Watch Where You’re Bathing


David and Bathsheba031It’s not a popular position today to say that how a woman dresses has anything whatsoever to do with how a man might act, but let’s face it—women bear responsibility for suggestive behavior.

For example, an eighteen-year-old Notre Dame football player just recently grabbed public attention by posting pictures of his date with a hot porn star—a forty-two-year-old porn star. She’s old enough to be his mother, and a few months earlier, she’d be guilty of statutory rape. (Yes, reportedly some of the pictures were of the two of them having sex.)

Of course most of the attention is on the young man. Some think he scored big or that he’s looking for a role in the porn industry himself. Others wonder what his Catholic university might have to say about his actions.

But I can’t help but think, would he have taken pictures of himself and his date having sex if he hadn’t been drawn into porn by the women he watched?

Women have been seducing men since the fall, and men have been guilty of sexual sin for just as long, but only today, it would seem, we acquit women of all culpability.

Perhaps the most famous seduction story in the Bible is King David’s adultery with Bathsheba, though we generally think of Bathsheba as an innocent party. She was anything but innocent.

Yes, David had plenty of guilt in the matter. He did all the wrong things a man could do, it would seem. He stayed at home instead of going with his troops to battle, as he had been doing. It was the equivalent of staying home from work to watch porn.

He was lounging on his bed and only arose in the evening to take a walk. He saw Bathsheba—not a quick glance, because he made an assessment of her beauty—and inquired after her. When he found out she was married, he pursued her anyway.

But what about Bathsheba? She “just happened” to take a bath in full view of the king’s residence. Did she not realize how close she was to the palace? Or that someone walking on the roof (the equivalent of a porch) could see her as she bathed? I doubt if she was so oblivious.

In truth, we don’t know for sure because the story is told from David’s perspective. For example, when David had Bathsheba’s husband Uriah killed, how did she feel about their affair then? We only know that she mourned Uriah, but I suspect she carried a lot of guilt with her to that funeral and even to her subsequent wedding with David.

We know David grieved the death of their child, conceived in adultery, but we don’t know how Bathsheba reacted. We know God confronted David, through the prophet Nathan, because of his sin, and David repented. Did Bathsheba have that same encounter with God and the opportunity to confess her sin? We simply don’t know. Scripture doesn’t tell us because the story is focused on David.

Because the Bible doesn’t explicitly point out Bathsheba’s responsibility or perhaps her open seduction of the king, I think a lot of people bypass her part in the sin. He was the king, after all, and she had to go to him when he sent for her. Really?

If she had wanted to remain faithful to her husband, she could have refused to do David’s bidden the same way Uriah did when David tried to cover up Bathsheba’s pregnancy by sending Uriah home. He wouldn’t go, choosing instead to sleep with the king’s servants. His sense of duty wouldn’t allow him to be with his wife while the rest of the army was out in the field of battle. Too bad David didn’t have that same sense of duty.

Too bad Bathsheba didn’t either. When David sent for her, “she came to him.” Would he have sent if she hadn’t been bathing where he could watch her? Clearly not or the affair would have happened sooner.

I want to be clear on one thing: I am not saying women who are raped are at fault. That kind of blanket statement is foolish.

I am saying that women dress to be attractive and that can mean, draw the attention of men to their sexiness. In other words, how some women dress is with intent to make themselves sexually appealing. How is that any different from what Bathsheba did?

If tight or short or low cut get men to turn their heads, is dressing that way really innocent, innocuous conduct? How can we continue to think women bear no blame for setting men up to fail when it comes to their lustful thoughts?

Of course David bore his guilt for his affair with Bathsheba, and so must every man who has lust in their hearts, whether they act on it or not. But because David sinned doesn’t mean Bathsheba was without sin. I suspect many of us women bear guilt of like kind to Bathsheba’s. If only we could value purity above the world’s requirement that women “be attractive”–i.e., head-turningly sexy.

Instead Christian young women swallow what society says: men want sex so women should show their sexiness. And we wonder why divorce rates are high in the church and young people are sleeping around. We might be preaching purity and abstinence, but we aren’t teaching young people, or married couples, for that matter, what steps to take to avoid sexual immorality.

One thing that will help for sure is if young women pay attention to where they are bathing.

Giving And Receiving


offering_plateA friend and I were talking about giving and receiving the other day. Not an exchange of gifts like at Christmas, but generously sharing from the abundance of our wealth with those in need. And those in need receiving what they’ve been given.

I’ll admit, I think I’ve been on the receiving end more often than the giving. When I was a kid, both my parents taught in Christian schools, and we were poor. There were months that the college where my dad was employed, couldn’t make payroll. I don’t know how often this happened, but I remember one occasion when someone left a bag of groceries on our porch.

Later when we moved to California, we children benefited from “hand-me-downs” from some of the other faculty, as I had from my older sister for a number of years.

As an adult, I received support from family and friends during my three-year short term missions experience in Guatemala.

