Monthly Archives: September 2015

Thinking Big – Revival in North Korea

Koreans think big. I read recently that many churches in South Korea are, from this year, putting aside one per cent of their annual income for a special fund that will be used to help advance unification with North Korea and build up the church there.

Given that some South Korean churches are huge, this is significant. It means that when the two Koreas are reunited – as surely they will be – an enormous amount of money will be available for evangelism. The once-powerful North Korean church could flourish again.

For example, Seoul’s Yoido Full Gospel Church – the largest church in the world, with some 800,000 members – is one of those that has joined the cause. Some reports put its annual income as around $200 million. Now it will be devoting one per cent of this for the new unification fund.

I have seen many times the tendency of Koreans to think big. I was working as a journalist in Tokyo in the early 1980s when I was commissioned by the Wall Street Journal to spend two weeks in Seoul interviewing the heads of government and industry for a major report on the country.

Almost without exception those I met told me how South Korea was going to overtake Japan in electronics and many other fields. It seemed at the time as the kind of pipedream that springs from an inferiority complex. But today companies like Samsung have easily overtaken Japanese (and Western) rivals in many key product areas like mobile phones and colour televisions.

Though I do believe Koreans sometimes think too big. I once wrote about General Pil Sup Lee, formerly chairman of the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff and a devout Christian. More than a decade ago he told a Christian conference of a plan to evangelize the nation through the military.

Each year 350,000 young Korean men are called up for their compulsory military service. The aim was that some 60 per cent would become believers by the end of their term of service, returning to their homes where they would then spread the word among their families.

The goal was that the ratio of Christians in South Korea would rise to about 75 per cent of the population by 2020, from around 30 per cent at present. This is big, big thinking, and with the target date just five years away it does not look remotely achievable.

But North and South Korea will surely one day be reunited, and the church in the North could then bloom as before.

Students of Christian history will recall that, thanks to the Great Pyongyang Revival (Pyongyang is the capital of North Korea), beginning in the early 1900s, that city became known as “Jerusalem of the East.”

Yet this might be nothing compared to what we are set to witness once the North regains freedom, as huge amounts of money and other resources pour in. In my view, it could shake the world. Because, yes, Koreans think big. But God thinks even bigger.

Hey, We’re Going to Steal Your Pastor

A while back my church voted to call a new senior pastor. The man in question accepted our call. It seemed we were stealing him from another church. I have a question: aren’t there some ethics involved in this?

At our church business meeting, the pastoral search committee moderator (a retired senior police officer) said light-heartedly that some of the committee’s activities had of necessity been kept secret, so that other churches not find out we might be trying to steal their pastor.

pastorIt was a long meeting, and towards the end we learned that the man we were calling was just two years or so into a three-year contract with a particular church. I didn’t know the details of that contract. Maybe it could be cut short at any time. But the impression we gained at the meeting was that he would be breaking his contact to join us.

When someone raised a question about this, a member of the pastoral search committee simply said that, according to its website, the candidate pastor’s church regularly changed pastors.

Which seems to be saying – if others are doing it, why shouldn’t we?.

What sort of message is that? I sent my three kids to Sunday School and church youth group precisely hoping that they would learn about transcendent values, about right and wrong and about not following the ways of the world.

Nine days before the meeting, which took place in December, one of our pastors told the congregation that, some months earlier, God had revealed to him that around Christmas time we would be appointing our new senior pastor, and that the man would be aged 39 (exactly the age of the candidate pastor). At the meeting itself, the members of the pastoral search committee spoke in detail of how God had led them to believe this man was the right person for our church.

It would have taken a brave church member to speak out against the man, and few did. The vote in his favor was overwhelming. (For the record, I also voted in his favor.)

Now I know that God can over-rule the law of contracts, not to mention criminal law, natural law and any other law. But I’m not sure that our church should.

I was also uncomfortable that the man we called was pastor of an expatriate church in Asia. I would imagine that such a church might face a long and expensive process in finding and bringing over a new English-speaking pastor.

Frankly, I’m confused.

What does anyone else think?

Which Shares Would Jesus Buy?

I’m a freelance writer, semi-retired now, but still specializing in finance, investment and the stock market. It’s not work I’m entirely comfortable with. I know that many Christians – including some in my own church – regard the financial markets as casinos. But I have a family to feed, and I haven’t been able to make a living writing on Christian themes, so the stock market it is.

