Reprise: My Deceitful Heart

CO_21_NB_reassurance_sign,_Colorado_SpringsBack when I was in college, I would spend the summers with my parents in Denver. One year we took a couple short road trips on consecutive weekends. One was an hour’s drive north, the other an hour’s drive south.

The next week a family we knew came to visit for several days. During that period, their two teens and I decided to go to a popular movie they hadn’t seen yet. I told them I knew this particular movie was playing locally because I’d seen it at a theater we’d passed the previous weekend.

My dad helpfully looked up the information and gave me the exact freeway off ramp exit number. I took the directions, though I didn’t think I’d need them. After all, I’d seen the theater clearly from the freeway, so I knew we couldn’t miss it.

Off we went. Before too long, however, I noticed that the exit sign numbers were not advancing toward the particular one I was looking for.

No problem, though, I thought. I knew I was going in the right direction because I’d seen the theater with my own eyes. Perhaps, I reasoned, the numbers would reverse their order once we left the city proper.

My guests were amazingly patient, even as time and miles piled up. Even as the exit numbers continued to flip past in the wrong order. Even when that pattern didn’t change once we left the city. And even when we didn’t see the theater from the freeway.

I couldn’t understand what was wrong. Perhaps the information my dad had found was wrong or maybe he copied it incorrectly or … and then it hit me. I had indeed seen the theater, but not the previous weekend when we had taken our trip north. I’d seen it two weeks ago when we headed out of town going south.

Here’s the point, I learned that day how unreliable I am as a determiner of truth. I had the information my dad gave me, the exit numbers on the freeway signs, and a missing theater, but I still trusted my own idea of what was true. I even rationalized the differences and persisted when every indicator said I was wrong.

I’ve had to re-learn that lesson multiple times, but that one incident stands out as an illustration of how easily fooled my hard, prideful heart can be, and conversely, how much I need the authoritative Word of God to serve as the sign posts of life.

Of course, I have to believe what the signs say rather than rationalizing away what I don’t like or don’t agree with.

    Love your neighbor? Sure, I can do that … except, not that family with the really loud, late Saturday night parties and the noisy motorcycles (besides, their kids are probably involved with gangs).
    Speak the truth in love? Sure, I can do that … except, I don’t want to offend the people in my office, so I’ll just let slide their Bible-bashing (they probably wouldn’t change their attitudes even if I stuck up for the Bible).

It is so easy to find excuses to trust my own foolish, willful, wayward heart rather than the sure, authoritative, unchanging Word of God.

But you know what God says about my heart?

The heart is more deceitful than all else/ And is desperately sick;/ Who can understand it?
– Jeremiah 17:9

God goes on to say that He knows the heart and He gives “to each man according to his ways.” But here is His assessment of our ways:

– Rom 3:9b-12 (the all caps are in the original and indicate quotations from the Old Testament)

Original sin? You bet. My heart so fools me, I’d believe in an instant that I’m good, if I could. In fact I tried. When I was very young, probably in first grade, the Sunday school teacher told us we were all sinners.

Not me, I thought. And I set about proving it. I figured if I could find one, even one person in the Bible who wasn’t a sinner, then I could be like that person. Jesus, I understood was perfect, but He was God, so I needed someone else.

I finally set on Moses and asked my mom if he wasn’t perfect. No, she said, he sinned. How? I asked. For starters, he committed murder.

Then how about David? No, he stole another man’s wife and had him killed. He wasn’t without sin either.

OK, I reasoned, if even the Bible people sinned, then it must be true. All sin, even me.

It wasn’t until years later I learned about my nature to sin, and I actually discovered that myself, when I was reading John 3:18. The problem isn’t sins I commit; the problem is my rejection of God. That’s the nature I have—one that wants to believe in myself, wants to choose my own way, wants to trust me despite the evidence and God’s witness that my heart is deceitful.

This post originally appeared here in September 2010.

Published in: on October 2, 2015 at 6:16 pm  Comments (4)  
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Umpqua Community College, Oregon

Umpqua Community College, Oregon

There’s been another school shooting, this one at a community college in Oregon. USA Today reports that ten people lost their lives. What sets this shooting apart is that the gunman was apparently hunting for Christians according to the New York Post.

