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.

Reprise: Was Christ A Right-wing Conservative?

Medieval_Week_2010_the-kingWhen I address a subject I suspect might be controversial, I find I want to qualify my position before I state it. So here’s the qualification: I believe the Bible addresses a number of sin issues that concern right-wing conservatives. Things like abortion and the definition of marriage.

What I don’t find in the Bible, though, is Christian political activism. Of course, that could be because of the different forms of government in Bible times. Perhaps, then, we should advocate for a monarchy. ;-)

The truth is, no matter what form of government we design, man’s sin nature dooms it. Monarchies can be benevolent as long as the king is good, but watch out when an evil king takes power. See, for example, Judah’s evil king Manasseh who indulged in child sacrifice as part of his idol worship.

If we believe the Bible, a democracy ought to be a guarantee of a sinful government. Scripture says the road is narrow leading to life. By implication, we can conclude there are more people who are opposed to God than who follow Him. So in a democracy, believers will be out-voted.

But the founders of the present US government came up with what looked like a sure thing—a representative government littered with checks and balances. Surely not all branches of government could be simultaneously corrupted by the influences of the world, could they? In truth, they may have developed the best government on the planet — for about a day. Or maybe a little longer. But even then it wasn’t perfect.

You see, they couldn’t predict how powerful lobbyists would become, how democratic our representative process would become, how legislative our courts would become, how apathetic our voters would be come, how bureaucratic each part of government would become.

And yet, given the problems of all governments, there are still some Christians who think the answer is to create better government.

Don’t get me wrong. I think we need Christians in politics. More importantly, I think we need Christians in government. But I also think we need Christians in entertainment, in plumbing, in banks, in schools.

Yet I see professing Christians expending themselves on political causes, as if changing a law or a Congressman will somehow bring heaven on earth.

It won’t.

What’s more, in the political activism, many see vitriol — a win-at-all-costs attitude, a bullying, and yes, an intolerance.

I’ll tell you what I don’t see, or at least can’t imagine. I can’t imagine Jesus yelling invective at those on the opposite side of the street. Certainly He did not flinch when it came to spiritual matters. He showed zeal for His Father’s house when He fashioned a whip and went in after the cheats manning the money-changing tables. He showed intolerance toward those who pretended holiness.

But political change? It wasn’t what He was about.

He came to change people—to redeem us and make us new. And when He left earth, He gave us a charge to make disciples, not to make a godly government.

Of course I want a godly government. I pray for a godly government. I vote for those I believe will best lead us into a society that makes it possible for us to make disciples. I just don’t see Jesus leading us into political reform.

This post first appeared here in April 2011.

On Being Dogmatic – Revisited

big_wavesIn today’s western culture, most people seem to be dogmatic about only one thing—that no one should be dogmatic. I’m reminded of the day when I realized I was prejudiced against people who are prejudiced. These positions are nonsequiturs.

In the case of dogmatism, it seems to me professing Christians are adopting this cultural position: dogmatic opposition to those who are dogmatic. Hence, beliefs which were once widely-held such as the authority of the Bible, original sin, redemption through Christ alone, even God’s sovereign right to judge His creation, are in question, if not under attack, within certain groups of people who claim the name of Christ.

Interestingly, the Bible commands us to be dogmatic—at least that’s how I characterize the “stand firm” passages in the New Testament. Paul says “stand firm” to the Corinthian church, three times to the Ephesians, a couple times to the Thessalonians, and once to the Philippians. Peter said it too.

In these verses we’re told to stand firm in the faith, in the Lord (twice), and in the grace of God. Once we’re told to stand against the schemes of the devil.

Another time the idea expanded:

So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us
– 1 Thess 2:15

Hold to the traditions the first century apostles taught—the ones we know of because they are written down for us in the Bible. But holding to traditions is what gets people labeled dogmatic, especially in a day when change seems to rule life.

Maybe it’s time for Christians to stop blushing or dodging when someone hurls “dogmatic” at us as an invective. Maybe it’s time to answer, You got that right. I am standing firm, just like my Commanding Officer told me to.

Ah, but there’s another problem for Christians—all this warfare imagery in Scripture. Couple that with the Christian’s claim at exclusivity, and we are labeled as hate-filled because we aren’t amenable to everyone else’s religion.