Recently I’ve received money more than once when I needed it for odds and ends like rent and food, the gift of a brand new Kindle from writer friends and a used iBook computer—such valuable tools for a writer. Then there is food. One friend has regularly shared tomatoes from her garden or oranges or left over dishes from church gatherings. My former neighbors used to give me bread and tortillas from his work. Another family gave me plates of food when they didn’t use everything they’d prepared for a church get-together. In the past two weeks two other neighbors have given me plates of food.

And there’s been more. It astounds me a bit because I’m sure I don’t look like I’m starving! These people are sharing out of their abundance and because of their generous spirit. It’s an incredible blessing.

The thing is, that’s the way God wants the Church to work. Paul explained to the body in Corinth:

For this [sharing with others] is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality—at this present time your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality; as it is written, “HE WHO gathered MUCH DID NOT HAVE TOO MUCH, AND HE WHO gathered LITTLE HAD NO LACK.” (2 Cor. 8:13-15)

The truly amazing thing is that the person or church group who receives is not, in reality, the one who benefits most. Paul made this clear to the Philippians when he was commending them with sharing with him when he was in need:

Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account. (Phil. 4:17)

When Paul reminded the Corinthian believers of their promise to give to the famine-stricken church in Jerusalem, he established some principles of giving:
* it should be bountiful

So I thought it necessary to urge the brethren that they would go on ahead to you and arrange beforehand your previously promised bountiful gift, so that the same would be ready as a bountiful gift and not affected by covetousness. Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. (2 Cor. 9:5-6)

* it should not be spontaneous but thought out and planned for according to each person’s ability to give
* it should be with a cheerful heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion

Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Cor. 9:7)

Paul’s admonition builds to a crescendo, a tipping point: you promised to give, so plan on giving. Do so lavishly, not because you have to but because you enjoy giving. God will supply for you all you need so you can give to the needs of the saints. But more so, your giving will be an occasion for those believers to give thanks to God. And it will build unity among the Church because those who receive will be filled with warm feelings for those giving and will pray for them.

How cool is that! Receivers actually create an opportunity for givers to be blessed, to profit through God’s rewards and the receivers’ prayers. AND the occasion of receiving heaps thanksgiving on God.

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed; as it is written,
“HE SCATTERED ABROAD, HE GAVE TO THE POOR,
HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS ENDURES FOREVER.”
Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God. Because of the proof given by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all, while they also, by prayer on your behalf, yearn for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you. (2 Cor. 9:8-14, emphasis mine)

Both giving and receiving are part of God’s plan. It produces equality but the spiritual benefits and the glory God receives can’t be calculated.

Published in: on October 23, 2014 at 5:51 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , ,

Good Listening


advice-from-dad-202988-mToday on Facebook a friend of a friend decried the loss of debate in our society. I happen to enjoy debate but know exactly what this man was talking about—so often online discussions break down. Sometimes either the tone of the original post or one of the comments is rancorous or the topic is contentious or the view of the writer, extreme. All these can incite something closer to hate speech than to discussion.

Unfortunately, contentious exchanges aren’t the only reason people no longer enter into substantive discussions. Another reason is that we in western society are losing the will to listen to each other. I’ve seen it on line; I’ve seen it in person.

Online our communication suffers because we’re all in a hurry and one or more party is skimming, not reading. Of course some commenters simply drop their opinion into the middle of a conversation and run away. Others do not take the time to read what people before them have said, so their contribution is warmed over rehash.

In real life we are also in a hurry, so our communication with one another is often part of multitasking. One example is a practice we know to be dangerous (and in some states, illegal)—texting and driving—and still we are tempted to do both things at once. People also hold conversations with others who are reading or watching TV.

These exchanges are far from what I consider good discussions. Once people sat around the dinner table and talked to each other. They listened to what others had to say, thought about what they’d heard, and contributed something if they thought it would advance the conversation further.

These kinds of conversations didn’t just happen after a meal, either. Sometimes people were invited to a friend’s house just “to visit”—a euphemism for entering into a conversation with someone else. Often people at church would stand around in the foyer or out front and talk, sometimes about the sermon, sometimes about their week.

The key in all these successful discussions is listening. Both or all parties listen to one another. They aren’t planning their next spiel or waiting for the current speaker to take a breath so they can jump in with their thoughts.

One way you can tell if someone is listening is by the questions they ask . . . or don’t ask. In a real conversation, there is give and take spurred by questions asking for amplification or explanation. New ideas might also be sparked, but those are clearly pertinent to what came before.

Listening is such an important skill in interpersonal relationships, so it seems like a serious loss that we no longer understand how to discuss. But even more important is our need to listen to God.

First we need to hear His word. James says clearly that real hearing isn’t hard to detect—it will lead to doing. If we hear God’s command to love our neighbors, we will not continue to ignore or belittle or slander them.

But God has also given us His Holy Spirit who guides us and teaches us and convicts us and comforts us—if we’re listening. Sadly some Christians shy away from communion with the Holy Spirit, thinking such “private communication” is akin to gnosticism. Well, it’s not.

