religious persecution at the hands of fellow Muslims.  Qureshi was also author of three books: Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity (Zondervan, February 2014), Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward (Zondervan, March 2016), and No God But One—Allah or Jesus (Zondervan, August 2016).  After a year-long battle with stomach cancer, Qureshi went home to the Lord on 16 September 2017, aged 34.  (Click here for more about Nabeel Qureshi.)

Recently, I also received news that a remarkable missionary, Rev Dr Dorothy Marx, had gone home to the Lord on 17 December 2017, aged 94.  One of many Jewish children rescued out of Nazi Germany under the Churchill’s Children Scheme, Marx became a Christian in 1940 and began serving in Indonesia in 1957.  That means she served God faithfully in a foreign land for 60 years.  Here’s a video found on YouTube of her sharing about Christian Spirituality (in Indonesian and a bit of Mandarin!):

Closer to home, I recently attended the funeral of a friend who had succumbed to cancer after a two-year battle.  Catherine was a Christian who lived out her faith.  Over many years, she had witnessed to and prayed hard for the salvation of her loved ones, including her parents and siblings, and 14 years ago, every one of her large family came to know the Lord.  She was also active in ministry in the local community, and despite her painful struggles as well as numerous visits to the doctor and hospital stays, she remained cheerful and faithful, trusting in the Lord right to the end.  While we know that Catherine is in a better place, there is no denying the deep sadness in our hearts as we mourn the loss of a passionate self-taught evangelist and woman of faith.   We are reminded of these verses: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4: 7); “For to me, to live is Christ, to die is gain” (Phil 1: 21);

We know that Jesus is the ultimate example of unreserved love for God the Father, complete trust in Him and total obedience to His perfect plan for the world.  May each of us continue to run the race of faith and finish well.  Like the heroes and heroines of faith who have gone before us, may all who come behind us find us faithful.

Find Us Faithful

We’re pilgrims on the journey
Of the narrow road
And those who’ve gone before us line the way
Cheering on the faithful, encouraging the weary
Their lives a stirring testament to God’s sustaining grace
Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses
Let us run the race not only for the prize
But as those who’ve gone before us
Let us leave to those behind us
The heritage of faithfulness passed on through godly lives


CHORUS:
Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful
May the fire of our devotion light their way
May the footprints that we leave
Lead them to believe
And the lives we live inspire them to obey
Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful
After all our hopes and dreams have come and gone
And our children sift through all we’ve left behind
May the clues that they discover and the memories they uncover
Become the light that leads them to the road we each must find

 

REPEAT CHORUS
Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful
Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful

 

 

As Christmas approaches, let us pray for the safety and protection of our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world.  May God’s will be done.  May the Lord Jesus touch many hearts and lives with love, joy and peace.  May hearts of stone become hearts of flesh, softened to repent and to receive the Good News and the precious gift of salvation.  May many more appreciate the significance and true meaning of Christmas, whether it is celebrated on 25 December or 7 January.  Amen.

Have a Blessed Christmas and a Fruitful New Year!

Praying for our troubled world

In slightly over a month, so many things have happened yet again.  Just a few months ago, we were appalled by the sexual assault allegations levelled at once-popular actor Bill Cosby, and news of the subsequent mistrial (a retrial is set to take place in April 2018).  Then almost like an avalanche, Hollywood and the media world were rocked repeatedly by sexual assault allegations levelled at former icons and luminaries such as Roger Ailes (who has since died), Harvey Weinstein, Brett Ratner, Bill O’Reilly and Kevin Spacey.  Accusations of sexual harassment have also taken centre stage with UK defence secretary Michael Fallon resigning from Theresa May’s already beleaguered cabinet.  Others who have recently joined the line of alleged predators include former US President George H.W. Bush, film producer-director Oliver Stone and actor Jeremy Piven.  Some critics are also resurfacing the sexual misconduct of former US President Bill Clinton.  And so the list keeps getting longer.  We would be naive to believe that all this only happens in Hollywood, the political arena and the media industry.  We will not dwell on why it has taken so long for so many of these criminal behaviours to surface.  We only thank God that this is finally happening.  The silenced will no longer be silent.  May God’s light of truth continue to shine into the darkness to expose all the devious deeds carried out in secret by evil and depraved men.  O LORD Jesus, we pray for truth and justice to prevail!

