THE CHURCH IN LEBANON: LARGE, ANCIENT BUT BARELY ALIVE

Note: If you like what you read you can subscribe to my weekly prayer newsletter by entering your email details in the box on the right if on an Ipad or desktop, or by scrolling to the bottom if on a smart device

1. History

Lebanon (meaning The White One, referring to the 160km of snow-capped mountains that run parallel to the coast in winter, Jeremiah 18:14) is a small coastal country on the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. Its history is deep, going back to the dawn of human civilisation. It was the home of the infamous Canaanites at the time Abraham came through on his way to Egypt (Genesis 12:6). Centuries later it was actually part of the territory promised to the Israelites when they came back to the Promised Land out of Egypt (Joshua 1:4, Joshua 3:10). the Song of Songs – are full of praise for Lebanon’s nature, wild animals, waters, trees, flowers, wine, plants and the legendary snow of its high mountains. Lebanese timber was used to build Solomon’s temple. All up Lebanon is mentioned 71 times in the Old Testament.

Lebanon also gave rise to the great civilisation of the Phoenicia which colonised so much of the Mediterranean and gave the world the first taste of a modern alphabet. The Persians then claimed it, as did Alexander the Great and the Romans. The Christian era came next, and then gave way to the Islamic era, but not before a two hundred year return to European Christendom during the era of the Crusades. As you can see, the country is literally built on a maze of precious archaeological ruins!

2. Today

Because of the horrific genocide and ethnic cleansing of Christians from many parts of the Middle East during the late colonial era and early 20th Century, the French government decided to set up a special enclave as a refuge for refugee Christians from right across the Fertile Crescent. Thus modern Lebanon was eventually born in 1948 as the only majority Christian country in the Middle East. It is also the only country with freedom of religion and the only democratic country outside Israel. The country flourished for a while but the good times all came to a shuddering halt when millions of Palestinian refugees entered the country fleeing Jewish persecution (15% of whom were Christians). This led to a 15 year civil war that only ended in 1990. Lebanon has since boomed again but the peace is fragile and the economy not strong.

The country is 87% urban. It has 6 million citizens and 2 million refugees. It is 40% traditional Christian, 27% Sunni Muslim, 27% Shia Muslim and 5% Druze. It is the world’s third most indebted nation and the majority of its poor are Palestinian Muslims because of their lower education levels and refugee backgrounds.

3. Evangelical Highlights

Jesus was actually the first to bring the gospel to Lebanon when he visited Tyre and healed the Phoenician woman’s demon possessed child (Mark 7:24-31)! From there we know Peter and Paul repeated the Good News in later decades. The church grew quickly along the coast but the many mountainous villages were much slower in accepting the Gospel. In fact to this day the Druze of this same region even refuse to accept Islam.

The church eventually settled into a culture of tradition and ritual, abandoning the very life-changing message that gave birth to it in the first place. Today Christianity in Lebanon is 50% Maronite Catholic, 20% Greek Orthodox, 12% Greek Melkite Catholic and 5% Armenian Orthodox. Get the picture! Only some 25,000 or about 0.4% of the population is evangelical. These numbers are growing, but are so tiny as to not have any impact on the vast majority of nominal Christians, let alone the Muslim majority. Sadly, evangelicals are even viewed with great suspicion by these older Christian churches.

The great re-awakening of the Lebanese church is yet to happen, but there are sparks of life in this picture from the few who dare to truly follow Jesus, and there is at least one western-style mega-church in Beirut. Another area of some growth is within the newly arrived Syrian refugees who are open to Christian witness after suffering great trauma caused by Islamic extremists. YWAM is active in the country and there is Christian TV available to many.

Because of its uniquely tolerant  religious social climate, Lebanon is also the base for much evangelical Christian leadership training for churches throughout the Middle East. There are also a number of evangelical Christian schools educating many of the future elite of the country.

4. Prayer Points

Pray for the secretive Druze. There are only a few hundred believers among them

Pray also for the downtrodden Palestinians, there are only a few believers left among them

Pray for the small but growing renewal movement inside the Maronite Church

Pray for peace so Christians from across the Middle East can continue to be trained, and for resources to flow from Lebanon to nearby countries

Pray for the refugees who now know Jesus, that their decisions are genuine and life changing

Pray for a move of healings, miracles, dreams and visions

Pray for the hardened Hezbollah fighters to come to know Jesus

Pray for nominal Christians to have an encounter with the Holy Spirit

THE CHURCH IN KUWAIT: HOME TO A GROWING UNDERGROUND CHURCH

Note: If you like what you read you can subscribe to my weekly prayer newsletter by entering your email details in the box on the right if on an Ipad or desktop, or by scrolling to the bottom if on a smart device

1. History

Being located at the top of the Persian Gulf near the delta of the Euphrates River, Kuwait was always going to be a place of significance for trade between east and west. To name just one significant group, about 2000 BC merchants from Abraham’s home city of Ur established a trading city in northern Kuwait and became some of the world’s earliest maritime traders, pioneering the trade routes to the Indus Valley civilisation in modern day Pakistan and northern India. In 600 BC the Persians took control of the area. The earliest recorded mention of Kuwait was in 150 AD in the treatise called Geography by Greek scholar Ptolemy.