The key here, I believe, is for Christians to be dogmatic about the right things. We are to be dogmatic about who Jesus is, about God’s nature, Man’s sin and need for reconciliation with God, salvation by grace through faith in the finished work of Christ at the cross, our opposition to Satan, the authority of Scripture, Christ’s soon return.

No question, being dogmatic separates us from our culture—just as being light separates us from darkness, being salt separates us from that which is flavorless.

You see, dogmatic—that is, standing firm even when the wind and waves come—isn’t all that different from faith. Neither one depends on what we can see, and both can get us through the pressures of life.

This post, minus some revision, first appeared here in September 2010.

Published in: on September 9, 2015 at 5:47 pm  Comments (14)  
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When God Answers Prayer

Elisabeth and jim ElliotRecently on an atheist’s site, I think, or in the comments of another blog I follow, critics of Christianity—well, really, of God—brought up the idea that it is silly for Christians here in America to believe that God answers our every little insignificant prayer, especially in light of the fact that other Christians are in jail and have been beheaded or have had to flee their homes.

I understand that thinking, but in fact, it paralyzes the Christian so that we think we ought not pray for things. Because, the truth is, my needs are not as great as those in Indochina or in the Middle East or in Western Africa who are suffering for their faith.

But whose needs are “big enough” or “important enough” for God to hear and answer? I mean, is it only the Christian like Jim Elliot who is facing death that gets to cry out to Him? Or is it OK to pray if a friend or relative is facing death? Maybe we shouldn’t even bother about those things because what really matters is a person’s spiritual condition and eternal destiny. Maybe those are the only prayers that are “big enough.”

I think this is rather silly. God hearing our cry for help has nothing to do with the size of our problem but everything to do with Him being a loving God. He hears us and gives to us in our need because He’s delighted to provide for His children.

Do human parents only listen to their children if they’re bleeding and need to be rushed to the hospital? Hardly! They hear their child when she says, “Daddy, watch me!” Or, “Mommy, look what I can do.” Why? Because the child is so advanced, so capable? Not at all. They listen and respond because they love their son or their daughter.

God’s the same way.

But of course the critics will come back and say, So, your God doesn’t love those who are running for their lives in the Middle East?

That’s a wicked charge. God loves them and walks with them through the floods and through the fire. He’s with us in the valley of the shadow of death. Because he doesn’t swoop us away from the trials and suffering of this life doesn’t mean He’s abandoned us.

Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsy may have seen God’s hand more clearly and felt His presence more unquestionably in the German concentration camp than they ever did in the comfort of their home in Holland.

Peter says those who suffer are blessed because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on them.

If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. (1 Peter 4:14)

Here in the US we have believers who have faced cancer and died, even as they praised God because His presence gave them comfort and peace. We have other believers who have faced cancer and lived, even as they praise God for His healing and sustaining power in their lives.

Are these Christians merely deluded, thinking that God is good no matter what the outcome? Well, not deluded. Actually Christians who see and understand and know that God does in fact keep His promise to work all things for the good of conforming us to the image of His Son, are able to see His hand at work in the trials as well as the joys.

God and sufferingThis little quote has been making the rounds on Facebook, and I think it’s one of the truest expressions of faith in God. We who know Him recognize that He’s not Santa Claus or Grandpa. And yet, He loves us, so we can ask for things that might seem trivial to other people.

To God they aren’t too insignificant to pay attention to because He loves us. What concerns us is of importance to Him.

Unless, of course, what concerns us is something we want to use selfishly or for our own aggrandizement at the expense of others. He’s not going to hear and answer prayer that takes us further from Him or is bad for us spiritually or will harm others.

The point is, God is good and not too busy for even a child’s request or an adult’s plea for something that may seem minor to others. If we’re being selfish, He’ll show us that in His time. And if what we ask for is something He’s going to say no to, He’ll still walk with us through the hardship. Because He doesn’t remove obstacles but helps us over them does not diminish His greatness or His goodness one iota.

