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Gao Zhisheng is alive!

Posted by Gary Labels:

The Chinese Human Rights lawyer, Gao Zhisheng, is confirmed to still be alive after several months of his status being unknown. The Communist Party had captured him and tortured him again, with the one-year anniversary of his capture being February 4th.

Here is an email I received from China Aid today.
March 29, 2010

On Sunday, March 28, 2010, missing human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng spoke to his wife and children for the first time in over a year - confirming he is still alive! False rumors of his death, torture, and escape from the custody of the Chinese Government have shrouded Gao's absence with mystery for over a year. Gao's brief phone conversations with western media mark the first official contact the public has had with him since his abduction by police on February 4, 2009.

Yesterday, Gao informed reporters that he had been released from detention six months ago, and had taken up residence at Wutai Shan mountain, a Buddhist landmark in northern Shanxi province. He refused to give details on his condition or whereabouts, saying he could not legally give interviews.

Close friend and fellow human rights lawyer Li Heping confirmed he had also spoken with Gao on Sunday. Gao told him he had "friends around him" - indicating he was being held under close surveillance by Chinese authorities.

Gao's wife Geng He and their children were overwhelmed with emotion as they spoke with Gao on Sunday morning. The children could not stop crying. In a statement released on Monday morning, Geng He appealed to the Chinese government to allow Gao Zhisheng to join the family in New York. Gao's family has suffered greatly in his absence. Geng He's parents have been severely harassed in recent months, for which Gao feels guilty.

He told the Associated Press, "I just want to be in peace and quiet for a while and be reunited with my family. Most people belong with family. I have not been with mine for a long time. This is a mistake and I want to correct this mistake."

While on his campaign in Europe to promote awareness of Gao's cause, ChinaAid President Bob Fu attributed the breakthrough to increased international pressure. "Thanks to the more than 124,000 supporters in over 180 countries around the world who have signed the petition to Free Gao, the Chinese Government has been forced to respond and to allow Gao Zhisheng to reconnect with his loved ones."

ChinaAid thanks you for your continued support and urges you to continue to take action. From Argentina to Zimbabwe, you, the international community have answered the call. And this is just the beginning.

Gao is not free yet. His movements are still being watched and monitored. He is not free to speak publicly or without surveillance. We must continue to press the Chinese government to free Gao Zhisheng, to uncensor his movements, and to allow him to reunite with his family.

Get involved. Go to and sign the petition to free Gao. Call your local congressperson to let them know this concern is on your heart. It's vital that we put political pressure to free those who are suffering for the sake of the Gospel. He is currently in chains for standing up for human rights, but most especially with regard to Christianity. He has on more than one occasion suffered unspeakable torture and brutality, as have many for the sake of the Gospel. So many people in America say "pray for our troops." But few indeed are those who think to pray for those who are dying for the Faith once and for all entrusted to the saints.

Micah 4 in the Septuagint

Posted by Gary Labels:

"In that day," declares the Lord, "I will gather the broken and I will welcome the expelled, even those I sent away. I will make the broken into a remnant and the expelled into a mighty nation, and the Lord shall reign over them from within Mt. Zion from that day and henceforth." (Micah 4:6-7, LXX)

Excellent articles on how to react to friends suffering

Posted by Gary Labels: ,

Hat tip to Jeff.

What Not to Say to Those who are Suffering Part I and Part II. These quick posts also coincidentally cover what to say when someone is suffering.

Prayer Request Update II

Posted by Gary

1. My mother just got back home from the hospital on Tuesday. The sleeve gastrectomy went reasonably well. They had trouble keeping her blood pressure high enough, so it wasn't smooth sailing, but they did successfully complete the operation. The tube they stuck down her throat may have hurt one of her teeth, but that's the only (lasting) complication we know of. I am relieved she is well.

2. My best friend Robbie's sister, Jessica Miller, was in a car crash a few weeks ago and was hospitalized. According to the caringbridge journal:

We got the results from Jessica's MRI [Tuesday]... She has significant brain damage. With the amount of brain damage she has it is impossible for her to recover from this.... We don't know how much longer she has to live, but the remainder of it will be spent at home. Jessica is going to be a Hospice patient and will be getting cared for at home to be as comfortable as possible for however longer she has left. This will also make it easier for her family and friends to visit her.
A later entry elaborates that her brain functions as that of a newborn in that she can blink and breathe without conscious thought, but she is unable to consciously control her basic functions. Currently there is no medical treatment to prevent this condition from degrading further, so family and friends are packed to visit her around the clock. And God bless the hospice nurses, too.

I talked to Robbie on the phone for several hours on Saturday. It was so great to catch up! He is doing well, all things considered.

3. My friend who did commit suicide recently, Ellie, will be missed. I talked to her sister Vanessa on Saturday also, and their family is doing OK.

4. M is feeling better emotionally, but she's not made any progress toward having a more social lifestyle. If you know depression, you know the feeling: everyone else's life is on "play" but your life is on "pause." That's how I described it, once upon a time. I'm just glad she's alive. I was so shocked and I felt so powerless and scared, that hour and a half on the phone with her. Having lost one friend recently, I didn't want to lose another. I cannot take credit for talking her out of suicide, but by God's grace, she is alive and (reasonably) well. I got a few friends of mine in Oklahoma to call her and keep her company.

5. As for my financial/academic situation, it's complicated. I do not know when I will be able to return to school. I've had far too much going on this past 6 weeks to worry about getting finances straightened out. So, I've decided to drop out of the running for Abilene Christian University this fall.

