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No Pardons for Thousands of North Korean Prisoners

Today U.S. journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling returned home to their friends and family in an emotional reunion after North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il issued a special pardon. Their return came after former U.S. President Bill Clinton made an unannounced visit to Pyongyang to help secure their release.

Ling and Lee had been found guilty of allegedly entering North Korea illegally across the Chinese border in March and later sentenced to 12 years of hard labor. They reportedly were being held at a “guest house” during their confinement.

The North Korean News Agency said the two reporters’ pardon and release was a sign of North Korea’s “humanitarian and peace-loving policy.”

That might be the case in this instance, but let’s look at the facts:

· North Korea is suspected of detaining more political and religious prisoners than any other country in the world. Open Doors, an international Christian organization which supports persecuted believers (www.OpenDoorsUSA.org), puts the number of prisoners at least 200,000, including 40,000 to 60,000 Christians.

· North Koreans can be imprisoned for virtually any state-defined crime such as owning a Bible, making a negative comment about the regime, failing to have a picture of Kim Il-Sung in their house and traveling to China to look for food and freedom.

· KimJong-Il’s government keeps its citizens in its grip through systematic use of torture, public and private executions, brutal imprisonment, lack of due process of law, starvation and even forced abortions.

· North Korea has been known to arrest not only the suspected dissident but also three generations of his/her family to “root out” the bad influence.

· This year North Korea was re-designated by the U.S. State Department as one of eight “Countries of Particular Concern” for its severe religious freedom violations. The Open Doors World Watch List of the worst persecutors of Christians has ranked the hermit country as the worst offender of religious freedom for seven years in a row.

The Associated Press reported last month that North Korea publicly executed a Christian woman for distributing Bibles, based on information it received from South Korean activists. Ri Hyon Ok, 33, was also accused of spying for South Korea and the United States and organizing dissidents, according to the Associated Press. She was executed in the northwestern city of Ryongchon near the border with China on June 16, according to a report from an alliance of several dozen anti-North Korean groups.

Ri's parents, husband and three children were sent to a political prison camp in the northeastern city of Hoeryong the following day, according to the report, citing unidentified documents it said were obtained from North Korea.

This is the shocking reality of what takes place inside this communist country where there is no basic human rights. One colleague of mine who has traveled to North Korea described North Korea “as an on-going nightmare.”

It surely was a nightmare for Kim Young Soon, a special witness during North Korea Freedom Week in April before a group of Congressmen in Washington, D.C. The North Korean refugee is one of the few survivors of the infamous Yodok political prison camp. She was thrown into prison for nine years on a trumped up charge of divulging a secret about Kim Jong-Il’s marriage. Her parents and four children were also imprisoned. In the Yodok prison camp, her parents died of malnutrition, an eldest son drowned. Her husband was shot to death in 1970 while attempting to cross the border to escape from North Korea.  Mrs. Kim’s youngest son was arrested in 1988 while attempting to cross the border and was put in prison for four years. He was executed in 1993 by a firing squad because he tried to escape from North Korea again. Mrs. Kim escaped from North Korea and resettled in South Korea.  She has made it her life’s mission to expose the cruelty and truth about the prison camps in North Korea.

 

She testified: “I entered prison camp No. 15 at Yodok. I spent nine years there; treated like an animal. What made me feel most mortified was the fact that my father, mother, daughter and three sons, who were innocent of any crime, were also sent to Yodok, all because of me.

 

“We were forced to engage in heavy labor day and night. On August 5, 1971, I lost my father. I had to wrap his body in a straw mat since there were no coffins in Yodok. Before long, my mother also died of malnutrition. Unbearable sadness cut my heart to pieces.

 

 

“Still with tears in my eyes, I was struck by another painful accident when my eldest son drowned. I was nearly mad with grief. Yodok was really a hell to me. I cried to God asking that He might burn them all to death in Yodok with lightning.

 

 

“Every mountain and field in Yodok was covered with dead bodies because of malnutrition and hunger. In 1973, two detainees were killed by public execution at a place between Sector 3 and 4 on charges of trying to escape from prison. Countless numbers of detainees were killed by public execution and torture. Due to malnutrition and hunger, little children withered to death with their stomachs swollen. Adult people were looking everywhere for young rats which they believed to be a kind of medicine to save their children. And they literally ate up all the snakes in Yodok to avoid painful death from malnutrition.”

 

 

Yes, we should rejoice for Ling and Lee. They now have complete freedom in the United States.

