Posts Tagged ‘Guest Post’

BY KAREN ARKAN

We’ve lived under some “real” persecution.

When I think of some of the situations my husband and I have lived through over the past 10 years, it almost seems like I’m an outsider looking in on my life, watching someone else’s nightmare unfold on some crime show. It seems very surreal and outside of our existence. But the truth is, we have tasted persecution.

Only a few years after we were married, Ramazan and I had come home from work, eaten dinner and then turned on the news in our home in the nation of Turkey. Ramazan left the room for a few minutes and, like some kind of weird prank, suddenly his picture was on the television with a headline that I could make out even with my limited Turkish.

“Man Arrested for Plotting to Kill Pastor”

What!!?? At first I hesitated and doubted my translation. But I read the headline again and I was sure that is what it said.

I called my husband Ramazan into the room and in a very low moment of our relationship he explained to me that indeed someone had tried to kill him and that we had been living under police protection for several days.

Suddenly my concern shifted from the headline into anger towards my husband for hiding this information from me.

He didn’t want me to worry.

For the next 4 months, police with were us 24 hours a day.

The day after the news broke, I went to my teaching job at a Turkish school. During the lesson, the principal’s secretary came into my classroom and asked me to come to see the owner of the school.

I panicked.

I called Ramazan to tell him that surely I was going to be fired. We both assumed that the school was now concerned that parents would be upset after seeing my husband on the news. They may have figured out that the wife of a Christian pastor was teaching their (mostly) Muslim students.

We quickly discussed what I should say to the owner of the school and that I should ask for at least a few months of severance pay.

I was shaking as I walked into the office.

For several moments, the owner of the school chatted with me about how I was doing, what she could do to support me, and how she could help.

This kindness was unexpected.

She finished and I waited for the next part. The firing. But it didn’t come. And I said to her, breathing a sigh of relief, “I assumed you called me here to fire me.” She replied with a generous amount of grace, “If any of the parents of our students are upset that you are working here, they can take their child and leave this school.”

This was the first episode in an outpouring of loving kindness which we received.

Another almost comical story comes to mind. A close friend of ours went to do his military service. He was being trained as an officer. In one of his training sessions, the instructor gave a slide presentation. Our friend was surprised when a picture of my husband Ramazan came up as an “enemy of the state.”

So yes, we have faced some difficult days. Hatred. Threats. False accusations.

Ramazan was even “unofficially” arrested at one point.

But today I’m thinking about something else. Today I’m thinking about a different kind of persecution that has been pretty intense in our lives this year.

I hesitate to even call it persecution. But in so many ways, some of what we’ve been facing hurts even more deeply then having some stranger after your life.

Hebrews 11 has always been one of my very favorite Bible passages. I always read it with such a sense of awe of what these faithful Heroes of Our Faith experienced and endured…

And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about (those)…who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies…There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.
Hebrews 11:32-38

Whew! That puts our troubles into perspective.

With all that we have walked through, nothing has been as severe as that.

And yet, maybe comparing our persecution isn’t the point.

As I said, it has been a hard year for us. Hard in a different way. It seems almost laughable to call what we have lived through this year “persecution.” But I think it has the same roots. It comes from the same origin. Jealousy, anger, hatred, selfishness, fear. Whenever we become the object upon which these emotions are projected, I think it pretty much feels like persecution.

Its personal persecution.

Ramazan and I are the first to admit that we don’t have it all together. We still feel very young and inexperienced even though we are technically now middle-aged. We don’t claim to have all the answers and it is very hard when we are in the position of helping others and for us to know the best ways to lead, guide, and encourage the people we serve. We don’t take this role lightly and we feel very accountable to the Lord for our decisions and for the counsel we give. We know this is a big responsibility and a job we cannot do on our own.

This year we have faced some trying situations in ministry. We’ve gone into places of helping and guiding to which we haven’t been before. And because of the magnitude of the responsibility we feel, we have carefully and prayerfully plodded these new territories. We slowly and carefully made decisions which we felt were best for handling the relational problems going on in the church we serve.

But the problem is, sometimes people ask for help and then they don’t want the counsel you offer. Sometimes people become resentful of the ways we try to help. Sometimes they blame us for not fixing their situation. And sometimes they lash out. Sometimes they cut us off. Sometimes they choose to stay in their brokenness and become even more angry.

Persecution is defined as: hostility and ill-treatment, especially because of race or political or religious beliefs; oppression. Persistent annoyance or harassment.