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As for terror attacks, these are happening around the world every month.  On 31 October 2017, New York experienced a vehicle-ramming terror attack similar to those that occurred in Nice, Berlin, London, Stockholm, Charlottesville, Barcelona and Edmonton.  Unfortunately, tragic as these might have been, they pale in comparison to other incidents in countries such as Somalia, Afghanistan and Syria.  Two cases in point are the truck bombing in Somalia on 14 October 2017 that killed and injured more than 358 and 400 people, respectively, as well as the suicide car bombing in Syria on 4 November 2017 that killed more than 100 and injured about 140.

Then there are also the equally disturbing non-terrorist-related shootings, such as the one that took place on church grounds in Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing 26 and injuring 20.  On 14 November 2017, another shooting took place in northern California, including at an elementary school.

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As for natural disasters, we know that Vietnam was struck by Typhoon Damrey on 4 November 2017, leaving at least 106 people dead.  It is reportedly the strongest typhoon in 16 years to make landfall in Vietnam.  On 12 & 13 November 2017, the deadliest earthquake in 2017 thus far (magnitude 7.3) struck the Iran-Iraq border, leaving at least 530 dead and more than 8,000 injured.

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Once again, we pray for the recently bereaved, the injured, the displaced and the traumatised.  We also pray for those in authority to have the wisdom to respond to these situations decisively and effectively, even as we pray for an extra measure of grace for those involved in homeland and cross-border security, as well as first responders and medical teams.  We pray in particular for the Church, i.e. the Body of Christ, to arise and respond in a way that would bring God’s comfort and truth to all those around.  May these tragic moments be a time for soul-searching, reconciliation and an earnest search for the one true God.  May those who are in despair be comforted and found by God Almighty, our Heavenly Father.

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Moreover, while the politics of the USA, UK, North Korea and even Spain and Zimbabwe have dominated the headlines recently, many are also watching closely the developments in the Middle East, especially following “the purge” executed by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, which has led to the arrest of an estimated 500 persons, including 11 Saudi princes as well as ministers and members of the Saudi business elite.  Adding to the suspense are the sudden resignation and alleged detention of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Saudi Arabia, with Lebanon caught up in the cold war between Saudi Arabia and Iran (as well as the Iran-backed and Lebanon-based Hezbollah, whose military prowess has grown with its heavy involvement in the war in Syria).  The threat of another war with Hezbollah has significantly raised tensions in Israel, with the possibility of a Saudi-Iranian proxy war taking place through an Israeli-Hezbollah conflict, all in the midst of the recent convergence of Israeli, Saudi Arabian and US rhetoric against Iran.

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Despite all these developments, we remember Matthew 24 about the “signs of the End Times” and “wars and rumours of wars”, and therefore should not be surprised by all that is happening around us.  We can cling to the promise that God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose (Romans 8: 28).  We know God our Father is wise and faithful.  His thoughts and ways are higher (Isaiah 55: 8 & 9). He is also compassionate and gracious, and does not want to see anyone perish (2 Peter 3: 9).  Yet He is a God who is fair and He provides His created beings with choice – to choose or to reject Him.  These critical developments around the world provide ample opportunities for all sinners to acknowledge the fragility and brevity of human life, and their need for God in their lives.

With this in mind, let us not be disheartened.  Instead, let us press on and continue to pray for one another and to intercede for the nations.

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If the world hates you

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It is so very easy to be distracted by personal schedules, commitments and problems, not to mention the global challenges and uncertainties facing all of us today.  Hot on the heels of Hurricane Harvey came the ruthless onslaught and devastation of Hurricanes Irma, Jose and Katia in the Caribbean, the US and Mexico.  This was then followed by Hurricane Maria which has recently sent Dominica and Puerto Rico into a tailspin.  Of course, there is also the ongoing threat from North Korea as well as the disturbing Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, with 430,000 Muslims fleeing to Bangladesh. Marseille and Edmonton have just experienced terror attacks. But at the time of writing, the “deadliest mass shooting in US history” has just taken place on 1 October 2017, with about 60 dead and more than 500 injured at a country music festival in Las Vegas.  Let us remember in our prayers all those who have died or lost loved ones, as well as those who have been injured and/or traumatised by this recent tragedy.

All that has been happening around the world surely highlights the sobering fact that life is precious but uncertain.  We cannot assume that each of us has an indefinite amount of time with those around us.  It is obvious that many have departed and will depart this world without ever knowing the significance of repentance as well as the joy and peace of knowing a loving and holy God and receiving His amazing gift of eternal life.  This uncomfortable realisation should really make us more focused, intentional and purposeful in our lives.  It ought to increase our sense of priority and urgency too.  We really need to be honest with ourselves: Have we persevered in prayer for the lost? If not, why not? Do we really care?