However, my stepfather just started a job (after a year unemployed) at the University of North Texas. Since he works in their financial dept, I'm eligible for one free semester. However, since I'm already 24, I only have this summer and this fall to choose from. I think I'll apply for summer and take basics, then move to Oklahoma hopefully in the fall.

During the past few weeks, I have prayed like never before. I have also learned that "mixing bread with tears" means "often refusing food at mealtime and crying uncontrollably instead." What a painful lesson. But God has gotten me through this and worse. And I will make it back to school and finish my degree. I have what it takes to be part of the biblical studies guild, and with good tutelage, I will be an excellent and durable vessel for God to work through. All I want to do is write, read, study, and teach. And encourage. Someday soon, I will be doing those things for the Kingdom.

Amazing Inspirational Video about Depression

Posted by Gary

Oh my gosh. My Skype-friend in China, Jaer, shared this video with me. The video is in English, even if the website isn't. I *highly* recommend this to everyone.

Nick Vujicic speaks on how to overcome depression and difficulties in life. Jeff, I want to give you a special shout-out on this one.

Jesus the Politician

Posted by Gary

My professor and friend, Chip Kooi, blogs about Jesus the Politician.

Why is it people automatically assume that there's nothing political in what Jesus said? Does the word "kingdom" not sound political? How about dying in a political execution because of political pressure set forth by a special interest group? Seriously?

Anyway, check out what he has to say.

As for prayer request updates: My family is doing fine. Mom will have surgery in the morning.

Apparently the transcript request I faxed a month ago didn't go through, so I am 3 weeks late in getting my transcript in for Abilene Christian University. How frustrating. Especially because I can't fix this issue today or tomorrow because my parents will be at the hospital.

Have I mentioned how much I don't like fax machines?

Review: Brian Houston's "You Need More Money"

Posted by Gary Labels: , ,

Brian Houston, the lead pastor of the Hillsong mega-church in Australia, published You Need More Money in 1999 through his own ministry, Brian Houston Ministries. First, I must ask: who names a ministry after himself? Really?

Second question: why is this book not on his own website? [Update: he no longer endorses it, as this article shows.] I found it on Amazon by searching for "Hillsong" in my last note on Hillsong. Now that I've actually ordered this book, I have physical evidence in my hands of his teachings. Let the reader note that I bought this paperback used through Amazon for less than a dollar (before shipping).

The purpose of this book is to re-frame your understanding of money. "One of the enemy's greatest strategies is to stop God's people desiring more money" (17). Brian says that if you tell yourself all you need is enough money to put food on the table, then you're being selfish. You could try to gain money so you could put food on hundreds of tables. If you say you only need a car that gets you from A to B, then that's selfish too; what if God wants you to go to C, D, E, and F, but you only have a car that gets you from A to B?

Brian wants you to get comfortable with wealth. One exercise to help in doing this is to put on your best clothes and go to a nice restaurant to buy a cup of coffee. Just get comfortable with the thought of luxury. Though the book later develops the theme of how wealth can lead to making a real impact on the world (see below), this suggestion only breeds private comfort with having wealth and does not in any way connect to how one can use wealth for God's purposes.

The mindset Brian seeks to implant in the reader is one of grandiose ambition, in which by making more money one can impact hundreds of lives instead of a few. He stresses the necessity of money in a missionary's line of work, and applauds a missionary couple who went to China, because they started a small business in Australia and made enough money to finance their mission work. (Behold, the harvest is plentiful, but the workers need to wait 20 years to fund themselves!)

He tries to re-frame one's understanding of money as that of a neutral tool that can be good or evil, depending on its use. While there is some truth to that, money is actually a power of this world and not of God. Not just does he frame it as a neutral and necessary tool, but sees it as God's divine promise to us. Page 8 says it clearly:

Money can accomplish tremendous things for the Kingdom of God. In order to do this, we have to become comfortable with wealth, and break the bondage, guilt and condemnation of impoverished thinking. Poverty is definitely not God's will for His people. In fact, all His promises talk of blessing and prosperity.
How is the reader to respond? This reader would respond with Matthew 24:3-14, or even the Discipleship Guide (Matthew 10). Following Jesus is not a way to worldly success; indeed, properly done, such discipleship may lead to a very uncomfortable death.

Page 12 interprets 2 Cor 8:9 as saying that Jesus forsook his heavenly wealth and came to earth to be poor so that Christians may be rich, i.e. free of poverty. This is, without a doubt, another gospel. I cannot stomach this teaching.

If I were to thoroughly explain every misuse of Scripture in this book, I would have to write a book of at least equal length. In short: Brian Houston, the lead pastor of Hillsong, is an excellent motivational speaker. His church offers extravagant tithes at Mammon's altar, but what does a book like this do for the Kingdom? It fulfills Matthew 24:11.

What should our reaction be to Hillsong? There's no doubt that their songs, such as "Shout to the Lord" are popular. Ousting their low-on-theology, high-on-excitement pop songs is a rather difficult task; but what can we do to stop feeding this ravenous lion funding this ministry? A Christian cannot, in good conscience, support this ministry in any way, shape, or form.

If you do not believe me that this guy is a con artist, you can currently buy a copy of the book on Amazon used for 52 cents (American) plus shipping. I am happy to discuss further if anyone wants details.

Things Jesus Can't Do: A Comprehensive List

Posted by Gary