Several sources who were present or who talked with someone at the scene reported the gunman’s systematic approach:

“The shooter was lining people up and asking if they were Christian,” she wrote. “If they said yes, then they were shot in the head. If they said no, or didn’t answer, they were shot in the legs.

Of course there will be the usual discussion about gun laws and mental health, but in this instance, it seems necessary to also address persecution, particularly of Christians. Some believers are shocked or outraged, as they were at the pictures of the beheadings of believers in Syria. Some are doubtful. After all, not many news outlets have included the “Christian targeting” aspect of this shooting.

Murder and intentional injuries inflicted on strangers at a college campus are both shocking and outrages in and of themselves. But if in fact some died because of their faith, a new horror has begun here in our own country: people targeted for no other reason than that they were Christians.

Undoubtedly many will chalk this incident up to one crazed individual, but what believers should not do is to discount the real possibility that persecution—and I don’t mean store clerks wishing us a Happy Holiday instead of a Merry Christmas—will be something we’ll face one day.

I tend to think that a lot of Evangelicals, raised in the theology of the Rapture assume we won’t be around to suffer persecution. In many ways this has fed into the comfortable American Christian mindset. We live in a country that protects religious freedom and we’ll be taken from this world before any judgment will come down on those who reject God. Consequently, the most important thing—and I’m not saying it isn’t important—is to protect our rights, particularly our religious freedom.

But Scripture doesn’t convince me that we are supposed to live a life free of the cost of discipleship, even if that cost is high.

Jesus Himself set the standards:

And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? (Luke 9:23-25)

Published in: on October 1, 2015 at 6:43 pm  Comments (19)  
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Do Christians Need To Obey The Mosaic Law?

The_Crucifixion011If you spend much time around Bible-believing Christians, you’ll undoubtedly hear something about grace. We’re saved by grace, not by works. And yet in any number of conversations, these same Christians will bring up something found in the Mosaic Law. Just this week I referenced a verse in the Law in regard to capital punishment.

So are Christians “cherry picking” when we say we’re to keep the Ten Commandments, but don’t have to worry about the dietary laws or about stoning people for breaking the Sabbath?

The notion that believers under grace are picking and choosing the parts of the Bible they want to follow is easy to understand. From the outside, it certainly looks inconsistent. But the truth is, there are passages of Scripture that are game changers.

The first of these is Matthew 5:17: “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” Jesus fulfilled the Law. Peter explains it a bit more: “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18).

How does Jesus’s death fulfill the Law? On our own, we cannot fulfill the requirements of the Law. Jesus basically said as much in the Sermon on the Mount. Not just what we do falls under the law, but what we think—the anger or lust or covetousness in our hearts. Sin requires sacrifice. Christ’s death was the sacrifice “once for all” that fulfills the requirements of the Law. Paul fleshed this out in several of his letters. In Galatians he said,

nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified. (2:16)

Paul explained that it is Christ’s work on the cross that saved us from the Law and its requirements.

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE”—

Another game changer is the establishment of the Church. In the Old Testament God chose Israel to represent Him to the rest of the world, but after Christ came, His followers are God’s representatives on earth. The verses are 1 Peter 2:9-10.

But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY.

The Church, made up of peoples of every tribe and tongue and nation, isn’t under a single government as Israel was. Their national law was to be God’s Law. But not so the Church.

Then why do Christians go on about the Bible, including the books of the Law?

Game changer number three: 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

The Old Testament, just like the New is to teach, reprove, correct, train—not so that we can work our way into God’s good graces. Rather, Scripture equips us for every good work.

Paul, in Philippians, calls this the “righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.” We are saved in order that we might do good. We don’t do good in order that we might be saved.

It’s an important distinction.

The Bible, then, from cover to cover, reveals God: His character, His qualities, His work, His plan. It’s not a list of rules. It’s a revelation.

We who have been saved by grace ought logically to be about God’s business, doing and living the way He wants us to. In fact, game changer number four shows us that “faith” isn’t alive unless it translates into a changed life that cares about what God cares about:

You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? (James 2:19-20)

So what about those dietary laws? Mark addressed this issue when he explained something Jesus said about the legalistic Pharisees:

And He said to them, “Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, 19 because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?” (Thus He declared all foods clean.) [Mark 7:18-19]

The issue came up later in the book of Acts, this time in the context of God making it clear that He was including Gentiles in the Church. Here’s the part of the passage that deals with the dietary laws:

Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. But he became hungry and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; and he *saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air.