In 636 AD as the Persian Empire collapsed, Kuwait came under control of the new Arab Empire, and eventually the Islamic culture and religion. In 1521 AD Kuwait came under Portugese control as the Europeans began to use superior maritime skills wrestle control of the east-west trade links from the Arabs. It then came under the control of the Ottoman Empire and eventually passed to British control in 1899. The discovery of oil in the 20th Century transformed Kuwait From a poor backward province into the nation we see today, with independence coming in 1961.

2. Today

Because Kuwait had 10% of the world’s oil reserves and great wealth it eventually caught the eye of Saddam Hussein who invaded in 1991, devastating the economy and incurring the wrath of the USA and its allies. The country recovered and is once again prospering, but with 95% of income coming from oil. Incomes are equal to the USA, literacy is 100% and the country is stable. At 4 million people, Kuwait is a nation of immigrant workers who make up 60% of the population and 78% of the workforce. It is thus a country whose economic prosperity is not on firm ground.

3. Evangelical Highlights

In the Christian Era the region around modern day Kuwait belonged to the wider Persian Gulf Christian community, especially of the  Nestorian and Syriac Christian denominations. Archaeologists have unearthed the remains of a Nestorian monastery and township on the island of Failaka dating to the 5th Century and lasting until the 10th Century. The church was eventually squashed through Islamic pressure so that Kuwait eventually became 100% Muslim.

In the modern era the church was reborn with the arrival of the British. However it was not until the first Gulf War in 1991 that things began to change rapidly. It is a point worth noting from my research that every time a Muslim country goes through a war, or is subject to a generation of Islamist government suppression, the Church of Jesus Christ begins to grow rapidly. Kuwait is one of those examples. The evangelical population has grown rapidly since 1991 and is now some 2% of the population.

Importantly the underground Arab Kuwaiti church is gaining strength, numbers and maturity. Because of the relatively tolerant government (mainly because most workers are foreign) Kuwaiti Christians are beginning to go public with their faith. Boldness and open witness are the hallmarks of the Kuwaiti Arab church.

Such is the growth that many parents are now sending their children to study within the Middle East as so many Kuwaiti students were coming back Christians after studying in the West. The growth rate for the Kuwaiti church is around 9%, one of the highest in the world and there is strong growth even among the expatriate workers who now crowd out the compounds where they are allowed to gather.

4. Prayer Points

Pray for continued exposure of Kuwaitis to the Gospel as they travel overseas.

Pray for the continued growth of the MBB church.

Pray for this amazing rebirth of the Persian Gulf church to spill over into other Arab countries

Pray for continued tolerance by the government toward the Arab church

Pray for continued revival among the 400,000 expatriate Christians living in Kuwait as guest workers. It has begun!

Pray for all media platforms to continue their great work of reaching locals

Pray for unity among believers, it is a bit of an issue in Kuwait

THE CHURCH IN KURDISTAN: REBORN AFTER CENTURIES OF COLLAPSE

If you like what you read below you can subscribe to my weekly prayer newsletter via the subscribe box on the right if you are on a desktop computer or pad, or by scrolling to the bottom if on a smart device.

1. History

The Kurds, descended from the Hurrians, Medes and Symbian’s, are a mountain people with a history that goes back as far as human civilisation can go. As such it must be remembered that when Isaiah, Jeremiah and Daniel talk about the Medes in the Old Testament, they are talking about the ancestors of today’s Kurds.

You name any Middle Eastern empire and the Kurds will have been part of it or trampled by it. By the Roman era they were known as the Corduenes and controlled the restless mountainous borderlands between Roman Anatolia and northern Persia (south East Turkey today). They were aligned with Rome against Persia so were in the news just as much then as now. Kurdistan in the Middle Ages was a collection of semi-independent and independent states called emirates. It was at this time that Yizidism emerged as a Kurdish breakaway religion from Islam.

After the 1918 collapse of the Ottoman Empire the Kurds were promised their own home land. However, the Europeans reneged on their promises and in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne the Kurds were divided between Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.

2. Today

The Kurds are the largest people group in the world (30-45m depending on the different ways to count them) without their own country which is why we hear of them so often in the news. For that reason I have included them in my weekly prayer newsletter.

The Kurds now live in at least 35 countries but are mainly concentrated in South Eastern Turkey, Northern Iraq Northern Syria and Eastern Iran. Half live in Turkey. Each of these countries now has its own Kurdish separatist movement. They are therefore treated badly by their host governments, who have tried to forcibly assimilate them into the majority population of Arabs, Persians, or Syrians. In most countries, with the exception of Autonomous Kurdistan (the KAR) in Northern Iraq, Kurds are poorer than other citizens because of the mountains they live in and their resistance to government control.

Saddam Hussain almost destroyed the Kurds in Iraq, but now they are protected by international law and are thriving, with their own parliament and army to control their own oil fields. With the near collapse of the Syrian government and with the support of the Americans, the Kurds have taken control of large parts of that country, even installing a female mayor in Raqqa, old headquarters of Islamic State!. It remains to be seen what happens next, perhaps they will finally get their homeland.

3. Evangelical Highlights

Many Kurds became Christians in the first two centuries of our faith via the apostle Andrew who preached to the Scythians and Parthians, on the north eastern end of the Persian Empire. Then came the Syriac missionaries a few centuries later. In some places they were in the majority, outnumbering the imperial religion of Zoroastrianism. Christianity survived for several centuries after the invasion of the Arabs in the 7th Century but slowly declined to nearly nothing by the time of the European Empires. However, because it was close to Christian Armenia, there were always some Kurds who retained their traditional Nestorian Christian rituals right down to within a 150 years ago.