Published in: on August 3, 2015 at 6:20 pm  Comments (5)  
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Love Without Standards

daddy-loves-me-648389-mThe word “love” and the word “hate” have been bandied about a great deal of late. The Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage is supposedly a triumph for “love,” while those who call homosexual activity sin are said to “hate.” But what do people mean by these words? Once I would have thought the meanings self-evident, but not any more. Blogger Matt Walsh pointed this out in a recent post which he started by quoting from recent comments he’d received:

    Bella: the Supreme Court matters more than some bigot with a sh*tty blog and ugly kids. Try again
    Anthony: Oh Matt, you are a perfect assh*le… Take your worthless version of the bible, and set yourself on fire. That would make my Sunday:)
    Marc: Matt Walsh is a F**king MORON!
    Steven: F**k you, you f**king worthless douche.
    Maria: Matt you really are a piece of sh*t.
    Brian: The world would be so much better off with you.
    Matthew: Go f**k yourself, Walsh. You not only are a bigot, but you ignore facts and twist and distort truths to make your false point. It’s a common tactic I see from people like you. Equality wins out, bigot.

    Remember, #LoveWins.

There’s nothing like being called a bigoted pile of garbage in the first sentence and being told in the next that love has won. Indeed, you know love has emerged victorious when a bunch of liberals are screaming in your face, calling your children ugly, and urging you to kill yourself.

O-o-o-k-k-ay! Whatever else you think of Matt Walsh, or if you’ve never heard of him before, he has a point here.

Saying “love” in the context of calling someone names and wishing them a painful death does not convince me that any of those commenters understands what love actually is. Rather, the way people seem to be using the term, I’m more reminded of the way toddler-type children behave than of true love. You know, it’s the I-see-it-and-want-it-so-I-should-have-it syndrome. But now society agrees because “love” is involved.

But love without standards is simply selfishness.

Parents, of course, are the best example of love. When their infant cries in the middle of the night, one parent gets up to feed the little helpless bundle. There’s no return for this sacrifice. The baby doesn’t thank the parent and undoubtedly won’t even remember that it ever happened. But a parent who doesn’t care for such basic necessities is guilty of neglect. There are no feelings here. Only other-needs and sacrifice.

No parent will get away with saying, I didn’t feel like getting up and feeding my baby so I stuck a sock in his mouth to keep him from waking me up with his crying.

In the same way, it’s not OK for a parent to say, I want my child to experience life, so there are no rules. If the toddler wants to stuff rocks up his nose, he can. If he wants to flush his sister’s stuffed pony down the toilet, he can. If he wants to jump into the backyard swimming pool, he can.

In actual fact, a loving parent will say no to these things. It is not loving to let a child handle dangerous things in a dangerous way or to do dangerous activities. True love means setting loving standards.

This principle works for husbands and wives as well. A loving husband won’t disappear with his buddies for a week or two, then show up at home as if nothing had happened. A loving wife doesn’t say she wants to have a second husband along with the first one. Husbands and wives may not always “feel the love,” but that doesn’t give them the license to act as if they are not married. If either of them acts as if they’re single, the other one is bound to conclude, you don’t love me. No one would be surprised if divorce followed.

Love has standards.

Sometimes those standards are for the good of the relationship and sometimes they are for the good of the other person. A husband who loves his wife won’t want to see her keep smoking. He knows she’s putting her health at risk, and he wants to see her get rid of the habit.

Of course, when it comes to adults, no one can make another grownup behave in a responsible, sensible way. But love has standards: if you love me, you won’t ignore me; if you love me, you won’t leave me if I get fired; if you love me, you’ll get help with your gambling problem.

Most of these standards are clearly understood, though some couples have standards certain people think are strange while others are so lax with their standards, those same certain people are left shaking their heads. In other words, the standards aren’t universally set. What is universal, however, is that standards exist.

People have some benchmark that shows their love, and often this benchmark puts limits on the other person. Without limits, there really is no love. No one says, I love you, so you can do whatever you want. You want to rob a bank? Sure, go for it. You want to jump out of a plane without a parachute? Hey, I love you too much to stop you. You want to sleep with prostitutes night after night, with no condom and still sleep with me? Well, I love you, so of course I’m fine with that.

Love without standards is no love at all!

And yet any number of people are horrified that Christians believe God loves us any other way. Your god is hateful, they say, because he tells you who you can or can’t love. Well, yes, He does, not because He’s hateful, but because He loves us.

He knows that letting us do whatever is not healthy. He wants the best for us, and out of His love gives us guidance so that we can find what is good and right and best. He not only gives us guidance, He gives us help and strength to say no when we need to—though we still manage to go our own way too often, and suffer the consequences He warned us about.

