Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: February 2015 (Page 1 of 2)

My Way to Nowhere

P.AllanIn my last post we had our first meeting with Mark.  I see him as a spoiled, direction-less young man.  Sometimes that’s us.  So in that last post, I suggested what we might do to gain guidance from God.  God’s guidance, however, may come in odd ways.  At the risk of boring you, here’s my story.  It’s one way God directs our steps–at least it’s the way he directed mine.

THOSE EARLY “BOUNCING” YEARS.  A year after high school, Lois and I married.  She went to work as a medical assistant in a doctor’s office.  I bounced from job to job, unhappily failing each.  For our first five married years Lois was the main, stable wage earner, while I worked in the mail room of a corporation in New York City, in the printing department of an insurance company’s regional office in New Jersey, as a magazine phone solicitor, even as a mutual funds salesman.  My final sales attempt came at Fuller Brush, lugging my suitcase of wares door-to-door to disinterested housewives.  Meanwhile, Lois moved on from the doctor’s office to the regional office of that insurance company where she became secretary to one of the big-wigs.  I applied to become an agent, but failed the interview.  (Not motivated enough by money.)

THAT SUNDAY NIGHT.  Several years earlier, I had an interesting, passing experience in the church where  Lois and I grew up.  At our Sunday night service, up front at the “altar” where we all gathered to pray, the thought suddenly hit me:  “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be in this kind of environment all the time!”  As quickly as it came, it went.

CORNERED.  Then, years later, a pivotal Monday morning dawned.  Lois had left for work.  I stood alone in our apartment trying to psyche myself for another miserable day of Fuller Brush-selling.  I hated that job.  I hated my failure.  I hated bouncing here and there, dissatisfied and direction-less.  I was hopeless.  In our kitchen, I started to cry.  The long ago Sunday night-thought of that wonderful church environment returned.  Suddenly I sensed the Lord calling me to serve as a pastor.  No words.  No sounds.  No Scripture.  Just no place to go.  He’d backed me into a corner.  I’d failed at everything else.  I could only rely on him and trust that what I was sensing was from him.  What else could I do?

Sometimes God corners us, like a shepherd corners a dumb wandering sheep.  Sometimes God  directs the direction-less by closing every door but one.  And that door may seem unlikely, unbelievable even.  (Who was I to be a pastor?) But when our way has us going nowhere, what choice do we have?

This testimony didn’t get me invited to speak at seminars or write an article on “How to Hear God’s Call”.  Paul’s Damascus road experience would have been far more captivating.   I wish I could tell how was I knocked to the ground, blinded by the sun (Son?), and audibly instructed what to do and where to go!  From the direction-less nowhere way of my life, I could only accept the one escape God seemed to be offering.  By faith I jumped at it.

WHERE ARE YOU GOING?  Is God cornering you?  At 20 years old or 70, are you wondering what to do?  If you’re 20, do you think all the good possibilities are blocked behind closed doors, so now you don’t know what to do?  If 70, do you think age or illness has made purposeful years only a memory?  If you have no direction, I’m willing to bet God is cornering you to show you the one way he wants you to go.  Why not ask him to make that way clear?  Why not keep asking until he does?  Why not seek after him to lead you?  He will.  Your way, like mine, leads nowhere.  His way leads to himself and  to a most-satisfying purpose in this life and in the one to come.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart.
Never rely on what you think you know.
Remember the LORD in everything you do,
and he will show you the right way (Proverbs 3:5,6–TEV)


Meeting Mark 1

P.AllanMaybe my glasses are dirty.  But I see Mark as a somewhat spoiled, direction-less young man.  Of course, it’s risky to use the bare-bones description of someone in Scripture to flesh out a full person.  I’ll take the risk, though, because I’m intrigued by Mark.

WHAT WE KNOW OF MARK.  Mark lived in Jerusalem with his mother Mary.  The house was large enough to hold prayer meetings, as it did the night Peter was miraculously freed from prison (Acts 12:12).  That Acts calls it Mary’s house may imply that Mark’s father had died.  The house- size and the presence of a servant girl (Acts 12:13) may suggest the family enjoyed some measure of wealth.

