Some History I Didn’t Know

Here is a great piece of history rescued from the ashes of World War II of a day when the church stood for righteousness in the face of fascist evil. Read it and rejoice in the wonder of what God can do when believers stand on the faith they profess against all odds. The following comes from the good people at Kairos Journal. They do good work. May we in our time be ready to make such a stand against fascist tyranny.

Bulgarian Orthodox Church

Bulgarian Orthodox Heroism – [1940-1945]

On May 24, 1943, Bulgaria celebrated one of its most important national holidays: Saints Kyril and Methodius Day. Unfortunately, there was a moral cancer at work in sectors of the government, for some officials were urging that all the nation’s Jews be deported to Poland. There they would face almost certain death in Nazi concentration camps. So Metropolitan Stefan, head of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, addressed the issue bluntly. When he rose to deliver the traditional sermon to the masses assembled in Sofia’s Saint Alexander Nevski Square, he took aim at the Nazis: “This year our celebration is flawed by the persecution undertaken against the Jews … I send from this high place an appeal to the state authorities to not enslave the freedom-loving, democratic and friendly Bulgarian spirit … to foreign indoctrination, influences, and orders.”1 As he spoke, Nazi-sympathizing government ministers were seated behind him on the platform.2

The danger to Bulgaria’s Jews began several years earlier when the nation became a passive ally of the Germans. As part of that alliance, the nation passed anti-Jewish laws in 1941 and subsequently gave a pro-Nazi cabinet authority to exercise broad powers without parliamentary approval.3 Taking full advantage of the situation, several of the most anti-Semitic government officials vowed to Hitler that they would deport thousands of Bulgarian Jews for extermination.4Indeed, they tried to begin it on several occasions, but timely resistance from the king, key government officials, the public, and the Church thwarted their plan.5 And, so, the “entire Jewish population of the country” was saved.6 Not one person was ever deported, and Bulgaria’s Jews were the only Jewish community in the Nazi sphere of influence whose population increased during World War II.7

The Church had been active in the cause since 1940, when the parliament began to consider anti-Jewish laws under the ruse of protecting the country from harm. In response, the Holy Synod, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church’s supreme body, wrote to the prime minister in protest: “All men and all peoples must defend their rights and protect themselves from danger, but this just aspiration must not serve as a pretext for injustice and violence toward others.”8 Three years later, in March 1943, authorities attempted to corral Bulgaria’s Jews for the first time. Yet once again, the Church protested. In Plovdiv, the nation’s second largest city, the head of the local church, Metropolitan Kyril, threatened to lie across the tracks if a train loaded with Jews tried to leave the city. He also told the local government that he would act according to his conscience rather than their policies.9 Likewise, Neofit of Vidin, president of the Holy Synod, staunchly opposed anti-Jewish measures. After deportations from nearby Thrace and Macedonia, he met with the prime minister and strongly urged him “to show mercy and humanity toward the suffering Jewish minority.”10

Perhaps the boldest acts of resistance came from Metropolitan Stefan. A man of considerable political power, he preached against anti-Semitism in 194211 and later christened Jews in an attempt to have their names removed from the deportation list.12 Once, he defied a government order to close all the nation’s churches so that their priests could not reveal a secret deportation plot.13 Despite threats of arrest and public defamation, he never backed down from using the Church’s full resources to protect Jews.14

One historian aptly remarked, “There is no doubt that in the entire history of the Holocaust, the Bulgarian church stood high above any other Pravoslav [Orthodox], Protestant, or Catholic church, in her bold and unyielding struggle to rescue the Jews.”15 Indeed, it demonstrated that when God’s people stood for justice, they could accomplish feats with moral force that many nations failed to accomplish even by military resistance.

Footnotes:

  1. Michael Bar-Zohar, Beyond Hitler’s Grasp: The Heroic Rescue of Bulgaria’s Jews (Holbrook, MA: Adams Media, 1998), 195.
  2. Metropolitan Stefan, “Metropolitan Stefan,” in The Fragility of Goodness: Why Bulgaria’s Jews Survived the Holocaust, ed. Tzvetan Todorov, trans. Arthur Denner (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), 126-131.
  3. Bar-Zohar, 27-62.
  4. Ibid., 63-66.
  5. By 1943, the king had already decided to rescue Bulgaria’s Jews, but his decision was bolstered by the Church’s prophetic witness. See ibid., 204, 268.
  6. Thomas Cahill, Mysteries of the Middle Ages: And the Beginning of the Modern World (New York: Anchor, 2006), 36.
  7. Bar-Zohar, 268. Italy and Denmark also distinguished themselves for protecting their Jewish populations (Cahill, 36).
  8. Statement by the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church to the Prime Minister,” in Todorov, 56.
  9. Bar-Zohar, 126-127.
  10. Ibid., 169.
  11. Ibid., 168.
  12. Ibid., 208.
  13. Ibid., 208-209.
  14. Ibid., 210.
  15. Ibid.