Persecution hurts because its personal. It hurts because we really love and care about the people we are trying to care for. It hurts when we try to do the right thing, to please and honor God, and then it is misunderstood as something else by others.

I don’t doubt that you’ve experienced the same thing. The same feelings of being the object of someone else’s wrath when you’ve truly tried to help. Its a lonely feeling. Its discouraging. And on the flip side, its the best place to be.

During our discussions, Ramazan and I always end up coming back to the same point. We did what would honor the Lord. Even when it was hard and unpopular. Even when we would have rather excused behaviors for the sake of staying on the good side of someone. Even when it was easier not to get involved. Even when it took us extra time and put us in awkward situations. And surprisingly we have found an ocean of peace in that place.

God has never asked us to be pleasers of people. He has asked us to be faithful. And the deepest place in our hearts yearns to be as faithful and honored as the Heroes of Our Faith.

Years ago, Ramazan chose to take what he thought was the easiest and best way to handle a terrible situation. He chose not to tell me about the man who was arrested for trying to kill him. He was afraid of what my reaction would be. He thought staying silent was the best thing for me (and for him). He thought avoidance would protect me. This kind of tiptoeing actually hurt our relationship more than it helped us. Since then he has definitely learned his lesson and the Lord has redeemed that situation by bringing us closer as we faced that deep trial together.

There are definitely times to stay silent, but fear shouldn’t keep us from making the right choices in standing up for our beliefs and encouraging others towards living lives of integrity.

Chris Russell recently published a blog post called “8 Keys to Knowing God’s Will For Your Life.” That post was directed toward helping believers to figure out the big picture in regard to God’s will. For instance, those keys have much to do with God’s plan for you vocationally, in ministry, and in the important stages of life.

This post, on the other hand, lends help for the “smaller” decisions that we make from day to day.  In order to continue in the middle of God’s perfect will, it is vital that we make right decisions each day and each week. But that is not always easy. As a tool to help you make right decisions from a biblical perspective, I have pulled together 13 questions you should ask when facing a choice. Here they are:

1)  Does God already have a clear teaching about this?

Joshua 1:8
This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.

If God has already spoken clearly about this, you do not have to wonder any longer. Just do what he has told you.

Simple, right?

Well, the problem here seems to be that most people in our culture today seem to have a fairly low level of knowledge of the Scriptures. They are “low-information believers.”

So, I would encourage you to saturate your mind as much as possible with God’s Word. Read it. Study it. Memorize it. Learn it. Once you have done so, you will be amazed at how much better you are at making good, solid decisions in life.

2)  What do my top spiritual advisors tell me about this?

Proverbs 11:14
Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.

It is vital that you surround yourself with godly friends who will be able to speak into your life about life’s decisions. Do you realize that you are basically a composite of the five people you spend the most time with? It is crucial to choose those people carefully. If you don’t have those types of friends, I would encourage you to increase your involvement in church and small groups and ministry in order to establish those godly relationships.

3)  What do authority figures in my life have to say about this?

Titus 3:1
Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work.

(Also see Romans 13:1-7Hebrews 13:17)

God often works through authority relationships in our lives. For instance, it would be extremely rare for the best choice to be something that is illegal. Look at this choice from the vantage point of authority figures in your life, and at least use that as an important reference point for you.

4)  How will this affect me spiritually?

1 Corinthians 10:23
All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.

There is much more to this life than just earning a bigger paycheck or improving your status amongst peers. When you make choices, make sure you consider how this decision will affect your spiritual development. Will this draw you nearer to God or further from him?  Will this decision interfere with your ability to attend church, maintain godly relationships, or spend time cultivating your spiritual disciplines?  If it harms you spiritually, then I would suggest pulling the plug on that choice.

5)  How will this affect my family? Will this draw us closer to God or further from God?

1 Corinthians 8:9
But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak.

Not only must you consider how this decision will affect your own spiritual development, but you must also consider the affects it will have on the spiritual state of your family. Will this help your family to grow in Christ, or will it interfere with that spiritual growth? Will this pull them away from godly friends and away from a healthy, godly church environment? Will this divide your family in any way? Be careful not to make decisions that will cause your family to pay a big price.

6)  Is this going to bring more peace or less peace to my life?