Fast forward to today and we now find the Kurds much more receptive to western influence and ideas than their dominant Arab neighbours. Most Kurds would still call themselves Muslim, but they are very different to the average Muslim. Because they have suffered as a minority and know they were once Christians, they are much more tolerant of other ethnic and religious groups. Kurds are now coming to Jesus in small numbers. In Iraqi Kurdistan there are increasing numbers of Christian converts and a growing Christian presence that is tolerated by the KAR government. Many Christian NGO’s base themselves in the capital of Erbil to help with the large refugee crises created by the Iraq and Syrian wars and the scourge of Islamic State. However the 200,000 Assyrian Christian refugees now living inside the KAR face some discrimination at the hands of the majority Kurds.

Over in northern Syria the presence of IS has stunned once content Muslims into re-examining their religious ties. This has led to the opening of churches in once unthinkable locations such as Kobani. In 2017 the first Bible in Sorani, the second most spoken Kurdish dialect was finally printed and is now available as an app and there are Kurdish Christian websites no popping up to help share the Good News. The Bible is also now available in the Kurmanji language for Turkish Kurds. In an interesting twist, many Kurds have begun to convert back to the ancient Syrian Orthodox faith of their ancestors and there are some God-fearing Orthodox priests who are discipling them.

4. Prayer Points

Pray for the growing church to be bold in the face of constant threats and danger

Pray for a Kurdish missions vision to reach Kurds in all surrounding countries, especially Turkey

Pray for the growing Kurdish Disporia to reach back to their homeland with the Gospel

Sacked for Quoting the Bible While Not at Work!

In my country, Australia, the highest profile rugby Union player in the country, Israel Fulau, has just been sacked for quoting a passage from the Bible on instagram that describes who will be sent to hell and included a reference to homosexuals. The lead sponsor of the Australian Rugby Union is Qantas, run by a very strident homosexual rights campaigner. This is the first real test case of the new era in which we live where religious rights are being trampled by sexual rights and the disease of “taking offence”. I hope it goes all the way to our Hugh Court so the best legal minds on the country can somehow create a balance between what we have always cherished as a nation: free speech and religious freedom, and personal rights. In the meantime an unexpected voice of support for Israel has come from a former left-wing national political leader who has re-emerged as a right-wing state politician!

Below is part of a transcript of his brilliant maiden speech to the New South Wales Parliament a few weeks ago via the website Mercatornet:

Mark Latham is one of the most unusual and controversial characters in Australian politics. He is brainy, has a scathing wit and has published several books. He became leader of the Australian Labor Party in Federal Parliament – the youngest in over a century — and contested the 2004 election against Liberal Prime Minister John Howard. He lost decisively. Afterwards he resigned from Parliament and became a political commentator.

Latham has made a career out of opposing political correctness. After resigning from the ALP, he joined One Nation, a party whose main appeal to the electorate is opposition to immigration. It is loathed by both of the major parties. In the recent New South Wales election, Latham won a seat in the upper house of NSW for One Nation. This is an excerpt from his maiden speech in the chamber in which he comments on the Israel Folau controversy. 

Article:

Like so many parts of our politics that have changed quickly in recent times, there are voices here who do not believe in the virtues of the West, who do not acknowledge the nation-building achievements of our culture and our country.

It is a bit like a scene from The Life of Brian, a case of: What has Western civilisation done for us? Only advanced health care and education, architecture, engineering, information technology, free speech and the rule of law. In fact, this Chamber, this Parliament, this city, all our public institutions and the material comforts we take for granted—none of them could exist without the greatness of the West—without the advances that began with the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution and continue to this day.

Yet still, among the leftist elites, among the social engineers and cultural dieticians, sneering at our civilisation and its achievements has become their new pastime. They preach diversity but practice a suffocating cultural conformity, wanting everyone to be just like them. They argue for inclusion but as soon as a Christian, a conservative, a libertarian, a nationalist, a working-class larrikin, an outsider from the vast suburbs and regions of our nation disagrees with them, they crank up their PC-outrage machine to exclude them from society. They are tolerant of everything except dissenting values and opinions meaning, of course, they are tolerant of nothing that matters, only themselves.

This is the leftist curse through the ages—the recurring history of those who so badly crave control over others they lose control over themselves. In their lust for authority they lose their respect for the rights of others. It is a bit like a scene from Orwell’s Animal Farm, the Green-Labor-Left has become the thing it originally opposed—elitist, would-be dictators taking away from working-class communities the things these battlers value: the right to speak their mind; to say they love their country and want Australia Day to stay; to practice their Christianity, openly and freely; to send their children to school without the garbage of Safe Schools, Wear-It-Purple days, “Head Rest” indoctrination and the other crackpot theories making some New South Wales classrooms more like a Hare Krishna meeting than actual education; and when they go to work the chance to do their job without being bombarded by employment quotas, “unconscious bias” training and a long list of unspeakable, taboo words, scary, scary stuff, like “guys” and “mums and dads”.