And what about our brothers and sisters in Christ in the persecuted church around the world? How often do we stand in the gap for them? Again, do we really care? Or does thinking or talking about Christian persecution make us uncomfortable or scared? Let us pause for a moment, and reflect on and pray through these comforting and inspiring words of truth from our LORD Jesus…

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.  If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own.  As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.  That is why the world hates you.  Remember the words I spoke to you.  No servant is greater than his master.  If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also…”

                                                                                                                                    – John 15: 18 – 20

“They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God.  They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me.  I have told you this, so that when the time comes, you will remember that I warned you…”

                                                                                                                                         – John 16: 2 – 4

“I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices.  You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.  A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come, but when her baby is born, she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.  So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.  In that day you will no longer ask me anything.  I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.”

– John 16: 20 – 23

“…In this world, you will have trouble.  But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

– John 16: 33

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And should we feel tempted to give up or take matters into our own hands when the suffering and persecution seem unbearable, let us draw strength from our LORD Jesus’ prayer to Abba Father…

 

“My prayer is not that You take them out of the world but that You protect them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.  Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth.  As You sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.  For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.”

– John 17: 15 – 19 

“My prayer is not for them alone.  I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in me and I am in You.  May they also be in us so that the world may believe that You have sent me.  I have given them the glory that You gave me that they may be one as we are one: I in them and You in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent me and have loved them even as You have loved me.”

– John 17: 20 – 23

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There is undoubtedly much suffering around the world, and followers of Jesus are also not spared from natural disasters, war, famine, drought, poverty, life-threatening diseases, crime, violence, bereavement, financial difficulties, homelessness, joblessness and other personal tragedies.  However, those suffering persecution for their faith in Christ are not only facing most – if not all – of the tragedies mentioned above, but also physical torture, psychological abuse, ostracism, isolation and/or imprisonment. Many have literally lost everything.  Yet most of them only covet our prayers and they still rejoice that nobody can ever take Jesus away from their hearts.  What an incredible testimony!

Every one of us is therefore called to be Christ’s ambassadors, whatever our circumstances.  We are called to pour out our lives, to be a living testimony, that others may see Jesus.  By God’s love, grace and power, may we offer our lives as a living sacrifice, as a sacrifice of praise, for His glory.

Only by His grace.  For.  His.  Glory.  Amen.

Wars and rumours of wars

“You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed.  Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.  Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.  All these are the beginning of birth pains…”

– Matthew 24: 6 – 8

Yes, just a while ago, we praised God for answered prayers and rejoiced over the release of a pastor imprisoned in North Korea.  Yet this was soon overshadowed by the escalating nuclear crisis brought about by the launch of Kim Jong Un’s intermediate range Hwasong-12 missile over Japan, which North Korean media have reported as an overt threat directed at the American territory of Guam (and no doubt all the surrounding nations such as South Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan), soon after American President Donald Trump’s much criticised bellicose threat of “fire and fury”.

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Elsewhere in the United Kingdom and Europe, there has been a deadlock over the UK’s Brexit divorce from the EU.  Even within the UK, the country is split many ways, with many Remainers and Britons experiencing “Regrexit” opposing die-hard Brexiteers, not to mention Brexiteers advocating a hard Brexit versus a soft Brexit.

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America is no better, with Democrats clashing with Republicans in the GOP, essentially liberals or progressives who are pro-government/abortion/LGBTQ/gun control/diversity versus conservatives who support less government interference and are pro-life or anti-abortion as well as against LGBTQ, gun control and immigration (there are of course many other permutations but these would suffice).  But it’s not that simple either.  It’s partly or largely a sign of the “global famine” experienced around the world, where people everywhere are feeling “left behind” and threatened, and want doors and borders closed to foreigners, giving rise to a dangerous form of nationalism.  Those who voted for Brexit say they want to “take their country back”, and blue-collar workers in America’s rust belt have also chanted the same slogan, along with white supremacists like the Ku Klux Klan demanding to “Make America Great Again”.

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Against such a disturbing and uncertain political backdrop, Texas and Louisiana have just been hit by Hurricane Harvey that has proven to be even more catastrophic than Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 and the infamous Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, which at that time was deemed the costliest natural disaster and one of five deadliest hurricanes in the history of the United States.  The death toll in Texas has climbed to 44 and this is likely to rise after the waters recede and the full scale of the devastation is assessed.

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Meanwhile, Monsoon rains and floods have killed over 1,000 people and affected 41 million others across Bangladesh, India and Nepal.  Before all this were the “2017 China Floods” – widespread flooding that struck China in early June, affecting about 15 million people and killing more than 200.