1 Thessalonians 4:11
That you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you.

Did you know that God actually wants you to have a peaceful life? Of course, this is not the “American way,” but it is definitely an important consideration when it comes to making decisions. Be cautious that you are not stacking your life with more and more “stuff” that will send you over the edge with stress and anxiety. And make sure it is not going to steal the peace from your family as well.

7)  Is this consistent with the way God has wired me?

1 Peter 4:10
As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.

God has created you for a purpose, and He has designed you specifically to fulfill that purpose. You are a gifted individual, and His plan will be for you to function within that area of giftedness. When we veer outside of the way He has wired us, we often feel excessive stress, anxiety, and burnout very quickly.

When it comes to making decisions, make sure you evaluate the choice in light of the way that God has designed you. Are you creative? Are you detail-oriented? Are you relational? Are you task-oriented? Are you a communicator? Pay attention to how God has wired you.

8)  Am I paying attention to the risks that are associated with this?

Proverbs 27:12
A wise man foresees evil and hides himself; the simple pass on and are punished.

When making decisions, it is very important to honestly assess the risk that is involved. Sometimes we can become so mesmerized by a “golden carrot” that we overlook the risks that are associated. For this one, I would suggest that you have an outside voice speak into the situation.

In his book Entreleadership, Dave Ramsey says that anytime he has made a business decision that has gone against his wife’s advice, it has cost him at least $10,000. Sometimes others, like a spouse, can see the risks that we overlook.

It is a sign of wisdom to be cautious. Not fearful, but cautious.

9)  Do I have total peace from God about this?

Philippians 4:7
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Sometimes everything can look right on the outside when I’m making a decision, but there will still be angst within my spirit. I have learned that making a decision without that inner peace is nearly always a mistake. God gives us peace as a protection and a guide. Seek His peace, and be cautious of making decisions that move against that peace.

10)  Are the doors of circumstances clearly open here?

(See Acts 16)

God often works through obvious circumstances. For example, He did that for Paul in Acts 16. In that chapter, Paul and his entourage kept facing closed doors as they were seeking where they were to minister next. And then, one door to Asia flew open while all other doors were closing.

God often directs me more by closing doors than by opening them. But there have been times in my life when I have attempted to force open a door that was not truly open. That never ends well.

It’s always good to look at how God is opening or closing doors in front of you. And while an open door does not always mean that you are to pass through, it is often an indicator that God is at work. Pay attention to open doors, and be cautious of forcing doors open when they are closed.

11)  Is now the best time for this? Could waiting be better?

Ephesians 5:16-17
Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

Haste does not always produce the best decisions. Sometimes everything might seem right about a choice, but making the decision at a later time might make more sense. This isn’t always easy, because we often want to move forward quickly when we see an opportunity. But sometimes the wiser decision is to slow down, plan more, get more input, and give it more time to develop.

12)  Am I willing to let God close this door?

(Again, refer to Paul’s journey in Acts 16.)

An important element to making good decisions is to make sure that you are completely submitted to God’s ultimate plan for your life. Sometimes we get it into our heads that we want to do a certain thing, and then we struggle immensely when we begin to realize that God may not want us to move forward with that particular choice.

The disaster comes when we place our desire above God’s plan. Let me be clear here. That never turns out well. The best decision you can ever make is to submit your choices to God’s plan and be willing to give up an opportunity when you sense God does not want you to move forward with that decision.

13)  Am I willing to trust God if He asks me to step forward?

Hebrews 11:6
But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

Closely related to the above question is this: Are you willing to trust God if He asks you to step forward? This is basically the flipside of question 12. It’s important to stop when God says, “Stop,” and it is equally important to move forward when He says, “Move forward.”

Are you willing to do that thing He might want you to do? What if it makes you feel uncomfortable? What if it moves you out of your comfort zone? What if it requires faith?

I can testify to you that the most exciting moments of my life have been when I have submitted to God and stepped forward with Him in faith. I hope you can experience that same joy.

Wrapping It Up

OK, so when you have a tough choice to make, I would encourage you to go over these questions before confirming your decision. Perhaps print these questions out and keep them as a reference point for the future. Talk through each of these questions with your spouse or a friend in the context of a decision you are currently making in your own life. I know of some parents who have used these with their kids to help train their children to make good decisions as well. In essence, these questions can serve as guidelines for helping you and your family make decisions that you will not regret.

* All Scripture quotes are taken from the New King James Version of the Bible

Stephen Altrogge

We all know that we’re supposed to pray. We all have our own prayer “tactics,” such as prayer lists, prayer apps, prayer walks, prayer meetings, praying out loud, writing down our prayers, writing down the prayers we say out loud, and saying out loud prayers which have been written down.

