Wednesday, January 29, 2014

"The World Was Not Worthy of Them": When the persecuted church is lost in the noise

...But others were tortured, not accepting release, to obtain resurrection to a better life. And others experienced mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, sawed apart, murdered with the sword; they went about in sheepskins and goatskins; they were destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (the world was not worthy of them); they wandered in deserts and mountains and caves and openings in the earth. And these all were commended for their faith...
Hebrews 11:35b-39a, NET

Last night, a major political speech by the president of the United States ignored several US citizens being held prisoner by foreign governments. Two of these men, Kenneth Bae and Saeed Abedini, are held for reasons related to their Christian faith. To say that I was disappointed that they weren't mentioned, directly or indirectly, or that their relatives in the US were not invited to represent them at the speech as a signal to the world of our intention to see them freed, is an understatement. 

As so often happens, though, in the aftermath of my emotional reaction God dropped His Word into my heart. The phrase came to me in the translation I first read it: "men of whom the world was not worthy". I found the passage in its context above and was greatly encouraged, and my reaction was sobered. 

You see, refusing to recognize those persecuted for the sake of the Gospel says something significant. It says that the person that is being ignored is lost in the noise. Sometimes it's the noise of good things; sometimes it's the noise of political things; sometimes it's the noise of evil things. But their stories are missed, not because they are unimportant. They are missed because "the world was not worthy of them". Remembering the persecuted, praying for them, calling attention to them and advocating for their release is the job of the church. Sometimes the world will listen - but when they don't, there is still hope. 

For even when "the world is not worthy", God still hears our cries, sees our hearts, and has compassion for those in these horrible situations. He commends them for their faith as they are faithful to Him. Whether it's Kenneth Bae, Saeed Abedini, Asia Bibi in Pakistan, or countless thousands whose names we won't know until heaven - God hears their cries and counts their tears. He will lift up their heads. He commends their faith. This is the hope of the Gospel.

This morning I have faith that God is still at work in Saeed Abedini's life and Kenneth Bae's life. He's at work in your life, and in my life. My prayer for the president and all the other political leaders who allowed their stories to be lost in the noise is that God will forgive them because they don't know what they are doing. They don't realize how personally Jesus takes the persecution of His church, His body. 

Attention wasn't called to these men last night. But I pray that this morning, God will lift up their heads and whisper to their hearts, "Child, it's ok. I commend you for your faith."

Monday, January 27, 2014

Monday 1/27 prayer and advocacy for Saeed Abedini

As regular readers know, I have committed to pray regularly for Pastor Saeed Abedini and, on Mondays through March 8 (the day his wife Naghmeh was originally slated to protest, but changed her plans after much prayer and counsel), to advocate on his behalf using the resources God has given us through our rights as American citizens.

Today, my prayer for Saeed has been Barnabas' exhortation to the church at Antioch:
Acts 11:23 When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with devoted hearts
I am praying that whatever Saeed's circumstances tonight, he (1) is true to the Lord and (2) has a devoted heart. Out of everything Barnabas the Encourager could have exhorted the fledgling church at Corinth to do, this was the priority. This is what matters most.

But following the example of Paul, we still pray and work to bring him home, knowing that any movement in the human realm is because God affects the hearts of the leaders involved. So with that in mind, here is what I wrote to our Congressman, Senators, and President Obama tonight (adjusting as needed for each individual). Please join me in praying this will be received and acted upon! 


Thank you for your kind response to our email of last week. We wanted to give you an update that Naghmeh Abedini will not protest on March 8. She made this decision after reconsidering the effects of the protest on her children, Saeed's situation, and the body of Christ which she desires to see in unity, not division. We respect and affirm this decision.

However, there is still a way you can "stand with Naghmeh" even though she is not physically standing outside the White House. In testimony to Congress she stated that she knew she would fight Iran for Saeed's release, but never dreamed she would fight her own country. She has also stated she feels abandoned by her country. This should not be!! I encourage you to contact her directly, hear her story, and let her know that she is supported and that there are individuals working to free Saeed.

I further encourage you to ask President Obama to take the same step to show support. We understand that everything that goes on to release Saeed cannot be made public. That is understandable, but by contacting her, you can help Naghmeh feel that she is not alone in her battle. She will sense support from the highest levels of our government. We have heard buzz that President Obama might mention Saeed in the State of the Union address. This is a great step, but the actions need to back it up, and contacting Naghmeh would be a great step in that direction.