Mark had a cousin named Barnabas (Colossians 4:10), who with Saul (later known as Paul) were teachers in the Antioch, Syria church (Acts 13:1).  On one occasion they delivered famine relief to the brothers in Jerusalem (Acts 11:27-30), about 300 miles south.  When they returned, they brought with them “John, whose other name was Mark” (Acts 12:25).

Later, as the Antioch leaders were praying, the Holy Spirit spoke: “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2).  The “work” was to take the Gospel to Gentiles in Asia Minor.  They took Mark with them, probably at cousin Barnabas’ suggestion.

Then Mark did something which makes me see him as spoiled and direction-less. When they reached the southern shore of Asia Minor  ” . . . John (Mark) left them and returned to Jerusalem” (Acts 13:13).  The Greek verb translated “left” can mean “abandoned, deserted without concern for what was left.”  Apparently Mark’s leaving upset Paul.   Months later when he and Barnabas were setting out to visit the churches they had planted on this first trip (Acts 15:36), “Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark.  But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphyilia and had not gone with them to the work.  And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other.  Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord” (Acts 37-40).

Again, this is why I see Mark as spoiled and direction-less despite cousin Barnabas’ attempt to make a man out of Mark on the mission trip.

WHEN WE’RE DIRECTION-LESS.    Blessed today are the young people with direction.  Many have none.  As Diana West notes in her definitively-titled book, The Death of the Grown-Up. “Once upon a time, in the not too distant past, childhood was a phase, adolescence did not exist, and adulthood was the fulfillment of youth’s promise.  No more.  A profound civilizational shift has taken place . . .  ”  (Preface, (p. xv).  In other words, youth’s direction once was toward adulthood.  Now we’ve created “perpetual adolescence.”  I argue that the individual young person isn’t entirely to blame.  “Societal norms” encourage the adolescent to remain adolescent (to say nothing of adults!).  Just deciding which vocation to choose out of myriads is a mind-numbing challenge.

Young people aren’t the only direction-less ones.  So are retirees.  I should know; I’m one.  Freedom from the demanding schedule of a job easily becomes a tragedy.  John Piper, in his book Don’t Waste Your Life, tells about a February 1998 “Reader’s Digest” story about a couple who “took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30 foot trawler, play softball and collect shells.” Piper laments, “Tragically, this was the dream: Come to the end of your life—your one and only precious, God-given life—and let the last great work of your life, before you give an account to your Creator, be this: playing softball and collecting shells. Picture them before Christ at the great day of judgment: ‘Look, Lord. See my shells.'”  This “American Dream” is, as Piper diagnoses it, a tragedy.  No purpose.  No direction.  No reason for living bigger than entertaining yourself.

So what can we do?  Here a few suggestions.

  1. Realize God has a purpose for your life.  This is true whether we’re young people with the future stretching ahead or retirees with only a short while left.  You are God’s creation.  If you’ve trusted your life to Christ, you are God’s child.  He made us and redeemed us to use us to make much of him in a world that makes almost nothing of him.
  2. Regularly read God’s Word.  Note especially how God called and used all sorts of people.  See how ill-equipped they were for the magnitude of the task he called them to.  Learn from your reading that God uses ordinary people to further his extraordinary saving work in the world, whether your part in it is preaching the Gospel or printing cookbooks or repairing airplane engines.
  3. Perseveringly pray for God to show you his way for you.  Since God has a purpose for your life at this point in your life, it makes sense to ask him what it is.  It’s somewhat maddening that God doesn’t directly or quickly answer.  Partially this is because the search for our direction is really a seeking after him.  But providentially, sometimes through ways least expected, he’ll nudge you into the course he wants.  And in that course you will be fulfilled.

We leave deserter-Mark finding a ship to take him from south Asian shores.  As it  plowed wind-driven into the waters of the Mediterranean, Mark left without direction, without purpose.  We don’t have to be.







Brave Grandma

O PreacherI could hardly believe what I was reading.

My emotions ranged from astonishment to anger to admiration.  I could barely restrain the animosity I felt for the State and the tears that welled up at this Christian grandmother’s courage and faithfulness to the Lord.  Please read the blog at the link below.  An additional blog with the link at “article” inserted in this one will give broader background information.