A voice came to him, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat!”

But Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.” 1

Again a voice came to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” (Acts 10:9b-15)

God wasn’t just talking about food, as the rest of the story reveals, but He was nevertheless also talking about food.

The short answer to the question is this: God revealed His heart throughout the Bible, including through the Law. We aren’t under the Law, but it can and should inform our good works which we do as a reflection of the faith we have in Christ. Jesus summed the law up by saying we are to love God and love our neighbors.

Love means protecting some against predators. Are we also loving the predators when we do so? I think so. People who get away with murder don’t realize they are sinners in need of a Savior. They think they are the gods of their own world and can do whatever they want. God’s judgment reveals the truth: He is God and we are not. If we love our neighbor who is facing God’s judgment, we ought not be silent. (We also ought not be strident and mean spirited, but that’s another issue for another day.)

An Influential Character

cover_Prince CaspianThis blog post is my response to a writing prompt posted in the Facebook group Fantasy Writers and Readers. Please leave a comment or contact me at my Yahoo account for an invite if you are an avid fantasy writer and/or reader and would like to participate in this closed Facebook group.

So the question: what character, as in fictitious person from a story, influenced you either now or in childhood or throughout your life?

That’s a head-scratcher.

When I was a kid, the characters I loved were Mr. Toad and his wild ride, Brer Rabbit and his clever cockiness, the Little Engine That Could and his commitment, drive, and determination. What persistence, that little engine!

Later, I loved the secret heroes—Zorro most of all, but Robin Hood too, the Long Ranger, and Superman. They were not about taking bows or doing good deeds for show. They wanted to right injustice, to help the poor and needy and protect the weak and helpless. Oh my what lofty goals! How do you do such things if you a) don’t have super powers or b) don’t have endless resources or c) aren’t planning to begin a criminal lifestyle?

Another character I loved was Alec Ramsey, protagonist in The Black Stallion by Walter Farley because he knew how to tame a wild horse and endear himself to the animal, for life. In many ways he was the kid version of my other heroes, only he turned his protective instincts toward a horse.

But who has actually influenced me? I’d have to say Lucy Pevensie of The Chronicles Of Narnia. In book two Prince Caspian, Lucy and a small entourage are trying to reach what had been their castle, but years and years have passed in Narnia and Things Are Different. The animals no longer talk and a great wood has grown up. Evil men are in control.

At one point Lucy sees Aslan, the High King of Narnia. He beckons her to follow, but she doesn’t. As a result, they take a very long road and almost fall into enemy hands. They have to backtrack and lose a day when time is of the essence.

Again Lucy sees Aslan, even talks with him. In their conversation, it’s clear he wants her to follow him even if the others can’t see him and even if they don’t come along. It’s a critical point—she must act on what she believes, or not.

That was a changing point in my life, too. Lucy had the courage of her convictions, and she challenged me to live the same way. So of all the great protagonists in all the great stories, I’d have to say Lucy Pevensie has influenced me most.

God’s Judgment Is Real

Eclipse_lunar_(Blood_moon)When Israel was poised across the Jordan River, ready to take the land God had promised them, Moses reminded them of the need to obey God. By God’s direction, he gave them a list of blessings and a list of curses—the former if they followed God and the latter if they rebelled against Him and did the things that the nations they were about to displace had been doing.

God’s judgment was real—against the people living in Canaan who practices things that were heinous in God’s eyes. They worshiped idols and sacrificed their children on their altars; they involved themselves in perverted sexual practices until God said the land was ready to “spew them out.”

Israel didn’t do any better. They conqueror the land, to be sure, but within a generation they were straying from God’s Law. For four hundred years they experienced a cycle of straying, receiving God’s discipline, and repenting. Eventually God brought His judgment upon Israel in the same way He had Canaan.

The thing is, I wonder if the people of Israel stopped believing that God would judge them. After all, they’d been going their own way for so long, did they think all that early history, with Moses and the exodus, Joshua and the River Jordan, was nothing but a myth? Did they explain the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea and the drying up of the Jordan as some natural phenomena?

Or did they think their ancestors’ own abilities had won their freedom and their own power and wisdom allowed them to conquer all those fortified cities? In other words, did they reason away God’s activity in their successes, so they no longer felt His wrath, when they experienced His judgment?