The New Left are the new primitives of our time, junking the importance of evidence, of recorded history, of biological science, to pretend that all parts of our lives, especially race, gender and sexuality can be fluid, that everything we know and feel around us is, in fact, “socially constructed”, that is what they say, “socially constructed”. They are peddling fake news. We have not been brainwashed by capitalist hegemony as the post‑modernists argue. People know and understand the things they see and feel in their lives. It is called evidence. Our personal characteristics and identities are fixed, not fluid. With few exceptions people are born either male or female.

We should not be confusing young people and risking their mental health by pushing gender fluidity upon them. We should not be taking away from parents their essential role as the primary carers of their children in matters personal and sexual. We should not be changing the purpose of our education system, transforming schools from places of skill and academic attainment into gender fluidity factories. Most of all, we should not be losing sight of the interests of mainstream, majority Australia. In the last national census, for instance, 1,300 Australians identified as transgender. But to listen to the political and media coverage of this issue you would think there were 13 million.

Everywhere I travel parents and grandparents, workers and communities, tell me how concerned they are about Australia’s direction. They ask me, “What’s happened to our country? Where has this nonsense come from?”

The answer is clear. The leftist project, then and now, is about control. Having with the fall of the Berlin Wall lost the struggle for economic control, the Left got smarter. It shifted from the cold war to a culture war. It moved from pursuing economic Marxism to pushing cultural Marxism. Instead of trying to socialise the means of production, it is now trying to socialise the means of individual expression and belief—our language, our values, our behaviour. Instead of seeking revolution at the top of government, it has marched instead through our institutions—a tactic that is harder to combat.

The elites have been remarkably successful in this cultural invasion. Our abiding national traditions of free speech, merit selection, resilience and love of country are being lost, not just in the public sector—in schools, universities, public broadcasters, major political parties and government agencies—but also in large parts of corporate Australia and the commercial media. The rest of us are the Resistance to this national takeover. Our chief ally is evidence—evidence and human nature. Through the power of reason and enlightenment people want to have a say about the things that are important to them. They want free speech. They want freedom of religion and belief. Australians are also a tough yet fair-minded people. …

The Australian story in settling a harsh and sometimes hostile continent on the other side of the world is one of the most remarkable in human history. Leaders such as Arthur Phillip and Lachlan Macquarie, in little more than a generation, turned a penal colony into a civilisation—building what has now become the best nation on earth. It was achieved through resilience and mateship—the Australian habit of toughing it out and treating others as equals. Jack is as good as his master. It is in our nature to treat people as we find them—to judge them on their individual merit, their work ethic, their community contribution.

This is what makes identity politics—subdividing our people on the basis of race, gender and sexuality—so foreign to the Australian way. Just as the old Soviet Union fell over because human nature wanted economic competition and individual wealth and excellence, I believe these new mutant strains of social control—post-modernism and identity politics—will also fail. They run contrary to the nature and evidence of our lives. …

Like every other Australian, I own my own words; I know what I mean by them. Like so many Australians, I refuse to allow my words to be controlled by strangers—by the elites with their confected outrage and PC censorship. In truth in society, offence is taken, not given. It is a personal choice, based on assumptions about what someone meant by their words. Yet only the person speaking those words truly knows what was meant. As the great John Cleese has pointed out, telling a joke about someone does not mean we hate them. We love the people we joke about. We love the Irish, the blondes, the gays, everyone—as they have helped to bring humour and joy into our lives.

The other problem with political correctness is in knowing what is genuine and what is not. So much of the offenderati, the outrage industry, involves the fabrication of offence—saying that their feelings have been hurt solely for the reason of closing down their political opponents. PC is riddled with these internal contradictions. …

I am not a Christian but I recognise the vital contribution of Christianity to our civilisation: its vast social and charitable work; its teaching of right and wrong in civil society. I stand with Israel Folau.

In his own private time away from his job playing football he is a preacher at his community church and naturally he quotes the Bible. Why would he not? He believes, as millions of people have believed for thousands of years, that sinners go to hell. As per his valid religious faith, he loves the sinner but condemns the sin. Yet for his beliefs, his Christianity, he is not allowed to play rugby, to chase the pigskin around the park. How did our State and our nation ever come to this? I was on Folau’s list of sinners, more than once actually. I dread to look at how many times I was listed by his social media postings. But as I do not believe in hell there was no way I could take offence.

Those claiming outrage have fabricated their position solely for the purpose of censorship. This is not an argument about diversity. The Wallabies have no female players, no disabled, no elderly, no middle aged. They are selected from a tiny fraction of the young, fit, athletic male population. By excluding a committed Christian, they are making their game less inclusive.

And as for Folau being a role model for young gay men, one only needs to state this proposition to understand its absurdity. Footballers are not role models for anyone, other than in enjoying their sporting ability. I say to any young person: if you are looking for guidance and inspiration in life, study Churchill, Lincoln, Reagan and Roosevelt, not Todd Carney. …

I believe that no Australian should live in fear of the words they utter. No Australian should be fearful of proclaiming four of the most glorious words of our civilisation: I am a Christian. No-one should be sacked by their employer for statements of genuine belief and faith that have got nothing to do with their job.

The Folau case exposes the new serfdom in the Australian workplace. Who ever would have thought it would come to this, how big companies, the corporate PC-elites are wanting to control all aspects of their employees’ lives—their religious and political views, how they speak and think, how they behave, even in their own time well away from the workplace? This is a stunning intrusion on workers’ rights. Yet far from condemning the new serfdom, Labor and the trade unions have been cheering it on.”

