Archive for May, 2008

Changing The World Where You Are

It is easy to look at the troubles around us and give up.  The problems are so plentiful.  They are so large.  There are so many people smarter than you, smarter than me, working to solve the problems.  What can one person do?  How can I make any difference?  After all, the media does not show up when I speak.  No one quotes me.  No one asks me questions about what I think should be done.  I do not sit at the table with presidents and rulers negotiating solutions.

 

Looking at that world there is little that can be done to make a difference in any world.  That is where we are wrong.  We are wrong in our perspective.  We are called to change the world.  We are called to make a difference.  I recently asked a question on an Internet forum:  “what are you doing to change the world?”

 

I had several responses to the question.  The first response was a person who felt challenged by the question.  They looked at the elephant of changing the world and said it is just too big, I cannot make a difference.  This lady emailed me and asked what she could do.

 

My response was the same to her as it was to the man who thought he would give me some of my own medicine and asked me what I was doing to change the world.  Rather than looking at the big picture and walking away we have to make the problem more manageable.

 

 

We change the world by doing the little things.  It is not only big moments that really change the world—it is small moments that make a difference.  If we believe in karma, and many of us do even if we will not admit it, then making a difference in one life changes the karma of the world in a positive way.

 

If our belief system is beyond karma, grace, then we must believe in bringing grace wherever we are.  How do we do that?  We do that by doing the small things that are before us.  We do that by beginning to change our world, one bite at a time.

 

I am not called to change the world in and of itself.  I am called to live in such a way that my life changes the world of those around me.  A selfless life, something that our founding fathers and other forefathers understood, has become a mystery to this generation.  Everything we see and ultimately do is about me.  How can I make more money?  How can I be happy?  Why do I have problems?

 

We also change the world by changing ourselves.  When we learn to live a selfless life, like the life that was really lived by Jesus, then we will see the world changed.  The only part of the world I am responsible for is the part of the world that is right in front of me.  I am not responsible for peace in the Middle East—I know that is a relief to some of us.

 

I need to learn to change only that which I can change.  Not only that, I need to learn to be satisfied with my role in life.

 

In response to the question, what am I doing to change the world, I must say, some days I am doing a lot and some days I am not doing anything.  I succeed, I fail, but the key is only if I am trying.

 

We can make a difference, even if it is only in that little old lady beside us trying to get up her nerve to cross the street.

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Our European Strategy Begins In Germany

            There are places where we have begun laying out our strategy for Europe as a Continent.  There is no need to do that again here.  Now, it is time to share why Germany is such an integral part of our strategy.

             As one of the most vibrant economies in the world, Germany is an economic leader in Europe.  Furthermore, Germany has long led Europe on religious freedom issues.  After all, it was the Germans who brought us the Reformation. 

             Equally true, Germany has led Europe down dark paths in the past.  We do not need to enumerate those paths here for that is not the purpose.  The purpose is to understand that Germany is a powerful place, both in the natural world and in the supernatural world.

             Since this is true, we have to recognize that we must target Germany for spiritual help.  This help comes in a variety of forms, but must have a spiritual element to it.  We have to work to protect the rights that already exist in Germany.  We must work to bring a spiritual revival to Germany.  A revival that is strong enough to catapult the Church throughout the Continent and beyond.

             There are actions we can take now that will help bring this change.

             There are actions we can take that will keep the door open for the proclamation of the Gospel in Germany.

             At the IHRG we are committed to working to see that pastors, missionaries, and their organizations are free to proclaim their Christian message without fear in Germany and Europe.  We are currently standing with a number of leaders to see that the door is kept open for the proclamation of the Gospel.  That is our task.  It is our purpose!  Our commitment is unwavering in this matter.

             We cannot only fight the battles we know we can win.  We have to fight the battles that matter.  We know that the battle is the Lord’s.  We are only called to fight, the outcome is determined by one greater than us.

             How do we go about keeping the door open for the proclamation of the Gospel in Germany?  There are a number of actions we can take.  We are taking them now and we will continue to take them as we move forward.