The Holy Spirit lives in us for a reason, and it’s not for Him to act like a silent partner we never consult. Rather, He’s the dynamo, the source of power for our Christian walk. He wants to embolden us, to provide strength when we are weak, to spark our thoughts when we don’t have an idea what to write next (which happens a lot on this blog! :-D )

Of course, to benefit from communion with the Holy Spirit, we have to listen. Scripture says we are not to quench the Holy Spirit, which is another way of saying we aren’t to ignore Him. It’s a great metaphor though because the Holy Spirit made a visual manifestation to the early church as tongues of fire. But those believers realized they could put the fire out.

I’m amazed that God would allow us to ignore Him. When I was teaching, I did what I could to keep my students listening. As far as I was concerned, it wasn’t optional. But not with God. He tells us—commands us—not to douse the Holy Spirit and in the command there is the implication that we can in fact do the opposite. We can quench Him. And we do that every time we ignore Him.

What’s frightening is, when we ignore the nudges from the Holy Spirit, it becomes harder and harder to tell when He’s giving us a nudge and when we’re operating from our own emotions.

Lots of times we say God gave us peace about this or that decision, which is well and fine. I’ve said that myself any number of times. But peace is only a byproduct of obeying the Holy Spirit and it’s not a constant.

I have a friend who teaches a Bible study at a women’s shelter. Every day she goes to teach, she is eaten up with anxiety, and yet she goes. For whatever reason, the Holy Spirit has not given her peace. She prays for it and knows intellectually that God will give her the ability to teach so she doesn’t have to worry, but the feelings have not followed. However, her obedience to go and to teach speaks far more about her willingness to listen to the Holy Spirit than any amount of inner peace.

You might say obedience is good listening.

Fear And The Christian


King_Saul006Yet another serial killer surfaced in the US this week. The Stock Market took a beating last week, Ebola is killing more people (more Africans have died in this last outbreak than Americans who died in the World Trade Center), and ISIS is threatening yet another town.

All this on top of the usual fears about aging and relationships and child rearing and politics and job stability and drought (or hurricanes or floods or earthquakes, depending on what part of the country you make your home).

I see people talking about fear and panic, especially in connection with Ebola—though only two people contracted it on US soil. The news ran a piece about not needing to be afraid of the people returning from quarantine. The CDC put in new guidelines to protect medical personnel caring for Ebola patients. And there’s some quick response team that’s being prepared—part of the National Guard, I think, but don’t quote me.

All these preparations sound logical and necessary, but what we haven’t learned yet is that God is not subject to our plans and precautions. Should He wish to judge this nation or any other part of the world by sending pestilence, all our careful plans will not stop what God intends to do.

King Saul never learned that lesson.

He was disobedient to God and lied about it. As a result, Samuel, speaking the word of God, told Saul the kingdom would be torn from his hands. Instead of repenting and acknowledging God’s sovereign right to do as He chooses, Saul tried to hold onto the kingdom God said he’d lose.

At first he pretended he was doing it for his son Jonathan. Except, there came a day, Saul tried to kill Jonathan because of his friendship with David. Scratch the “I’m doing it for my son” excuse.

Irony of irony, when Saul was about to go into his last battle, he inquired of God whether or not he’d be successful. God was not answering. Saul went to the priest, offered sacrifices, used the ephod which was apparently some form of divining God’s will, and uniformly, he got no response.

He really didn’t need one. God had already given His verdict on Saul and his kingdom, but Saul didn’t like what God had to say. So he persisted. He went to a spiritist—apparently someone who could divine the future through some means apart from God.

Again, he didn’t hear what he wanted to hear. Yes, the woman he went to, the medium, brought up Samuel who Saul wanted to talk to. But Samuel’s message was anything but comforting:

The LORD has done accordingly as He spoke through me; for the LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, to David. As you did not obey the LORD and did not execute His fierce wrath on Amalek, so the LORD has done this thing to you this day. Moreover the LORD will also give over Israel along with you into the hands of the Philistines, therefore tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. Indeed the LORD will give over the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines!” (1 Sam. 28:17-19)

Not only did this message confirm God’s judgment, but now Saul knew it was imminent. He reacted like most people would react—with fear.

Then Saul immediately fell full length upon the ground and was very afraid because of the words of Samuel (v. 20a)

This occasion is one of the few times in Scripture when a person responded in fear to a spiritual being and wasn’t told not to fear. In other words, Saul received no comfort. He was faced with God’s judgment and he was afraid.

How different life is for the Christian. Of course we face fearful things. Christians are not immune to cancer or ALS or car accidents or terrorists flying planes into the ground. Christians lose their homes in economic downturns and get laid off and don’t know how they’ll pay the phone bill.

We face the same problems in the world that our unsaved friends and neighbors face. But in all this there’s a difference. From Psalm 37:

When he falls he will not be hurled headlong,
Because the LORD is the One who holds his hand.