Recently, Hong Kong and Macau have been hit by the deadly Typhoon Hato.  Flights were cancelled, ferries suspended and schools closed as Typhoon Hato prompted the Hong Kong Observatory to hoist the first signal No. 10 since 2012 on 23 August.  After being battered by Typhoon Hato and severe tropical storm Pakhar, Hong Kong is presently on standby and bracing itself for tropical storm Mawar – a possible third typhoon to strike in only two weeks.

What about earthquakes? These have been common too, with 17 in August 2017 alone, the most recent one being on 31 August in Indonesia again.  In 2017, the countries with the highest death tolls are Italy and China, and the earthquakes with the highest magnitudes were those in Papua New Guinea (22 January), Russia (17 July) and the Philippines (10 January), in descending order.

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Apart from natural disasters, terrorism originating from Syria and Iraq and other parts of the Middle East (e.g. Saudi Arabia, Iran and Yemen) as well as Africa (e.g. Nigeria, Somalia, Libya and Tunisia), South Asia (e.g. Pakistan, India and Bangladesh) and other parts of Asia (e.g. Afghanistan, Indonesia and the Philippines) have been wreaking havoc in Europe and around the world for some time now.  The most recent events covered by the media include Barcelona and Cambrils in Spain on 17 August as well as Turku in Finland on 18 August, not forgetting the more unusual Charlottesville terror attack on 12 August.  The attacks were carried out by homegrown terrorists and authorities have admitted in media reports that terror threats are much more significant and dangerous on home ground.  Contrary to popular opinion, most attacks were not executed by “lone wolves” trying to be “copycats” but by increasingly organised homegrown terror cells with support from an international network.

The words Jesus says in Matthew 24 are wise and relevant even today…

“You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed.  Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.  Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.  All these are the beginning of birth pains…”

– Matthew 24: 6 – 8

So as followers of our Saviour Jesus Christ, what can and must we do? Continue to stand firm and stay true to our faith, trusting in Him, seeking His wisdom and not human wisdom.  Let us not be swayed by the irresponsible rhetoric of politicians, false prophets and false teachers.

Let us remain prayerful as we number our days aright. We are called to be salt and light in this dark, dark world – our temporary home – until the day we meet our Maker face to face in our true and eternal home.

Editor’s Note: Hong Kong was spared from a third tropical storm – Typhoon Mawar – on the weekend of 2 & 3 September 2017.   As of 7 September 2017, Hurricane Harvey’s death toll has risen to at least 70.  However, Hurricane Irma has since superseded Category 3 Hurricane Harvey, with its highest classification of Category 5.  So strong that it even appeared on earthquake seismometers, Hurricane Irma is now described as “the most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane in recorded history”, pummelling the Caribbean Islands such as Barbuda, Antigua, St. Barts, St. Martin, Anguilla, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, and beating an angry path towards Florida.  

In other news, in the early hours of 7 September 2017, an earthquake of magnitude 8.2 has struck in the Pacific, killing at least six people.  Described by Mexico’s president Enrique Peña Nieto as the country’s strongest in a century, the death toll is expected to rise.

Let us rejoice!

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Wonderful news from Open Doors UK & Ireland:

IMPRISONED CANADIAN CHURCH LEADER FREED

Amid escalating rhetoric between leaders in North Korea and the United States, there is good news for imprisoned Canadian-Korean church leader Heyun Soo Lim, who was released ‘on sick bail’ according to a North Korean state news agency yesterday.

As head pastor at the Light Presbyterian Church in Toronto, Lim had visited North Korea more than 100 times to distribute humanitarian aid. His church lost contact with him in January 2015. In February that same year, it transpired that he’d been detained. In December 2015, he was convicted of numerous charges, including an attempt to overthrow the government.

His release this week came on 9 August, one day after a special envoy of the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, had arrived in Pyongyang.

Meanwhile, three Korean-Americans are detained in North Korea, two of whom taught at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology: Tony Kim and Kim Hak-song. A third, Kim Dong Chul, a South Korean-born businessman and naturalised US citizen, is serving a sentence of 10 years’ hard labour for ‘espionage’.

PLEASE PRAY:

  • Give thanks that Pastor Lim is now free; pray that he will make a full recovery
  • For God’s courage to strengthen the remaining prisoners, and for a swift release for them
  • For justice and mercy from the North Korean government to the tens of thousands of Christians in labour camps.

For more details about Pastor Lim’s release announced on 9 August 2017, click here.

To view news reports on the pastor’s sentencing in December 2015, click here and here.