 Protecting religious liberties in key cases:  First we must continue to protect religious liberties in key cases in Germany.  This means that we will represent clients like a nondenominational church in Cologne, Germany whose pastors were falsely accused of tax evasion, the Plett and Pauls families who are fighting at the European Court of Human Rights for the right to determine the education of their children, the Robinson family who are Americans being denied a residence visa in Germany because they are homeschooling, and battling a new federal law that makes it easier for German government officials to take children from their parents.

 Public awareness to persecution and discrimination issues in Germany and Europe:  In addition to the legal battle, we must also continue to bring public awareness to the west through the media, particularly Christian media so that Christians in America and around the world can knowledgeably pray for their brothers and sisters suffering persecution in Germany.  While this might seem like a minor piece of the puzzle it is actually one of the most important factors.  Ignorance and silence are letting the secular leaders of Germany and Europe persecute and discriminate against Christians without recourse.

 Provide support for pastors[1] and missionaries: Another important component of our strategy is to work with pastors and missionaries to provide support in their ministries.  Many of these men and women have a great calling, but little knowledge in critical matters like the legal operations of religious institutions in Germany.  We have represented churches that have had problems because they were not properly organized based on the laws of the host country.  Many of these pastors simple assume the laws are the same and they set up their corporate structure according to American standards.  We are helping ministries function according to proper governing principles within the guidelines of European regulations.

 Visa help:  We will continue to do everything we can to raise awareness in the States of the proper procedure for missionaries to immigrate to Germany.  Some of the problems we are currently seeing are problems of improperly filing documents through a lack of understanding of the system.  Immigration is a complicated area of the law and many missionaries in Europe and in America preparing to go to Germany need help preparing the proper documentation.

 Provide support and training for Christian lawyers:  We currently work with a number of Christian lawyers in Germany.  As we identify them we will work with a larger group and help them understand how to use the law to protect religious freedom throughout Germany.  Part of the benefit of our relationship is to help these attorneys better understand the approach used by the Christian legal community in America to bring change through the use of the courts and the media.  We are able to coach and educate lawyers and then help them formulate key winning arguments in strategic cases in Germany.  We also help them understand the value of standing firm in the face of opposition, including the loss of cases where they need to continue to fight rather than giving up.  In the past, Christians in these socialist democracies have not understood how to challenge their government’s programs properly.  We spend a lot of time working with them on the value of properly administrated civil disobedience.

 Work to bring positive pressure on the political systems, country by country and European Union wide:  We also work within the political system to bring change.  Sometimes this takes the form of private negotiations with political leaders in local, national, or international Parliaments.  These negotiations include bypassing the penalties imposed by wayward government officials, including keeping homeschooled children from being taken away from their parents by the Youth Welfare Office and having fines waived when they have been improperly levied against Christian for matters of religious freedom.  We also work with legislatures to oppose laws or to support laws that affect religious liberties within Europe.  This work is intentionally broader than Germany because the nature of the European Union is that the larger bodies have greater effect on the local governments.

 Encouraging and empowering our clients:  Like any legal organization we spend a lot of time encouraging and empowering our clients.  Germany is hard on Christians, both native Europeans and foreigners alike.  We work with our clients to make sure they understand not only how the law effects them personally, but also how our work and their case effects the bigger picture of bringing change to Germany.  We also use our media contacts to encourage them that Christians around the world and particularly in America know what is happening to them and are praying for them.

 Planting churches and supporting networks of churches:  Our newest strategic initiative is the planting of churches in key cities within the Germany.  Until now we have worked on the triage areas of European religious liberties.  Now, we are committing time, energy, and resources to working on the problem at its root.  This means planting life-giving churches that will bring change to the heart and spiritual core of Europe, thus resolving some of the religious oppression that occurs in Europe.  To do this we have already begun to work with locals and with Americans to determine what are strategic cities within Germany, provide support for the churches and the teams that come to plant the churches, help them properly enter the country and set up their ministries legally, and other issues that are involved in planting a new work anywhere.  Additionally, we provide emotion and spiritual support to these churches through personal oversight and guidance, providing them with a network of help rather than leaving them alone to find their way.  Ultimately this will also include connecting these churches within Europe so that there is a local support network in addition to the international network.

             We will also work so that the second generation of churches planted in Europe is actually European churches with local pastors rather than American churches.