We are not being threatened with death for our faith, as are many of our brothers and sisters.  But we are increasingly being threatened by the State with major—in some cases, overwhelming—financial loss if we want to practice our faith.  This is no time for us to treat Christianity as “our religion” or something we do in a building on Sunday mornings!  This is the time for us to focus our Christian worldview, dig deep into God’s Word, and follow our Lord in a society that is increasingly become anti-Christ.  And it’s the time to thank God for courage grandmothers who lead the way!

Meeting God

P.AllanIt’s 4 p.m. Saturday.  In about 18 hours I expect to gather with other believers to worship God.  Will I meet him in that gathering?

A rather rash question.  (The British would say “cheeky.”)  It leads to a broader one:  can we actually meet God in worship?  Put another way, when we gather for worship is God present in a “greater” way than when we pray alone at home?

Omnipresent.  God is everywhere present.  “Where shall I go from your Spirit?  Or where shall I flee from your presence? (Psalm 139:7).  The compelling impression of this psalm is that there is no place David can go where the LORD isn’t.  Don’t confuse this with pantheism.  Pantheism is the view that God is everything and everyone and that everyone and everything is God.   Omniscience holds that God is everywhere present but distinct from everyone and everything.  Therefore, God is “omnipresent” when we gather to worship him.  But is he more?

Temple.  “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19).  “Do you not know that you (plural) are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16).  In 6:19 Paul, asking a rhetorical question, affirms that God the Holy Spirit literally lives in our bodies.  Therefore, when we gather we bring him with us.  In 3:16 Paul affirms that gathered we are God’s temple because God’s Spirit lives in us.  Therefore, God the Holy Spirit lives among us when we meet.  He’s with us, not just in an omnipresent sense but in a “temple” sense.

Jesus.  “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20).  Here Jesus assures his disciples that when they try to win back a sinning brother he will be with them to authorize their actions.  But is Jesus’ presence when two or three gather in his name limited to church discipline?  In light of the above verses, I think not.  We come as Jesus’ followers.  We come to meet with him.  Surely he will be there so we can.

Present.  Back to our last question above:  “When we gather for worship is God present in a ‘greater’ way than when we pray alone?”  Based on the Scriptures we’ve considered, I believe YES.  Therefore, it’s possible for us to actually meet him in worship.  Not in all his fullness (we’d be vaporized).  Not like Isaiah did (we’d be constantly saying, “I’m a dead man!”).  But it is possible for us to get a sense, a taste, an awareness of his presence when we gather.

Craziness.  I’m not talking about a church of people hootin’ and hollerin’.  Or barking like dogs.  Or falling down on the floor.  I’m certainly not talking about handling snakes! I’m talking about enjoying in a “felt” way the sweet, loving presence of our Lord.  Not craziness, just enjoying the presence of Jesus.  We might cry or sit in silent awe or pray words of praise or sing in adoration  or bow down to him.  No telling exactly how we’d respond.  But respond we must if he’s there.  How could we not?  Imagine if Jesus were present physically.  What would we do?  Probably not complain about the music or wonder how long the sermon will drag on!

Hope.  So it’s Saturday afternoon.  Tomorrow morning with other believers gathered in Jesus’ name, I hope to meet with him, to sense his presence, to be aware of his nearness.  I’ve discovered, sadly, that it’s possible for the Lord to be present and for me to be insensible and unaware.  That’s when I sing the songs, say “Amen” to the prayers, listen studiously to God’s Word preached, but leave feeling empty inside.

How I long to meet God in our worship gathering tomorrow!  So I will come praying.  I will come seeking.  And by his grace, I will go home filled, because in songs, prayers and sermon I’ve actually been with him.


Old Friend

O PreacherLast week, on the web site Linkedin, I found a friend from New Jersey Lois and I haven’t seen for 25 years.  Being the technical wizard I am, I don’t know what I did.  But suddenly, there she was!