Slowly, as we mature, we accept God’s standards as evidence of His love for us. He’s actually pretty clear about those standards:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. (1 Cor. 13:4-8a, ESV)

Wisdom, Correction, And False Teaching

Some while ago I read Ridge Burns’s article “Wisdom and Correction.” At the time I was reading in the book of Proverbs.

As it happens, Ridge anchors his article on Proverbs 12:1.

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,
But he who hates reproof is stupid. (Emphasis mine)


Ridge used the NIV which says “correction” instead of “reproof,” but regardless, the thought is just as pointed, if not more so.

I couldn’t help but think about how important “correction” is to a writer. Without input from readers/critique partners and eventually from an editor, a writer’s work will rarely be as good as it could be.

Writers learn from rejection letters that sting and maybe even carve away a pound of flesh, but they have the potential of pushing him on to better writing. Those of us who are pre-published also learn from contests or writing exercises. Any objective opinion can serve as correction from which we can learn and which we would be “stupid” to ignore.

The second thing that came to mind when I read Ridge’s article fit with something I had prayed about. It seems to me that false teaching, which so often gets started from inside the Church and has its origins in Scripture, develops in large part because the person who deviates from the truth does not and will not receive correction.

I thought first of Solomon himself. Unlike his father David who repented when he was caught in sin, Solomon hardened his heart and drifted further from God. Because Solomon took up the idol worship of his foreign wives, God sent a prophet to tell him He planned to divide the kingdom, taking all but the tribe of Judah away from his son and his son’s son. Instead of getting on his knees and repenting, Solomon acted like Saul had in regard to David and went after the man anointed to take the throne of the northern kingdom, intent to kill him.

Solomon seems to say, God said? So what. I say I can do what I want.

And isn’t that what false teachers do? The Bible says, No one knows the day or hour when Christ will return, but the false teacher says, I know.

All have sinned, our righteousness is like filthy rags, and even Peter had to confess his hypocrisy toward the Gentile Christians, but the false teachers says, I no longer sin.

And what about the one who ignores the clear counsel of Scripture to love our brothers, our enemies, our neighbors, and justifies mean-spirited, judgmental attitudes and behavior?

Or how about the universalists who are so sure they know better than God that Mankind is just too deserving of “fair” treatment than they are of punishment?

I could go on and on about false teaching concerning gender, the Bible, Creation, who Jesus is, and more. So many different false teachings, and the people behind them claim Scripture. Except, not the verses that contradict their position. Those they explain away or ignore.

For example, I’ve had a discussion with someone in the Holiness crowd (those who claim they no longer sin because in Christ they have a new nature). I pointed to Paul’s letters to the Corinthians about the brother who was living in an incestuous relationship and the church that was divided by bickering and greed.

Look how Paul addresses them:

To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling (1 Cor. 1:2a)

Yet just a few verses later, Paul confronts and reproves them for the quarrels in the church. Then in chapter three he says

for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? (1 Cor. 3:3)

But in the very same chapter he says

Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (1 Cor. 3:16)

Clearly Paul identified these Corinthians as Christians, and yet he confronted them about the things they were doing that were sinful and needed to change.

You’d think such a clear example would demonstrate that Christians in fact do sin (and need to repent). And if not this example, then surely Paul’s clear statements in Romans 7 that the things he doesn’t want to do he does, and the things he wants to do, he ends up not doing. He concludes, Oh wretched man that I am, but thanks be to God.

Clear. Unequivocal, right? Yet those I’ve held this discussion with have ways around each of those verses. They do not accept the correction of the Word of God, saying instead that they understand more fully what these passages intended, all so that they can hammer Scripture into the shape of their theology.

It is no different than the professing Christians who “re-image” Christ (see for example the discussion that would not die – “Attacks On God From Within”). In the end, they are no different than those of the liberal persuasion who bowed to higher criticism to determine what they would or would not accept the Bible.

Since the presupposition of the higher critics was based on rationalism, anything supernatural had to go. Out went the virgin birth, healing the sick, raising the dead, Christ’s resurrection itself, and all you were left with was a milquetoast Christ who sat around saying platitudes that have formed the basis of today’s “tolerant” society—stand for nothing and accept everything.

Well, well, well. I could keep going, but I think the point is clear. Scripture itself is the corrective, but if someone rejects it … what was it Proverbs said about him?

