FIRST, THE NEWS:
RUSSIAN CHURCH SEEKS CLEMENCY FOR PUNK ROCK BAND MEMBERS
from Wall Street Journal
(30 Sep) The Russian Orthodox Church on Sunday asked for clemency for three jailed members of the female punk rock band P* Riot if they repent for their "punk prayer" for deliverance from President Vladimir Putin at Moscow's main cathedral, a statement that came a day before an appeal hearing and appeared to reflect a desire to put an end to the case that has caused an international outrage.
But it was unclear whether the women, who were sentenced to two years last month, would offer the repentance sought by the church and how much leniency a court may show. Mr. Putin has always been reluctant to avoid leaving an impression that he could bow to public pressure and has taken an increasingly tough line on dissent since his inauguration in May.
Monday's appeal hearing has caught their family members between hope and despair as they attempt to gauge from the words and actions of government and church officials whether the political tide will turn in their favor. In Sunday's statement, the church reaffirmed its condemnation of the women's raucous stunt, saying such actions "can't be left unpunished." But it added that if the women show "penitence and reconsideration of their action," their words "shouldn't be left unnoticed." [read more...]
TURKMENISTAN: RAIDS, BLOODIED HANDS, FINES, EXIT DENIAL
by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service
(27 Sep) Police and other unidentified officials who raided the home of a Baptist family in the northern city of Dashoguz dragged the father of the family, 77-year-old Begjan Shirmedov, from the house by his collar and beat the hands of his 68-year-old wife until they bled, Protestants told Forum 18 News Service. About 15 church members were questioned and religious literature seized.
The raid came two weeks after a raid on another Protestant meeting in the city, with fines on three participants. One of those fined - Oleg Piyashev - was revisiting his homeland from Russia. A Russian and Turkmen citizen, he was banned from leaving Turkmenistan at Ashgabad airport on 23 September. The Russian Embassy told Forum 18 it is awaiting an explanation from the Turkmen Foreign Ministry. [read more...]
TWO ORTHODOX CHURCHES DESECRATED IN MOSCOW
(05 Oct) Two Orthodox churches were desecrated in the Moscow Central Administrative District in the early hours of October 4, the Russian Orthodox Church has reported on its website. According to the report, unknown individuals cut down a cross over the altar of the Church of St. Nicholas in Pokrovskoye, Bakuninskaya Ulitsa. The cross was installed on the roof of the church in 1991.
In addition, blasphemous words were written on the altar of the Church of the Holy Veil of Our Lady in Rubtsovo, also located in Bakuninskaya Ulitsa. The church was built in the early 17th century in memory of the Poles' expulsion from Russia. On July 3, 2009, the patriarch's center for old Russian Church service traditions was founded in the church under as decree issued by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia. [read more...]
TURKMENISTAN: MASS FINES FOR UNREGISTERED RELIGIOUS WORSHIP
by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service
(02 Oct) A week after their Sunday worship was raided, eleven Baptists in the northern city of Dashoguz were fined two months' average wages, Protestants told Forum 18 News Service. One of those fined was a schoolboy aged 17. Two of the judges refused to discuss with Forum 18 why they had punished individuals for meeting for worship.
Meanwhile, the Turkmen authorities allowed a Turkmen-born Protestant who now lives in Russia, Oleg Piyashev, to leave the country to return to his family in Russia, fellow Protestants told Forum 18. He crossed the border from Dashoguz to Uzbekistan on 1 October, and from there flew back to Moscow, arriving in the early hours of the following morning. [read more...]
IN YALTA REPRESENTATIVES OF VARIOUS FAITHS STUDY THE ART OF COEXISTENCE
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine
(05 Oct) The conference "The Art of the Coexistence of Christians: History Lessons and Challenges" brought together about thirty experts and practitioners from Ukraine, Belarus, Germany and Poland to discuss the practical dimension of Christian cooperation. The organizer of the meeting, which takes place October 4-6 in Yalta, is the international group Reconciliation in Europe. The Ukrainian Reconciliation group operates as an integral part of the international group, and it includes representatives of four Ukrainian churches: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) in Ukraine, and the German Evangelical Lutheran Church in Ukraine (GELCU).
"Our churches separately are rocks, and only Christ can create from them a wonderful mosaic, but we have to allow him to do this," said Bishop Marian Buchek of the Kharkiv-Zaporizhia diocese of the RCC. "We still barely know each other and therefore should work on getting to know each other better so that there will be reconciliation and mutual love. As such we will set an example for our laity - they will know about our steps and will change their attitude." He also noted the special role of the media to help spread understanding among the laity and reflect the multiplying symbolic gestures of the hierarchy. [read more...]
LITHUANIANS URGED TO BOYCOTT BLASPHEMOUS DRAMA PRODUCTION
from The Voice of Russia
(05 Oct) A group of Lithuanian lawmakers has urged Lithuanian theatre goers to ignore a drama production in which one of the characters defecates on a picture of Jesus Christ. The director is Italy's Romeo Castelucci. The picture in question is a painting by Italian Renaissance master Antonello da Messina.