 

But please join me in praying and advocating for those who have not received pardons; for those languishing in the “hell” that is North Korea.

 

Jerry Dykstra is the media relations director with Open Doors USA. read more

Needed: A New Reformation in the Church

I recently attended Sunday services at an impressive 19th-century church in London. In a building with seating for 3,000 in ornate pews, a handful of elderly people sat there … in chairs set up in the foyer.

The service, held in a vibrant city full of millions of people, reminded me of a funeral. Not the funeral of a person – the funeral of a once-great institution. In the past 40 years, 1600 churches in England, with hundreds of years of ministry behind them, have shut their doors, according to an architectural preservation group called the Victorian Society. read more

Is Michael Jackson in Heaven?

What is it about him?

I was 13 years old and somehow convinced my dad, an avid Frank Sinatra fan, to play "Off The Wall" while driving to my uncle's house. He reluctantly agreed. For me, it was the coolest 45-minute road trip and probably the most painful for him. Little did I know that the young voice I heard on the eight-track tape player would eventually become the subject of worldwide praise.

Thirty years later, I find myself talking to people every day who look for ways to move past the things that hold them back. Michael Jackson was an expert at breaking barriers. He was extraordinarily talented and accomplished things that most only dream about. He had the best-selling album of all time. He was one of the highest paid entertainers in history, pulling in over $750 million and giving more money to charities than any other celebrity. He arguably changed the way the world dances. read more

Postmodern World

Postmodern World

An Internet search of the term “postmodernism” will reveal, among many things, an advertisement from an online book distributor stating, “Millions of titles, new and used!” Obviously an enormous amount has been written on the topic. Webster defines “postmodernism” as: “Of, relating to, or being of an era after a modern one, or being any of various movements in reaction to modernism typically characterized by a return to traditional materials and forms, or being a theory that involves radical reappraisal of modern assumptions about culture, identity, history, or language.” read more

Wayne Jacobson

The Fatherless Epidemic



If you have a dad who loves you well, celebrate him with joy this Father’s Day.   But keep in mind that outside of Norman Rockwell’s America, Father’s Day can be a source of great pain.




Many children today don’t live with their biological father. According to fathersforlife.org, the figure approaches 40 percent nationally and is almost double that in the inner city. Add to that those who simply have a strained relationship with their father over some disappointed expectation, and the pain multiplies greatly.  I know many people who find these Hallmark days painful for the love they lacked because a father was absent, or even abusive.

The fallout from absent fathers has been well-documented.  Eight-five percent  of children with behavioral disorders come from fatherless homes, as do 90 percent of homeless children, 71 percent of dropouts and 63 percent of suicides.  It seems we were made for the love of a father, and the pain of not having one has dire consequences.

That was driven home to me one day when I had jury duty.  A 23-year-old woman I’d never met walked down a row of empty chairs to sit in the one right next to me in the assembly room.  I greeted her briefly, curious why she’d chosen to sit next to me.

Moments later, she grabbed me around the arm and her eyes filled with tears.  “I think my dad hates me,” she said through her sniffles, choking back the sob that hung in her throat.  Then she detailed the fight they’d had the night before.  Her dad was upset about the provocative way she often dressed, and she was certain he had no respect for her choices.

I walked her back through the conversation, a surrogate dad who suggested that her father’s fears were less about judging her than they were trying to protect her from men with less than honorable intentions.




“So you think my dad doesn’t hate me?” she asked at the end.


“I have no idea.  He’s your dad, but I would be surprised if he didn’t love you very much.”

She smiled and assured me she’d go by his house that evening and talk with her dad.  Dads are too precious to throw away over a misunderstanding.  Suddenly her name was called for jury duty and she stood to leave.  On a whim I grabbed her hand.  “Nicole, can I ask how things are with your heavenly dad?”




Her twisted face told me my question had confused her.   A moment passed.  “Do you mean God?”




I nodded.  “I grew up in church,” she said.  “I hate him.”




Not all are so honest who have been so disillusioned.  Unfortunately, religion often teaches us about a God who is an angry judge, rather than the loving Father Jesus told us he was. In one of his most beloved stories, The Parable of the Prodigal, he told about a son lost in his own selfishness and the affection of a father that waited for him to come home.  This Father was truly like no other any of us have ever known, regardless of how abusive or how great our earthly fathers might have been.




I smiled as I looked back at Nicole, and whispered to her as if sharing the most incredible of secrets:  “As wrong as you might be about your earthly dad, I can tell you you’re dead wrong about your heavenly one.”