Thank you again for your service to our country and the people of Arkansas.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Praying for the heart of a "king"

The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes. - Proverbs 21:1 (NASB)

Late last night, the word came that Naghmeh Abedini has prayerfully decided NOT to proceed with her protest in front of the White House. Her announcement came the same day as news that her husband has been moved to a different section of the worst prison in Iran. Her stated reasons - the best interest of her husband and children, and the good of the Body of Christ - are admirable. I honor and affirm her decision not to protest just as much as I did her initial choice to protest. These decisions about whether to take a spiritual battle into the political realm can only be decided between the person in that situation and God. There is no one size fits all solution - there are biblical examples of all kinds of courses of action. 

As I have prayed over the past 24 hours about what God would have me do with my planned Monday prayer and advocacy times, God brought the verse above into my mind. I've been troubled by President Obama's failure to communicate with Naghmeh. God has reminded me that He is the only one who can change the president's heart. 

God's call for me to support Naghmeh with prayer and advocacy has not changed. However, instead of asking my representatives to go 'stand with Naghmeh' outside the White House, I plan to ask them to contact President Obama and ask him to reach out to Naghmeh. Specifically I am asking God to turn the president's heart toward Naghmeh as he hears from multiple senators and representatives asking him to contact her. I further pray that when he hears the story directly from this precious woman, God will turn his heart yet again and cause him to work toward Pastor Saeed's release. 

Many of you join me in praying for Saeed, Naghmeh, and their children Rebekka and Jacob on a continual basis. My request to you tonight is that you join me on Mondays in praying specifically for God to change President Obama's heart toward the situation and move for him to contact Naghmeh. After you pray, please act: write or call the White House; contact your senators and representative and ask them to contact the president; and pass the word on so others can do this as well. Let's see if someone from each of the 435 congressional districts will contact his or her representative and both senators from that state!

You can prepare this weekend by visiting and to find the contact information for your senators and representative, and preparing your letter or phone notes. (Please remember that "mass email campaigns" rarely work with congress; they really just want to hear from the people in their own district or state). 

Naghmeh's decision last night reminded me anew that the body of Christ is just that - all one body. As Paul teaches, when one suffers, we all suffer. The author of Hebrews exhorts us to remember those in prison because we, also, are part of the body. And in the passage below Paul makes them aware of God's deliverance that would be brought about through their prayers. As many prayed, God would receive more glory as many praise Him when the prayers are answered! That is my ultimate prayer for this season of prayer and advocacy - that we would see Him work and He would receive more praise and glory from His church!

2 Corinthians 1:6-11 ESV 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. 8 For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. 11 You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The People Who Know Their God

He shall seduce with flattery those who violate the covenant, 
but the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action. (Daniel 11:32) 

Evil in the world is nothing new. Attacks on God's people are nothing new. Thankfully, centuries ago God provided a pattern that holds true today. 

An angel warned Daniel of a time to come, a time when an evil ruler would draw many away with flattery. This was fulfilled quite literally during the evil reign of Antiochus Epiphenes and yet foreshadows the pattern of many evil men through the centuries.

The response also foreshadows what can be true of you, and me, and any people of faith. The angel promises that people who have a personal, knowledgeable relationship with God would do two things:
1) Stand firm
2) Take action

So often we focus so much on the first promise ("stand firm") that we lose sight of the second ("take action"). The awesome thing about this passage is that as we accurately and intimately know God, we will be equipped to stand firm - not to be swayed by flattery and lies of evil - AND take appropriate action. We will know what actions God is calling us to take, and we will have the courage to take them. When we do, we'll see God come through! When Antiochus was at his worst, a group of individuals from the Maccabees family rose up, stood their ground, and fought back. God miraculously sustained the light in the temple for 8 days when the oil ran out (leading to the feast known today as Hanukkah), and Antiochus was pushed back as the Jewish people reclaimed the temple and their land.

Today, because I know my God, I am praying and advocating for Pastor Saeed Abedini. I am asking God to intervene in his situation because I know my God: He identifies with those persecuted for His name's sake. He is compassionate and merciful. He hears the cries of a woman in need and two children who desperately miss their daddy. He has a purpose for everything we go through, and I'm sure He has used Saeed mightily in prison. But He also places limits on what He allows to happen to us, and I am firmly believing that He will release Saeed for His glory when those limits are reached. I'm praying that will be soon.