Asking Jesus a Question: Lord What Did You Go Through On The Cross?

This is the second of my Easter questions that I put to the Lord of heaven and earth via my journal writing. I am asking more and more questions like this and getting startling answers. Here is the answer I received for the above question yesterday while sitting through an Easter Sunday church service:

“You will never understand what I did for you. It is beyond human comprehension. Sufficient for you to know is that it was complete and finished. Cosmic justice was complete. The Law was complete. Death was complete. Sin was complete. Imperfection was complete. Sadness, pain, hell and authority was completed. It was completion of all things, not the beginning.

Genesis was completed on the cross. The Psalms were completed. The prophets were completed. History was completed. It was my job to bring to completion all cosmic and spiritual realities. There is nothing more to do since the cross. I have borne all to complete all. I have destroyed all to build all anew. I have regained all authority in order to give it to all. I have set all free. Only when all was completed could the New Creation of this planet begin again. All is finished. Beyond your minds comprehension it was DONE.

Once in heaven I will reveal it to you, but here is a glimpse; All you know about the physical universe is but sand on the sea shore or a tiny bubble of water compared to what was going on behind the cross in the spiritual realm. It took me, your creator, to finish the job of the restoration of all creation to myself. It was not just you, or other humans, all creation was made new, completed, perfected and released from the curse.

I so wish you could see the full picture but it would blow your mind as it blew the mind of Moses when he saw me face to face. Enjoy, live in and thrive in this completion of my work. Satan’s reign was broken. Love was complete, mercy, compassion and righteousness was complete. That’s what I did on the cross.

 

Who Moved The Stone of Jesus’ Tomb?

Every Easter skeptics rattle on about the myth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The most eloquent answer to these accusations I have ever read comes from  E.M. Blaiklock, Professor of classics, Auckland University. Here is my summary of his findings.

Theory One: The disciples stole the body

What motive was there for the disciples to steal the body and live a lie in the face of their own terrible suffering, torture and agonising deaths.

This doesn’t agree with an otherwise very accurate historical narrative. All cultural and historical aspects of the writings have been proved authentic.

This also doesn’t agree with the personality of the disciples. Only two were brave enough to enter the city on the night of the arrest, the rest are unheard of for some time. They were terrified.

If the body was stolen then why did ten of the eleven men die a horrible death for a deliberate fabrication? People don’t die for lies.

This action would have been contrary to all the moral and ethical teachings their teacher tried to instil in them.

Theory Two: Joseph moved the body to a more permanent tomb.

This theory has two possible motives; to satisfy Jewish law and to finish spicing the body.

To do the job of shifting the stone, spicing the body and moving it, would have taken a team of men. This team never came public with a body or any evidence to squash the rumours.

Playing around with tombs after dark was illegal. To do so legally would have required the blessing of the Sanhedrin. If he did this then why didn’t the Sanhedrin blow the resurrection rumour?

If Joseph altered anything on Saturday morning he was violating Sabbath law. If he did anything after the guards had arrived on Saturday then the Sanhedrin would have known all about it.

If he did move the body then why didn’t he tell the disciples?

There is no known venerated tomb of Jesus.

Theory Three: The Jewish authorities moved the body.

The Sanhedrin sought to prevent the moving of the body by setting guards, possibly Roman guards, for whom sleeping on duty was rewarded with the death penalty!

Why didn’t they simply produce the body once rumours started spreading?

The official line was “the disciples stole the body”, therefore the Sanhedrin didn’t have the body.

Theory Four: Jesus didn’t really die, he “fainted”

This theory ignores the nature of the wounds. They were enough to kill: 39 lashes with a cat-o-nine tails, nailing of body to a wooden pole, spear thrust into the heart, exhaustion, blood loss and partial suffocation from the cross.

How could a badly wounded man free himself from the bondage of 30 kg of herbs and wrappings and then roll away a 1-2 tonne stone.

The cold of the night would have killed a badly wounded man at that time of year (early spring).

His condition upon exiting the tomb would hardly have impressed the disciples, or convince them that he had conquered death. Such an appearance would have killed off any belief in the resurrected Christ.

The position of the linen wrappings, especially the head linen, suggested he exited straight through them. The produced instant belief in the idea he had resurrected in both Peter and John.

Theory Five: The women made a mistake, visiting the wrong tomb.

Two of the women had already visited the tomb on Friday afternoon to spice the body, so they knew where it was.

If they were at the wrong tomb because of lack of daylight, then why was the “gardener” already at work? Gardeners don’t work in the dark.

If it was late enough for the “gardener” to be at work then it was late enough to find the right tomb.

The priests never directed people to the right tomb. They knew it was empty.

Theory Six: The grave was never visited by the women

Then why did they declare it empty. Within 10 minutes they would be declared liars?

Again, the Sanhedrin didn’t direct people to the right tomb.

It is not within the character of loyal grieving women of cook up a plot.

Theory Seven: Jesus resurrected himself.

The tomb was definitely empty, Everyone in the city knew this. What they didn’t know was why.

The grave clothes told their own convincing story.

There were hundreds of very bold post-resurrection witnesses and advocates, 500 at one time, most of whom were still alive when a written record was made.

The population, by the thousands, immediately believed the resurrection story. Everyone knew something strange had occurred and waited seven weeks for an answer that made sense.

The seven week gap would not be there if the story was a fraud. Time gaps lead to doubts.