Her eyes lit up.  “What do you mean?”




“Nicole, you have a father who loves you more than anyone on this planet ever has or ever will.”




The hope that we all have a father who knows us completely but loves us extravagantly is all but lost in our day.  It might be time to uncover it again.



Wayne Jacobsen is the author of He Loves Me:  Learning to Live in the Father’s Affection. read more

What Are We Celebrating?

President Barack Obama just issued a proclamation declaring June as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month. Of course, his declaration poses a problem for most Christians, but his words raise some ideas worth pondering.

In his public statement, Obama said: "LGBT Americans have made, and continue to make, great and lasting contributions that continue to strengthen the fabric of American society. There are many well-respected LGBT leaders in all professional fields, including the arts and business communities." read more

Prop. 8 Traumatic Stress Disorder

The verdict is in. The California Supreme Court has ruled and the voter's voice on marriage has been preserved, at least, for the moment. I must confess, though, that while I'm relieved, I'm a bit fatigued. Watching Miss USA contender Carrie Prejean assaulted for stating her views on marriage has been brutal. Hearing actor Sean Penn admonish supporters of the California law, Proposition 8, at this year's Academy Awards ceremony to "sit and reflect and anticipate their great shame and the shame in their grandchildren's eyes" was ugly. Reading about how Proposition 8 opponents were circulating Google maps detailing the locations of Proposition 8 supporters' homes to harass them was insidious.

I'm sure I'm not alone. Many Christians may be hesitant, if not completely resistant, to engage the culture on issues that contradict their values and beliefs the next time around. But we must ask ourselves - as the church, what should our response be? The answer for me comes in looking back at how the early church responded to similar opposition. They were committed to stand for what they knew to be truth, even if it meant the ultimate sacrifice. Many were sent to their death in the jaws of wild beasts in front of a coliseum of eager spectators. Today rather than facing the lions, the church now faces the merciless jaws of litigation. Instead of an audience of robed spectators, there is now a virtual coliseum of media correspondents, magazines and talk shows ready to voice their particular perspective on the events. The attitude against the church is the same but the venue for persecution has been modernized. As a result many churches have gone underground on this issue of homosexuality and are fearful to engage the topic at any level. Some believe there is too much to risk and besides; gay marriage will eventually be federally legalized so why fight it?

But wait a minute. Who is the real victim in this scenario? Is it really the church?

The interesting thing about fear is that it desensitizes us to the needs of others by causing us to be preoccupied with our own concerns. When the church does not respond because of fear, others fall victim in this tragic truth war. What about the people that are looking for an alternative to unwanted homosexual struggles? What answers will they find? Will the only message they hear be one that directly opposes God's divine plan and creation?

I remember growing up in the church in the 1980s while struggling with unwanted same-sex attractions. At times, I have wondered what course I would have taken had I grown up in today's culture. There are so many options that appear to be based on truth and love that were not available 20 years ago. Would I have taken the same road or would I have chosen a path that was more harmonious with my proclivities? I would like to think I would be where I am today, but I have my doubts considering the growing, fearful silence of so many within the church.

Consider the men and women that may never know the merciful truth of Christ because we have allowed ourselves to become intimidated by those who oppose this truth. Are we communicating to these men and women that they are not worth the risk? Perhaps it is not the church that is in the coliseum, but rather those who have been blinded to the false promises of gay ideology. They are being sacrificed to a culture that methodically destroys God's intended design for gender and sexuality. The spectators are not the activists, politicians, or media, but rather the church as it sits in deafening silence, fearful that if they speak out, the culture will turn on them.

We must not shrink back in silent terror. If fear dictates our response, many will be lost. More than ever, we need to be a voice of truth in a compromised culture. So many men, women and children are in need of a redemptive message on homosexuality. The life-giving power and love of God cannot be contained by a cultural gag order or even by legal mandate. It is the church's high calling to proclaim it to those who need to hear it no matter what the cost may be. Jesus considered us worth it. May we follow His example as we press past our fatigue.

Jeff Buchanan is a pastor and the Director of the Exodus Church Association (www.exoduschurchassociation.org), a national network of more than 120 churches helping those dealing with same-sex attraction to live a life that reflects the Christian faith. read more

Meredith Grady

Making Sense About Saving the Earth

I made a collage for a boyfriend once. Silly, I know. I spent hours pinning little bows, buttons, kissy-pictures and other embarrassing items on a large piece of misshapen cardboard. It was Valentine's Day or some anniversary (or a Tuesday), and I thought a creative, thoughtful expression to be thoroughly appropriate.