This article, minus the various editorial changes and revisions, first appeared here in February 2012.

Dealing With Logs And Specks

logSunday my pastor Mike Erre preached on grace in the Church. He rightly pointed out our salvation is by grace and involves the past, the present, and the future. We were saved at the point of time we passed from death into the newness of life in Christ. We are being saved as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). And we will be saved when we are raised incorruptible (Col. 3:4). We are, he said, in process.

We use phrases like life is a journey and we are growing. We say we are being conformed to the image of God’s Son. In other words, we recognize that none of us have arrived yet. Even the apostle Paul said so about himself:

Not that I have already obtained it [conformity to Christ’s death leading to resurrection] or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. (Phil. 3:12)

The point of my pastor’s message, however, was this: we are eager to accept the fact that we are a work in progress, and less eager to do so about everyone else. We have reached, let’s say, point D on the continuum of spiritual growth and the tendency is to expect to find other Christians at least at point D—as if our level of spiritual maturity defines what it means to be a Christian.

He concluded that the Christian life needs to be more about taking logs out of our own eyes than looking around to see what specks we can find in others.

It’s a good point. Except this week I read the book of Galatians. It’s a pretty hard-hitting book. In part Paul confronts the people in the church—Jewish believers, you’d have to think—who were insisting that a real Christian had to be circumcised. Apparently, and understandably, this was a big issue in the first church. The Jewish believers rightly saw Jesus as their Messiah. They weren’t thinking they’d taken up some new religion.

But Paul and the elders in Jerusalem wrestled with this issue earlier and clearly determined following the law was not what saved and therefore Gentile believers did not have to start keeping Jewish law. Yet here was the issue again, in a different church.

Paul, however, didn’t sit back saying, well, they’re not as far on the continuum of salvation as those of us who understand that circumcision is not necessary. We’ll just be patient with them and let God show them the truth.

Uh, no. God’s means of showing them the truth was the Church and the man who was their spiritual leader.

Paul was not particularly gentle here, either. He encouraged the church, but he came down hard on the one dumping false doctrine in their laps:

A little leaven [the person teaching false doctrine] leavens the whole lump of dough. I have confidence in you in the Lord that you will adopt no other view; but the one who is disturbing you will bear his judgment, whoever he is. But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision [the need to follow the law instead of trusting in the grace of God], why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished. I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves. (Gal. 5:9-12)

The word translated “mutilate” here carries the connotation of castration. I told you, Paul was not being particularly gentle here. He goes on to list out stuff that he says are deeds of the flesh, then adds, “I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

In contrast he lists the fruit of the Spirit and concludes that those who belong to Christ have “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:24b-25).

The next chapter is more hard hitting confrontation.

So which is it? Are we to be extend grace to the weaker brother, understanding that he’s in progress just like I am, that he doesn’t have to be where I am spiritually because God is bringing him along in His time? Or are we to confront sin and chastise whoever is teaching false doctrine and admonish the brethren to walk by the Spirit?

As I write this, I think a couple things come clear. First, Paul was criticizing the Galatians for thinking a legalistic act and not God’s grace meant they were Christians. Today, it seems as if Western Christians are more apt to think like the Galatians than Paul. Yes, I can hear some say, there are things you have to do if you’re to be a Christian—as if we need to clean up in order to stand before God rather than run to God with the stench of the pig-sty still clinging to us and let Him clothe us with His righteousness.

Second, it seems as if Paul reserved his harshest language for the false teachers—the ones responsible for leavening the lump of dough.

Third, we are to restore one caught in trespass with a spirit of gentleness (Gal. 6:1). Confrontation is not intended to separate the sheep from the goats. It is intended to restore, bring the straying lamb back into the fold.

And during the restoration process, we are to take a good look at our own lives, so we don’t think we’ve got it all figured out, only to fall ourselves.

As I see it, there’s tension here. We are saved by grace and we are to live by grace. But we are to crucify the deeds of the flesh and restore one caught in trespass. All the while checking our own lives.

It’s the logs. We’ve got to constantly be checking for logs. But when specks pop up, we need to deal with them too. Gently!

Prayer For Muslims

30-Days Of Prayer posterThis past Sunday, I stumbled upon a booklet calling for Christians to pray for Muslims during the month of Ramadan.