Preaching about the resurrection started ten minutes walk from the tomb, in the heart of enemy territory. If it wasn’t empty then it was a stupid place to start preaching!

There was an enormous change in the disciple’s lives. They went from doubting fearful, confused and disloyal men to fearless advocates, willing to die for their message.

Christ’s hostile brother, James, became convinced that his brother was God.

I claim to be a historian. My approach to classics is historical, and I tell you that the evidence for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is better authenticated than most of the facts of ancient history.

Kevin Davis

Asking Jesus A Question: Whats The Real Reason For Easter?

I have recently begun asking Jesus questions and recording the answers I get in a journal. It is revolutionising my Christian walk! Here is the question I asked this morning and the answer I felt come into my heart as I began to write…

“Jesus, its Easter. Please give me a fresh revelation of why you died to set us free.”

“It was an honour for me to come to the cross for you. You are the most important person in the universe if you can see it through the lens of the cross – it was all about you, not me.

I died to myself so that YOU could know who you really are, have the blindness of your heart and eyes replaced with eyes that can see the universe, my universe correctly. It was for you that I died so that you could be free to be with me, to approach me, to be intimate with me.

It was never about mere legalism or religious ascent. It was about intimacy – closeness, deep relationship, deep friendship and fun…lots of fun as you walk with me daily, sorting through the jobs and roles of life with the new lens of intimacy.

I am your best friend, I am with you every minute of every day, enjoying your company and guiding you in straight paths.I am the guarantor of your liberty, freedom, joy, fun and kindness.

This is why I died – it was for you to know me so well that transfer to heaven after death will be a seamless transfer from one realm to another!”

I love that last bit.

Kevin Davis

THE CHURCH IN KAZAKHSTAN: REBORN AFTER EXTERMINATION

(If you like what you read and would like to join with me praying for breakthroughs in the lands of Islam by signing up for my weekly PICTURE newsletter. The form is on the right if on a desktop computer or scoll down if on a smart phone.)

Disclaimer

I love Kazakhstan! I have been there three times and both the people and country are wonderful. My brother has lived there for 25 years and you should definitely put Almaty on your holiday bucket list!

1. History

Kazakhstan looks small on a map but is the same size as Western Australia and four times the size of Texas. Its huge! From ancient times it was integral to the Silk Road trade between the Romans and the Chinese. The first mention of the Kazakhs that you would be familiar with come from a surprising source: Colossians 3:11 where they are called the Scythians. They were already well known by Paul because of their vast Scythian empire, the first to master the art of horse mounted open territory warfare. Alexander the Great came here once in 329 BC and encountered great resistance from the Scythians.

As the centuries came and Kazakhstan it was also inhabited by Mongolian and Turkic peoples. It was almost part of China, but not quite, almost part of Russia, but not quite, briefly part of Christianity but it didn’t last, then it became part of Persia, but not quite, then part of Islam, but not quite! Kazakhstan was always so far from anywhere on the super-continent that was never stuck to being part of somewhere.

The people were always nomadic (think round yurts and livestock dotted everywhere) and the largest settlements were just forts and towns on the great ancient trade routes along the northern edge of the Tian Shan mountain range. In the 13th Century the great Mongol cavalry swept through the Kazakhstan steppe on its way to Europe. In the 15th Century a distinctive Kazakh identity began to develop among the Turkic tribes of the region. The Kazakh language appeared a century later and Kazakh political independence reached its peak just before the Russians conquered it in the early 1800’s. Perhaps the saddest episode in Kazakhstan’s history came when Stalin decided in 1932 that nomads were a political threat so he herded the entire Kazakh population into refugee camps. Some 1.2 million people died of starvation soon after and a unique 2,000 year old culture was ruthlessly stamped out.

2. Today

Kazakhstan is the ultimate half way country: from north to south, from east to west, from Western to Asian, from Islamic to secular. It embraces all of these influences. When you are there the people look Asian, but they act European due to the Russian influence. Their inner cities are Russian, with their parks, beautiful gardens, opera houses and concert halls. Their religion is Islam but you would never know, as they love their alcohol and their faith is more likely to be in shamanism.

The country is booming economically because it is resource rich. However it has been ruled by a single dictator since Soviet times and the national  income somehow stays in the cities, and in the hands of favoured individuals. People are free to say what they like about their leader, but not to put those same thoughts online or in print. It is not a free country, but the people are happy. Secularism runs deep here but Islamists are agitating for more rights. The government is paying lip service to Islam but makes sure hot-headed Islamic radicals disappear never to be seen again. The President once famously said that the country was ruthlessly controlled by one ideology for decades. It will not be controlled by a second.

3. Evangelical Highlights

Kazakhstan, like all of Central Asia, was part of the once great Nestorian church of the East which stretched all the way to China. There were even mass conversions in the 7th and 11th centuries. Some 2 million Kazakh’s can trace their roots to the Naiman Turkic people group, who remained Christian from some time after the arrival of Islam. Unfortunately all eventually converted to the new faith and the history of Christianity in this region has literally evaporated and is waiting for an intrepid historian to piece together what happened.

Fast forward to 1990 and the collapse of the Soviet Union. For the first time in nearly a thousand years evangelical missionaries arrived in large numbers. Most of the 100,000 conversions that came in the next decade were from the now 30% of the population who are European and nominally Russian Orthodox. However some have come to faith from the Kazakhs and there are now some 20,000 believers from among them, mostly in the cities. My brother was even evangelised by a Kazakh taxi driver once!