Eileen.  She was a member of the New Jersey church we planted in 1973.  She served as director of our weekday nursery and child care program.  She babysat our three young children.  For a while, she even lived with us.  She wasn’t only Lois’ and my friend, she was our family friend.  Lois phoned her a few nights ago.  They talked and talked—many calendars of years to catch up on!  They plan to do it monthly.  The other night I mentioned to Lois:  “I feel like we’ve found a long-lost daughter!”  She agreed.  Eileen was a very special young lady to all us Babcocks.

Memories.  With Eileen’s face and catch-up news came reams of memories.  Getting on in years as they say, I can’t recount all the memories or even recall specifically which ones she was part of and which she wasn’t.  Here are a few I remember from that time in our lives . . .

If I really worked at it, I could get this rusty old mind to recall more memories.  But they’re like baby pictures to you, aren’t they.  You’re probably remembering you have to schedule your root canal—and you certainly wouldn’t want to miss that!  Wait!  Don’t go.  I’ll turn off the good old days—and briefly turn on why I’m writing about this.

God is big on memories.  He commanded the Israelites to “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy . . . For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day.  Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy (Exodus 20:8-11).  The Sabbath was to be set apart, not only so the people could rest, but so they would regularly remember that the LORD had created everything they saw and enjoyed.

God commanded the Israeltes to “Take twelve men . . . [one] from each tribe a man . . . saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the places where you lodge tonight'” (Joshua 4:3).  “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan (into the Promised Land) on dry ground'” (Joshua 4:21,22).  The Lord wanted generations to hold memories of what the Lord had done in that place.

The apostle Paul recalled Jesus’ command:  “This is my body which is for you.  Do this in remembrance of me” . . . “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.  Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24,25).  Above all, Jesus wanted his followers to remember his death by which he  established the new covenant between the Father and us who believe.

God is big on memories, because they are opportunities to recall his acts of grace and power.  So as I remember those days with Eileen and our family decades ago, I recall God’s gifts of grace.  How he gave us a beautiful home in which to live.  An exciting, challenging church to pastor.  The beauty and fun of snow and a swimming pool.  The adventure of hiking and catching a bird’s eye view of New York City.  Ice skating with frosty noses and fingers.  And a young lady who showed our whole family Jesus’ servant love in everything she did.

Eileen LaGreca, CPO®
Owner at Sensational Spaces, a company in the Washington, D.C. metro area that declutters and organizes small businesses, home offices, and homes and creates simple, workable systems to keep them running smoothly.
 How about your old friends and memories of God’s grace to you?

Obama: Ravi’s Response

P.AllanI just read Ravi Zacharias’ response to President Obama’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast.  In case you didn’t read my February 9th blog (shame on you!), here’s what the President said . . .

And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.  In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ . . .

Ravi’s response is excellent, primarily because it brings us back to the Gospel . . .

President Barack Obama’s address at the National Prayer Breakfast on February 5, 2015 has reverberated through the corridors of the world and provoked shock and dismay in numerous quarters.  Even a professor at the University of London commented on his shallow understanding of the Crusades.  I hesitated to write anything on the subject because it would draw me into politics or into a sobering critique of Islam.  I am not sure that at a time like this either distraction would be wise, so let me keep it to the minimum.

For those who did not hear the talk, it is sufficient to say that it was the most ill-advised and poorly chosen reprimand ever given at a National Prayer Breakfast.  I have been to several and have never, ever heard such absence of wisdom in a setting such as this.  I wasn’t at this one but have heard the speech often enough to marvel at the motivation for such thoughts.   President Obama basically lectured Christians not to get on a moral high horse in their castigation of the ISIS atrocities by reminding them that the Crusades and slavery were also justified in the name of Christ.  Citing the Crusades, he used the single most inflammatory word he could have with which to feed their lunacy.  In the Middle East, history never dies and words carry the weight of revenge.

There is so much I would love to say in response but shall refrain.  The President obviously does not understand the primary sources of either faith for him to make such a tendenitious (partisan) parallel.  The predominant delight in his remarks would be in the Muslim world and the irreligious.  The next day Geraldo Rivera, opining favorably, made the off-repeated lie that more people have been killed in the name of God than in any other cause.  Try telling that to the Chinese and the Russians and the Cambodians and the victims of the Holocaust!  Such intellectual ignorance gains the microphone with pitiable privilege.  If a thinking person doesn’t know the difference between the logical outworkings of a philosophy and the illogical ones, to say nothing of the untruth perpetrated, then knowledge has been sacrificed at the altar of prejudice.