The Power and Importance of Practice

The following is excerpted from The Divine Mentor, by Wayne Cordeiro. It is a powerful lesson for Bible readers.

Lawrence_Alma-Tadema,_Portret_Ignacego_Jana_Paderewskiego_(1860-1941)
A portrait of Ignace jan Paderewski, by painter Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1890

Concert pianists . . . no matter the status the artist might have, he will always do one certain activity every day.

One thing . . . scales.

Major scales, minor scales, the Aeolian scale, the Locrian. Why?

Ignace Jan Paderewski was a renowned Polish pianist who lived in the first half of the twentieth century. When his government requested that he play concerts in order to raise money, Paderewski, a patriot and willing citizen, replied: ‘I will be part of the war effort under one condition. You must allow me every day to continue playing scales, three hours a day. . . .’

They didn’t hesitate to accept his offer.

Why would someone of Paderewski’s enormous talent insist on playing scales for three hours daily? He had a ready answer. 

‘If I skip one day of scales,’ he explained, ‘when I play in concert, I notice it. If I skip two days of scales, my coach will notice. And if I skip three days of scales, the world will notice.’

Bible reading and meditation on the word of God is similar for the Christian life. Skip a day, and you will be weaker spiritually, skip another day and those with spiritual discernment, might begin to notice the effects on your spirit and demeanor. Skip three days and everyone begins to feel the effects of your lack of spiritual preparation for the challenges of the day.

But the more we practice the art of biblical meditation on the word of God, the more we grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ (2 Peter 3:18), the more and better we present Christ to the world and the more joy we experience in our lives.

Let’s not hesitate to “play our scales”. Let’s make sure daily, just like breakfast, we feast on the word of God that we might draw near to the Word made flesh.

From the Cutting Edge of Church Planting

DCPI Logo

The following is an account of Gospel victory among a distinct but small people group in the Philippines. Why is this important? Well, it is important for at least 5 reasons:

  1. Scripture says that heaven will be composed of peoples from every tribe and tongue (Rev. 14:6).
  2. All peoples are significant and need the gospel no matter how many or few there are (Acts 17:26-27).
  3. Christians will be encouraged by the dramatic story of God’s faithfulness.
  4. Unbelievers might pause to reconsider the veracity of the supernatural and the truth of the gospel.
  5. Other Church planters will be strengthened in their resolve to reach their communities with the life-transforming news of the gospel.

DCPI ConferenceDynamic Church Planting International is a principle-based church planting organization that has probably trained more church planters both here in North America and around the world, to plant more churches than any other church planting organization in the world in the history of the church. That’s a big statement but it’s true. The fact that few people know who they are is a tribute to the singular focus of their highly effective ministry. They are interested in training church planters, not self-promotion.

This account comes from Paul and Cathy Becker’s Spring Newsletter.

When an indigenous couple, Bishop Roper and his wife, Mhel, received DCPI training in the Philippines, they wanted to bring the gospel to the Umayamnon tribe, an unreached people group of over 6,000 members.

From their home, they traveled by car and on foot to the top of a mountain, where this tribe lives.

One day, Mhel approached the tribal chief with the simple offer of prayer. He accepted with surprised to himself. This is because the Umayamnon had some history with missionaries; they had seen the Jesus Film and the Passion of Christ but could not relate because in those films Jesus was surrounded by white people that did not look like them. They felt accused when the heard, “repent!” They said they were not the one who crucified Jesus.

But while Mhel prayed, the Holy Spirit convicted the chieftain, and when she was finished praying, he expressed openness to the Gospel. He received Jesus as his Lord and Saior. Immediately the entire tribe was open ot the Gospel message! Since then, many of them have been baptized; others are being discipled.

One day, the chief told the tribe that they needed to burn their idols because they now knew Jesus Christ to be their Lord and Savior, and the one true God. They brought their idols and totems together and burned them. About 30 minutes later, the grandson of the chief died. Roper saw a black cloud; God told Mhel to praise and thank God; she did so and exhorted the stricken parents to worship and not turn back; they did so, and the baby revived after 30 minutes.

Following the death and resurrection of the tribal chief’s grandson, the community asked Roper and his wife to come weekly for fellowship and worship. They consented; thus began a Sunday service.