Something obviously changed. They weren’t crediting God with their prosperity, and they weren’t recognizing the adversity they went through as His judgment.

I thought of this today as I heard and read reactions to last night’s full blood moon eclipse. The news first drew my attention to the idea that some people feared the blood moon as a sign of the end of the world.

Apparently this idea has been fueled by Christians. Some pastors have even written books and pointed to the alignment of past blood moons and particular Jewish holy days.

Much like the past predictions of the end of the world, this kind of public declaration actually backfires, if the intent is to show God’s hand in the natural world and His coming judgment. The average person says, We were told that Y2K was going to be the end of the world, then Harold Camping named a date for the end of the world, then a revised date, then a date for the beginning of the end with another date for the end of the end.

When things continue as they have before, the natural tendency is to blow off the idea of an apocalypse and more specifically, of a judgment of God on this sinful world.

Some people joked about surviving the blood moon apocalypse, others marveled at the beauty of the event. But what I didn’t hear about was anyone repenting. I didn’t read about anyone saying, Well, this blood moon eclipse may or may not be a sign that the end is near, but even if it is not, I’m convinced God will judge the world as He said He would.

Predictions of an apocalypse that doesn’t happen serve to harden people’s hearts. One CNN article quoted Mark Hammergren of a Chicago planetarium as saying, “People have been predicting the end of the world for thousands of years in recorded history, and not a single time has that come about.”

These dramatic astronomical events are actually opportunities for us to pay more attention to space and the stars and how we’re connected to the universe, some unbelieving people reason. And who’s to say they’re wrong.

Regardless, God’s coming judgment is real.

I don’t think we need more signs than what we already have in Scripture—a risen Christ Jesus ascending into heaven with the promise that He will return as the reigning King.

God’s past judgments were sure. He gave people and nations time to turn and repent. Some like King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon who came to his senses and confessed God Most High as King over all, and some like Nineveh which repented when Jonah prophesied of God’s judgment, turned from going their own way and bowed before the Creator of the ends of the earth. Others like Sodom and Gomorrah laughed and ignored God’s word and His prophets—to their own doom and destruction.

If God is true, and He is; if He said He would judge the world, and He did; if He has judged nations and people in the past, and He has, then why would we think things will be different in the future?

God will judge the world. The false talk about an apocalypse should not fool anyone into believing that God is not deeply grieved by the mess the world is in. That some people have tried to connect the blood moon to events in Israel’s history or associate them with Jewish holy days is meaningless. God didn’t give us those kinds of details.

But the blood moon can serve as a reminder that God is in control, that His judgment isn’t a joke, even though we don’t know the day or hour, and that now is a good time to become His follower.

Reprise: Women’s Role In The Church—A Consequence Of The Fall

A question on Facebook stirred up the discussion about a woman’s role in the Church and home. Apparently there are two distinct schools of thought: egalitarianism and complementarianism. I’ll be honest. Much of the time I don’t pay attention to the debate. To me Scripture is clear and I’m not the least offended that God saw fit to give me the role as “not spiritual head.”

But some people come at this from a different perspective. My conviction is to see what God’s word says on the subject. A few years back I did some study of one particularly clear passage of Scripture which not only says women are not to be pastors but gives reasons why. So I’m reprising the article (with a little editing) that came out of that study:

I recognize that I am out of step with my culture (like the poor woman in the picture above, off by herself). It’s not an easy condition. I’d much rather be part of the “in crowd,” but reality is, Christianity is counter cultural. One of the things that makes us so is that we believe in grace. We don’t believe we earn our way into God’s kindly treatment of us. We believe that we do not merit His love or forgiveness or the hope of heaven, that we receive His favor only because He loves us and chose to give us what we cannot obtain for ourselves.

Another point that separates us, especially from those shaped by postmodern thought, is that we believe God spoke authoritatively through men of old, a process we refer to as inspiration. The Bible is the result, and we hold it to be God’s public declaration about His person, His work, His plan in the world.

Because it is from God and about God, we aren’t free to pick and choose what parts we like, which things we agree with and want to follow. That means we take the hard things (e.g. “I am the Potter, you are the clay”) along with the easy things (e.g. “I love you with an everlasting love.”)

