Pastor Saeed Abedini Urges Christians to Stay Strong for His Glory
Thursday, August 7, 2014, 9:24 AM

On these pages over the past several years, I have written about the plight of Pastor Saeed Abedini.  Pastor Abedini, an American citizen, has been imprisoned under the Islamic mullahs of Iran since September 2012.  He is presently serving an eight year sentence for his Christian activities in one of the most brutal hell-hole prisons in Iran.  Although his case has garnered international attention and many have advocated on his behalf, he remains in prison for his Christian faith.  Pastor Abedini’s wife, Naghmeh, has said, “Nothing has given Saeed and our family more strength than knowing that we are not forgotten, and that many are praying for us and taking the time to write letters and encourage us.”  We are admonished in Hebrews 13:3 to “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”  But in addition to Pastor Abedini, there are numerous other Christians who are imprisoned in Iran for their Christian faith.

Over the past several months, the United States and a number of European nations have released billions of dollars of frozen Iranian funds to the mullahs based upon their assurances that Iran would “halt” some aspects of its nuclear program and continue to “negotiate” their nuclear program in exchange for easing of international sanctions.  Although I am skeptical that the Iranian mullahs will ever want to give up their nuclear program, no efforts was made to release Pastor Abedini as a precondition to release of the frozen funds.  Mr. Obama has only made one public statement regarding Pastor Abedini at a National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., last February.  In his remarks, Mr. Obama said the following:

We pray for Pastor Saeed Abedini.  He’s been held in Iran for more than 18 months – sentenced to eight years in prison on charges relating to his Christian beliefs.  And as we continue to work for his freedom today, again, we call on the Iranian government to release Pastor Abedini so he can return to the loving arms of his wife and children in Idaho.

However, the Iranian mullahs ignored Mr. Obama’s appeal.  But they sure took the billions of cash.  Pastor Abedini’s young children have pleaded with Mr. Obama to help bring their dad home.  You can watch the poignant video of heartbroken children here.  Pastor Abedini also wrote a deeply powerful and beautiful letter to his wife, which you can hear in this video.

Please pray for this beautiful and great saint of God and for his family.  Please also pray for the many other Christians imprisoned in Iran.  And during this congressional recess, when your elected representatives are holding town halls in your community, please ask them what they are doing to bring back Pastor Abedini, an American citizen, held by the butchers of Teheran.

Mere Links 08.06.14
Wednesday, August 6, 2014, 10:00 AM

Cultural Engagement
Russell Moore, Ligonier Ministries

All I knew how to do, though, was preach the gospel. Yes, I knew what was happening on MTV, and I’d often contrast biblical reality with that, but I fit nobody’s definition of cool—including my own.

Haggling with the Almighty
Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon, Preachers Institute

As types of Christ our Intercessor with the Father, the Old Testament speaks of several men who were efficacious in intercession. Three of these are Abraham, Moses, and Job.

The Down Syndrome Community’s Death Debate
Matthew Hennessey, First Things

No college or university would tell potential students not to enroll. No lung cancer organization would tell people smoking is a fine thing to do. And no group that purports to represent the interests of people living with Down syndrome should present abortion of unborn babies with Down syndrome as a perfectly legitimate option. It just doesn’t make sense.

Nuns on the Bus vs. ISIS?
Mark Tooley, Juicy Ecumenism

The liberal Catholic activist group Network, headed by Sister Simone Campbell, famous for “Nuns on the Bus,” is asking supporters to urge President Obama to exercise strong “diplomacy” against the “violence” in northern Iraq.

Mere Links 08.05.14
Tuesday, August 5, 2014, 10:00 AM

Aborting in the Name of Jesus
Russell Moore , Moore to the Point

It is one of the most disturbing articles I’ve ever read. The current issue of Esquire magazine profiles the “abortion ministry” of Willie Parker, a doctor who flies in and out of my home state of Mississippi to perform abortions at the state’s only abortion clinic. The word “ministry” isn’t incidental. Dr. Parker says he aborts unborn children because Jesus wants him to.

IRS Strikes Deal With Atheists To Monitor Churches
Investor’s Business Daily

Government’s assault on religious liberty has hit a new low as the IRS settles with atheists by promising to monitor sermons for mentions of the right to life and traditional marriage.

