Archive for the tag “persecution”

ISIS and Potiphar’s Wife: The Foundational Reason for Christian Persecution

banner-949945_1920The best of stories contain bigger stories within them. The characters are more than heroes, villains, or victims stuck in an isolated narrative; they embody the ugly and the beautiful in life. The bigger story in Charlotte’s Web is how love and sacrifice and friendship enrich our own lives. The larger story in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Huckleberry Finn, and The Grapes of Wrath is the American story—a national narrative that’s a mixture of hope and horror. These best of stories are double-narratives, you might say, for they are tales of single individuals who are simultaneously iconic of whole populations.

The ancient rabbis read the stories of the Old Testament, especially those in Genesis, in a similar way, but with a prophetic nuance as well. They would say, “What happened to the fathers, happened on account of the sons.” What they meant was that you could divine Israel’s future in her past. What happened to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph foretold what would happen to Israel. The lives of the patriarchs were prophetic; these individual lives foreshadowed the future life of the nation. That’s why, for instance, Abraham journeys into Egypt because of a famine, gets into trouble with Pharaoh while there, God smites Egypt with plagues, and Abraham and his family finally leave Egypt laden with wealth from the country (Genesis 12). All of this happened as a mini-exodus. In the story of father Abraham you read the bigger story of the exile, captivity, suffering, and eventual redemption of Israel in Exodus.

On an even grander scale, the same is true of Joseph, whose life in multitude of ways points to the story of Christ and the lives of Christians around the world, especially those who are bearing the cross of persecution. To illustrate this, let’s take one story from Joseph’s life and read within it a much more expansive narrative.

The Seductress Turned Persecutor

Though sold as a slave in Egypt, Joseph performed so faithfully as a servant in Potiphar’s house that his master put him in charge of everything. All was going well until Potiphar’s wife, eyeing Joseph as “handsome in form and appearance” (Genesis 39:6), decided she wanted him as a lover. “Have sex with me,” she urged him, to which Joseph gave this famous refusal: “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in his house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is no greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept anything from me except yourself, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (39:8-9). Undeterred by his rebuff, the seductress continued, day after day, to woo him to her bed, but Joseph would have nothing to do with her. One day, when Joseph literally ran away from her lustful advances, she grabbed his outer garment as he fled outside. That was the last straw. As if to prove that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, she accused Joseph of attempted rape, proffered his garment as evidence, and Joseph wound up in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.

What is most instructive about this episode is what Potiphar’s wife did to Joseph and why. She might have simply had a good cry over her unsuccessful liaison. She might have made his service there a living hell. But, no, that wasn’t enough. This Hebrew servant rejected her will, refused to submit to the evil she desired, for the express reason that he “could not do this great wickedness and sin against God.” There you have it. Ultimately, it was not Joseph who was keeping Joseph from her; God was the barrier. His holy will thwarted her will. His commandment kept Joseph out of her bed.

Whether she realized it or not, this Egyptian woman was at war with the Lord of Israel. Her will was pitted against His will. Her desires were battling God’s desires. Joseph was caught in the crossfire. Or, rather, Joseph embodied the divine enemy. He was the image of God who represented to her the foe who opposed her. Therefore, when she decided to persecute Joseph for not submitting to her wishes, she was in reality persecuting God. For when a person, out of fidelity to the Lord and His word, refuses to submit to evil, the one who is refused lashes out at the faithful child of God because, in truth, the persecutor is at war with heaven itself.

Potiphar’s Wife as the Matriarch of ISIS and Boko Haram

If the best of stories contain bigger stories within them, what is the bigger story in this narrative of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife? How did what happened to this “father” foretell what would happen to the “sons”? In Joseph we see the bigger story of Christ and His followers, who suffer persecution from a world at war not so much with the church as with God Himself.

We have mourned with our Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq who have been systematically and brutally murdered, tortured, and driven from their homes by ISIS. We have witnessed many of the same atrocities committed against Christians by Boko Haram in Nigeria. The reason for this persecution goes beyond the political aspirations of these terrorist organizations. It is deeper than any cultural or sociological divide between Christians and their Muslim persecutors. The reason is even more profound than their radical Islamic views, based upon their interpretation of Quranic passages about the killing of infidels [read: Christians]. The foundational reason that Muslims are persecuting Christians is that faithful Christians refuse to submit to the evil these Islamists desire; they cannot do this great wickedness and sin against God; they steadfastly reject spiritual adultery with those who worship a lie. Though they would never admit it, ISIS and Boko Haram see in the Christians whom they persecute the image of the true God whom they reject, whom they hate, with whom they are at war.