Sadly, believers operate at the whim of an antagonistic government. Most churches are monitored. I spent some time while there in 2016 with a local pastor, encouraging him and his family in his work which was a traditional church modelled on western cultural practices. Both he and his wife were saved through Teen Challenge when it came in via an Australian missionary in the early 1990’s, from my home town of the Sunshine Coast! He spoke of secret evangelical churches that had survived the Soviet occupation and would not identify with the newly arrived Western versions of the faith. He also spoke of mega-churches of 5,000 that had their own TV programs beamed from Almaty. The Christian landscape here is varied to say the least. Sadly though there is little Christian impact outside the cities.

Some months after we left the government shut down his church. I spent the next few months walking this pastor through the process of becoming an underground house church and teaching him to let the Holy Spirit do the leading.

4. Prayer Points

  1. For Kazakh church leaders to continue the missions vision they have received from foreigners
  2. For unity between European and Kazakh believers. It is growing
  3. For an indigenous expression of Christianity to emerge that is truly Kazakh
  4. For the unreached Uzbeks and Uyghur people groups. Some are now coming to Jesus
  5. For a new awareness of the deep roots Christianity once had in this country
  6. For revival in the Orthodox church, which is now aligning itself with Islam and against evangelicals, who it sadly sees as a greater threat
  7. That evangelical Christianity can throw off the stigma of being an expression of Russian and Western culture
  8. For the underground church to really take off
  9. For the Korean missionaries, that they would be culturally sensitive to the local population
  10. For Christian mercy ministries. There is widespread brokenness in Kazakh families due to the lingering effects of Communism, and of drugs and alcohol. There is much brokenness
  11. For the new missionaries that the Kazakh church is sending to other countries.

THE CHURCH IN JORDAN: SHRINKING AND GROWING AT THE SAME TIME!

(If you like what you read and would like to join with me praying for breakthroughs in the lands of Islam by signing up for my weekly PICTURE newsletter. The form is on the right if on a desktop computer or scoll down if on a smart phone.)

1. History

The modern day Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is the next-door neighbour to Israel, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. It is mostly desert but it is strategically located at the crossroads of Africa, Europe and Asia. It was once ruled by the Ammonites, Moabites and Edomites of Biblical fame and these Semitic people are direct descendants of Esau. In fact its capital Amman is actually named after the Ammonites of Genesis 19:36-38. It was from Jordan that Moses looked into the Promised Land and it is in present day Jordan that we find the spot where Jesus was baptised. In the New Testament era the Nabataeans and the Romans ruled what is now Jordan as its position was pivotal to the famed Silk Road trade so inviting their control.

The area of modern day Jordan embraced Christianity very early, beginning with Paul’s journeys. It was in Jordan that the Syriac Church of the East, one of the main branches of early Christianity (and the source of two core doctrines of Islam, but that’s another story) thrived for hundreds of years. With the coming of Islam the area was ruled first by the Umayyad’s and then by the Baghdad-based Abbasid’s until their fall in the 13th Century. The Ottoman Turks then ruled through until 1916 and the British ruled Jordan until full independence was achieved in 1946.

2. Today

Jordan’s 10 million people are ruled by a sensible constitutional monarch who reserves 9 out of 130 seats in Parliament for Christians. Jordan’s fragile oil-less economy chugs along on tourism and agricultural products even though it is one of the driest countries on earth. It tries to get on well with all its neighbours, diplomacy being the key to its survival. To that end it is one of only two Islamic countries that have made peace with Israel and it is a key ally of the USA in the Middle East.

Jordan is also stuck in the middle of multiple sets of intransigent conflicts. There is Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank, as well as the never-ending Palestinian problem. The Palestinians now actually outnumber the Jordanians in their own land. Then there is the Syrian civil war which sent 1.4 million Syrians into Jordan, severely straining every fabric of society. Iraq’s earlier instability sent another million into Jordan and half have not gone home. And let’s not forget the ever-increasing agitation from Islamists for a more fundamentalist, intolerant future for Jordan. The country is remarkably stable given such a turbulent neighbourhood.

3. Evangelical Highlights

However, times are getting tougher for the remnant church which has been in Jordan for 2,000 years. From some 30% of the population in 1930, Christians now number just 2.2% due to high levels of Muslim immigration and Christian emigration. Jordan’s Christians are very well integrated into society and can be found at all levels. This has created a reluctance to preach to Gospel to the unsaved Muslims.

On the other hand there are many new converts who are invigorating our faith. Secret believers are present within the Muslim community even though it is illegal to evangelise Muslims and for a Muslim to convert to another faith. Life is very tough for these people in this still tribal society where group-think rules. In fact the government closely monitors all Christian evangelism and tries to stop it where it can. This activity includes the recent expulsion of many expatriate westerners. The total number of born-again believers in Jordan now numbers some 20,000, doubling since 1990. Thankfully the numbers of traditional Christians who are emigrating have has slowed to a trickle and the evangelical church is now growing at 3% a year, mainly among this nominal Christian community. However, there has been no real breakthrough among Muslims in Jordan even though there is a wellspring of interest in Jesus and the Bible from within the Muslim community. Are we at the early stages of a move of the Holy Spirit?