The Repeating of Christian History
Shannon Holzer, The Imaginative Conservative

Though Christianity is currently legal in the United States, its enemies still use the same tactics as their ancient predecessors did when it was legally banned.

Why Doesn’t Living Together Before Marrying Decrease the Risk of Divorce?
Scott Stanley, Family Studies

Why isn’t cohabitation before marriage associated with a lower divorce risk? Two big factors: selection and inertia.

Mere Links 08.04.14
Monday, August 4, 2014, 10:00 AM

There is nothing modern about euthanasia
Helen Andrews, Centre for Independent Studies

The first time that a legislator in an English-speaking country introduced a bill to legalise physician-assisted suicide was in 1906, when a member of the Ohio state legislature in the US tabled such a bill on behalf of a woman whose mother died from cancer. The British Parliament saw its first euthanasia bill introduced in 1936. The Euthanasia Society of America was founded in 1938.

Jesus, Elvis & Bishop Spong
Mark Tooley, Juicy Ecumenism

Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong used to be a big deal. In the 1980s he appeared on talk shows and wrote provocative books suggesting the Virgin Mary was impregnated by a Roman soldier, or Jesus’ body was torn apart by wild dogs instead of resurrecting.

Russell Moore answers all you wanted to know about sex (but were afraid to ask)
Adelle M. Banks , Religion News Service

Though he often grapples with contentious political issues — the Hobby Lobby case, religious persecution and, most recently, the immigrant border crisis — Moore has spent much of his first year at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission writing blog posts on Christian sexual ethics.

Mega-Churches and Worshipping Incognito
R.C. Sproul Jr., Ligonier Ministries

Though it may be counterintuitive, it is nevertheless true—we have more privacy in the big city than we do in the country. There is actually a converse ratio between people per square mile and anonymity levels.

Let Us Pray for the Victims of Ebola Outbreak
Monday, August 4, 2014, 9:37 AM

It is now 38 years since the first recorded outbreak of Ebola virus in 1976.  Today, we are experiencing the worst Ebola virus epidemic in world history.  According to the World Health Organization, more than 826 people have died in the African countries of Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone since the outbreak began in the forests of eastern Guinea in February.  Among those who have died was an American of Liberian descent from Minnesota.  In addition, more than 60 physicians, nurses, and other health workers assisting Ebola victims have died.  My friends from Liberia have written to me asking for prayer for their fellow citizens as they live in great fear.  Containing the virus is made more complicated because the disease has spread across different countries.  On Saturday, Dr. Kent Brantly, a 33-year-old missionary doctor with Samaritan’s Purse and the first Ebola victim brought to the United States, arrived in Atlanta to be treated at Emory University Hospital.  His Samaritan’s Purse colleague, Nancy Writebol, is scheduled to arrive from Africa on Tuesday.  Dr. Brantly’s wife, Amber, said in a statement, “It was a relief to welcome Kent home today.  I spoke with him, and he is glad to be back in the U.S.  I am thankful to God for his safe transport and for giving him the strength to walk into the hospital.”  Press reports indicate that Dr. Brantly was flown from Africa to Dobbins Air Reserve base outside Atlanta in a small jet equipped with a special, portable tent to contain highly infectious diseases.  Accompanied to Emory University Hospital by a small police escort, upon arrival at the hospital, Dr. Brantly climbed out of the ambulance dressed completely in white protective clothing.  Although some have questioned the federal government’s wisdom and motivation in bringing Ebola victims to the United States, Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, said that Dr. Brantly’s condition is “improving.”  Nevertheless, Dr. Frieden also stated that it was too soon to tell whether Dr. Brantly would survive.

There is presently no known cure for Ebola, and in Africa, the virus kills up to 90 percent of infected people.  Ebola virus causes hemorrhagic fever, headaches, and weakness that can escalate to vomiting, diarrhea, and then kidney and liver problems.  Often patients will bleed both internally and externally, including from their eyes.  Fighting Ebola is difficult in Africa as people who become ill are often stigmatized by others in their towns and villages, and so there is often reluctance to come forward until it is much too late.  Further, in parts of Africa, some believe that the disease is caused by witchcraft.  The president of Liberia has closed his nation’s schools and government offices.  People are no longer shaking hands, and chlorinated water is now used for people to wash their hands regularly in an effort to stem the epidemic.  This is now the practice in churches as well.