The year I spent in Tanzania when I was seventeen, we hired a man to care for our yard and garden. My parents also invited him to have the noon mean with us—which became our dinner, not lunch, so that Omari would have at least one substantial meal. Through that year we got to know him some, including the fact that he was Muslim by tradition. He didn’t pray at the prescribed times during the day, but he did keep Ramadan.

Ever since then, I’ve been mindful of this special month, but it wasn’t until this year when I read the booklet I referred to that I understood why Ramadan shifted to different points during the year. In essence, the Islamic calendar is shorter than the Gregorian calendar, “with an annual drift of 11 or 12 days” (Wikipedia).

This year the Muslim world will celebrate Ramadan June 18 to July 17. As they have since 1993, a group of Christians have chosen to focus their prayers on the Muslim world during Ramadan. It’s a great goal, I think.

In part, here’s what the press release says:

Christians are gearing up … for the 30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World, an international movement that began in 1993. Millions of Christians worldwide, and from many denominations, have regularly participated in this concerted prayer effort for Muslims coinciding annually with the month of Ramadan, a time of the year when Muslims are much more deeply aware of spiritual matters.

Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is a time when Muslims are supposed to practice self‐restraint by fasting (abstaining from food and drink and other physical needs) during daylight hours. It is also a time to make peace and strengthen ties with family, friends and neighbors, and do away with bad habits. The Arabic word for “fasting” (sawm) means, “to refrain;” not only refraining from food and drink, but also from evil actions and thoughts. Muslims hope that as a result God will be more inclined to hear their prayers.

WorldChristian.com is the North American coordinator of the annual 30 Days prayer focus designed to raise awareness and encourage new initiatives to reach out to Muslims—around the world and across the street—with more understanding, and with faith, hope and the love of Christ.

When 30 Days started, Islam was not a daily news item; much has changed since the 9/11 attacks. ISIS! Al‐ Qaeda! Boko Haram! These radical terror groups now invade our news channels every day. But there is another story, an even greater story that is unfolding across the Muslim world today.

Mission strategist and author David Garrison says: “We are in the midst of the greatest turning of Muslims to Christ in 14 centuries of Muslim‐Christian interaction. More than 80% of all the Muslim movements to Christ in history have occurred in the past two to three decades, a time period that coincides with the modern prayer movement for Muslims.”

There are a number of organizations sponsoring this prayer effort including Voice of the Martyrs, TEAM, Tyndale, and Christ for All Peoples.

The 30-day prayer plan is to pray for a particular country or region each of the thirty days of Ramadan. If you’re interested, you can access the information on line at the 30 Days Of Prayer site or you can purchase prayer booklets, either individually or in bulk should you wish to make them available to a Bible study or prayer group.

I’m convinced praying for Muslims, whether we view them as neighbors or as enemies, is something that fits into God’s commandment to Christians to love. Too many Christians can skirt the topic of loving Muslims by saying, we don’t know any Muslims. But we forget that we can pray for people we haven’t ever spoken to. The fact is, God knows them all by name. He also hears and answers prayer, and He can do the impossible.

From time to time, I wonder what happened to Omari. For a number of years he would write to my dad, but then the letters stopped. What became of him? Of his family? Did he ever put his faith in Jesus Christ? Are his children preparing to celebrate Ramadan in a few weeks, or are they gathering with other Christians to pray for their Muslim neighbors?

I certainly wasn’t faithful in praying for Omari, though he sat at our table day after day for an entire year, though he spent time learning English from my sister, though he worked diligently at his job. I don’t want to miss another opportunity to pray for people who God can bring to Himself—regular people who need to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed in an understandable way.

I’d like to invite anyone else who might be so inclined, to join the prayer team. There’s nothing to sign, though you’re welcome to go public in the comments, if you want. Sometimes making a commitment others know about helps us to be faithful. But some may think these decisions are for the prayer closet and the prayer closet alone. That’s fine, too. God hears and answers corporate prayer and individual prayer.

Either way, may we see God work to move the mountain of unbelief in the hearts of thousands in the days to come.

Published in: on May 26, 2015 at 6:22 pm  Comments (2)  
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Myths About Evangelicals – They’re All A Bunch Of Pharisees

512px-House_on_the_rock,_island_of_St_MarkoFrom time to time I get out my soapbox and pull myself to the top in order to decry some of the fantastical things people—even some professing Christians—say about those of us who believe the Bible to be true.

