Tales of Afghan Christians: Amazing, but Heartbreaking,

I am listening to the Quick to Listen Podcast, Episode 277: ‘My Heart Is Broken’: An Afghan Pastor Grapples with the US Withdrawal (America’s departure and the Taliban’s ascent is forcing Christians out of the country) I haven’t finished it yet. I stopped in my tracks at about 18 minutes and 40 seconds into the discussion with an Afghan pastor, and have paused to sift through it.

At the beginning of the interview, the unidentified pastor described himself as a Muslim in 2001, where the discussion started with the US invading Afghanistan. Even then, he said he welcomed the US interference. The country was in upheaval and chaos, and Western troops brought some hope for stability.

I do not want to get into my thoughts on the initial invasion or the US presence since that date. They are not relevant to my purpose for writing. I don’t want to be distracted by political assessment or judgment, of which I am deeply ambivalent.

The recent video footage from Afghanistan of people so desperate to leave before the Taliban takes over that they are clinging to airplanes as they take off, is heartbreaking to watch. The desperation in the faces of the people crowding unto Afghan runways still today (while there is still a sliver of hope to escape) is something I have never known. I can only watch in stunning silence.

Thus, I listened to the interview of the anonymous Afghan pastor with interest as he described from his personal experience the reality of life in Afghanistan for a Christian today.

About 18 minutes into the discussion, one of the interviewers recalled that the gentleman described himself as a Muslim when the US first stepped on Afghan soil and asked, “How did you come to faith? How did Jesus find you?”

Without hesitation, in his broken English, he said, “I don’t want to come to faith. I … hate Christians. I don’t like to become Christian because I [come] from a very religious Muslim background. My father was Imam. They taught me to be good Muslim. Six time I have been to Mecca. I practiced my religion very well.”

This man was not looking for a Christian savior when the US troops arrived in 2001. He just wanted peace and stability in his life and in his country, something most people in the western world take for granted. The idea of becoming Christian was abhorrent to him.

His personal story needs to be heard. It is the story of many Afghans who seek asylum today. They look to the US, and other countries, not as a savior, but as a refuge against evil that is hard to imagine for most of us. These people are not battle-hardened jihadists, as some people seem to fear.

Many of them are even Christians, despite the great risk personal risk involved. This is just one such story of a real person who has experienced a life most of us can’t even imagine and have a hard time appreciating. I will give him a name, Abdul, for personal affect, though he remains anonymous for obvious reasons.

Continue reading “Tales of Afghan Christians: Amazing, but Heartbreaking,”

Can a Tiger Change Its Stripes? A Tale of Scorpions and Frogs

A scorpion stings. That’s what they do. That is their nature.

Joel Furches recently posted the following on social media:

“The Aesop’s Fable I have come to most appreciate over the years is ‘The Frog and the Scorpion’ If you’re not familiar, it’s about a scorpion who asks a frog to swim him across the water. The frog doesn’t want to, because he’s afraid of getting stung. The scorpion points out that if he stings the frog, they will both drown. So the frog swims him, the scorpion stings the frog, and they both drown. Why? Because it is the nature of scorpions to sting.

“The moral: things act out of their nature, even at the expense of their self-interest. Or as my dad used to say, ‘a person will never do something that person wouldn’t do.’ Which, I suppose, could be rephrased, ‘A person’s always going to do what that person does.’ (My dad would say ‘peoples are peoples’)” 

A more modern phrase that conveys the same idea might be: “the tiger cannot change its stripes”; or “the leopard cannot change its spots”. The idea is that a person cannot change his or her essential nature or character.

My “take” on the frog and scorpion fable is that we shouldn’t expect people to be anything other than who they really are. Despite what the scorpions tells you, the scorpion IS going to sting you. That’s what they do. That’s who they are.

Fables are meant to teach life lessons. The wise, theoretically, learn from them without having to experience those lessons firsthand. In reality though, it seems most of us have to learn our life lessons from experience.

These fables are still helpful by allowing us to crystallize those hard learned lessons in graphic ways that we can remember and pass on – if only people would listen. Right?

But what is the lesson? We might “walk away” the next time someone hurts us with a lie swearing under our breath, “Once a liar, always a liar! I will never trust him or her again!”

Fables teach us something about human nature, but fables don’t always give us specific guidance tailored to our own dilemmas. We still need wisdom to apply the lessons in our particular circumstances. “A word to the wise” requires wisdom for its application in our own lives.

“Truth is truth” (wherever it may be found) is a “truism” I like to repeat. Aesop may have been a very wise man (if there really was an Aesop), and Aesop’s fables carry with them the ring of truth, but truth is often more complicated than we like to think it is.

Just when you think you understand the laws of physics, quantum mechanics comes along and turns everything upside down. Further, the wisdom needed to address our particular circumstances doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand with knowledge and awareness.

The Frog and Scorpion fable rings true, but Scripture gives us a different angle on the truth of this fable and guidance that we need to deal with the scorpions in our lives. That lesson may not be immediately clear if we limit ourselves to the fable, itself.