Please pray for the end of this terrible outbreak of Ebola.  Please also pray for the victims and their families of this terrible disease, including our brother and sister in Christ, Dr. Brantly and Ms. Writebol.  Let us also pray for the Christian and other charity workers who courageously serve those affected by this dreadful disease with the love of Jesus Christ.  The Lord Jesus warned us in Luke 21 and Matthew 24 that among the signs of His imminent return were pestilences in diverse places.  Please pray for God’s protection over our brothers and sisters in Christ in accordance with Psalm 91, which serves as a promise and blessing against pestilence for those who “dwell in the shelter of the Most High.”  Maranatha!

Mere Links 08.01.14
Friday, August 1, 2014, 10:00 AM

Weary of Culture-Warring
Eric Teetsel, First Things

These skeptics are mostly well-intentioned. Yet by elevating a stripped-down version of the Gospel, wary of anything that might obstruct access to Jesus but ready to embrace anything that might increase his appeal, they offer an idol. The Church can do better.

In Church Attics, Clues to the Private Life of Early America
Michael Paulson, New York Times

The historians are racing against inexorable church closings, occasional fires, and a more mundane but not uncommon peril: the actual loss of documents, which most often occurs when a church elder dies and no one can remember the whereabouts of historical papers.

Gordon College and Pluralism in Higher Education
Adam J. MacLeod, Public Discourse

Requiring all colleges and universities to adopt the same practices and policies would destroy their institutional identities and prevent them from achieving their diverse missions.

Sex can’t explain the culture war
Edward Morrissey , The Week

The traditionalist view is that sex cannot be separated from its consequences for civilization, and that the effects of attempting to do so over the last several decades demonstrate the damage it does to try.

Mere Links 07.31.14
Thursday, July 31, 2014, 10:00 AM

France offers Iraq Christians asylum after Mosul threat

The French government says it is ready to offer asylum to Iraqi Christians forced to flee by Islamist militants in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

The Next “Hobby Lobby”: Mandating IVF Coverage
John M. Grondelski, Crisis Magazine

[H]as the New York Times given us a glimpse of Hobby Lobby II? The July 26 issue carries a story whose gist is that government and private insurance does not adequately cover in vitro fertilization (IVF).

State Department Releases Report on International Religious Freedom
Joe Carter, Acton Institute

“In 2013, the world witnessed the largest displacement of religious communities in recent memory,” is the depressing introduction to the report. “In almost every corner of the globe, millions of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and others representing a range of faiths were forced from their homes on account of their religious beliefs.”

Francis and the Evangelicals
Fr. Dwight Longenecker, Aleteia

The pope’s planned reform is larger and more deep rooted than one imagines.

Mere Links 07.30.14
Wednesday, July 30, 2014, 10:00 AM

Middle Eastern Christians Face Calamity
Richard L. Russell, Crisis Magazine

The Middle East is embroiled in chaos and what little remains of the ancient Christian communities there are being destroyed with the latest tragic turn of events in Iraq.

Obama Taps First Non-Christian to Serve as U.S. Ambassador for Religious Freedom
Lauren Markoe and Brian Pellot, Religion News Service

Rabbi David Saperstein, named the most influential rabbi in America in 2009, will head the Office of International Religious Freedom.

Dodging Bullets Over Religious Freedom
Jim Tonkowich, Juicy Ecumenism

We are dodging bullets, bullets that would be fatal to our way of life because they are aimed at our religious freedom.

Immigration: A Principled Catholic Approach Avoids Emotionalism
Samuel Gregg, National Catholic Register

Church teaching on immigration articulates a framework for thinking — rather than merely emoting — through the immigration issue in a manner consistent with Catholic concerns for liberty, justice, human flourishing and the common good.