One I find particularly egregious is this notion that Evangelicals, or Bible-believing Christians—you know, those who think Adam and Eve were real people and the Garden of Eden was an actual place—are Pharisees. Some might even add, Pharisees of the worst kind!

This statement shows a lack of understanding, both about Pharisees and about Christians.

I’ve addressed the misconception about Pharisees and Christians before (see “Who Are The Pharisees?” and “Christians Are Not Pharisees”). But as I read through Matthew’s record of Jesus’s encounters with the Pharisees, a couple thoughts ran through my head.

1) “Religious” was not the problem Jesus had with the Pharisees. The main problem He had with them was that they rejected Him as Messiah. Long before the Pharisees conspired to arrest Jesus, try Him, and execute Him, Jesus knew they opposed Him. After all, they did things like demand He prove He was who He said He was and throw out trick questions to get Him to a) blaspheme, b) break the Mosaic Law, or c) denounce Roman rule.

2) The only religious activity Jesus hated was false religious activity. The Pharisees went around praying in public so people could see how pious they were. When they fasted, they made a show of it by neglecting their appearance so people would know they were going without.

3) The Pharisees focused on the external and the trivial, not the internal and the “weightier provisions of the law,” justice, mercy, and faithfulness. [And who today thinks of the law as teaching mercy and faithfulness?]

4) The Pharisees were crooks. They not only ripped off the people buying animals from them in the temple, they falsified their weights and shrank their measuring standard, all so they could get rich at the expense of others.

5) They twisted the law and added their own traditions to it so they could duck out from under the things they didn’t like, so they could stack other things in their favor.

6) They also misled many. The rabbis taught their disciples to do as they were doing and more so. They also “shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in” (Matt. 23:13b).

7 On the outside the Pharisees looked as if they were keeping the law, but inwardly they were “full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matt. 23:28b). Lawlessness! Who ever associates the Pharisees with lawlessness? The typical, or stereotypical, view of the Pharisee is someone parsing each tiny aspect of the law and bending over backwards to adhere to it. Legalistic might be a good way of describing the traditional view of Pharisees. And certainly some of what they did or said—tithing the smallest spices, insisting Jesus’s disciples ceremonially wash their hands, criticizing Jesus for healing on the Sabbath, and so on—would fall in the category of legalism.

But Jesus didn’t accuse them of being too picky about their adherence to the Law. Rather, He said inwardly they were without the Law. Can you imagine what these men who had grown up studying the Law must have thought when Jesus told them they were full of lawlessness?

In the end, I do think Christians should learn from the Pharisees (after all, all Scripture is for doctrine, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness – 2 Tim. 3:16). We are not insulated from their sins.

In a nutshell, the “woes” Jesus pronounced against the Pharisees stemmed from their pride, their false teaching which mislead others, their misuse of the Law, their neglect of justice and mercy and faithfulness, and their focus on the external rather than their heart attitudes.

The book of James ties what a person does with the reality, or “aliveness,” of his faith. The Pharisees showed their profession of faith was empty and meaningless because of what they did—flaunting their supposed spirituality, taking advantage of widows, cheating worshipers, holding others to a standard they themselves didn’t keep. They were religious phonies.

Anyone professing Christ can be just as much a phony as any of those Pharisees were. And even when we want to put our beliefs in practice, we can be seduced by pride or greed or selfishness. Our Christian walk can become so self-centric we forget that God’s heart is first and foremost for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger.

Too often the American Christian follows our culture into me-ism, into looking out for number one—which can manifest as me, my family, my nation. We forget that God so loved the world. Not just our little corner of the world.

So, no, Evangelical Christians are not Pharisees. That’s a myth!

But that doesn’t mean we can’t fall into Pharisaical behavior. It doesn’t mean we can let down our guard when it comes to the sins the Pharisees were guilty of.

It also means that there may be people professing Christ, in the same way the Pharisees professed a special relationship with God, when in fact they don’t know Him. Jesus said so Himself:

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’ ” (Matt. 7:21-23)

There’s that word “lawlessness” again. Isn’t it ironic that the Pharisees, so proficient in the Law, were guilty of lawlessness? But apparently the same will be true of some who profess Christ.