But let me get to the President’s final statement, after he had wandered off into erroneous territory.  That final remark was true.  He said, “It is sin that leads us to distort reality.”  He was right.  In fact he embodied it in his talk.  But there is good news for the President.  At least in the Christian message forgiveness is offered for sin.  In Islam it isn’t.  You must earn it.  May I dare suggest that if Christians had been burning Muslims and be-heading them, he would have never dared to go to Saudi Arabia and tell them to get off their high horse.  He unwittingly paid a compliment to those who preach grace and forgiveness.  That is the dominant theme of the Gospel.  That is why we sit in courtesy listening to the distortion of truth, the abuse of a privilege, and the wrongheadedness of a message.

I cannot recall when I have heard such inappropriate words at so important an occasion, in such a time of crisis.  The world is burning with fear and apprehension.  We need a message that will inspire and encourage and redeem.  Ironically, two years ago when Dr. Ben Carson spoke and made some comments about our medical plan and the tax system, the White House demanded an apology from him for straying into controversial terrain, because it felt his comments showed disrespect for the President.

This year’s National Prayer Breakfast speech was a blunder in thought.  But there was a silver lining.  In the end, President Obama blundered into the truth.  Sin distorts . . . and only Jesus Christ restores the truth.  Christ ever rises up to outlive His pallbearers.  (What a great line, no?—Allan) .  Even presidents will have to get off their high horses then and recognize the Lord of life and hope and peace.  There will be no speech making then.   Only a prayer of surrender . . . which is what the National Prayer Breakfast was meant to be in the first place.

     Ravi Zacharias


Contentment Secret: Christ

P.AllanWhile reading Jeremiah Burroughs’ 17th-century The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, I kept looking for his comments on “the contentment text.”  It never came.  So, for the last posting of this series, here are my comments on that text.  Let’s read it.

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me.
You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned
in whatever state I am to be content.
I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.
In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret
of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.
I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:10-13).

STOIC VERSUS CHRISTIAN CONTENTMENT.  Paul wrote this letter from Roman imprisonment about 30 years after the death and resurrection of Christ.  Philippi was the place where Paul first planted a church in Europe (Acts16:6-40).  The people then often supported him in his ministry (4:15,16), most recently sending a gift with Epaphroditus.  Paul rejoiced at their concern for him (4:10); but he wanted them to know his happiness was over them not their supply of his need (4:11a).  Why did Paul treat his need as insignificant?  He explains . . .

. . . for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content (4:11b).

 “Content” translates the Greek word autarkeia.  It comes from the Stoics and means “contentment based on self-sufficiency.”  The Stoics would say, “i have learned in whatever state I am to be content because I am sufficient within myself.”  Stoics were confident they had what it took in themselves to ride the storm through.

Paul used the word in a worlds-apart way from the Stoics.  For Paul contentment was based on Christ-sufficiency.  Paul wasn’t an independent or self-dependent Stoic; Paul was a Christ-dependent Christian.  He declares it in verse 13 . . .

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Paul was an “in Christ” man (3:14), a servant of Christ (1:1).  He rejoiced that Christ was preached, even if insincerely(1:18).  His hope was that Christ would always be honored in his body by life or death (1:20).  To him, to live was Christ (1:21).  He wanted to depart and be with Christ because that was far better (1:23).  He gloried in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh (3:3).  He suffered the loss of all things for Christ and counted them as rubbish to gain Christ and be found in Christ with Christ’s righteousness (3:9).  His aim was to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and share his sufferings, becoming like Christ in his death (3:10).  He believed Christ Jesus had made him his own (3:12).  He pressed on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (3:14).  The sufficiency that enabled Paul to be able to do all things and be content whatever the situation came from outside himself—namely, from Christ.

So Paul had learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need (4:12).  The secret into which he’d been initiated?  “Christ who strengthens me.”  He was able to be satisfied with whatever following Christ brought him because he was “in Christ” and Christ strengthened him.