The tribespeople had been planting marijuana, but with the planting of the word of God in their hearts, ALL of them stopped. Instead, they started planting corn and vegetables.

This village has undergone a beautiful transformation, embodying God’s inner work on their hearts. We are so grateful for this peek into God’s work in a remote part of the Philippines, and grateful to Him for letting us be a tool in His hand.

God is at work in the world!

Thank God for the work of DCPI and the church planters they are training around the world. One pastor in the Philippines tearfully shared, “I’ve been in ministry for 50 years, and this is the best training I’ve ever received in my entire life.”

Here is another excerpt from DCPI 

We want to extend a huge “Thank You” to you as one of the leaders who God has used to make this happen.  Besides the Lord, the people who make up Team DCPI are our greatest asset.  World Zone Leaders, Senior Master Trainers, Master Trainers, and Certified Trainers all working together and giving the time, energy, and passion to equip over 31,000 leaders in 2016!

The fact is, that if these 31,948 leaders that we have trained in 2016 are as productive as the leaders we have trained in the past, there will be over 87,000 churches started all over the world in the next 3 to 5 years.

All I can say is, “WOW!” and “Great job team” … “Great job God!” 

Paul Becker’s Personal Ministry Newsletter

Praise God for the great work of the gospel going forward.

A Resurrection Day Meditation

Garden Tomb Near Golgotha

Matthew 28:11–15 (ESV)

The Report of the Guard

11 While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers 13 and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.

 

WIne Press at the Garden Tomb
Wine Press Near the Garden Tomb

A couple of comments:

  • Be very suspicious of coached witnesses.
  • How could they know it wasn’t Martians who stole the body if they were asleep?
  • Martians stealing the body actually makes about as much sense.
  • The story is so implausible that for almost 2000 years, people who don’t want to believe the facts, have been trying to find alternative explanations.
  • None of them work.
  • Because Jesus is alive! He is risen, just as he said.

Matthew 28:5–7 (ESV)

But the angel said to the women,

“Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold,  . . .”

Hallalujah!
Christ
 is Risen!
He is Risen indeed.

The Brits Love Their Queen

The Young Queen

The Brits love their Queen. They love the idea of monarchy. At least most of them do. Oh some of them complain about the “Royals” and every once in a while they grouse about the cost of the upkeep of the Palace and the royal treasury or the royal landholdings. But for the most part, most Brits love their monarchy and they love the Queen at the top of it. 

When a birthday comes along, or a royal wedding, or the Queen or one of the princes is making an appearance, or a royal something or other happens, the news is abuzz and the crowds appear, and smiles are glowing all around. The Brits have a lot of warm-fuzzy feelings about the Queen.

This is all despite the fact that the Queen is merely the ceremonial head of government. She has no real power.  She has no real authority. But she does, without a doubt, make a majority of her subjects feel good when they think about her.

The QueenAnd why shouldn’t they?

She was lovely when she became Queen in 1953 and she is lovely today at the age of 91. Each year she does those marvelous (and short) Christmas greetings from the Palace and she is really quite remarkable and dignified. She is admired and loved at some level by most Brits. She seems gentle and kind and really, who wouldn’t want to have a chat and a cup of tea with her? I would.

I was reflecting on all of this on my way to a discipleship appointment. I and another young man were going to study a number of Scriptures related to the Church. And I hit upon a question that I thought would be appropriate. (Side issue: I love it when you ask a question that gets people to actually think and delivers to them as they think, the exact answer you want them to get.) We were looking up Scripture on the makeup of the Church, three of them in Colossians that describe Jesus, as the “head of the Church, his body” (Cf. Col. 1:18, 2:10, 19, see also Eph. 1:22, 4:15, 5:23).

Time for my question.

Over coffee at MacDonalds, with our Bibles open, I asked, …

“Can you think of any examples in real life where, the head of a company, or department, or government has no real power?

It took all of two seconds to come up with the answer I wanted to hear.

“The Queen of England.”

“Exactly,” I said.

“Doesn’t that sound almost completely like how most people in most churches treat Christ, the head of the church? They like him. They admire him. They come out for his birthday celebrations (Christmas) and big events in his life (Good Friday and Easter), many will show up semi-regularly at his weekly gatherings but practically, he has no power, no authority in their lives. They don’t pay attention to his word. They don’t sit and talk with him, even though he is far more accessible than the Queen of England.”

Practically, it seems that most professing Christians are just that, professing. Christians at the lips but, seemingly, unbaptized in any other significant area of their lives.