To Persecute Christians is to Persecute Christ

Long ago, when a persecutor of Christians named Saul was on his way to terrorize more of the faithful, the Lord Jesus appeared to him, saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4). When Saul said, “Who are you, Lord?” He responded, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” (9:5). Saul’s persecution of the church was his persecution of the God of the church, Jesus Christ. The Lord had promised as much when He warned His disciples that “you will be hated by everyone because of me,” (Matthew 10:22). Peel back the layers of prejudice, jealousy, fear, religious ideology and whatever other motivations there might be for the actions of Potiphar’s wife, ISIS, Boka Haram, and other persecutors of the faithful, and you will find the core reason is that the persecutor is at war with God Himself.

As we stand with our fellow Christians who bear the brunt of this violent hatred, let us remember that, more importantly, the resurrected Lord stands with them. This Jesus, whom ISIS persecutes, is the Jesus who was martyred by crucifixion, but who rose from the grave and joins His followers to that saving death and resurrection in the waters of Baptism. And let us pray for the Islamists. The Lord has a proven track record of turning persecutors into prophets, apostates into apostles. Who knows but that one day a former member of ISIS may preach the same Gospel he once despised. And finally let us, with our fellow believers, be faithful even unto death, that we too may receive the crown of life from Him who is our life, the Lord Jesus Christ, who loves even those who hate Him and His church.

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What we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who welcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!


Your Future Is Behind You

pastfutureLet’s talk about time. To the friend who refuses to move on from a broken relationship, we say, “You’ve got to put the past behind you.” To the brother or sister who’s upset because of a lost opportunity, we say, “Stop worrying. You’ve got your whole life in front of you.”

Put the past behind you.
Your whole life is in front of you.

For years, I parroted these same things to build up others. I assumed the future was in front of me and the past was behind me. And all the while, I had things backwards.

Give me five minutes, if you will, and let me tell you the joy of a radically new—but ancient—way of thinking about time: a way in which the past is directly in front of your eyes, and along with it, incredible hope and joy for the future that lays behind you.

Walking Backwards into the Future

The foundational part of the Bible, the Old Testament, teaches this ancient understanding of time. In the language of the OT, the future is behind you and the past is in front of you. The Hebrew word for “in front of” (qedem) is the same word for “past.” And the word for “behind” (achar) is the basis for the word for “future” (achareet). Thus, if you were to ask Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob where the future was, they’d point behind them. Likewise, ask them where the past is, and they’d point in front of them.

The reason for this is as simple as it is insightful: we have seen the past, but we have not seen the future. We know what has happened. It is done, finished, and laid bare before our eyes. Thus the past is in front of us, where our eyes can see it. On the other hand, we don’t know what the future holds. We cannot see it, thus it is hidden from our eyes or behind us. Therefore, in the Hebrew conception of time, one might say that we are always walking backwards into the future.

History Is Pregnant with the Future

And walking backwards into the future is not only a good thing; it is a gift from God. Because if we want to know what will be, we open our eyes to what has been. History is pregnant with the future. It cradles in its womb the child of tomorrow. And in that fact is great hope for us as individuals as well as the church. Let me give you an example.

In one of the sacred songs of the OT, Psalm 77, the poet Asaph laments how bad things have become in his life. He’s so troubled that he suffers from insomnia; it’s like God’s fingers keep his eyelids pried open. He asks a series of painful questions, like, “Will the Lord spurn forever?” and “Has God forgotten to be gracious?” But instead of being strangled by despair, he says to himself, “I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your wonders of old.” That phrase, “your wonders of old,” could also be translated, “your wonders in front.” These divine wonders of old, the ones in front of him, are when God redeemed Israel from Egypt, split the Red Sea in half, and led his people like a shepherd leads a flock. When Asaph needed hope for the future, he locked his eyes on the past. He walked with confidence backwards into the future because he saw, before his eyes, the past wherein God had heard the cries of his suffering people, saved them, and brought them joy and hope once more. And as the Lord had done in the past, he was sure to do in the future.