One thing that has surfaced in the last fifty years as a hard thing for some people is the statement in several places in Scripture that men, not women, are to be in the role of pastor-teacher in the Church. 1 Timothy 2 goes so far as to give some explanation as to why God has ordained men to this role instead of women. One reason is simply the order of creation. The other has to do with Eve’s part of the Fall of Humankind.

And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. (1 Tim. 2:14)

The Holy Spirit, through the human author of the letter, then alludes to the punishment God gave Eve as a result of her part of bringing sin into the world.

As a reminder, this is what God told Eve:

To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply
Your pain in childbirth,
In pain you will bring forth children;
Yet your desire will be for your husband,
And he will rule over you.” (Gen. 3:16)

The first part we have no trouble understanding. And the last part seems all too clear. But what about that “your desire will be for your husband”?

Before I continue, let me point out something that might slide by unnoticed. Before the Fall, there apparently was no husband head or ruler of woman. Adam describe Eve as bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. God said they were to cleave to one another. Apart from the created order, there was a unity, a bond that did not subjugate either person. But then sin …

But back to this troublesome “desire will be for your husband” line. I’ve heard some say this referred to her sexual desire, tying it to the pain in childbearing issue. I mean, since women are to experience such pain, the logical answer would be simply to not have children. Except, this thinking goes, there is this desire she has for her husband.

It’s a possibility. Of course the reality seems to be that the desire is more on the side of the husband than on the side of the wife.

I think another possibility is to understand the phrase in light of what follows. “He will rule over her” … but now her desire will be to rule over him. It’s a possibility because the word which means desire, longing, craving is also used of a beast to devour. I take the latter to mean the way a hungry lion tears into a gazelle he’s just brought down.

So the woman’s desire in that connotation would be to stalk a man and tear him from limb to limb!

OK, that’s not a nice picture of women, I agree. But neither is the picture of women wanting to take charge and rule men. Truth be told, sin does not make us nice people.

There’s one more piece to this puzzle. Back in 1 Timothy 2, there’s one of the most troublesome verses in Scripture, at least for women:

But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint. (1 Tim. 2:15)


But notice, this verse follows right after the one stating that women are not to be pastor-teachers because of Eve’s deception leading to transgression. The Holy Spirit seems to be answering the question, This mess we’re in because of Eve, is there hope?

But what mess? We have the same sin nature as men and are saved by grace just as they are. Childbearing certainly doesn’t save women from the pain of childbearing. And anyway, the subject is who is to have the role of teacher in the church. So it seems to me, taking Genesis 3:16 with 1 Timothy 2:15, that childbearing— being the role of women exclusively—nullifies the something in us that wants to countermand the consequence of sin: that man would rule.

In the sixties when women were “liberated” and childbearing could be regulated to a degree, women then did begin exerting this very desire to be in control. The unique role God gave to women, we undermined.

I could be all wrong in my understanding of these verses, but honestly, I don’t see a Biblical reason why this interpretation isn’t viable. And it seems to fit the facts.

All of that to say, the gender issues of today are a result of sin. But maybe that’s self-evident.

Pro-Life Doesn’t End With Birth

Painting_Lhermitte-Les_Glaneuses-1898When abortion advocates first started down the road to change society’s view on the subject, they framed the issue by identifying themselves as Pro-Choice and “the other side” as Anti-Abortion. Some in the media still use the latter designation, but those in opposition to killing the least, most helpless, voiceless people—the unborn—prefer to be known as Pro-Life.

But yesterday I read an article that poignantly reminded us that Pro-Life ought not end with ensuring a baby’s birth. God’s heart, as He says over and over in the Bible, is for orphans and widows and strangers. In the Mosaic Law, He made provision for those people so that they wouldn’t be tossed aside. The principle was this: in that agrarian society those who worked their field were not to meticulously harvest every last grain or olive or grape. They should reap their field, but not go over it a second time so that whatever they missed, the widows, the orphans, the strangers could harvest for themselves—an undertaking called gleaning.

So before the people of Israel arrived in the Promised Land, God had in place a plan to provide for the people some today call throw-away people.