We’re not going to be hurled headlong, and we know it. We might die or be in a wheelchair for forty years or lose a spouse or have a stroke, but that is not the end, and we know it.

Through those circumstances we have the great comfort that we aren’t going through them alone, because the Lord is the One who holds our hand. He isn’t going to grab us after we fall (though there’s a pretty funny joke about that). He’s with us, holding onto us, keeping us as we go through those circumstances.

And for me, that changes everything.

Published in: on October 21, 2014 at 6:14 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , , ,

Loyalty To The King


President_Obama_at_MLK_Memorial_dedicationSome times a democracy can be harmful. I’m so happy the founders of the US established the kind of government they did, but the fact is, our right to vote has translated into a right to criticize. And criticism more often than not yields to grumbling and complaining, which in its turn can lead to slanderous invectives.

The US is in a unique period of our history. The nation is divided in a disturbing way—people on opposing sides have little respect for the individuals who hold a different view. The idea seems to be, only morons would not agree with my position, therefore you in the opposing camp are a moron, and I don’t have to listen to you. If fact, I’d rather if you simply did not speak.

Nothing could be more detrimental to a country that depends on compromise between legislators, between the two legislative houses, and between the legislature and the executive branch of government.

Compare where we are with David, youngest son of Jesse, who found himself in the opposite camp from the king of the land. Though he did not harbor rebellion in his heart and only fulfilled the king’s every wish, David became King Saul’s enemy.

We’re not talking about Saul hurling insults at David. He hurled spears. More than once. He ordered his men to pull him out of his house and kill him. He murdered seventy priests because one, thinking David, the King’s son-in-law to still be a loyal member of his court and on the King’s business, gave him food and a weapon.

Saul took an army of 3000 to hunt him down; he bribed and pleaded and cajoled and threatened to get people to disclose where David was hiding.

Sometimes his schemes seemed to work, and he closed in on David. Once when he was pursuing David in the desert, he took a break in a cave—a siesta, of sorts, in the middle of the day to get out of the heat. As it happened, David was hiding in the recesses of that cave, but Saul never knew it.

David’s men urged him to put an end to the persecution once and for all by killing Saul. But David refused for one reason and one reason alone—Saul was God’s anointed. In other words, God had put Saul in authority, and David was not about to supersede God’s decision.

Later he had a second opportunity to finish Saul when he made a foray into his camp at night. As it happens, God put a deep sleep upon everyone, and David slipped in, grabbed a couple things belonging to Saul to use as proof that he did not plan evil against the man who sought to kill him, then slipped out.

But David said to Abishai, “Do not destroy him, for who can stretch out his hand against the LORD’S anointed and be without guilt?” 10 David also said, “As the LORD lives, surely the LORD will strike him, or his day will come that he dies, or he will go down into battle and perish. 11 The LORD forbid that I should stretch out my hand against the LORD’S anointed; but now please take the spear that is at his head and the jug of water, and let us go.”

In all this David did not rail against Saul or paint him as a monster. He didn’t brag that he too was anointed by God, and he didn’t use his choice by God, carried out by the prophet Samuel, as a special reason for no longer honoring the King.

David lived out his loyalty to God by remaining loyal to His chosen King. He was willing to let God deal with Saul. This position is precisely the one the Apostle Paul and the Apostle Peter preached, inspired by the Holy Spirit, to Christians in the first century.

They happened to fall under great persecution because of their faith in Jesus Christ, but Peter says

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. (1 Peter 2:13-17)

By doing right we may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Not by calling them names. Not by signing petitions or starting impeachment campaigns or painting Hitler mustaches on the government leaders we don’t like.

David was right to let God deal with Saul. He had to wait, and he got tired of waiting which led him into a bad situation, but he remained firm about taking matters into his own hands. He would not move against Saul. He would let God take care of him.

His wait paid off.

When I see Christians treat our President with disrespect and accuse him unjustly, I am confused. God’s command in His word is clear: we are to honor our leaders:

Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men (Titus 3:1)

Even more clearly, Paul said to the Romans, who would have had a front row seat to all the abuses of the Caesars and their minions:

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. (Romans 13:1-6)

Notice Paul does not qualify his statements. He’s not saying be subject to authorities with whom you agree or to ones who aren’t corrupt.

David’s example shows, however, that being subject to the King didn’t mean to stand still so he could skewer him with his spear. David ran and hid and ran some more so that Saul wouldn’t kill him. But he didn’t assassinate his character or take the man’s life.

Would that Christians today had as much confidence in God’s sovereignty and His omniscient plans as David did all those years before. He didn’t have Scripture to direct him in his decisions. We do, and still we speak with such disrespect about our rulers.

It’s democracy, I tell you. But that’s not an excuse.

Published in: on October 20, 2014 at 5:52 pm  Comments (5)  
Tags: , , , , ,

What To Do About False Teaching


False teaching has far reaching effects. Christians, like someone standing on the sidewalk when a car splashes through a muddy puddle, end up sprayed and splattered by false teachers and their followers.