Friends sometimes suggest I write a book on “Christian finance.” That is, on money management for Christians, like Larry Burkett. I’ve resisted, for several reasons, and it’s probably as well, because, according to a “Religion BookLine” email newsletter from Publishers Weekly, the market for those books is crowded.

dollarThe newsletter (which is not online) put the spotlight on several books related to Christians and finance. About one of these it wrote:

The book’s tone is more aggressive than other Christian guides, exhorting readers to think of debt elimination as a “war,” with its accompanying sacrifices. Exclamation points, italics and parenthetical intensifiers so abound in the text that by the book’s end, even the most committed reader will feel rhetorically exhausted.

I’m not comfortable with “Christian finance” books that lay down lots of rules. After all, even a Christian financial principle like tithing is open to various interpretations.

I don’t believe Jesus gave specific instruction concerning the stock market, savings accounts, debt reduction or whatever. Instead, he taught love, forgiveness, service, integrity, trust, humility, prayer, compassion, justice and more. These virtues should naturally (and increasingly) govern every aspect of our lives, including our attitudes to money.

That’s not to say that personal finance books are useless. Far from it. (After all, I write some.) But I don’t think that Christians necessarily need “Christian” personal finance books, any more than they need, say, “Christian” car repair manuals or “Christian” aerobics guides.

Martin Luther is famously quoted as having exclaimed: “I would rather be operated on by a Turkish [Muslim] surgeon than a Christian butcher.” (Though some doubt he really said it.)

A short article from Christianity Today magazine has influenced my own attitudes. By J. Raymond Albrektson, it is titled “Is the Stock Market Good Stewardship.” Here is an excerpt:

The bedrock of a biblical understanding of wealth is that it all belongs to God, but he entrusts us to manage it during our lifetime. Our task is to decide how to divide the pie. How much do we give away to help meet the needs of others and expand God’s kingdom? How much do we consume on our own needs? And how much do we set aside for future needs?

We’re basically trustees, and a trustee normally does not take high risks with the owner’s wealth. When you entrust assets to a financial manager, you expect rational plans for putting that money to work, not unreasonable risks in hopes of a quick payoff.

I would commend the article to anyone interested in this theme.

Ikea Catalog – Reaching Into People’s Hearts

More than ten years ago I wrote an article for a former website titled “The Bible vs. the Ikea Catalog – Which is Winning Hearts?” It looked at how the annual Ikea catalog was overtaking the Bible as the world’s most distributed publication.

I actually did a bit of research to gather material for the article, including making contact with the Ikea head office and seeking out statistics from various Bible societies.

Ikea catalogThough estimates differed, it seemed possible that more than 100 million Bibles were being distributed worldwide each year. Concerning distribution of the Ikea catalog, I wrote that it topped 100 million for the first time in 2001.

I actually thought my finished article had something pertinent to say, and after posting it on my site I sent out emails to various other bloggers alerting them to it.

However, hardly anyone seemed to pay much attention, and the article quickly went into my archives, relatively unnoticed.

But then something happened – very gradually it got linked to by lots of other sites, and traffic to the article started to build. Within a couple of years it was by far the most popular commentary on my former site, attracting hundreds of visitors each week.

It took me a while to work out where all this traffic was coming from. To my amazement, it eventually turned out that one of the main sources was this Wikipedia entry, “Quotations From Chairman Mao Tse-Tung,” which linked to my article and said about Mao’s Little Red Book:

The estimated number of copies in print well exceeds one billion, certainly a record in mainland China (although, worldwide, its publication is a distant second to the Bible, or third if all publications and printings of the annual Ikea catalog are counted as a book).

And thanks to that Wikipedia link I found my article featuring prominently when people did Google searches for information on the Ikea catalog.

So is the article still relevant?

Well, I noted then that distribution of the Ikea catalog topped 100 million for the first time. Now it apparently exceeds 200 million.

Back then I wrote about Ikea:

It already has around 150 stores in 22 countries. In 1997 it opened in Shanghai, two years later in Beijing and a year after that in Moscow. It sees these stores as stepping stones for further penetration of those countries. It is gearing up to enter Japan. The catalog printing run is set to soar.

Today the company operates more than 300 stores in 37 countries.

I think the conclusion I wrote then is as relevant as before:

China. Russia. Japan. Western Christians are spending heavily to reach people in such countries with the Gospel. Will we win hearts as readily as Ikea?

Marching As To War, With The Cross Of Jesus

Recently, in “Onward Christian Soldiers,” I posted some reflections on the role of Christians in the armed forces. Here are a few more reflections.