During Ramadan, God Pours Out His Holy Spirit
Wednesday, July 30, 2014, 9:51 AM

Earlier this week Moslems around the world celebrated the feast of Eid al-Fitr, an important religious holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting.  During Ramadan, Moslems set aside time to seek their god by abstaining from earthly pleasures.  Moslems pursue the cleansing of their souls through fasting from sunrise to sunset, and refrain from bad habits (I guess blowing up stuff and killing folks doesn’t count as bad habits for some).  At the beginning of Ramadan, I wrote on these pages asking for prayer for Moslems around the world that God would move in the lives of millions of Moslems to introduce His Son, Jesus Christ, as their Lord and Savior.  This Ramadan, the Moslem world is in great chaos.  Christians are being driven from their homes and are being martyred daily throughout the Middle East and parts of Africa.  Fighting between Islamists in Gaza and Israelis threatens to engulf that region in a larger and more dangerous war.

In addition to writing for Mere Comments, one of the great privileges in my life is to correspond with and disciple new Christian believers from around the world who were formerly Moslems.  As I wrote on these pages at the beginning of Ramadan, today there are areas of the Moslem world that never had one church before, but now there are dozens that started in the past several years.  Unbeknownst to most Christians, missiologists estimate that more Moslems have become Christ-followers in the recent past than in the previous 13 centuries.  During this year’s Ramadan, I have exchanged email correspondence with numerous new Christians from the Moslem world.  (Although I have changed the names to protect both their security and privacy, the cities and countries cited are correct.)  Among the new Christians, there was Farhad and Daniyal from Teheran, Iran; Aahil from Islamabad, Pakistan; Aaban from Al Sulaymaniah, Iraq; Rehan from Rabat, Morocco; Rayyan from Shiraz, Iran; Usman, Bilal, and Zaroon from Dhaka, Bangladesh; Zeeshan from Qusantinah, Algeria (incidentally, the most beautiful city you have never heard of); Hamza from Kabul, Afghanistan; Arisha from Kuwait City, Kuwait; Imran from Tunis, Tunisia; Ali from Sanaa, Yemen; Shahzaib from Doha, Qatar; Ashaz from Khartoum, Sudan; and Ibrahim and Waqas from Jakarta, Indonesia.  We can rejoice that God is pouring out His Holy Spirit throughout the Moslem world.  As St. Paul taught us in his epistle to the Romans, where evil doth abound, grace even more doth abound.

One of my observations in corresponding with these new Christian believers is how much their hearts and minds parallel what St. Paul wrote about the Jews of his generation in Romans 10:2, “For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.”  As we learn from 1 John 4:8, the God of the Holy Bible is love, an impossibility for Allah.  In fact, among Allah’s 99 attributes, love is not one of them.  The Koran never says that Allah loves all mankind, much less sinners.  But the God of the Bible is loving and merciful, and ready to forgive anyone who will come humbly and in repentance to God through His Son, Jesus Christ.  And Moslems are drawn by the love and forgiveness offered by Isa Ibn Maryam, the al-Masih (the Messiah).

We rejoice with the angels in Heaven over each lost sinner who comes to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  I urge you to please remember in prayer our new brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ from Moslem backgrounds.  As one can expect, the formerly-Moslem Christian believers will be severely persecuted.  But despite great persecution, imprisonment, and martyrdom, with many others losing their homes and loved ones, my prayer for them is that these new Christians will boldly serve our Lord Jesus without fear.  They have truly counted the cost, and know the pearl of great price of their newfound faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  May God bless each of them richly.

Mere Links 07.29.14
Tuesday, July 29, 2014, 10:00 AM

Higher Calling, Lower Wages: The Vanishing of the Middle-Class Clergy
David R. Wheeler, The Atlantic

As full-time pastors become a thing of the past, more and more seminary grads are taking on secular jobs to supplement their incomes.

Religious Leader Looks to West For Help for Iraqi Christians
Natalie Johnson, The Daily Signal

The Chaldean Catholic Patriarch is appealing to the international community for action against ISIS’ expulsion of Christians in Mosul, deeming the situation as “21st century genocide.”

Shivering in Tolkien’s shadow
Josephine Livingstone, The Economist

Middle Earth has swallowed up our understanding of the Middle Ages.

Court Rejects Atheists’ Attempt To Remove Ground Zero Cross from Museum
The Becket Fund

Recognizing the important role that religion plays in society, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals issued an order on Monday rejecting the effort by American Atheists, Inc. to force the National 9/11 Museum to remove the Ground Zero Cross from its display or to include a plaque honoring atheists alongside the Cross.

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