Meanwhile, a new draft law toughening liability for insulting religious feelings and desecrating holy shrines is to be debated in the lower house of the Russian Parliament. The legislation, upheld by all State Duma factions and a Federal Council senator, will boost the fine as much as a hundred times and raise the jail term up to five years, a spokesman for the parliament's religious organizations committee said today. [read more...]
PROMINENT RESISTANCE TO LAW PROTECTING BELIEVERS' FEELINGS
SERB ORTHODOX PATRIARCH ASKS PM TO BAN GAY PARADE
PARLIAMENT TO VOTE FOR PROHIBITION OF HOMOSEXUAL PROPAGANDA
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine
UZBEKISTAN: 74-YEAR-OLD WOMAN AMONG LATEST POLICE RAID VICTIMS
from Forum 18 News Service
SOME PRIESTS TRY TO "CHRISTEN" APPLE GADGETS IN RUSSIA
IMPACT REPORT: THOUSANDS INTRODUCED TO HOPE IN ALBANIA
from Mission Network News
'JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR' BANNED IN RUSSIA
from Global Post
PRINCIPLE OF INDISSOLUBLE LINK BETWEEN HUMAN RIGHTS AND MORAL VALUES REFLECTED IN RESOLUTION OF UNHCR
from Russian Orthodox Church - Moscow Patriarchate
See HOSKEN-NEWS Daily for more of the latest news!
In the various news articles above, we notice a common thread: efforts by secularists to de-sacralize society by desecrating churches and sacred objects and flaunt their disregard for Christian morality. In response we note efforts by Christians to preserve the special respect that ought to be given to the sacred. Secularists disbelieve in God, or merely play lip service to the idea of God while giving ultimate priority to the idea of human freedom. This is especially evident in the area of sexuality: the Moscow female punk rock group P* Riot and the Ukrainian female topless protest group Femen are quite blatant about using their sex organs as a means of protesting against what they see as oppression.
To these secular humanists the ultimate value is human freedom, which overrides and overthrows all religious values and moral codes. Actions by unknown perpetrators such as desecrating churches, tearing down crosses and grossly desecrating a painting of Christ exhibit this same de-sacralizing, anti-religious tendency. Similarly the homosexual activists in the former USSR strive to legitimize and mainstream their lifestyle. The Orthodox Church and the governments of Russia, Ukraine and Lithuania are taking a firm stand against these efforts. Where will this end? Which side will triumph? Russia has now successfully pushed through a resolution in the UN Human Rights Council emphasizing the indissoluble link between human rights and moral values. Thank the Lord for this!
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[This is an excerpt from Chapter 2 of my book The Ministry Driven Church, available HERE.]
Then Jesus said, "Therefore, every scribe who has been made a disciple (mathetes) in the Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who is a householder, who brings out of his treasure new and old things" (Mat. 13:52). Here we see that the disciple is compared to a scribe, a highly-educated person. He is skilled in relating the "old things" - Scriptural principles - to the "new things" - modern techniques of practical ministry. The English word "disciple" has the same root as the word "discipline," and it requires intellectual and physical discipline to become a disciple.
Disciple-making is a process of sifting and winnowing. The wheat is sifted and the chaff is blown away. The educational process involves a certain attrition rate. Expect that some will drop out. In Mat. 16:24-26 Jesus spoke some hard words that had this sifting effect: "Then Jesus said to his disciples (mathetes), 'If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, and whoever will lose his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his life? Or what will a man give in exchange for his life?'" These hard words cut across the grain of today's easy-believism. Many people confuse free grace with a free ride. Yes, God's grace is given freely, but accepting it involves the cost of discipleship: denying yourself, taking up your cross and crucifying the old fleshly nature.
In my Agape-Biblia revision of the Russian Bible, I use the words "forget about himself"4 instead of "deny himself" in these verses, because in the Eastern Christian mindset self-denial and asceticism can become a very ego-centered life that is quite proud of the achievement (podvig in modern Russian) of super-spirituality. The focus must not be on self, on how much wealth or status one has given up, but rather on Jesus. Joseph of Arimathaea is a good example of this:
When evening had come, a rich man from Arimathaea, named Joseph, who himself was also Jesus' disciple (mathetes) came. This man went to Pilate, and asked for Jesus' body. Then Pilate commanded the body to be given up. Joseph took the body, and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut out in the rock, and he rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb, and departed (Mat. 27:57-60).
Here was a wealthy man who is called a disciple! This passage disturbs those super-spiritual would-be disciples who think that they must be poor, wear shabby clothes and smell bad in order to follow Jesus. This may simply be a mask for laziness, of which poverty is the natural result. But this Joseph was certainly not one of these. Although wealthy, he made the decision to follow Jesus and he had counted the cost - by going to Pilate to ask for Jesus' body, he was putting his own life on the line by sympathizing with an executed man. Then he offered up his own tomb for Jesus' burial. So Joseph had his eyes on Jesus, not on his own wealth or self-importance.