HOW THIS CAN WORK FOR ME.  How can I be strengthened through Christ to be content whatever my situation?  First, I have to go through situations of want and plenty.  Contentment isn’t learned from books.  I have to experience want, experience pain, experience suffering—and find that Christ is there with me in it teaching me to treasure him with having little besides, and making me more like himself.  I have to experience plenty, experience abundance, experience having more “stuff” than I need—and find that Christ is there with me in it teaching me to treasure him more than all I have and making me more like himself by not loving this world’s things.

I can honestly say I’m generally more content now than when I started this series.  And I think I’m more content now than when I was young.  Then I thought I was really satisfied with Jesus; but it takes a lifetime of experiences to make that satisfaction ocean-deep.

Second, to be strengthened through Christ and be content I have to feed on his Word.  My mind won’t remain empty; Satan, the world and my own sinful nature will fill it with self-centered, insatiable desires.  So I have to fill my mind with God’s Word as regularly as meal-eating to have my desires shaped  after Christ.

Third, I have to pray.  ” . . . in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your request be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (4:6b).

Fourth, I should review this blog series.  Burroughs’ exhortations are essentially wise directions as to how we can be strengthened by Christ for contentment.

Bottom line?  “The contentment text” teaches me I get contentment through the strength of Christ.  So what should I do?  Today get Christ!

High Horse

 P.AllanHere’s some of what President Obama said when he turned historian and theologian last Thursday at the National Prayer Breakfast.

As we speak, around the world, we see faith inspiring people to lift up one another — to feed the hungry and care for the poor, and comfort the afflicted and make peace where there is strife . . .

But we also see faith being twisted and distorted, used as a wedge — or, worse, sometimes used as a weapon.  From a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris, we have seen violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to stand up for faith, their faith . . . for Islam, but, in fact, are betraying it.  We see ISIL, a brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism  — terrorizing religious minorities like the Yezidis, subjecting women to rape as a weapon of war, and claiming the mantle of religious authority for such actions.

We see sectarian war in Syria, the murder of Muslims and Christians in Nigeria, religious war in the Central African Republic, a rising tide of anti-Semitism and hate crimes in Europe, so often perpetrated in the name of religion.

So how do we, as people of faith, reconcile these realities — the profound good, the strength, the tenacity, the compassion and love that can flow from all of our faiths, operating alongside those who seek to hijack religion for their own murderous ends?

Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history.  And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.  In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ . . .

So this is not unique to one group or one religion.  There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith.

The President’s “high horse” remark received stunned reactions.  Mine is this:  doesn’t he seem to be defending Islam (without using the word) by putting Islam and Christianity on the same playing field?  Paraphrase:  Muslims aren’t the only ones committing terrible deeds in the name of Allah; Christians did the same during the Crusades, the Inquisition, and slavery in the name of Christ.

Agreed.  And we Christians generally have confessed our sins.  We’ve acknowledged that we disobeyed our Lord and fell far short of his righteousness when we used the sword against people of different faith or color.  When we bombed or burned or persecuted others different from us we acted contrary to Christ.  But we also argue that when ISIS tortures and murders non-Muslims or fellow Muslims they are acting consistent with the Quran.  For the President to imply differently was to reveal (at best) an ignorant view of history and blinded view of Islamist theology.

THE CRUSADESFor the sake of time, let’s take just the Crusades.  Here’s a sketch of their history from “The Real History of the Crusades”, by Thomas F. Madden, associate professor and chair of the Department of History at St. Louis University–

Muslims divide the world into “the Abode of Islam” and “the Abode of War.”  In traditional Islam, Christian and Jewish states must be conquered. From the time of Mohammed, the sword was the method of choice conquering.  Throughout the 7th century Muslims made the entire Mediterranean world, which was generally “Christian”, their target.  Palestine, Syria and Egypt, once heavily Christian, became Muslim.  By the eighth century, Islamists conquered North Africa.  In the 11th century Turkey, which had been Christian since the time of Paul, fell.  That defeat prompted the emperor in Constantinople to desperately seek help from Christians in western Europe.  The Crusades were born.