Continue reading “Can a Tiger Change Its Stripes? A Tale of Scorpions and Frogs”

Rising Up To Honor Christ Who Saves!

“[I]n your hearts honor Christ as holy….”

Most Christians, especially those who like apologetics, are familiar with the exhortation in 1 Peter 3:1 to “[be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you….” I read this verse today, but the beginning of verse stood out for me today:

“[I]n your hearts honor Christ as holy….” (ESV)

Perhaps, this phrase stood out to me today because of my recent experience at a gathering on a bright, sunny and warm day. We were outside with neighbors, enjoying the turn of good weather, and I was very relaxed.

It was Easter. I had gone to church, but the poignance of the morning service had washed out in the sunlight and warm breeze of a lazy day. I wanted to hold onto and appreciate the significance of the day, but the pleasure of spring after a long, hard winter absorbed my attention.

I am reminded as I read 1 Peter 3:15 today that holiness means being set apart. A more literal reading of the Greek phrase might be as follows:

“Sanctify Christ in your hearts as Lord….”

The Greek word translated variously in different translations as honor, sanctify, reverse, worship, set apart, consecrate, dedicate, is ἁγιάζω (hagiazó). It means “to make holy, consecrate, sanctify”. It comes from the adjective, hágios, which means holy. It is a verb that means to make holy, consecrate, sanctify or to dedicate separate.

Thus, Christ is not simply holy. He is holy, of course, but we have to make Him holy in our hearts. We must actively participate in honoring, revering, consecrating, sanctifying and making Christ holy in our hearts. This is not a passive stance; we are called to be active participants in the process of making Christ holy and set apart in our hearts.

I was troubled in my heart the evening of our lazy Easter day. I went to bed troubled. I woke up troubled. I am still troubled.

This verse focuses the light of God’s word on my troubled heart: I was not actively participating in the holiness of Christ in my heart. I was a passive vessel after church the rest of that Easter day. I was passive, not active, in my heart to honor and revere Christ as Lord the rest of that day.

I am not beating myself up for this. Christ is my salvation. He alone is my hope. His gift of salvation is freely offered to me. It’s nothing I can add to, nothing I must strive to hold onto, and nothing in which I can boast.

Yet, my heart is troubled when I fall short of honoring Christ for what He has done for me.

I am not troubled for having enjoyed the day. All good things come from God. The warmth of spring after the cold of winter is a reminder of God’s love for us. We do well to enjoy the blessings of God.

We shouldn’t enjoy the blessings of God, however, as we are often tempted to do, in place of God from whom all blessings come. It’s easy, especially in the good times, to embrace the blessings while relaxing our embrace of God from whom those blessings come.

I believe I have been troubled because I failed in my heart to honor Christ well during the rest of the day after the morning church service in the way that I wanted to – in the way my heart desired to honor Christ, who died for my sins.

As I write this, I realize the danger of being the Pharisee here. I could beat myself up. I could do penance and scrub the outside of this tomb I call my body. I could polish it up so that my appearance to all who see me is whitewashed, but I would do nothing in the effort to drive out the darkness in me that would rather settle into the comfort of a lazy day than keep Christ sanctified in my heart.

Or, I could simply recognize that I need Christ all the more for having succumbed to the laziness that resides still within me. Christ is the Author and Perfector of my faith. Not I. So, I submit in writing this to Him who saves me to work in me to will and to act according to His good purpose.

The spirit in me aligns with God’s Holy Spirit to cry, Abba! Father! Save me from this heart of sin! Save me from the sin into which I so easily settle.

Stir my heart within me to rise up and honor Christ who saves me!

How the Moorings of the Gospel Were Secured

God’s promise to Abraham was given 430 years before Moses

I have taken some time to reflect on the unity for which Jesus prayed in relation to the story of Peter & Cornelius and the tension that continued in the early church over extending the Gospel to Gentiles (non-Jews). The tension that persisted at the heart of the early Church threatened to unmoor the Gospel from its footing.

In previous articles, I reflected on the deeply ingrained nature of the belief that the Jews were God’s people. They were entrusted with the Law of Moses, and they had protected the Law God gave them for well over a 1000 years, painstakingly preserving it, passing it down from generation to generation.

They were instructed by God Himself to drive out all the inhabitants in the land God promised them, to avoid intermarrying and being corrupted by the influence of “Gentiles” to worship their gods. Thus, Hebrew descendants of Abraham avoided association with others – Gentiles. Like the plague.

So intent on sticking to the script were Jews in the First Century, that they didn’t recognize God when He shed his deity and came to them as Jesus from Nazareth.

John says that God came to His own people, and they didn’t recognize Him. When the Word through whom the universe was created, the Word who “was with God” and “was God”, became flesh (John 1:1-3, 14), “his own people did not receive him.” (John 1:12) “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.” (John 1:11) John continues:

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

John 1:12-13

“His own” were the Jews. The “all who did receive him, who believed in his name”, were Gentiles (and Jews) who believed in what Jesus said and trusted in him. They became children of God, not because they were born into it, nor because they or anyone else desired it, but because God Himself desired them to be His children.