The book of Acts contains several turning-points in church history. One such crux of history is in Acts 11:20-26, when persecution arose after Stephen's martyrdom, some anonymous Greek-speaking Jews went to Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch. Until Antioch the disciples had shared the Good News only with other Jews, but while in Antioch they spoke to the "Hellenes," the Greeks, and some of them believed in the Lord Jesus. Thus the Gospel broke through the race barrier, which was accomplished by some disciples (mathetes) whose names we don't even know! When the Apostles in Jerusalem got wind of it, they decided to try to get the situation under their control, and sent Barnabas up to Syria, where Antioch was located. In fact, the Antiochian Orthodox Church is the oldest extant church in the world today. The mother church in Jerusalem vanished when the city was destroyed in A.D. 70, but the church in Antioch remains to this day.
As John Piper explains in his book Let the Nations Be Glad! this persecution was not necessarily bad for the church, because it led to spreading the Good News to the nations -
The lesson here is not just that God is sovereign and turns setbacks into triumphs. The lesson is that comfort and ease and affluence and safety and freedom often cause a tremendous inertia in the church. The very things that we think would produce personnel and energy and creative investment of time and money for the missionary cause, instead produce the exact opposite: weakness, apathy, lethargy, self-centeredness, preoccupation with security.5
But a very important phrase in this story is v. 26b: "The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch." Why is this phrase so important? Until this time, the followers of Jesus Christ were simply called disciples. At this crux of history, the term "Christian" was invented, and was used in a derogatory sense: "little Christ-people." But over the course of centuries the meaning has shifted, and this semantic drift has distorted our paradigms. Today we speak of the "Christian world" referring to Europe and America (although even the term "post-Christian" is inaccurate because Europe and America have never been fully Christian in the true sense). A person can call himself a "Christian" in a vague sense of a respectable, church-going, good citizen. But to call oneself a "disciple" today seems to imply a higher level of commitment. The two terms, however, were synonymous in the first century. If you were a Christian, you were a disciple. We've developed a form of two-tier Christianity: on the lower level we have "just Christians" who might go to church once or twice a month, or might not if the weather is too bad, or if it's too nice and sunny to stay inside. They might even put a few dollars or euros in the offering if they have some small bills to spare. Then on the higher level we have people called "disciples" who have "gone off the deep end" into some kind of "religious extremism," as the secular world may see it. But this dichotomy is completely false: a Christian must be a disciple! If you're not a disciple, you are not a Christian. It's as simple as that.
John MacArthur, in his outstanding book The Gospel According to Jesus, explains this further -
This dichotomy, like that of the carnal/spiritual Christian, sets up two classes of Christians: believers only and true disciples. Most who hold this position discard the evangelistic intent of virtually every recorded invitation of Jesus, saying those apply to discipleship, not to salvation.
...On the contrary, no distinction has done so much to undermine the authority of Jesus' message. Are we to believe that when Jesus told the multitudes to deny themselves (Luke 14:26), to take up a cross (v. 27), and to forsake all and follow him (v. 33), his words had no meaning whatsoever for the unsaved people in the crowd? How could that be true of One who said he came not to call the righteous but sinners? (Matt. 9:13).6
We who are truly disciples, followers of Jesus Christ, "little Christ-ones," must purge our minds of this false paradigm. Jesus calls us as sinners, but He calls us to repent and turn from our sinful, self-centered lives if we really choose to follow Him.
In summary, every disciple, every Christian, is one who participates in hands-on practical ministry, one who is not afraid to take risks. The Apostle Paul is a good example of this:
But some Jews from Antioch and Iconium came there, and having persuaded the multitudes, they stoned Paul, and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But as the disciples stood around him, he rose up, and entered into the city. On the next day he went out with Barnabas to Derbe. When they had preached the Good News to that city, and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, confirming the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that through many afflictions we must enter into the Kingdom of God. When they had appointed elders for them in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they had believed (Acts 14:19-23).
Paul's preaching was met with a hail of stones in Iconium, where he was dragged out of town and left for dead. But when the disciples came around, he picked himself up and went on to the next town, to preach in Derbe. There they made many more disciples, warning them that to follow Christ would mean going through many afflictions. Then they made a loop back to the churches they had planted, and appointed elders in each church ("assembly"). So Paul's example of faithfulness through persecution and his exhortation encouraged them to "hang tough" in the faith when the going would get rough. That is the life of discipleship. But it is also important to notice here that the early church had a definite hierarchy of ministry: they appointed elders as leaders in each church. Even though every believer is a disciple and every disciple is to become a minister, this does not eliminate the need for structure and leadership. Remember the awful consequences of Korah's rebellion against the leadership authority of Moses (Num. 16:3). The style of leadership, however, is servanthood, as we shall see later.
Endnotes to Chapter 2:
4. Hosken, Robert, ed., Agape-Biblia, (www.Agape-Biblia.org, 2000).
5. Piper, John, Let the Nations Be Glad!, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House Co., 1993), 97.
6. MacArthur, John F. Jr., The Gospel According to Jesus, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), 36.
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Please remember to pray for Christians in the former Soviet bloc countries, and for...
Bob & Cheryl
p.s. How will we ever know how good we have it, if all we ever know is having it good? There is no feasting without fasting.
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