             We believe that this strategy, though time consuming, is the tested method for protecting religious freedom in America.  It has also worked to keep open avenues for the proclamation of the Gospel and helped to change the spiritual climate in America.

             There will be some adaptation needed as we continue to work in Germany.  There will need to be changes from north to south—even from the Catholic to the Luther areas of Germany.  We are prepared to adapt, learn, and change as the cultural situation calls for change while remaining true to the essentials of the Christian message and helping the helpless find justice.

 


[1] We have a domestic church rights project that provides legal advice, protects churches and pastors, provides advice on media campaigns, and a variety of other helps that is available to pastors in Europe.

IHRG at Athens 2004, Summer Games Past

We have attorneys working with us who have been working to protect religious freedom at major sporting events since the Atlanta Games in 1996.  As a result, we have helped on the ground at the Atlanta Games, the Athens Games, and the World Cup in Germany.  We have worked directly with those participating in the outreach or protecting missionaries at the Melbourne Games, the Salt Lake City Games, the Torino Games, the World Cup of Cricket, the World Cup of Rugby, and other events like the Super Bowl.

 

In the Summer Games of 2006 the Olympics returned to their origin.  Athens was alive with the thrill of hosting the Games again.  The city was virtually rebuilt.  The atmosphere was charged as the Games approach.  Before the Games began I was able to meet with a key leader of the Arch Bishop of Greece’s staff discussing the work that would happen during the course of the Games.  There was great concern on a both sides.  The Greek Orthodox Church has a monopoly on Christianity and really religion in all of Greece.  Evangelicals number only a couple of thousand adherents in all of Greece.  On the other side, there was a fear that evangelicals participating in outreach designed to convert Greeks and outsiders to evangelical Christianity would be threatened with arrest or arrested during their outreach.

 

Our job was simple; we did everything we could before the Games to show the government authorities, who are church authorities in Greece, that these missionaries had legal rights that must be respected no matter what.  It appears we were successful.

 

With this having been done, I went to Greece to monitor events with a local attorney who works with the IHRG, Vassilios Tsirbas.  I first met Vassilios when I was working in Strasbourg, France.  We have been friends since then, 1999.

 

While on the ground in Athens Vassilios and I met with missionaries before they began outreach to discuss what they could expect on the streets of Athens.  We met with missionaries after they had been on the street to discuss issues that were arising during the course of their outreach.  One of the issues that arose was street musicians were being told they could not use amplification on the streets.  While this went beyond the authority of the police we counseled the missionaries to work without the amplifiers to avoid problems.  They continued to minister on the streets with music without further problems.

 

Another day we were preparing to go into Athens when we got a phone call through our hotline.  Two missionaries handing out pamphlets were approached by police in downtown Athens and told that if they did not have a permit to hand out literature they would be arrested.  Within an hour Vassilios and I were talking to the missionaries.  After learning exactly what they had been told we began hunting for the officers who had threatened the missionaries.

 

Vassilios was absolutely fearless as he approached every police officer and security officer in the area.  He would approach the officers and ask if they were the officers who had threatened to violate the rights of Christian missionaries.  The police officers kept pointing us to others.  After about an hour of questioning every officer we found Vassilios turned to me.  “Let’s go to the precinct house and talk to the boss.”  It sounded like a good idea to me.

 

We went into the police office and took the elevator to the third floor where the bosses worked.  As we stepped off the elevator and looked around we saw a small crowd of police standing in a door way.  Before we could move out of the elevator the Captain called to us.

 

“I have heard that you were looking for the officers who threatened to arrest the people on the street.  I have already taken care of the situation.  The officers are off the street.  They have been suspended without pay for three days.  You will not have any other problems.”

 

Quickly, Vassilios stepped up.  “Ma’am, we are not looking to punish the officers.  Please do not take their pay.  We only want to make sure that our clients are permitted to participate in activities that are protected by the European Convention on Human Rights and the laws of Greece.”

 

We left the station and reported the good news to the missionaries who immediately went back to sharing the faith on the streets of Athens.

 

There was a lot of good outreach that went on in Athens.  And there is no doubt that because we were there the missionaries were able to do their work without the being arrested.