Unfortunately, God’s people don’t always reflect God’s heart. The article I read detailed an encounter a mom had in the grocery store. Mind you, she’s a foster mom as well as a mom to her own sons. She had her hands full. Her husband, who was with her, saw someone he knew, so got caught up talking. The mom decided to proceed to the check out. Here’s how things went:

The 7 month old I was holding got hungry and started clawing at my shirt trying to nurse. The 1.5 year old tried to grab candy that I wouldn’t let her have and starting wailing. (No, she is not spoiled. Sometimes, 1.5 year olds cry loudly. I promise that sometimes, regardless of how awesome a parent you are, they just do.) The 2.5 year old was trying to help his 6 & 8-year-old brothers put the groceries on the belt, and of course, he dropped the container of blueberries, which spilled all over the floor. To top it all off, I had WIC [The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children] coupons for our foster daughter, and I grabbed the wrong cheese (I swear it was labeled WIC approved!), so the cashier had to call someone to come figure it all out.

OK, pretty much chaos. She apologized to the people in line behind her, but one couple responded in a judgmental way:

The man looked at the woman and said in a voice much too loud, “Some people should stop having kids.”

Yeah, he didn’t know she was a foster mom. Now here’s the kicker. When she got to the parking lot and began loading groceries, she saw the couple get into a car with a Pro-Life bumper sticker on it. Now it’s possible that they bought the car used and the bumper sticker was already in place. Nevertheless, the point is clear: life begins with birth, so those of us advocating for the unborn ought not stop caring when they successfully come into the world.

As I was reading in Deuteronomy this morning about the gleaning laws, it struck me that God included “the aliens” in with the widows and orphans. It seems a little odd at first. But people didn’t buy and sell land back then the way we do today. Especially the Jews. They divvied up the land by drawing lots, and they were to retain those parcels in perpetuity. Should they sell, they actually would be leasing the land because at the Jubilee—every fifty years—the land would revert to the family that had received the parcel when they first arrived.

People from other countries, as I recall, were not part of this process. So they weren’t land owners. The best they could do would be to hire out as a worker for someone else. Or glean someone else’s land.

If God’s people are to have God’s heart, it seems to me we should have as much concern for the orphans—the foster care kids—as we do the unborn. But we should also care for the “aliens.”

This seems especially important at a time when we seem to be flooded with “aliens,” including a host of illegal aliens. And now, potentially, aliens from a strange land that may harbor enemies who wish us harm. I’m referring, of course, to the Syrian refugees our government is making arrangements to bring to America.

Some US citizens, including some Christians, complain. Why don’t they go to Saudi Arabia or Kuwait or United Arab Emirates? I’ve asked the same question. After all, we have our own immigration issues to sort out. Why bring in more people when we haven’t figured out how we’re to handle the influx of immigrants we already have?

But I wonder if these questions reflect the heart of God. I suspect not because here’s what God actually said in Scripture:

He [the LORD God] executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. (Deut. 26:18-19)

Later Moses instructed the priests in a rite to remind the people of God’s commands when they arrived in the land. First the priest would tell the people what God had said, then the people would respond. The first on the list were familiar, don’t make any idols, honor your father and your mother, but then tucked in behind Don’t mislead a blind person, is the command involving aliens:

‘Cursed is he who distorts the justice due an alien, orphan, and widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’ (Deut. 27:19)

If we look into the New Testament, we see Jesus commanding others to love their neighbors. And then the lawyer who had prompted Jesus’s statement asked a question designed to let him wiggle off the hook: who is my neighbor? Jesus responded by telling a story about a stranger. He didn’t cast the stranger as the one in need of help, however. He made him the hero of the story. The guy who acted like a neighbor was the hated stranger who put his prejudices aside to help someone in need.

That’s God’s heart. He cares about people. He makes it clear in Paul’s letters that those who follow Him are equal in His eyes.

So here’s the thing I realized this morning. In some of these places in the Middle East, it’s been next to impossible to preach the gospel. But as Syrian refugees stream into the West, they have the chance of hearing about Jesus, perhaps for the first time. We might not be able to go to the mission field, but God is bringing the mission field to us.

What a great opportunity for all of us who are Pro-Life!

Published in: on September 24, 2015 at 6:23 pm  Comments (8)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – The First Principle, Day 3

Marissa Shrock with First Principle.image The CSFF Blog Tour wraps up the September jaunt from one participating site to another, all focused on the debut novel by author Marissa Shrock entitled The First Principle. The story is a dystopian fantasy aimed at young adult (twelve to eighteen) readers.