But our King, our monarch, unlike the Queen of England, has real power and authority. He expects to be obeyed. He expects his word to honored. He desires that we live passionately for and like him and so, represent him in the world as His ambassadors.

When do you think the King wants us to start living like he really is our LORD and Savior? 

A Church History Meditation for Holy Week

John 3(16) image (Christ slain for sin)

For a number of years, I have been reading early church history and looking for particular summaries of the gospel. One year I found this beautiful statement of who Jesus is and what He did in Christian History Magazine. May it draw your heart to Christ, as we move closer to Easter.

[The image above was found on the Grace Lutheran Church of Dyer, Indiana website. I don’t know who its creator or what its title is. I think of it as an image of “Christ, slain for the sins of the world.” Distasteful and upsetting as it might be to some,

to those who read the Scripture and believe,
to those who through the quickening work of the Holy Spirit have come to see “that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin” (Hebrews 9:22),
who believe that Christ, the lamb of God who takes away our sins, once and for all time put away the need for blood sacrifices,
……… this picture is a testimony of God’s love and commitment to redeem out of the world all those who place their hope in Him.]

Melito of Sardis
(died c. 190)

Keeper of the Christian calendar

In the late second century, Bishop Polycrates of Ephesus wrote about “Melito the Eunuch” who “lived entirely in the Holy Spirit” and is among “the greatest luminaries who lie at rest in Asia and will rise again on the day of the Lord’s coming.” Melito traveled to Palestine to visit the Holy Places. Virtually nothing else is known of his life.

Melito’s importance lies in the topic of his most popular work, Homily on the Pasch, and in his role in the controversy over the proper date on which to celebrate Easter.

In Melito’s day, some Eastern churches (especially in Asia Minor) followed Jewish custom and celebrated Easter at the same time as Jewish Passover. This “Christian Passover” marked not only the Lord’s resurrection but also his sufferings as the Passover Lamb.

Other churches (e.g., the Roman Christians under Victor) celebrated Easter on the Sunday after Passover, marking the vital importance of the resurrection, which occurred on the first day of the week.

As bishop of Sardis, Melito defended the former position, termed quartodeciman (meaning “fourteenth”). He believed it dated from the apostle John’s stay in Ephesus. Ultimately, however, the Easter Sunday position triumphed. The Council of Nicea (in 325) rejected Quartodeciman practice.

This decision, along with decisions to commemorate Christmas, Epiphany, and Pentecost, as well as days for martyrs, shows the increasing importance of the Christian calendar, a means for Christians to mark sacred time. Melito’s Homily on the Pasch not only shows some of these developments, it is one of the most beautiful meditations ever written on the work of Christ. The word Pasch evoked for early Christians a number of themes: the Jewish Passover, the Passover meal, the lamb sacrificed and eaten at Passover, Holy Week, and Easter—sometimes all at once. In this sermon, the rhythmic prose declares this mystery:

The mystery of the Pasch
is new and old,
eternal and temporal,
corruptible and incorruptible,
mortal and immortal …

Born as Son,
led like a lamb,
sacrificed like a sheep,
buried as a man,
he rises from the dead as God,
being by nature both God and man.

He is all things:
when he judges, he is law,
when he teaches, word,
when he saves, grace,
when he begets, father,
when he is begotten, son,
when he suffers, lamb,
when he is buried, man,
when he arises, God.

Such is Jesus Christ!
To him be glory forever! Amen.
[1]

[1]Christian History: Worship in the Early Church. electronic ed. Carol Stream IL: Christianity Today, 1993; Published in electronic form by Logos Research Systems, 1996.

Palm Sunday Meditation

Palm Sunday ends. It began with a parade. It ends with a whimper.

And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there.

Matthew 21:17

With the last verse of the Palm Sunday text, the heart begins to move toward the cross. Jesus has come to the city 5 days before Passover, sees the city, weeps over the city (Lk 19:41), evaluates her apostasy and blindness (Lk. 19:42-44), and leaves, having pronounced his evaluation of their worship (Mt. 21:13).

The die is cast. Soon He will hang on the cross for those who did not recognize the day the Messiah came to offer Himself as King. Melito of Sardis talks about what will happen next.

Melito of Sardis 

He who hung the earth is hanging.
He who fixed the heavens in place
has been fixed in place.
He who laid the foundations of the universe
has been laid on a tree…[1]

It is Holy Week.

Let your heart be filled with thoughts of Him who died for you, 

…………………….. who died for you,
…………………….. who rose for you,
…………………….. who is coming back for you,
…………………….. and who is coming again to judge the living and the dead.

[1] From Homily on Pascha. written around A.D. 180. Melito was a Jewish Christian.