URGENT! American and Norwegian Evangelists Arrested For Sharing The Gospel in Oslo, Norway

I want to get the word to as many of you as possible.  We have a case that is breaking in Oslo, Norway.

I have just gotten off the phone with Petar Keseljevic and Larry Keefer who were arrested this past weekend in Oslo for sharing their faith in public places in Oslo. They were not even preaching.

On May 17 of this year an American evangelist, Larry Keefer from Tampa, Florida, and Norwegian evangelist, Petar Keseljevic were arrested for sharing the Gospel along a parade route in Oslo, Norway.  The 17th was a national holiday celebrating the King’s birthday.  Larry and Petar were standing in pedestrian areas behind the crowds gathering for the celebration holding an evangelical sign and sharing the Gospel with those who were gathered for the parade. 

The police asked them to move away from the Palace of the King and take their message anywhere else along the route.  They moved and were then approached by other police officers.  Larry was never told that he would be arrested if he did not leave.  One of the officers talked with Petar in Norwegian for a few minutes and then arrested them both.

These two men were not even preaching.  Petar was holding a sign on a tall post and both men were conversing with the crowd.  They were not using a bullhorn and their message was one of the need to be born again.  Several people cursed them and one person cursed America since one of the men was American.

They were taken to the police station and held for nearly four hours before being released. They were charged with failure to obey the police, a catch all type of law.Please pray for these men and our team as we work with local Norwegian attorneys to protect their rights in court.

Also, consider getting this word to all of your firends. And pray about supporting our work as we prepare for this hearing in Norway. Oslo is one of the most expensive cities in the world.

There is a video tape of the entire event from beginning to after the arrest, including footage from inside the police vehicle after the arrest.
We are working with Norwegian attorneys to represent Petar and Larry in this matter.  Should it become necessary we are prepared to take this case all the way to the European Court of Human Rights to protect the right of Christians to non disruptively share their faith in public in Europe.
The IHRG is currently representing Petar on an application to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France regarding his arrest last year in June for failing to obey a police order.  The order was to stop sharing his faith and leave the area—even though Norwegian law and European law support Petar’s right to share his faith in public without hindrance.

We filed an application with the Court in March on Petar’s behalf.

The International Human Rights Group at Germany 2006 and What That Means for 2008 and Beyond

I was not prepared for what I saw in Germany during the 2006 World Cup outreach.  I have been to Olympic outreaches in Atlanta and Athens.  I have helped missionaries at Olympic outreaches in Salt Lake City, Sidney, Torino.  I have helped missionaries at major sporting events in the US and beyond.

 

I thought I had seen what these outreaches were all about.  I have seen big screen televisions projecting both sporting events and Christian ministry.  I have seen concerts in public plazas.  I have seen individual outreach going on throughout the cities where these events occurred.

 

So naturally, when David and I flew into Germany I thought I would see more of the same.  Don’t get me wrong; more of the same is quite impressive—and more important than that, these outreaches are extremely effective.  Local mission leaders help link up those who respond to the Gospel message and local churches who are prepared to disciple these folks.  This means that those who respond to the Gospel message are not left to find their own way.  They are given the opportunity to grow into mature Christians within a local Church community.

 

I was shocked when we arrived in the small German town of Altenkirchen of some 6,700 souls.  Altenkirchen is about thirty or forty minutes from Cologne.  You can walk from one end of town to the other in a little over fifteen minutes.  This was the headquarters for Kickoff 2006.  I thought this would be a place where no outreach occurred.

 

Yet, as we were getting over our jetlag David and I walked through town.  In the center square of the city we found a pavilion that had been set up to house outreach during the entire month long World Cup Soccer Tournament.  This pavilion had an area where missionaries could purchase t-shirts and caps and other tools for outreach.  The far right corner of the pavilion had a small grill and drink area where people coming in to watch the games on the huge screen television could purchase snacks, sausages and drinks to unknowingly support the outreach they were partaking in.  While all this was going on the soccer games were being broadcast live on the largest television screen in the city.

 

During halftime, instead of running the secular halftime show, a national Christian station had lent its studio to produce a live Christian halftime program complete with an accounting of what we believe.  I watched as hundreds of people in this village in Germany were ministered to at a time when they were more than willing to sit and listen.