And how can we know the difference between Christians who are the real deal and those just pretending? Jesus turned around and told a parable about two guys who built houses, one on rock, one on sand. He prefaced the story by saying, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them . . . ” (Matt. 7:24a)

Kind of the same thing James said about works proving that faith is alive.

The Truth About The Police

Philadelphia_PoliceBecause the Bible makes some very specific statements about obeying those in authority over us, most Christians are apt to view the police as peacekeepers, just doing their job. But of late, some troubling actions by police around the country have come to light.

Some, to be sure, such as the accusations against the officer in Ferguson, have proved false, whether the general population acknowledges that fact or not. The media has a way of editing video to show one side and to tell the story they want the public to believe.

When the facts come out, the public has already made up their mind. It’s nothing short of mob mentality depicted in old westerns and in books like To Kill A Mockingbird when mobs sought to lynch people they had determined, without an examination of facts, to be guilty of some crime.

With all the fallout from those slanted stories—riots, NYPD officers murdered—and the presence of video recording devices in the hands of many, if not most, bystanders, you’d think police around the country would be especially cautious. But no.

Recently we’ve seen video of two policemen breaking into a business and stealing stock, an officer shooting a man in the back, a group of officers kicking and punching a suspect, a CHP officer repeatedly punching a homeless woman, and a SWAT officer snatching a phone from the hand of an onlooker who was filming an incident, then smashing it on the ground.

Then there was the film of officers lifting Freddie Gray upright and dragging him to the police van. (Anyone who says he was “just fine” when he was put in the van, and critical when taken out, doesn’t know what “just fine” looks like.)

In short, it’s not possible to view these events and think the police are always the good guys. Of course, they never have been uniformly the good guys. There have been corrupt police in league with various criminal elements for decades. And there have been rogue cops who abused their power. The difference is surveillance cameras and bystander videos are exposing this element.

Unfortunately, many people point to the very public and tragic instances that have made the headlines, and they conclude that “the police” are rotten to the core or that they have racial bias. (Where, I wonder, was the rioting in support of the mentally ill when Kelly Thomas, a mentally ill and homeless man, died in 2011 after being beaten by police, who subsequently were found not guilty of charges brought against them?)

Slowly a perception is forming that all these people in a confrontation with the police are innocent, and the police, out of malice, are simply abusing and killing them at will.

Police_officer_in_riot_gearJust last month, a group of people here in LA tried to paint several LAPD officers with that tainted brush when they shot and killed a robbery suspect who struggled with them. The incident was captured on video and clearly an officer repeatedly ordered the man to let go of the gun—a service weapon belonging to one of the policemen attempting to subdue him.

No matter how the “hate cops” crowd tried to stir up protest against the LAPD, the video showed the sequence of events. And no one said this, but one of the officers directly involved was African-American. As the police secured the scene, onlookers shouted at the officers, particularly at the African-American, calling him (along with a string of profane names) a sell out.

Clearly, there are people who want to destabilize our society. They may think it needs to be destabilized in order to change the status quo. Clearly some things do need to change.

We might start with our treatment of the mentally ill. Africa, the man killed on Skid Row in downtown LA, was schizophrenic as was Kelly Thomas, the victim in Anaheim three years ago. We should also address our attitude toward the homeless. As it happens, more and more cities are passing laws that prohibit people from feeding the homeless.

But there’s a more fundamental problem in play. We as a society no longer have a moral foundation. After World War II the moral ground was largely marshmallow—merely the appearance of firmness when in fact it was little more than the “this is how we’ve done it before” tradition. Now we don’t even have marshmallow.

Our relativistic philosophy is bound to play out on the the streets of our cities in the form of more rioting, more police abuse of power, more crime. Why shouldn’t it when “the Man” is making money hand over fist at the expense of the poor? If right and wrong is only what you perceive, then if I perceive unfairness, I have the right to take my pound of flesh, no matter who may suffer as a result.

Above all, the Church must not be silent. We cannot take sides in a war between police and minority communities. We must stand for justice—for police as well as for the people they serve. We cannot condone abuse and we cannot condone lawlessness. We ought not buckle to the laws that put obstacles in front of serving the least and the lost and the hopeless. We need to find a way to do missions here at home, to offer a way of escape from the tyranny of sin by pointing people to Jesus Christ.

And that includes police.

photo credit: Listening and Learning at Tuttle via photopin (license)

photo credit: Different Conversations via photopin (license)


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