We Need More Asaphs

We need more Asaphs in the church today. We have an abundance of those who forecast dark days in the near future, even storms of persecution brewing on the horizon for the church in America and around the world. That may very well be so. I’m not writing to silence or downplay their warnings. I am writing, however, to remind the church that, come what may, she is marching backwards into a future rich with hope. The past is in front of us. And that past is replete with the saving acts of God in Jesus Christ for all his baptized children.

In front of us, in the past, is the hill upon which God has already defeated every foe we might face. On that bloody beam the heel of Christ crushed the head of the lying serpent. He hung upon the walls of his resurrection tomb the trophies of victory that mock death. In fact, his victory on the cross was so utterly complete that it was like the Last Day, for even tombs opened up and saints rose and walked into the holy city (Matt 28:52-53).

Open your eyes and see. Look at the past before us. There is God, our Father, smiling at us, his sons and daughters. There is Christ, our Brother, naming us his friends. There is the Spirit, our Comforter, filling the inner darkness of our fears and worries with the brilliant rays of his love and hope. What future calamity behind us shall separate us from the love of Christ before us? Shall tribulation or distress? Shall persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword? Tell me, what shall separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ? Nothing, that’s what. Nothing at all.

Then why are we worried? Why, as one of my friends wrote, do we so often act like the sky is falling? “Have no fear, little flock; have no fear, little flock?” the church sings. Why? “For the Father has chosen to give you the kingdom.” He made us kings and queens on the day he poured a liquid crown upon our heads in baptism. He named us priests on the day he clothed us in the vestments of Jesus our great high priest. These gifts are before our eyes. This is what God has done for us.

So let us, with Asaph, remember the days of old, the days in front of us. Christ has died for you. He has been raised to a life that cannot end. He has joined you inextricably to his death and resurrection in the waters of baptism. These pasts acts are present gifts. And they are the basis for the confidence by which we walk backwards into the future fidelity of the Christ who is the same yesterday and today and forever.

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christ alone cover

What we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who InfantPriestfrontcoverwelcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!

Looking for the Church? Follow the Trail of Blood

bloodtrailIt is not hard to track down the Church; just follow the trail of blood. It begins in the wet soil beneath the body of Abel, murdered not by a stranger but by a brother, slain by one who hated the believer because he hated the believer’s God. And onward it winds, this haunting crimson road. The blood flows from the veins of the very old to the very young, from the infant boys in Egypt and Bethlehem to the gray-haired men and women whose tongues would not be tied by a tyrant’s decree. In this world the Church never has peace—peace as the world understands it. Yes, wherever she goes, the Church leaves—or, rather, is forced to leave – the telltale sign of her passage through that place. Just follow the trail of blood, and there you will behold the lineage of the Church.

whisperinginearSee to it that no one leads you astray from such a path, painful though that path may be. Many come to tell your itching ears what they crave to hear: “It doesn’t have to go on like this. We can have peace. No more blood need be shed. Wink at the golden calves and mind your own business rather than throw down the law and insist on only one saving truth. Much favor will be won if we learn how to compromise, to play our political cards right, to sweeten our speech with opinions rather than confessions, to crawl about like a theological chameleon in today’s multi-colored religious landscape.” If these lies were true, then the world would smile and sheathe its sword, the demons would retract their claws, and the haunting crimson road would come to an end. But then, so would the Church.

Deep guile is the weapon of the one who masquerades as an angel of light, but who is truly the prince of darkness. It is he who opened Eve’s eyes to “a better way,” unencumbered by a Word from God that deprived her of what could only make her life better and more fulfilled. So she thought. It is he who persuaded Solomon that it was more prudent to build temples for the gods of his many wives than risk losing family tranquility and political capital by insistence on the only true way of divine worship. It is he who shows you that it’s fine to applaud our spiritual forefathers for their bold stance in their own historical context but to chuckle and poke fun at any serious attempt to follow that teaching and practice in our own.

