Sunday, December 30, 2012

The 3 - December 30, 2012

This week's edition of my week-in-review feature, "The 3", includes a reminder that believers in Christ are being persecuted all over the world, and Iran is one of those countries that has been particularly noteworthy in its treatment of Christian pastors.   Also, a large student missions conference has taken place this week in St. Louis, drawing thousands to come together and to be strengthened in their faith.   And, the top story - Christmas, which provides a time of celebration for many, but sorrow for some, and this Christmas Day and the preceding days offered great ministry opportunities.

3 - Iranian pastors face more persecution

It's only a few days before the advocacy group Open Doors will release its 2013 World Watch List that ranks countries in the world according to the degree of their persecution of Christians.   Last year, North Korea was #1...again.   And, Iran was #5.  

The way that Iran treats Christians, especially Christian pastors and those who sympathize with them, has been in the news this year primarily because of the plight of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who was released from prison just a few weeks ago - he is now back in prison, due to apparently what officials are describing as some sort of technicality.  According to Religion Today, citing ASSIST News Service, sources at Christian Solidarity Worldwide report that Nadarkhani has been returned to jail on the orders of the directors of Lakan Prison, who claimed he had been released several days too early due to the insistence of his lawyer, Mohammed Ali Dadkhah. "We are disappointed to hear Pastor Nadarkhani has been returned to prison in such an irregular manner," said Mervyn Thomas of CSW. "The timing is insensitive and especially sad for his wife and sons, who must have been looking forward to celebrating Christmas with him for the first time in three years."  Dadkhah, by the way, has been sentenced to nine years in prison, reportedly due to his attempts to free the pastor.  

Religion Today also reports that a 32-year-old Iranian who is a U.S. citizen and a Christian convert has been imprisoned without notice of any formal charges while visiting his family in Iran, according to Fox News.  In July, the Rev. Saeed Abedini, who lives in the U.S. with his wife and two young children, was making one of his frequent trips to visit his parents and relatives in Iran when he was pulled off a bus by Iranian authorities, who confiscated his passports and subjected him to intense interrogation, saying he must face a penalty for his previous work as a Christian leader in Iran.  He is currently in prison awaiting trial.  His family members, who are also Christian converts from Islam, are under house arrest.

And the website reports on an Iranian pastor who wrote a letter from prison, ministering to Christians and displaying a positive attitude despite his suffering.  Pastor Benham Irani was leading the Church of Iran in the city of Karaj before his arrest in 2011 for "acting against the interests of national security".  He has reportedly been tortured in prison and was denied hospitalization for a bleeding ulcer.  Several times he was found unconscious in his prison cell, raising fears for his well-being.  His wife and two children have said they are afraid that unless the beatings stop and he is offered proper medical care, he could die in prison soon.

The nation of Iran, which operates under strict Islamic law, is a place that is become quite well-known for its persecution of Christians.   Pray for these and other church leaders who are facing stiff difficulties as a result of their faith in Christ.

2 - Urbana student missions conference brings together a multitude of young adults 

Every three years, thousands of colleges students gather to be encouraged and equipped in their walk with Christ and in sharing the gospel at the Urbana student missions conference.  The Christian Post reports that this year, an estimated 16,000 Christian youth attended opening night of Urbana 2012 at the Edwards Jones Dome in St. Louis Thursday.   InterVarsity Christian Fellowship organizers, who are hosting the event, hope that students will come to a decision about serving God locally or globally.

Tom Lin, who serves as InterVarsity's Vice-President and the conference director, is quoted as saying to the students, "Surrender your plans and allow God to surprise you. God's invitation may be unexpected...You and I are called to share God's Kingdom news not just for our campuses, not just for our cities, but also for the ends of the earth – the unfamiliar places, the unfamiliar cultures, and for unfamiliar friends."

The Post reports that David Platt, senior pastor at the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, said to the young people at the conference:  "Jesus is the very word of God made flesh … Jesus is all of these things and [yet] we have reduced Him to a poor, puny savior who is just begging for us to accept Him into our hearts."

The first Urbana conference was held in 1946, before it went by that name, which was adopted after moving to the University of Illinois campus at Urbana-Champaign in 1948.   More than 250,000 have been challenged in their participation in global missions since that first conference, which was held in Toronto. 
This is a critical gathering that God has used to stir that hearts of young people to be involved in kingdom work.

1 - Christmas brings celebration, sorrow, and wacky weather 

Christmas Day brings believers in Jesus Christ an opportunity to reflect, to worship, and to spend time with not only family, but fellow church members, as well.    Churches sponsored special musical and dramatic performances during the period leading up to Christmas Day, and there were candlelight services and other special events observed during a unique 3-day period from Sunday through Tuesday.

While it was a time of celebration for many, it was also a time of sorrow for some, including the families of the victims of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, less than 2 weeks removed from the deadly shooting of 26 people, including 20 children. 

And, it was a wacky and deadly weather day, as a massive storm system brought snow and ice to the nation's midsection and severe storms and tornadoes to the Southeastern United States.  There were several deaths reported from the dangerous weather, but not in Mobile, AL, where an EF-2 tornado rumbled through the center of the city, resulting in considerable property damage, but thankfully, no loss of life or life-threatening injuries.  And, the reminder of treacherous weather continues to be felt in the New York City area, where the cleanup from Hurricane Sandy continues, along with the ministry opportunities accompanying it.

And, charitable opportunities abounded during the season, giving Christians and Christian ministries the ability to shine the light of Christ to people in need.    Earlier in the month, a large Miami area church had raised over $600,000 over a 48-hour period to reach out to people in their community.   This is indicative of how we can intentionally give of ourselves in honor of the One who gave it all for us.

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