4. Prayer Points

  1. Pray for Muslim converts to Jesus, that they would remain strong in the face of enormous pressure.
  2. Pray for spiritual awakenings among the refugees torn from their tribal roots and homelands.
  3. Pray for the few fearless leaders such as Pastor Rashad who are winning converts and training others to do so.
  4. Pray for SAT-7 as it reaches into hundreds of thousands of homes.

5.Pray for Arabic Christian radio as it broadcasts 50 hours a week into most homes.

  1. Pray for Christian literature. It is widely available and often smuggled from Jordan into Saudi Arabia by brave Saudi believers.
  2. Pray for house churches, these are key to church growth in Jordan.
  3. Pray for the 300,000 nomadic Bedouin. Believers are few but do exist.
  4. The Dom Gypsies, cousins of the European Gypsies and in desperate need.
  5. The continuing openness of the remaining Iraqi refugees.
  6. The Palestinians, who are often 2nd or 3rd generation refugees with little exposure to the Good News
  7. Pray for better relationships between the traditional nominal Christians, the new evangelicals and the Muslim background believers.

 

THE CHURCH IN IRAQ: BADLY BRUISED BUT NEW SHOOTS ARE GROWING

(If you like what you read and would like to join with me praying for breakthroughs in the lands of Islam by signing up for my weekly PICTURE newsletter. The form is on the right if on a desktop computer or scoll down if on a smart phone.)

1. History

Iraq lies at the epicentre of all human civilisation. As part of the larger Fertile Crescent, the land once known as Mesopotamia saw the earliest emergence of civilization after the flood. So many names and places from Iraq appear in the Old Testament it would take far too long to mention them all. Suffice to say it is the second most mentioned country in the Bible and was home to Adam and Eve Abraham, Amos, Daniel and Esther. Its where the Israelites were exiled to and where the three wise men came from.

Empires such as the Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians and Assyrians came and went over several millennia BC. After the fall of the Babylonian Empire, Mesopotamia fell under Persian and then Greek rule. By the time of Christ it was once again under Persian Sassanid control and they fought the Romans for six hundred years in one of the longest conflicts in human history.

By 750 AD the Baghdad-based Persians, who were wiped out by the Byzantines in 630 AD, were back in control of the newly minted Arab Empire, and their scholars largely created the origin myths that we now associate with Muhammad, Mecca and the birth of Islam. It was Christian scholars who translated the newly-arrived Greek classics into Arabic, thereby ushering in the Muslim golden age and assuring the transfer of Greek learning back to Europe during the Crusades and intellectually transforming that continent. Between 750 and 1500 AD  most of the large Nestorian and Syrian Christian population slowly gave in to Islamic political pressure. Yet many of these ancient churches remained faithful and as late the early 20th Century Iraq was still home to a million Assyrian and Nestorian Christians.

2. Today

But sadly, not anymore. The huge upheaval that was Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the turmoil of the Gulf Wars that followed and the genocide of ISIS has decimated the traditional churches, which mostly lived in the north where ISIS plundered and massacred. Islamists continue to torment traditional Christians largely at will across Iraq and masses continue to emigrate. However, Christians are not the only minority to suffer in recent years. The Yazidis, Kurds, Bedouin and others are also in the headlights of bigoted, violent Islamism. In fact the whole country splinters down ethnic and religious lines: Sunni v Shia, Arab v Kurd, Muslim v minorities, even ancient Christian denomination v denomination!

The nation has been an oil-based economy since Genesis 11:3 and is still living off oil revenues with a very unevenly distributed income level of 6% of the USA. Corruption is rampant, infrastructure is in desperate need of rebuilding after repeated wars. Some 600,000 have been killed and 2 million made homeless. Eighty percent of the population is under 40 years of age and unemployment is huge. Iraq is a mess!

3. Evangelical Highlights

And yet into this crazy mix of ethnic, religious, political and economic turmoil God has birthed something new; a growing and vibrant Muslim-background evangelical church. Before the Gulf Wars there were fewer than a thousand believers in the country, and that included those within the older denominations with roots back to the New Testament. Now there are somewhere between fifty and a hundred thousand new and strong evangelical Christians and they are growing  around 4% a year. For over a thousand years the traditional denominations never countenanced the idea of reaching out to the Muslim majority, so God has raised up new wineskins for a new era of harvest. Some new MBB believers have even come from ISIS backgrounds and are running churches that reach out to hurting people! Many Muslims have come to Jesus through dreams and visions of Christ, through acts of love from caring Christians. There is even a church movement among the Kurds of the north for the first time. For the time being they are much more open to the Gospel than other Muslims in Iraq.

4. Prayer Points

  1. Pray for the ancient churches, that they will be revitalised by the power of the true gospel as they have in Egypt, Eritrea and Ethiopia
  2. Pray for the networks of new believers that are under pressure from their old religion and culture, that they would grow virally.
  3. Pray for leaders. They face incredible hardship from Muslim extremists on a daily basis
  4. Pray for the Marsh Arabs. Very few if any know the Lord.
  5. Pray for the hundreds of thousands who have lost everything at the hands of ISIS
  6. Pray that the Domari gypsies, the Yazidis and the Bedouin. Few know Jesus.
  7. Pray for Christian media to impact more and more homes and families.
  8. Pray for an explosion of truth, love and power from the Holy Spirit to overwhelm the horrific works and lies of Satan in this sad and weary land. A