Scripture spells out the harm that false teaching does, to those who buy into it and to the true Church:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. (2 Peter 2:1-3 – emphasis mine)

Seems to me, because of the destructive nature of false teaching and because God and His Truth are maligned as a result of it, Christians ought not stand idly by.

But if we take it upon ourselves to correct false teachers, what’s to prevent us from becoming like the hateful Westboro Baptist people who picket funerals with signs bearing offensive messages?

Not that there isn’t a place for rebuke. There is. 2 Peter goes on to say

forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; but he received a rebuke for his own transgression, for a mute donkey, speaking with a voice of a man, restrained the madness of the prophet. (2 Peter 2:15-16)

OK, in Balaam’s case, no one else was around to rebuke him, so God opened the mouth of his donkey. Rebuke would seem to be a vital part of handling false teaching.

But there appears to be a difference between rebuke and reviling. Peter and Jude both make a point of saying that even the angels don’t dare bring a reviling judgment on false teachers.

Jude actually gives a blueprint to the Christian for handling false teaching:

But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh. (vv 20-23)

The first admonition is for believers to focus on our own spiritual walk—our faith, our prayer life, our love of God, our expectant hope for eternal life.

In addition, there are some to whom we are to show mercy—those who are doubting. I suspect this may refer to those who have been subject to false teaching and consequently have doubts. How can we extend them mercy? Certainly not by picketing funerals. But we can pray. We can live lives of faith. We can testify to God’s goodness and the truth of His world. We can also be forgiving rather than easily offended.

Others we are to snatch out of the fire. James 5:19-20 comes to mind:

My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

How do you turn someone back from the error of his way? I suspect only someone who has a relationship with a person straying from the truth can effect this change. In the parlance of the world, this might be an intervention. In Biblical terms, it would be “going to a brother” as described in Matthew 18.

With some we are to have “mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.” Strong language, but it seems to me these are pictures of running away, not fighting against.

Our act of mercy would be what? I’m not sure. I do know that extending mercy is not something hateful or oppressive. But doing so with fear and hating even the outward manifestation of sinfulness doesn’t sound like we’re having coffee with those caught up in false teaching.

In other words, it seems there’s a point when someone is pulled in so far that we are not to pursue them, or if we do, we should tread carefully, mindful of the quicksand we’re edging toward, mercifully willing to throw a line, but hating the grime so much we stay clear of it ourselves.

- – – – -

This article, with some editorial changes, first appeared here in October 2011

Published in: on October 16, 2014 at 7:06 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , ,

ISIS/ISIL – What’s In A Name?


Flag_of_the_Islamic_State.svgI finally did a little digging to see why the US media refers to the terrorists operating in Syria and Iraq as ISIS while the White House calls them ISIL. Not that I got a good answer.

I did learn a few things, though. First, the term the President and all his staff use—ISIL—stands for Islamic State of Iraq and Levant. Levant? Sorry, but I didn’t know that term so had to look it up. Turns out Levant refers to “the eastern part of the Mediterranean with its islands and neighboring countries” (Oxford-American Dictionary). A pretty broad area, in other words.

The terrorists themselves have changed the name of their organization more than once. In 2013 they adopted Islamic State of Iraq and Syria—ISIS—but just this past summer they changed to the broader name Islamic State, a term some news outlets are now using.

In all this it appears to me that varying groups are bending over backwards to get the name right, to stay up to date, or to be consistent. But here’s the thing—names carry meaning.

Add to that fact this key point played out in every one of our government elections—defining your opponent is key to success. For example, four years ago in an election here in California, Senator Barbara Boxer (not known for much by way of legislation or clout or pretty much anything in the Senate at the time) seemed to be in real trouble against the smart, well-connected woman entrepreneur, Carly Fiorina. But Boxer’s campaign team hit the air waves first, during a period of economic downturn and high unemployment, and defined Fiorina as someone shipping jobs overseas:

Boxer . . . was able to get TV commercials on the air earlier that defined Fiorina as an out-of-touch CEO and someone too socially conservative for the state (“Barbara Boxer Defeats Carly Fiorina”).

Jerry Brown, in his run (or re-run) for governor of California in 2010 did the same thing, defining his wealthy opponent, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, as someone trying to buy the governorship.

Years before, during the abortion wars, the media came under fire for defining the two sides with the names they favored—Pro-choice for groups favoring abortion and Anti-abortion for groups opposed to abortion. The latter, in contrast, called themselves Pro-life and referred to their opponents as Pro-abortion.

Good propaganda capitalizes on the power in a name, defining oneself before his opponent does or defining his opponent before he himself does.

I’m at a loss to understand, then, why both the media and the White House are showing the extremists trying to hijack Islam the kind of respectful attention that using their puffed up title affords them. Islamic State?

Imagine what people would think if a group of Christians decided to declare Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska the Protestant State. Would the media and the White House politely be calling those Christians the PS or the PTOKN? Not likely.