In spite of all these tactics, I believe prayer is THE MOST underrated spiritual discipline. The simple fact is, I take prayer for granted. Because Christ has opened the way into the Holy Places, I can pray freely at any time of day. I can pray in the car, as I’m working, and while I’m watching my kids. Being able to pray so freely is an incredible, wonderful blessing. I think, however, that the freeness with which I can pray causes me to take prayer for granted.

Think for a moment of all that takes place when I pray.

GOD HEARS

But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him. (Psalm 4:3)

O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch. (Psalm 5:3)

Holy smokes! When I pray, the Lord himself, Yahweh, the King of Kings, the commander of the armies of Heaven, hears me! The God who crushed the Egyptian army and humiliated the prophets of Baal, hears when I call to him. I’m not speaking empty words into a void. I’m not simply talking to myself. This is not the power of positive speaking. When I call, God hears.

GOD STRENGTHENS

O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more. (Psalm 10:17–18)

Not only does God hear me when I pray, but he also strengthens me. In the midst of affliction, when I barely have the strength to call out to God, he hears me and strengthens me. He imparts real spiritual, emotional, and even physical strength to me. Prayer connects me to the infinite strength of God.

GOD BLESSES

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:11)

God is eager to bless me. Just as I am eager to give good gifts to my kids, God is eager to give good gifts to me. When I pray, God unleashes blessings into my life. I realize that sounds terribly Joel Osteen-ish, but it’s not. It’s God’s word. God will give me good things when I pray to him. He will bless me and pour out his incredible riches into my life.

GOD ACTS

The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. (>James 5:16–18)

This passage is meant to encourage us that God does real, incredible things in response to my prayers. When Elijah prayed, God actually altered weather patterns! When I pray, God does real, amazing, incredible things. He changes circumstances. He softens hearts. He intervenes with financial provision. He brings reconciliation. Prayer brings the Almighty God into the mundane details of my life.

Given all the astonishing things that happen when I pray, why do I treat prayer so lightly? That’s the big question we all need to answer.


Stephen Altrogge serves as a pastor at Sovereign Grace Church. Find out more at The Blazing Center.

As a student of history, politics, and strategic foresight, I am convinced that there are four alternative future scenarios before us. The actions, inactions,
decisions, or the lack thereof, of our leaders will determine where Nigeria will be 10-20 years from now.

The choices we make are collectively ours.
SCENARIO 1: “Status Quo Jaga Jaga” – All we need to do is continue to live, lead, and govern the same old way, with no tangible changes at all. The end result will be the same status quo jaga jaga that we have become accustomed to for decades.

SCENARIO 2: “Rumble in the Jungle” – If Boko Haram and their Fulani militant cousins are not effectively disarmed and completely defeated, and if the religious mindsets and ideologies of our political and traditional elite remain the same, it essentially means Nigerians can no longer live in the same space as a united nation. Ultimately, if the killing sprees continue unabated, at some point, there will be a tipping point that forces Nigeria into an abyss from which it will be difficult to come out of.

SCENARIO 3: “Danfo Gedegbe Breakaway Republics” – Since 1960, Nigeria’s tribal and regional groupings have never had a truly honest discussion about the way forward. In the event that such a discussion takes place, it could lead at best to increased regional autonomy within a federating unit, or at worse, breakaway republics signifying the breakup of Nigeria. It has happened in the Soviet Union. It has happened in Yugoslavia. It is happening before our eyes in Libya, Iraq, and Syria. There is nothing to suggest that it cannot happen in Nigeria. Only a fool would suggest otherwise.

SCENARIO 4: “The Nigeria of Our Dreams” – the Nigeria of our dreams is one that is devoid of violent conflicts, tribal/religiously motivated killings, political oppression, corruption at the highest and lowest levels, justice, equal opportunity, brotherliness, good governance that benefits all and not a few; and a nation in which our faith in God brings out the best in us and compels us to be our brother’s keeper even though tribe and tongue may differ. Seeing the future before it arrives is not rocket science.

Simply put, Nigeria’s future will be pre-determined by the actions and decisions of our leaders. The future is simply the culmination of all the political, economic, religious, military, and security plans, strategies, decisions, and actions that we employ and deploy in the days, months, and years ahead.
May God Bless Nigeria and grant great wisdom to those who have been thrust into positions of authority.