After adding paint, song lyrics, and probably more kissy-pictures, I presented my work of art to him with enthusiasm. He seemed appreciative enough at first, spouting phrases like, "Oh, I love that picture" and "Excellent color scheme!" I assumed this meant he was going to take care of my masterpiece forever and ever.

How surprising it was, then, to find it on his floor months later, next to CDs and socks. No amount of initial marveling could make up for mistreatment later. His casual disregard of my efforts felt more like direct disrespect toward me.

I've heard Christians blabber on about how beautiful mountains and oceans are, about how much they enjoy nature - yet they make no real effort to actually take care of it.  (And does hunting really qualify as nature-appreciation?) The problem with pollution and deforestation isn't just that it hurts creation, but that it disrespects the Creator. How you treat the creation reflects how you feel about the Creator.

This is why the aforementioned boyfriend and I eventually broke up. (It wasn't only because of his misplacement of my arts and crafts project, but you get the idea.) There were some serious respect issues between us, and they influenced the relationship's demise. Now, God isn't going to "break up" with the Church over the environment. I think it's safe to say, though, there are respect issues that could hinder the relationship.

Many Christians presume "going green" means you have to start voting Democrat and dressing entirely in hemp - that somehow being an environmentalist means putting humans second, as if it really were a choice between hating trees or hating babies. This is pretty idiotic, because last time I checked, people live on Earth. When we protect the environment, we're protecting people. Oil spills and over-farming won't just hurt sea  otters and soil. They will hurt us.

Going green is about loving and respecting the Creator and our neighbors. (This was the idea behind that "Greatest Commandment" in Mark 12:29-31.) So, do some research. Recycle. Raise awareness. Conserve water and electricity. Carpool. Buy organic. Trendy, leftist activities they may be, they can also be acts of worship - steps that prevent the Earth from becoming a dump (and possibly prevent God from wanting to dump us).

 

Meredith Grady is a senior at Emmanuel College in Franklin Springs, Georgia. She is also (surprise!) the daughter of Charisma editor J. Lee Grady. read more

Chad Thompson

Love Homosexuals as Jesus Would

In September 2005, the Lord sent a team of ministers, led by Jesse Engle, to San Francisco, California. Their calling was to "cry for mercy on behalf of San Francisco and for deliverance of the homosexuality community." The Justice House of Prayer in San Francisco (JHOPSF) has been fulfilling this call for three years now. However, the passing of Proposition 8 has significantly heightened the amount of hostility they must face as they attempt to share the love of Jesus with the gay community in Northern California.

Last November, while ministering in the Castro District of San Francisco, Jesse's group experienced persecution so intense that it took about 20 police officers to control the mob of approximately 200 angry homosexuals attempting to harm them. For those who haven't heard, Proposition 8 was a ballot that recently passed in California, changing the state's Constitution to define marriage as being only between a man and woman. read more

Fine Line Book

New Study Shows Greater Ambivalence to Christianity

Although twice as many Americans say they have no faith compared to 1990 there's a new hope on the horizon.

Are Americans becoming disillusioned by religion?

According to a new study, detailed in the new American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), released last week, traditional religion is playing less of a role in American life. More people are opting for non-religious weddings and funerals (30 and 27 percent respectively).

In just 18 years, the swing is significant, revealing that despite nearly 50 million adults added to the U.S. population by growth and immigration, almost all religious denominations have lost ground since the first ARIS survey in 1990.

Most significant-the percentage of Christians in the nation has declined, more than 11 percent in a generation. According to Cathy Lynn Grossman of USA TODAY, "the faithful have scattered out of their traditional bases: the Bible Belt is less Baptist ... the Rust Belt is less Catholic ... and everywhere, more people are exploring spiritual frontiers - or falling off the faith map completely."

In fact, the number of people who say they have "no religion" has nearly doubled in the same time (8.2 percent in 1990 to 15 percent today).

This dilemma largely stems from how people perceive Christianity in the U.S. Unfortunately most people are only exposed to two types of Christians-Separatists and Conformists and neither option is very compelling.

In The Fine Line, published by Zondervan, I address these recent trends by exposing the two irrelevant camps of Christians fueling this disillusionment.

The first camp-the Separatists-are anti-everybody, anti-everything, and they retreat from culture. Their excessive rules are an attempt to escape the world. Those who lean toward the Separatist camp are guilty of certain characteristics. Three of the most common are that they allow: rules to replace relationships, microscopes to replace mirrors, and performance to replace passion.