But this past June these Muslim extremists went a step farther. They showed their hand by declaring a caliphate headed by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (known by his supporters as Amir al-Mu’minin, Caliph Ibrahim). “A caliphate represents a sovereign state of the entire Muslim faithful, (the Ummah), ruled by a caliph under Islamic law (sharia)” (Wikipedia).

Caliph refers to “the chief Muslim civil and religious ruler, regarded as the successor of Muhammad” (Oxford-American Dictionary). The group, then, claims dominance over the Islamic world:

In its self-proclaimed status as a caliphate, it claims religious authority over all Muslims worldwide, and aims to bring most Muslim-inhabited regions of the world under its political control (Wikipedia).

In other words, this group of extreme terrorists has taken upon itself the mantle of their most respected religious figure and, by the newest iteration of their name, are declaring themselves to be THE representation of Islam. My guess is Saudi Arabia doesn’t agree, or Jordan, Egypt, Yemen, Iran, Turkey, or any of the other Muslim countries.

Why then, do we here in the US politely go along with their self-aggrandizement? Why are we not defining them as they certainly appear to Christians and to many non-Christians as well—manipulative, power-grabbing terrorist bullies. We could call them MPTB for short, since initials seem to be all the rage these days.

Names matter.

God thinks so, which was why He gave the command to treat His name as holy.

Muslims think so too, holding the name of their Prophet in highest honor.

Propagandists (and campaign managers fit into this category) understand the power of tagging labels on those they support or oppose.

It seems to me it’s past time that Americans wake up to the power of a name. We bandy God’s name around as if He has no meaning, but we fire people for daring to call another individual “the N word,” or some other offensive term.

We validate terrorists by calling them the Islamic State (whether IS or ISIS or ISIL) and we disparage Christians and Church by labeling them “traditional” or (horrors!) “fundamental.”

Because names have meaning and communicate, it’s important to use them wisely and with purpose.

God’s name should be revered, whether we call Him God or Yahweh or Father or Lord or address His Son, Jesus or speak of His Holy Spirit. All should matter because He matters. Those of us who bear the name of Christ should validate His importance to us by conducting ourselves in obedience to Him.

But in this topsy-turvy world where good is being called evil and evil, good, we put more effort in calling a heinous terrorist group by its “right” name than we do identifying God.

What too few people realize is that one day ISIS or IS or America or all other names will pale in significance, and the whole world will bow and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. There’s the name that matters most!

Published in: on October 15, 2014 at 5:00 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Ebola


6136_PHIL_scientists_PPE_Ebola_outbreak_1995The US news media has a short attention span (unless a story hits one of their pet peeves like the Donald Sterling fiasco did). Seemingly all but forgotten, for example, is the struggle Ukraine has with Russia. After the US started bomb runs in Syria, ISIS faded to a secondary story, too.

The new hot story is the Ebola virus because, like the beheadings in Iraq/Syria, Americans are involved! I don’t mean to speak lightly about this subject, and I love my country, but honestly there is such an insufferable self-importance about so much of what holds the attention of those who feed us the news.

The fact that hundreds were dying in West Africa wasn’t enough to move the Ebola story into the limelight, but when one, then two and three American aid workers became infected, suddenly Ebola was in the top tier of news items. When an average Joe American traveler contracted the disease and soon died from it, well, now it’s not just news. It’s a crisis.

Of course there has been talk about pandemics in the past, but I’ve not lived through a real health crisis like the Black Plague or the Flu epidemic in the early twentieth century, so I don’t really know how fearful this spreading pestilence can become.

And pestilence it is, though that’s not a word in common use today. We favor “pandemic,” I suppose to emphasize the widespread nature of whatever disease is moving from person to person. But pestilence emphasizes the fatal nature of the disease, and I think it’s more accurate when referring to the Ebola virus.

Pestilence, though not a common word today, is a term used in Scripture, most often by the prophets warning of coming judgment. Jeremiah 14:11-12 is an example:

So the LORD said to me, “Do not pray for the welfare of this people. When they fast, I am not going to listen to their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I am not going to accept them. Rather I am going to make an end of them by the sword, famine and pestilence.”

These judgments, also recorded in Ezekiel and Habakkuk, are directed primarily at Israel because they forsook God to worship idols.

Revelation echoes these judgments but on a worldwide scale:

I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth. (6:8)

Of course, just mentioning Revelation stirs up some people. On one hand are those who want to trot out the End Times Charts. On the other are those who secretly wish (or nearly so) that Revelation weren’t in the Bible because they don’t think it adds much, being all symbolic as it is. Why bother with it when we can’t really understand it?

Well, I’m of a different mindset. I believe God speaks through Revelation as much as through any other book. I believe some is literal and some symbolic, and by relying on the Holy Spirit, we can know with a high percentage of accuracy, which is which. God didn’t give us this glimpse into the future to confound us. He wants us to know what He’s communicating.