It takes place in a future world after the Great Collapse and the Second Civil War. Because of the unrest in North America, the Council of World Peacekeepers stepped in and created the United Regions of North America, consisting of seven regions which incorporated what had been Canada, the US, and Mexico.

The protagonist is sixteen-year-old Vivica Wilkins, daughter of the governor of the Great Lakes Region.

And now, a closer look at this novel.

A Review

The Story. Vivica is part of the elite class, the ruling class, and as such enjoys privilege. In addition she’s bright, has mad hacking skills which she uses to create a little side business changing student grades, and just recently broke up with her boyfriend, Ben. Not her choice.

She wants to be over him, thinks she is, but can’t help noticing that he’s been hanging with Meredith Alderton—the very girl Officer Martina Ward from Population Management wants to talk to. Meredith refuses to go with her, so Officer Ward publicly accuses her of being pregnant, a crime which mandates termination under the Posterity Protection and Self-Determination Act.

When Meredith tries to run from the room, Officer Ward shoots her with a tranquilizer gun. The incident creates a stir among the students, and they press their history teacher to discuss the termination law, why it came into being, and why it still exists.

Days later, one of the students who protested the law the loudest has disappeared and the teacher has been fired.

Vivica’s mother is in line to be named the next President because the current President is about to retire. Shortly before the Governor’s Ball, Vivica discovers she’s pregnant. She doesn’t immediately tell her mother, and in fact covers up the fact by using her hacker skills when she’s called in for the mandatory pregnancy test.

Vivica, her mother, and their entourage travel to the Capitol where the announcement will be made that Governor Wilkins has been selected to succeed President Hernandez, but as she’s introduced to the crowd, an assassin opens fire. The President is killed and Vivica’s mother, wounded. Vivica herself is not hurt.

The Vice President assumes control of the government and declares the assassination to be the work of rebels—those throughout the United Regions who chafe against laws such as the one which mandates pregnancy vaccines, enforced pregnancy termination, and others which oppress people and keep the poor in their place.

Vivica is convinced that her old boyfriend, Ben, who gave her a copy of the illegal Bible, is a member of the rebels. She wants to warn him, but ends up telling him she is pregnant—and he is the father. He wants her to keep the baby. Vivica struggles to decide what to do. If she leaves and goes into hiding so she can have the baby, she will most likely destroy her mother’s chances of becoming President. And does she want to give up her life just when she might have a chance to influence more young people?

The decision seems to be made for her, however, when her mother calls her into her study and asks her if she’s pregnant. She tries to cover up the truth, but her mother knows somehow. And now Vivica is certain she wants to protect her unborn child.

Can she? That and many other intriguing twists and turns make up the bulk of the story. Telling you any more would certainly be to spoil it.

What Did I Think. The First Principle has much more action and intrigue than I expected. I wasn’t expecting people to die. It is a dystopian story, so I shouldn’t have been surprised. Certainly the level of violence increased the stakes.

The world was believably futuristic, though I thought there were some places that could have used a bit more inventiveness. I thought in light of the retina scans, self-propelled vehicles and such, there would be further advances in things like music and make-up and air travel. There was appropriate slang terminology, and nothing distracting. In short, for the most part the world felt as if it was the kind of place our world could become, given the current trends.

Vivica and her friends acted remarkably like sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds. The author, Marissa Shrock, is a language arts middle school teacher, and her familiarity with teens shows. At times I would have liked to see the protagonist act out her emotions more. Generally we’re told how she feels. For example, her body guard is killed protecting her mother, but Viv shows very little grief despite the fact that this man was someone she clearly liked and was with every day.

The story was unpredictable and action packed. I didn’t know from one moment to the other what would happen. There was intrigue, romance, danger, betrayal, kindness, faith, courage—all on display through the twists and turns the plot took.

The themes about liberty and protecting new life and faith in Jesus Christ were naturally woven into the fabric of the story. These are powerful and thought-provoking especially in light of the SCOTUS ruling on same sex-marriage and the undercover Planned Parenthood videos.

All in all, The First Principle is a quality book. I’m so glad CSFF featured it this month. It was through their partnership with Kregel Publications that I received a review copy. I’m happy to say, unreservedly and without any agreement to write a review promoting it, I highly recommend this novel to teens and to parents of teens and to any readers who love dystopian stories.

But don’t take my word for it. Check out what the other participants in the tour have said.