 

What a remarkable moment this was!

 

That is not the end of the story, however.  The outreach at the pavilion was only the beginning.  As we walked through town over the next week David and I found outreach going on in the public park just down from the pavilion.  In a separate area of Altenkirchen the outreach team had set up a small portable enclosed soccer field.  Here they were having a three on three soccer tournament.  This outreach was so dynamic that the local schools had a field day where the local school children were brought during school hours to participate in the festivities. 

 

During the soccer tournament there was a parade of Christian missionaries who played Christian music and danced and waved flags celebrating Christianity.  At the same time there was a clown who was making animal balloons.  There was a kicking contest and a variety of other events going on simultaneously around this square.

 

It was a remarkable outreach in this small town.

 

I began asking questions and learned that these types of outreaches were going on all around Germany.  Outreaches were being set up and participated in that would reach the people who were coming from around the world to attend the world’s largest soccer tournament. 

 

I had the chance to see further outreaches in cities like Stuttgart and Cologne.  In these larger cities the outreach was broader.  People were distributing literature on the streets, they were preaching to those in public places around these cities.  Literally thousands of people were being ministered to by missionaries who were so passionate about their opportunity to reach the world while the world was in Germany.

 

We were there because a part of what we do is monitor these events to make sure that missionaries were able to present the Gospel without threat of arrest. 

 

I am happy to say that because of the great work of groups that prepare the missionaries and our work to educate the organizers of the event as to the rights of Christians to share their faith in public places.

 

These types of outreach inspire me.  The creativity that goes into putting together outreach that can attract the attention of people who are coming to an incredibly dynamic sporting event is more than I can imagine.

 

I admire the workers and the work that goes into making these outreaches successful.  For one thing, the expense is greater because hotels and local restaurants often jack up their prices in anticipation of the huge crowds of tourists that will come to the event.  And many of the people who come to share at these events are taking their vacation time to come share their faith.  They are not going to the beach.  They are not headed to the mountains.  They are vacationing with purpose.

 

We will take the expertise we continue to gain at these events and refine our abilities.  We are committed to standing with these men and women who are giving everything to minister to those who are lost and dying in this world.

 

We will be there for them—after all, they are there for us and they are there for Him.

The IHRG at Major Sporting Events

I think it is important for us to explain what we do at major sporting events around the world—events like the Olympic Games and World Cup Soccer Tournaments.  These events attract tens or even hundreds of thousands of visitors who are perfectly willing to have conversations with people from other cultures about a variety of topics, including religious belief.  These events are an ideal place for Christian missionaries to share their faith.

 

The only problem with these events is that often overzealous government officials, both local and national, attempt to stop the exercise of free speech rights in public places.  That is where the IHRG comes into these events.

 

We have a complete program that works to stop problems before they happen.  This program is has been tested live at a number of major sporting events.  At the same time, we are on the ground during the events to make sure that problems that arise at the last minute are taken care of quickly so that ministry is not stopped or hindered.

 

Our program is simple; we begin with written legal documents that explain the law to government officials and organizing committees on the ground in nations where these events are taking place.  Our letter methodically lays out the law regarding freedom of speech in public places.  It shows the longstanding right to share your faith in public places.

 

We also work with missionaries, mission organizations, and ministry leaders to educate the men and women who will be on the street sharing their faith.  We help them understand how to interact with police officers and other government officials to avoid being arrested or run off the streets.

 

We also are on the ground during these key events to quickly resolve any problems that occur early in the events.  Our experience, as far back as Atlanta 1996, is that when we are there we can resolve problems instantly and keep missionaries on the street sharing their faith without threat of arrest or other harassments.

 

These outreaches are incredible to watch.  They include everything from one-on-one evangelism as simple as handing out Christian literature to mass outreaches at concerts drawing thousands of people into a public square where they hear the Gospel presented clearly in the local language and English.  They include rebroadcast of the games with Christian discussions during intermissions, through local Christian television.

 

These events include soccer tournaments that double as Christian outreach in local communities throughout the country hosting the events.  These tournaments are participated in by students from the local schools.

 

All of this works to provide a great outreach throughout the country hosting the major sporting event.  And we are in the middle of this protecting the overall rights of those who are performing the outreach to make sure they are able to exercise their rights.