One thing that’s clear is this: God will bring judgment on the earth because of our rebellion against Him. In the Old Testament, He brought judgment against Israel, His chosen people, in precisely the ways He’d said He would through the prophecies of Jeremiah. Consequently, I have no doubt the warning of judgment in Revelation is also true.

In fact the language in Revelation and in Jeremiah is eerily similar, both warning of the sword, famine, and pestilence. The scope of the judgment is really the only difference.

So is the Ebola virus the beginning of the pestilence God is sending? Are we, in fact, in the end times? Is the tribulation about to fall? (And the rapture before it, for those who hold to a pre-trib view).

Here’s where I depart from those who work out the end times charts. We simply don’t know God’s time in regard to these matters. He told us we can’t know, so I’m not sure why some people get so hung up on trying to figure out the time and sequence of all these things.

In the Old Testament, God sent numerous foreign incursions against both Israel and Judah before the two nations were taken into captivity by Assyria and Babylon respectively. Which one was the start of God’s judgment? The time Egypt came in and captured Jerusalem? Or when Edom broke free of Judah’s control? Or when Aram attacked Israel?

The answer is none and all of these. God sent His prophets to warn His people and He sent enemies and famine and, yes, pestilence, to judge them, to warn them, to show them what their end would become if they did not repent and turn back to Him.

These were not the final judgment but they were judgments. So too, we can look at the wars and rumors of wars, the drought and famine in various places, the pestilence rapidly spreading in West Africa, and perhaps in places beyond, as God’s hand of judgment, just as He said.

But is it the final judgment?

Why should we ask this question? Are we planning on waiting for the final judgment before preaching repentance to those who deny God?

In short, the Ebola virus should concern Christians because it reminds us that God’s judgment is sure and that many people will be lost unless they turn to the Savior. We should have some urgency about us, even as those charged with health care here in the US now have in preparing to fight an outbreak of Ebola. It’s coming, they suspect.

But we Christians know. If not Ebola, one day there will be pestilence poured out on rebellious humans who refuse God’s mercy. May we be faithful to shout from the mountain tops: Here is your God; lift your eyes to the One who hung on the tree so that you might be healed and repent.

The Different Way God Records History


Columbus_Arrivind_When I wrote the article at Spec Faith referencing Columbus Day and comparing some of Christopher Columbus’s attributes to writers and readers, I had no intention of being controversial. But such has been the deconstruction of the history of Christopher Columbus, the only two comments I received were about the negatives that occurred under his governorship of the lands he claimed for Spain.

I admit, though I minored in history, I knew very little about Christopher Columbus. Though his journal and numerous letters exist as well as written work from various others, notably a priest who complained to the crown about the abuses he witness in the New World, what I learned about his voyage from Spain to the New World was positive for the most part.

However, when the 500-year anniversary of Columbus’s successful Atlantic crossing approached, all kinds of deconstructionists arose. The new party line was that Columbus was a greedy gold digger who abused and enslaved the natives.

As it turns out, some of what these Columbus critics said, is true, though much has been filtered through the lens of what is now politically correct. For example, these present-day critics are horrified that settlers coming from feudal Spain established a type of feudalism in the New World. (For a balanced perspective, I recommend “Honoring Christopher Columbus” by Dr. Warren H. Carroll.)

However, Columbus’s own inattention to important governmental responsibilities, and then his inappropriate responses to the subsequent mess certainly are black marks on his record. But where were those black marks in the history books I studied? By and large, Columbus was portrayed as a man who drew an incredible conclusion—that he could sail west and reach the East Indies—and risked everything to prove that he was right.

He wasn’t right, and that fact was clearly stamped on history. But in the process, of course, he opened up the New World to European conquest. For whatever reason, the black marks of his governorship faded into the background of traditional history. Yes, they happened, but no, they didn’t fit into the unit on great explorers.

Some people say that those who come out ahead get to write the history, intimating that western scholars made an intentional effort to shuffle Columbus’s faults and misdeeds off the pages of the historical record.

And who’s to say that didn’t happen? I went through school believing the apocryphal story about Honest Abe Lincoln cutting down the cherry tree, only to confess when he was confronted with his misdeed.

But all this handling, or mishandling, of history, makes me realize something incredibly powerful: God didn’t write Scripture that way.

Perhaps one of the best evidences of God’s authorship of the Bible is in the very different way Scripture records history. There is no whitewashing of winners, no bypassing the black marks.

Noah, the righteous man God chose to preserve when He judged mankind for their sins, followed God’s instructions to the letter, built an ark, loaded it with animals, and rode out the storm. When at last he made land, when he’d built an altar and worshiped God, he drank himself into a drunken stupor freeing his youngest son to commit some sort of deviant sex act—apparently with Noah, but perhaps with Noah’s wife.

Abraham, the great patriarch of the nation of Israel who trusted God so much he was willing to give up his son at his command, decided to lie about Sarah being his wife because he was afraid.