CSFF Blog Tour – The First Principle, Day 2

united-states-constitution-we-the-peopleThe First Principle by Marissa Shrock, this month’s CSFF feature, is a young adult novel, but its themes are quite adult.

In some ways, this is a warning, and in others it’s a recommendation. Warning: parents would be wise to discuss this book with younger teens. I taught 7th and 8th graders for years, and I know that as a group they are not naive. They’re aware of what’s happening in the world—movies and television almost insure that this is so.

But at the same time, they may not have thought through how their own life or the lives of those they care about might be affected by their choices. They might not have thought about what a loss of freedom of religion and freedom of speech would mean for their own lives. They might not have come to grips with what living under an autocratic government might mean.

In other words, this novel can serve as a wake up call, if parents choose to use it in this way by discussing some of the big issues the book raises. Younger readers would certainly benefit from the help of their parents as they process these themes.

Because the book does deal candidly with things like disobeying governmental laws that are wrong, adults can also benefit by reading this book and applying it to the circumstances in which we live today.

We saw so recently the flood of protest aimed at the Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis for allowing her religious beliefs to affect her compliance to a court order in regard to doing her job. Some Christians lined up with the general public to throw verbal stones at her, saying that the only way she could exercise her freedom of religion was to quit her job.

But The First Principle raises the question about complying with a law mandating abortion. Do people of faith have the freedom of their beliefs to resist such a law? And if those rights are trampled upon by the government, should Christians fight the government or comply?

In the novel, the underground movement, largely involving Christians, determines to lead a revolution. Is this where our religious beliefs should take us?

These are questions adults should think about, not just teens. Here’s a Prager University video entitled “Why We’re Losing Liberty” which gives more food for thought.

Of course, the ultimate arbiter of our actions should be God’s word and His Holy Spirit. In the case of Kim Davis and the court mandate to issue marriage licenses, including to homosexual applicants, Christians on both sides quoted Scripture which seemed to conflict, such as render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, on one hand, and we ought to obey God rather than man, on the other. How is a Christian to resolve what the Bible says when it seems to offer contradictory principles?

Then too, how do we reconcile our religious beliefs with government mandates that contradict those beliefs? In The First Principle, the word of God itself came under attack by the government and the belief that Jesus is the way, the truth, the life became branded as exclusivist and therefore hate speech.

Is this where America is headed? And how are Christians to respond?

Indeed, The First Principle raised issues that adults need to think about.

See what other members of the tour have to say about this book and the ideas it raises. You’ll find the list of participants and links to the articles I’ve read at the end of the Day 1 post.

CSFF Blog Tour – The First Principle, Day 1

cover_TheFirstPrincipleThis month the CSFF Blog Tour is featuring The First Principle by Marissa Shrock, a young adult novel produced by Kregel Publications.

Within the first few pages, it’s apparent that this book is another futuristic dystopian story, but there’s a twist. Instead of being in a group of outsiders, oppressed by the authoritative government, the protagonist, Vivica Wilkins, is the daughter of one of the ruling class. She’s been schooled in The Way Things Work, and knows what to expect. Why, then, is she bothered when Population Management tries to do their job?

This slim book (235 pages) packs a mighty punch, confronting relevant issues of our day. After all, seed for autocratic rule that makes a futuristic dystopian world possible, is sown decades before the fact.

Two things are clear from the start: only a state approved version of sacred texts is allowed, so Christians have to hide their Bibles and worship in secret; and birth is “managed” by the state, either through birth control, or in the event of a “problem,” through abortion.

Clearly, more than the seeds of the kind of state-controlled birth management revealed in the book are in place today. With Planned Parenthood receiving tax dollars to provide health services to women, including abortions, our government is already complicit in the deaths of millions of unborn babies.

Should our government now turn a blind eye to the selling of infant body parts, we will move further down the road of autocratic control, and ultimately of mandated abortion. So, yes, Marissa Shrock has exposed a pivotal and relevant issue, not simply in an imagined future world, but in our society today.

Other CSFF members participating in the blog tour for The First Principle include the following (check marks link to articles I’ve read):

Julie Bihn
Thomas Clayton Booher
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
April Erwin
Carol Gehringer
Victor Gentile
Carol Keen
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Megan @ Hardcover Feedback
Joan Nienhuis
Jalynn Patterson
Chawna Schroeder
Jessica Thomas
Shane Werlinger


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