Rules and Relationships: Rules give them the illusion of control. They allow Separatists to hide their hearts safely behind their lists of do's and don'ts. By embracing ritualistic rules they inevitably forfeit a vibrant relationship with God. 

Microscopes and Mirrors: Microscopes magnify the image of small objects. When used to examine cells in the science lab, this is a good thing. But microscopes shouldn't be used to examine everything. Jesus warned, "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?" (Matt. 7:3). Unfortunately Separatists not only disregard this Scripture, but also their fellow Christians.

Performance and Passion: Separatists replace an inner passion for God with an outward performance for people. They fixate on out-doing others.

The second camp-the Conformists-are hypocrites, biblically shallow and consumers of culture. Their excessive desire for trendiness results in merely mimicking culture.

Those who lean toward the Conformist camp are guilty of certain characteristics. Three of the most common are that they allow: media to replace meditation, liberty to replace love, and tolerance to replace truth.

Media and Meditation: Conformists rarely take the time to get quiet before God.  The average American is exposed to over 3,000 ads every single day. As a result, keeping our minds biblically and theologically sound is difficult to do. Conformists fall into the pattern of being amused-not even recognizing the meaning of the word or its impact on their lives. Amuse means "to not think." Conformists might benefit by thinking a little bit more about why they don't think.

Liberty and Love: No one likes to be restricted, especially Conformists. It's easy to flaunt our freedom without considering how it affects others. Many Conformists have a personal vendetta against Separatists because they barely escaped their grip of control. As a result, Conformists enjoy their freedom and vow never to be subjugated to any individual or organization again. But many times they go too far and their freedoms quickly end up enslaving them. What started as a social drink here and there rapidly evolved into a love affair with hard liquor in order to cope with the stress of life.  And what began as watching films that incorporated risqué images somehow transitioned into a steady diet of porn movies.

Truth and Tolerance: For Conformists truth is only true when it's convenient. Besides who wants to come off as someone else's judge? Conformists certainly don't. Separatists are too narrow and so Conformists instead prefer a generous orthodoxy that incorporates anything and everything. In the process, their orthodoxy (meaning ‘right belief') becomes anydoxy.

Thankfully there is an alternative.

Enter stage right the Transformists, a new breed of Christ followers who are in the world but not of it and more clearly mirror New Testament Christianity. Transformists embody the Scripture, which exhorts Christians to neither separate from culture nor conform to it, but rather to be "transformed by the renewing of their minds" (Romans 12:2).

The back-story of Transformists is quite convincing. For starters, they don't need to have everything figured out, for that would mean they're Separatists. They don't need to say anything goes, for that would mean they're Conformists. They neither add to God's Word nor do they ignore it. Instead, they obey it.

They're not perfect, but they're seekers. They long to have a pure relationship with the Creator of the Universe. They desire to know the "why" behind the "what" and the purpose behind the principle. Of course there will be mistakes along the way, but this is what sets them apart. They have a little more grace and patience with each other, because they know what they've been saved from.

The movement is beginning. The gathering has united. They come from a variety of backgrounds, but share a common purpose. Above all else, they passionately love God and people. They don't fear culture because they're called to shape it. They don't fear Christianity because they're called to embody it. They are the Relevant. They are the Transformists.

Although initially the trend of ambivalence toward Christianity might seem disturbing, true followers of Jesus have an epic opportunity in these tough times to change the unconvincing stereotypes of Christianity set forth by Separatists and Conformists.

Despite nearly 2.8 million people identifying with dozens of new religious movements, calling themselves Wiccans, pagans or "Spiritualists"-such people are forced to re-evaluate their faith when they interface with Transformists and the undeniable grace and truth which defines them.

By integrating their faith with their culture Transformists are a breath of fresh air to both the world and the church. And because this remnant is walking the fine line of being in the world and not of it, there's hope on the horizon once again.

 

(Excerpt from The Fine Line: Re-envisioning the Gap between Christ and Culture.  Used with permission from Zondervan Publishing. ISBN: 0310285453)

Kary Oberbrunner, MDiv, DMin, is a self-proclaimed "Recovering Pharisee" and founder of Redeem the Day Ministries. The author of The Fine Line, Called, and The Journey toward Relevance, he serves as the Pastor of Discipleship and Leadership Development at Grace Church in Powell, Ohio. Kary and his soul-mate, Kelly, are blessed parents of Keegan and Isabel. Contact him at www.KaryOberbrunner.com.

 

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