Can a senior military officer truly follow Jesus and still be an efficient and effective soldier? An emphatic “yes” is the answer from Major General Tim Cross of the British Army, addressing a conference of the Association of Military Christian Fellowships in Warsaw some years ago.

He lays down five guiding principles for the officer seeking to follow Jesus. And he gives an answer to the question: in war, whose side is God on?

It’s a fascinating address. At this time of conflict and confrontation it deserves a wider audience (though, sadly, no longer appears to be online).

SoldiersThe five principles:

1. God didn’t send a committee. He sent a human leader, who had a team of twelve, one of whom was a failure. So it’s crucial that someone be in charge, with authority and responsibility. “You can’t lead by committee – the buck stops with you, the leader.”

2. Jesus was a leader who served:

Don’t cling to positions of authority, title, status or shoulder power; rather live with and live through the lives of your people. In doing so, you will stand shoulder to shoulder with the British officers in the Falklands who arrived in Port Stanley cold, dirty and tired, having fought alongside their men, and not with the Argentinean officers who set themselves apart, and surrendered clean, well fed and rested: and you will stand alongside those British officers and non-commissioned officers who, without any orders, appeared at all times of the day and night to help the refugees in Blace and Brazde in Northern Macedonia, giving their time, food and energy unselfishly.

3. Jesus was a leader who developed the gifts of others. He built up self-belief in all He came into contact with.

4. Don’t stand aloof from your people. Communicate with them. Listen and consult. Jesus didn’t operate from an office.

5. Confront evil and sin, and do so head on. Evil is ever-present. So condemn the sin, but not the sinner:

This fifth principle, best summed up perhaps in the word “love,” applies to our enemies too. “Love your enemies” is not a pacifist message, but it does lie at the very heart of the Geneva Convention.

If you can do this, then you will stand alongside those who achieved such great things in the Falklands but also then made the decisions not to shell the retreating Argentineans around Port Stanley; with those who achieved so much in the Gulf War, but then ensured that British vehicles, food and water were made available to the captured Iraqi prisoners of war; with those who today ensure equality of treatment in Northern Ireland, Cyprus and in Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, and East Timor. 

And you will stand separate from those who were in My Lai in Vietnam, or slaughtered women and children and wounded soldiers in the Far East and Europe in World War II, or ethnically cleansed the villages and towns throughout Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo. This is what separates out the true Christian leader. Difficult? Yes, of course it is, but in following the example of Jesus Christ you can be inspired to stand firm against evil and achieve great things.

We should applaud the fact that we have such leaders in our military, and praise God that we have such a Servant King who inspires them.

Finally, in warfare, whose side is God on?

In the words of Major General Cross:

Too often we expect God to be on our side. But that is not the real issue. It is not a matter of whose side God is on in warfare, or any other aspect of life. The real question is not, “Whose side is God on?” but, “Are we on God’s side?” 

Onward Christian Soldiers

Who was the first Gentile baptized by Peter? Cornelius.

What did he do? He was a soldier.

God loves soldiers, though Christians throughout the ages have sometimes been unsure. Can you really be a soldier and a true Christian? My own thinking on this issue has evolved a lot.

soldier-waving-to-civiliansMy father was a Jewish refugee to New Zealand. He served in the New Zealand Air Force during World War II – he once told me he would have been first in line to volunteer to help drop the A-bombs on Japan – but after the war refused to accept the medals to which he was entitled, as some kind of anti-war protest. (After he died, in 1994, I wrote to the New Zealand Defence Department to check if the medals were still available. They were, and I have them now in my desk drawer.)

He and my mother became leaders of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and I was raised in the 1950s and 1960s in an intensely anti-war environment. Yet at the same time my uncle – my father’s younger brother, who as a boy had been smuggled by Jewish groups into pre-war Palestine – was a career officer in the Israeli army.

I guess that ambivalence about military matters stuck with me. So after I became a Christian, at the age of 44, if I’d been asked my views about armed service, I might have answered with something vague to the effect that of course we need an army, but that it’s better that Christians not serve in it. Because armies are for killing, and Christians shouldn’t kill.

Or I might have said that I classified soldiers with lawyers and real estate agents. When you need them you expect them to get down and dirty. Better they not be Christians.

But gradually I’ve come to change my views. (At least about soldiers. I’m still undecided about lawyers and real estate agents.)  I’ve come to recognize something important: we need more Christians serving in the military.