O such is the crumbling fortress of the god of this world, but how it entices our flesh! It looks like a house of candy to the Hansels and Gretels who wander lost through this world. And we all have tasted its seeming sweetness. For it is always easier to rest inside the devil’s crumbling fortress than to trudge on alone in a dark and friendless world. It is always easier to hold hands with unbelievers inside those walls than risk public defamation by declaring the Gospel from without. It is always easier to file away the 95 Theses until a more politically expedient time; to bite your tongue so long as no one else speaks up; when standing before governors and kings to say, “Here I stand…and there and there and there and wherever else you wish, whatever keeps my neck out of the noose. Yes, such is the fortress built by the devil’s deep guile. And woe to the believer and woe to the church that passes through its gates; so deceptive and seductive are its inner charms that few are those who escape. For it is not really a fortress; it is a dungeon—dark and dank and reeking of death.

See to it that no one leads you astray from the narrow way, the straight way, the only saving path, for it alone leads to the Jerusalem above. Though the road that frees you from suffering for the truth may seem broad and easy, in reality it is a road that leads only to greater and unending suffering. Though the narrow path is bloody, and though the way is steep, and though the trail of truth seems impossible to follow at times, only on that path does our Father feed you and clothe you and fill you and flood you with true and lasting peace.

davidgoliathFor we travel not alone—far from it. At our head is the Son of David, the severed head of hell’s Goliath dangling from His hand, blazing the trail that leads to the heavenly Jerusalem. Yes, for us fights the valiant one, whom God Himself elected. Though weak and frail and frightened you may be, it matters not, for it is not you who fight but God who fights for you. He parts the waters so you may pass through, while engulfing your foes behind you. He topples the walls of Jericho; He turns the swords of your enemies against each other; He fights and He wins and He places the crown on victory upon your head while you merely stand by and see the salvation of your God.

O little flock, fear not the foe, for at your head is the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for you. For all your compromises, He made the good confession before Pilate. For all your shirking of the cross, He bore His own for you. For your silence in an effort to save face, He turned His face toward the spit and the fists and the blood and the gore. And willingly He did it, all for you, that you might be His own, bought at a price.

Just follow His trail of blood, the blood of the crucified one, and there you will behold the life of the Church, your life. The Church’s life is in nothing and no one else. Not in glory nor in fame; not in numbers nor power; but in His holy, saving blood, in the blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. The wounds of His hands and feet and side open like lips to proclaim, “Come to me, all ye who are weary and heavy laden by the heat of this desert world. Drink deeply from my cloven side! Come to me, sit at my feet, all ye who have gone astray, and I will show you my heel, with which I have crushed the head of the serpent of old! Come to me, all ye Adams and all ye Eves, who with guilty hands have tried to cover your shame—come and taste the fruit of my body that your eyes may truly be opened and you may see that I have clothed you with my own flesh.”

Dear Christians, one and all rejoice, because for you there is a strong city, which has lasting foundations, whose builder and architect is God. Salvation unto you has come—salvation from sin, from falsehood, from false hopes, from false and crumbling fortresses. A mighty fortress is our God, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging; though devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour us—we will not fear. The kingdom remains ours. The forgiveness of sins is ours. We are washed in the blood of the Lamb. Fed with manna from on high. Compassed about by legions of angels. Christ before us and behind us. Christ on our right and Christ on our left. Christ above us and Christ below us. We all believe in one true God who will ever remain true to us. So be still and know that He is God, and you are His children; nothing will separate you from Him who shares your flesh and blood. He will grant you endurance to the end.

ChristAloneCoverThis sermon, written for Reformation Sunday, is included in my new book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. This is not a collection of feel-good, saccharine devotional material. It’s hard-hitting, Gospel-giving, Christ-focused writing that takes you to the cross of Jesus again and again as the only source of healing for us. Purchase your copy by clicking on CreateSpace or Amazon. And thank you!


InfantPriestfrontcoverThe poems and hymns in my book, The Infant Priest, give voice to the triumphs and tragedies of life in a broken world. Here there is praise of the crucified and risen Christ, dark lamentation of a penitent wrestling with despair, meditations upon the life of our Lord, thanksgiving for family, and much more. If you’d like to purchase a copy, you may do so at this website or on  Thank you!

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