This isn't a political issue for me. Hebrews 13:3 tells us to remember the prisoners and those in chains because we, too, are in the body of Christ. So today I remember Pastor Saeed; Kenneth Bae; Asia Bibi; and hundreds of thousands of nameless, faceless individuals who are suffering because they love Jesus more than their lives. I'm praying they will know how to stand firm and take action. And where I can, I will join with them in God-ordained actions. In that context, below is the email that I sent to our congressman, senators, and President Obama. I pray for God to hear my prayers and those of others, and work whatever miracles He determines in this matter.


We are writing to appeal for your visible and vocal support of three American citizens held hostage in Iran.  Robert Levinson, held since 3/9/2007; Amir Hekmati, since 8/29/2011; & Pastor Saeed Abedini, since 7/28/2012. It is appalling that any nuclear "deal" would not have the release of our citizens as a precondition but, if news reports today are to be believed, that is exactly the case. ( has more information on all these hostages).

Thankfully there is still a way you can show your support. We would like to ask your visible support of Naghmeh Abedini as she protests outside the White House at noon on Saturday, March 8. Naghmeh has been a tireless supporter of her husband and other persecuted Christians, as well as the two other US citizens held in Iran for political reasons. Sadly she has stated that while she anticipated fighting Iran for her husband's release, she didn't anticipate fighting her own country. She has even said she feels "abandoned" by her country, especially as the president has not called her even in the midst of deciding not to make her husband's release a condition for talks and deals with Iran. This should not be the case!!

Naghmeh realizes she is risking arrest. A group of pastors and other Christians are supporting her in the weeks leading up to her protest by risking arrest themselves outside the White House every Monday at noon. Those of us unable to be in Washington have committed to pray and act on Mondays, in part by reaching out to our legislators and asking you to join Naghmeh on March 8. Please help her realize her government has not abandoned her. See for more information.

Thank you for your service to Arkansas and your consideration of this request.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Why I Support Naghmeh Abedini Protesting at the White House March 8

Sometimes there is a false conception within the church that those persecuted should never fight back legally, or that we should not use legal means to fight for them. This is not the Biblical example. Acts 22-28 records the events following Paul's arrest in Jerusalem. We see him arguing the injustice of his arrest and appealing to Caesar, as was his right as a Roman citizen. From the epistles he wrote from house arrest in Rome, we know that he was surrendered to the will of God - but that surrender was not listless resignation. It was an active rest, utilizing every resource God gave him while surrendering the results to God.

This is why I support Naghmeh Abedini not only as she calls us to Pray for Pastor Saeed Abedini but also as she makes the bold decision, along with several pastors, to protest outside the White House. I did some research last night, and learned of the zone outside the White House fence where protestors are arrested if they do not keep moving and walking past the building. This is the risk she is taking for her husband, an American citizen. This is her way, the only way she knows to "appeal to Caesar", in this case, to get the attention of President Obama. He is the commander in chief. God has given him the responsibility for our country, especially in dealing with threats. Iran is holding an American citizen captive in a prison with murderers and rapists, simply because he stepped foot in the country, checked on orphanages and ministries he started years ago and visited his family (something he had done 8 times previously). They were opposed to him when he fled his native Iran years ago because he was vocal about his Christian faith. Yet Iranian law allows for individuals to choose their religion. He has not even violated Iranian law. The only "charge" is "compromising national security", though specific details have not been stated.

What has the US government done in the face of this? The State Department "condemned" it, and Obama "mentioned" it in his historic phone call with the president of Iran. Other than that - nothing. His release isn't a condition of our talks with Iran. The other two Americans still held in Iran (Robert Levinson, held since 3/9/2007; Amir Hekmati, since 8/29/2011) are similarly ignored in the talks. Notably, Obama has not called Abedini's wife, who has vocally and publicly lobbied for his release (despite calling other notable figures such as Jason Collins and Sandra Fluke).

So Naghmeh has made the decision to risk arrest to raise the profile of the plight of these hostages. I stand with her, and I pray for her. In my understanding she is on solid Biblical ground.
I will use the voice God has allowed me to have in this free country to advocate with her.
With her, I trust God for the results.
If you are a pastor, or know a pastor who could get to DC, encourage them to support her by protesting on one of the Mondays leading up to March 8. Get involved yourself by advocating for all three of these men to be freed (check out @freeallthree and @naghmehabedini if you are on Twitter). Contact your congressman and senators. Email and tweet to @barackobama.