In a post that is no longer online, Reverend Major General Ian Durie – a British soldier who later became an Anglican priest – examined many stories of serving soldiers in Scripture, and concluded:

We clearly see from the New Testament that soldiering is an honorable profession, but one which has to be conducted in a right way….Our Lord and the apostles (our model church leaders) approved then, as they approve now, the profession of soldier….Soldiering is an honorable profession, to which men and women of faith are called.

But don’t soldiers kill? Yes, they do. As Major General Durie explains:

There is a tendency…not to trust that God has appointed us to be soldiers, nor that soldiering has our Lord’s approval, and is a high calling under God. And when we don’t trust Him for that, when we don’t offer this part of our lives in worship to God, when we take off Christ as we put our uniforms on, then we abandon Him when we have a gun in our hand, at the time that we need Him most. Do you see that? It’s a matter of life and death, and at that supreme test we need God’s guidance more than at any other time.

So don’t be blind….Because as a Christian, if you are not ready to kill if need be, and approve of it, then you should not be a soldier. For myself, I know that in the Gulf War I was responsible for the deaths probably of hundreds, maybe thousands of Iraqi soldiers. I did what I believed was right under God, but I also know that at the last day I am answerable before Him for my actions there.

I recall C.S. Lewis in his book “Mere Christianity”:

I have often thought to myself how it would have been if, when I served in the first world war, I and some young German had killed each other simultaneously and found ourselves together a moment after death. I cannot imagine that either of us would have felt any resentment or even any embarrassment. I think we might have laughed over it.

But do not the commandments tell us not to kill? Did not Jesus tell us to turn the other cheek? Yes, but justice and righteous are over-riding imperatives of God. Major General Durie again:

Where, we must ask the pacifist, is the righteousness in rape or robbery? Such things must be stopped, and we may ourselves use reasonable force to prevent them.…The same applies at a national level, internally against terrorists and rebels, and externally against other armies who threaten violent action against the state.

His conclusion: “It is always wrong to use force, unless it is more wrong not to.”

Giant Cross a Symbol of Hope and Defiance in Pakistan

This is one way to fight back.

In Pakistan, where the persecution of Christians appears to be intensifying, a businessman is building one of the world’s largest crosses – in Karachi, the Muslim world’s largest city – as a symbol of pride and defiance.

cross-91290_1280The Washington Post tells the story:

Pakistani businessman Parvez Henry Gill says he was sleeping when God crashed into one of his dreams and gave him a job: find a way to protect Christians in Pakistan from violence and abuse. “I want you to do something different,” God told him.

That was four years ago, and Gill, a lifelong devout Christian, struggled for months with how to respond. Eventually, after more restless nights and more prayers, he awoke one morning with his answer: He would build one of the world’s largest crosses in one of the world’s most unlikely places.

“I said, ‘I am going to build a big cross, higher than any in the world, in a Muslim country,’ ” said Gill, 58. “It will be a symbol of God, and everybody who sees this will be worry-free.”

Now, in this overwhelmingly Muslim country, in the heart of a city where Islamist extremists control pockets of some neighborhoods, the 14-story cross is nearly complete.

It is being built at the entrance to Karachi’s largest Christian cemetery, towering over thousands of tombstones that are often vandalized. Once his cross looms over such acts of disrespect, Gill said, he hopes it can convince the members of Pakistan’s persecuted Christian minority that someday their lives will get better.

“I want Christian people to see it and decide to stay here,” said Gill, who started the project about a year ago.

Go to the article to see photos of the cross under construction. And pray for Parvez Henry Gill, as Pakistan is a particularly harsh country in which to be a Christian.

Just two months ago suicide bombers attacked two churches in Lahore, murdering 15 worshippers. In 2013 more than 100 people were killed in a suicide bombing at a church in Peshawar. Christians are routinely persecuted on trumped-up blasphemy charges.

Some might suggest that a giant cross will simply serve as a provocation for further attacks, though it would seem that Pakistan’s Muslims do not need much excuse to feel provoked. Please pray.

The Book of Revelation Unfolds in Iraq

They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. – Revelation 9:4

Mark of GodIraq’s first Christian-only brigade of regular forces graduated this week, and will now join the fight to retake the community’s towns and villages from ISIS.

In a great post, Palestinian Christian Walid Shoebat has noted that many of the 600 members of the force have painted the mark of God, a cross, on their foreheads.

Some 100,000 Assyrian Christians fled their homes in the Nineveh Plains, in north-east Iraq, when ISIS invaded last August. It was said to be one of the worst disasters to hit what is one of the world’s oldest Christian communities.

The new brigade, named the Tiger Guards, is comprised entirely of volunteers and will fight under the government of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region.