But these things were far from clear to the early Church. Even Peter, who lived with Jesus and knew him intimately, had difficulty with the idea that the Gospel should be extended to Gentiles.

In the previous articles linked above, I summarized how God gave Peter a vision that occurred three times in a row for emphasis, an audible voice, and the voice of the Holy Spirit, directing him to go with men who appeared just then at the door to summon him. Peter’s experience was orchestrated with an angel that visited Cornelius, a Roman Centurion, who was directed to send those men to “a man named Simon who is called Peter”. (Acts 10:5) Then God poured out His Holy Spirit on the Centurion and his household to emphasize to Peter his intention to extend the Gospel to the Gentiles.

But the tradition of shunning the Gentiles would not die easy. Despite the obviously divine orchestration of events to drive home God’s intentions to Peter, Paul had to confront Peter publicly in Antioch over the issue when Jews from Jerusalem came to visit, and Peter disassociated himself from the Antiochian Gentiles. (See Galatians 2-3)

Paul encountered the same issue in Galatia where people were insisting that the Jews continue to follow the Mosaic law. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul described his confrontation with Peter. More importantly, Paul explained why the Mosaic Law no longer applied to the people of God – who now included not just the Jews, but everyone!

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The Antidote to Human Pride

I knew in that instant this was the antidote to all that was wrong with me.


I didn’t grow up in the Protestant tradition. I wouldn’t say that I had a high view of God. It was more like a distant view, and His grace was a foreign concept.

I was introduced to God’s grace way back when I became a believer, about 40 years ago. That introduction to grace changed my life. No single “event” in my life was more significant.

I was selling books door-to-door over the summer between freshman and sophomore years in college for the Southwestern Book Company. After giving my spiel to an insurance salesman in his living room one day, he asked me if he could ask me a question. Not knowing what he was about to ask, or that it would change my life forever, I said, Ok.” 

As I think about it, I was probably being more polite than curious. I was also somewhat grateful to have finished my spiel and the pressure was off sell. He wasn’t interested.

So, he asked me that question, “When you die, will you go to heaven?”

I had never thought about it before, but I had been living with the guilt of all my failings – guilt mixed with a good measure of prideful disappointment in myself.

Part of my story is that I was raised Catholic. Catholicism is good for keeping our failings front and center in our minds. Not only that, but I knew (or thought I knew) all the things I “needed” to do to make them right, and I was not doing them.

I didn’t go to church anymore, but I knew I wasn’t right. Not that I really paid much attention during catechism, or Sunday school, or even mass. I was disconnected from it, but that nondescript feeling of guilt went with me.

At this point, I wouldn’t have associated what was “wrong” with me as anything having to do with God – if He really existed. I never really thought about whether God existed. I think I just accepted that He did, but I wasn’t much interested in Him at that point.

The fact of my disinterest didn’t lighten my load in the moment when that pivotal question was proposed to me on that day in the insurance salesman’s home.

The question was followed by a brief, but uncomfortable moment of silence. I was taken aback. I wasn’t ready for that kind of a question. It summoned up the deepest angst that lurked in my being, and I didn’t know just how to respond, for surely, I thought, there was a “right” response.

My friendly interrogator rephrased the question a moment later: “If you were standing before Jesus right now, what would you say to Him? Why should He let you in to His heaven?”

Of course, it is God’s heaven, isn’t it? The weight of the realization that heaven was God’s domain, and I was an outsider rested with full force upon me in the that moment. How would I convince Him to let me in? How could I convince Him?

Naturally, I began to strain to think of all the things that might matter to God. I recently began a journey. I had been through years of reckless, angry and self-destructive living, hard drinking, indulgent drug taking, when I was angry at the world (for no good reason I can now admit) … I was going nowhere fast as an angry adolescent, but I had changed.

I woke up, after a series of mishaps, to the fact that my life was likely to be very short if I didn’t change course.  I totaled two cars and had some other close calls. I was run over by a car in which I had been a passenger, driven by a “friend” who wasn’t even old enough to drive, while we were doing something stupid and illegal. Something about all of this and having to attend school in a wheelchair gave me pause about where I was heading.

(It tool a lot to change my course!)

So, I changed. I made a conscious decision to go the other way. I realized at the same time that I was desperately empty inside, out of touch with real meaning in my life and determined to find it. I became a good student in my last year in high school and became a truth seeker. Genuinely.

These things went through my mind, and I began to list out the ” good” things I was then doing: I was doing better, trying harder, getting good grades…..

The quietly earnest man in front of me let me go on for a while, before he gently stepped in with the next question – the question that changed my life. He asked: “What would you say if heaven was a free gift, and you couldn’t earn it?”

That question lit up my mind and heart and shocked me into paradigm shifting silence.

I was speechless. That question jumped the track of my usual thought process. It was foreign territory for me

He continued, unhindered by me as I stood like a prisoner blinded by the sunlight pouring in from a door suddenly opened to the outside world. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

I knew in that instant this was the antidote to all that was wrong with me.

I was a prideful, self-absorbed slave to my own demands and failings, and the door to my dingy prison cell was suddenly swung open.

Continue reading “The Antidote to Human Pride”