The people of Israel to whom God listened when they cried to Him, experienced a miraculous release from captivity, but in going free, they worshiped their idols, grumbled and complained against their leaders, and ultimately refused to go into the land God had said He would give them.

In much the same way as those before and after him, King David, the greatest king in Israel’s history, stands exposed in the light of God’s truth as an adulterer and murderer.

In other words, God did not whitewash history. He didn’t show His chosen man, His chosen nation, His anointed king, in the kind of favorable light that human historians show our conquerors, our great statesmen, our explorers.

God’s ways are not our ways. He exposes Solomon’s disobedience, Samson’s lust, Elijah’s discouragement, Peter’s denials. He judges the people He chose and sends them into exile. He brings to light the sin in the church at Corinth and in Jude warns about the false teaching that is coming from within the body of believers.

Human historians do not, have not, would not record history in this way. We know this is so because there are Sunday School versions of the lives of these Biblical figures, and most bypass the black marks or soften them by quickly telling of their repentance.

But what about all those people who died in the desert because of their rebellion against God? What about wise Solomon who turned away from God toward the end of his life, with only a suggestion in Ecclesiastes that he made things right before he died? Our Sunday school lessons don’t bring those parts of the story forward. We don’t cut them from our Bibles, but they aren’t usually the lesson in Sunday school.

That’s the way humankind thinks, the way we write our history, even our Biblical history. But not God. His ways are not our ways. He has no problem showing the faults and foibles of His closest allies, of His greatest friend, of the people He calls His children. It’s one way we can know that God authored the Bible, not a smattering of humans who thought they’d make a history. Scripture is simply too different from the kind of histories we write.

God And His Mysterious Ways


Some people try to define God’s work, and therefore to define God—sort of like trying to photograph a double rainbow that stretches across the sky. If you could just snap the picture, then you’d have the rainbow for always.

God doesn’t operate in such a way that we can ever capture Him. Yet—and here’s is one of the most mysterious of His Ways—He voluntarily, willfully declares my heart His home.

I think of Joseph resisting the sexual temptations Potiphar’s wife threw at him day after day, only to end up in prison. Well, not “end up” because he moved from the outhouse to the penthouse in a mere thirteen years. Thirteen years that undoubtedly had Joseph thinking nothing would ever change, that his life was going to continue on and on and on in the dungeon. But it didn’t. God had big things in store for Joseph.

I think of the little slave girl, an Israelite captive torn from her home, probably from her family, refusing to be bitter or to seek revenge but reaching out to bless the man she worked for by telling him of the prophet of God who could cure him of his leprosy. As a result, the mighty Aramean officer ended up declaring, “Behold now, I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel” (2 Kings 5:20).

Then there is Samson. What an amazing thing that God used that philanderer. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have chosen him. He was supposed to be a Nazarene from birth, but he broke the parameters more than once that defined that special relationship with God. He seemed self-absorbed and more inclined to use God than serve Him. But God was pleased to include him as a judge of Israel, pleased to make him a means to free His people from the oppressive rule of the Philistines.

Or how about the beauty pageant that ended up sparing the lives of hundreds of Jews? I remember when I first heard about Esther, I was horrified that Mordecai didn’t try to sequester her away or make a run for the hills. Instead, he truly seemed to be encouraging her, and she seemed to want to win the role as queen. Except, unlike the fairy tales, this was no monogamous happy-together-ever-after story. No! Esther got to be part of the kings harem (think of all the women he slept with before he slept with her and finally decided she was queen material). And yet, God used her in that place to save hundreds, maybe thousands.

What about in contemporary times? God used the death of five young husbands, some also fathers, to save a group of people who had never heard of Jesus, at the same time turning the hearts of countless believers to become involved in missions.

Corrie ten Boom

He used a spinster lady in the latter end of middle-aged through to her “golden years” to teach a generation what forgiveness really means, to spread the gospel of God’s incredible power over death and destruction and hatred and evil.

He is using the humble submission of an athletic teenage girl who suffered a catastrophic, debilitating accident, who has lived life for forty-five years as a quadriplegic and continues to tell of her love for her Lord.

I would have done things differently, I’m sure. Look how talented Joni Eareckson Tada is—as an artist, a writer, a speaker. How much more could she do if she weren’t in a wheelchair? What a silly person I am. Who would have heard of Joni if she hadn’t been the girl who drew holding her pen in her mouth? And what would she be talking about now or who would listen? Isn’t it her willing submission in the face of her adversity that makes her life so winsome?

God knows these things. He knows what it takes. But to us, because we don’t know what it takes, His ways will always appear mysterious.

God moves in a mysterious way
his wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
and rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
of never failing skill,
He treasures up his bright designs
and works his sovereign will.

You fearful saints, fresh courage take;
the clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
in blessings on your head.

His purposes will ripen fast,
unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
but sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
and scan his work in vain:
God is his own interpreter,
and he will make it plain.
– by William Cowper

- – – – -

This article is a reprint of one originally posted May 2011.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,679 other followers