 

We believe these outreaches are critical to the furthering of the Kingdom of God and we are honored to participate in them as legal counsel for religious freedom.

 

The Illusion of Success, Part III

So, good works should not be judged as impotent.  While they cannot save a man, they are important to the balance of the world.  Evil men who do good are at least not doing evil for the time they are doing good.  Still, we have to look into the motivations of the heart.  I know ministers who preach the Gospel and many are lead to Jesus, yet their lives are bankrupt.  I know men and women who have huge television ministries, but their lives are empty.  They preach to billions of people, but their own families and friends cannot find the Gospel in their lives.  They live like the unsaved.  They commit adultery.  They are drug addicts.  They are alcoholics.  They are consumed with greed.  They have masters other than God.  They are filled with pride.  In spite of all of these things, men and women worship them and are lead to worship through them.  Does this mean that their ministries are useless—without worth to the kingdom of God?  Of course not! 

 

Denny Nissley is a good friend of mine who has a great ministry, preaching to street people and the hopeless around the world.  He also goes into disaster areas and feeds the hungry.  God redeemed him from the street and he has never forgotten the pit he was raised in—and delivered from by the grace of God.  Everyday he is grateful to God for the chance to change peoples’ lives.  He brings drug addicts into his home so that they can find hope and freedom from the bondage that has brought them down and destroyed their lives, ultimately separating them from God and His kingdom.  Recently, Denny published a book about his life and ministry.  It is packed with stories of God’s deliverance in troubled timesBGod’s faithfulness to man in all situations.  The other day Denny was speaking with the president of a large publishing house that had just purchased the small Christian publishing house that published Denny’s book.  The president admitted that he was a Christian whose life paled in light of the ministry God has given to Denny.  In the course of their conversation there was a general discussion of the need for books like Denny’sBbooks that look at the lives of living saints who are making their lives count for the kingdom of God.  “Why” he asked Denny, “is there not a series on modern saints like yourself?  Saints who are making a difference in the world with their lives?”

 

You and I might have been taken back by this sort of question from the head of a huge secular publish house.  Not Denny, of course, the difference between you, me, and Denny is that he lives most every moment looking for a way to tell whoever he is talking to about Jesus.  Denny laughed, “It is really simple.  The problem is that I am still alive and most publishers are afraid that if they write about my life while I am alive I will then run off and divorce my wife and disgrace the kingdom and God.”  Denny did not stop there, however, and here is where his moment with the publisher became relevant to this discussion.  “Does my failure to live up to the standards of God’s law make the work of the Lord irrelevant in the lives of those people I touched?  NO!”  This is the truth.  It might not make sense in light of the discussion we are having on the true motivation of the heart of a man.  What we have to see is that it does not matter what the judgment of man is concerning the ministry of another man.  What matters is the judgment of God.  We can look into the New Testament to see how Jesus viewed this.  It might rattle our theology a little bit, but any close study of the life of Jesus will do that to a man.  Jesus seemed to spend a good bit of his time destroying the judgments of man as to the reality of God.  He did not wash His hands before eating, flying in the face of the law He was supposed to fulfill.  (Matthew 15.2.)  He did not associate with the proper people.   In fact, He spent most of His time with men and women of questionable character at best.  He was the best friend an outcast person ever met.  One of the most telling moments of Jesus ministry was just before His death when His disciples complained that there was a man preaching the Gospel who was not a member of their click of twelve.  Jesus was not moved by their consternation, however.  He simple said anyone who is not against us is for us.  (Mark 9.40.)  Paul expressed the same sentiment when he proclaimed that it did not matter what a man’s motives were, it only matter that the Gospel of Jesus Christ was preached.


Books Worth Reading

C.S. LEWIS--Mere Christianity; CLAIRE BERLINSKI--Menace in Europe: Why the Continent's Crisis is America's Crisis, Too; BRUCE BAWER--While Europe Slept: How Radical islam is Destroying the West from Within; DAVID LEVERING LEWIS--God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215; THOMAS SCHIRRMACHER--The Persecution of Christians Concerns Us All; PHILIP JENKINS--God's Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe's Religious Crisis

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