Pope Urban II gave the Crusaders two goals:  (1) rescue Christians of the East and (2) liberate Jerusalem and other places “holy” to Christ.  Muslims who lived in territory the Crusaders conquered were often allowed to keep their property and religion.  Of course, the Crusades were wars and much blood was shed.  But, essentially they were defensive actions against invading Muslims.

A few days ago the Wall Street Journal reported that Christians in Iraq are taking up arms to protect families and property from ISIS.  Are they right?  Were the Crusaders right?   However we answer one thing is clear:  the Middle Ages’ Crusaders fought a defensive war, as are Iraqi Christians today.  Whatever atrocities were committed or are committed, they are contrary to Christ, as we shall see.  First, however, let’s look at how torture and beheadings are consistent with the Quran.

THE QURANSince I’ve read only portions of the Quran, I will use as resource. The Quran contains 109 verses that call Muslims to go to war with unbelievers so Islam may reign.  Unlike God’s commands to kill the Canaanites in the Old Testament, the Quran’s commands have no historical context.  They are the unchanging for-all-times-and-places word of Allah.  “Unfortunately, there are very few verses of tolerance and peace to abrogate or even balance out the many that call for nonbelievers to be fought and subdued until they either accept humiliation, convert to Islam, or are killed.”  Here is a sampling of such verses . . .

  •  Quran (5:33)–“The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement.”
  • Quran (8:12)–“I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve.  Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.”
  • Quran (9:5)–“So when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captive and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush, then if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free to them.”
  • Bukhari (52:177–“Allah’s Apostle said, ‘The Hour will not be established until you fight with the Jews and the stone  behind which a Jew will be hiding will say, “O Muslim!  There is a Jew hiding behind me, so kill him.”‘”
  • Bukhari (8:387)–“Allah’s Apostle said, ‘I have been ordered to fight the people till they say:  “None has the right to be worshiped but Allah!  And if they say so, pray like our prayers, face our Zibla and slaughter as we slaughter, then their blood and property will be sacred to us and we will not interfere with them except legally.”‘”
  • Bukhari (11:626)–[Muhammad said:] “I decided to order a man to lead the prayer and then take a flame to burn all those who had not left their houses for the prayer, burning them alive inside their homes.”
  • Tabari 7:97–“The morning after the murder of Ashraf, the Prophet declared, ‘Kill any Jews who fall under your power.'”

Though the majority of Muslims overlook or “interpret away” these teachings, they remain obvious commands to torture and murder.  As we’ve seen “extreme Islamists” behead “infidels” on TV news, we’ve seen them act consistent with their holy book.

THE BIBLEJewish lawyer:  Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
Jesus:  What is written in the Law?
Lawyer:  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.
Jesus:  You have answered correctly.
Lawyer:  And who is my neighbor? 

Jesus goes on to tell the Parable of the Good Samaritan, then . . .
Jesus:  Which of these three [travelers] proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers? 
Lawyer:  The one who showed him mercy.
Jesus:  You go, and do likewise. 

Love your neighbor.  Show mercy to the needy, even if he’s an enemy.  Not only did Jesus teach love, he died with a love-prayer for his crucifiers on his lips:  “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

The contrast between Christianity and Islam is startling.  Muslims are to kill, Christians are to love.  Muslims left a path of human blood throughout the Middle East;  Christians are leaving a path of Christ-like love throughout the world.  When we killed Muslims during the Crusades we acted contrary to Christ’s teachings; when Muslims kill “infidels” they act consistently with Mohammad’s.

MR.  PRESIDENT:  We are not on a “high horse.”  We’re humbly confessing our sins to our Lord Jesus Christ and, with the help of his grace, we are committed to love our neighbors and our enemies.  We haven’t achieved perfection, but love is our direction.  Here’s a question I ask respectfully:  “Would you rather live in a world populated and governed by Muslims committed to the violent teachings of Mohammad or in a world populated and governed by Christians committed to the loving teachings of Christ?”


Final Contentment Directions

O PreacherWe’ve reached the last chapter of 17th century Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs’ book, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment.  In it he gives “directions” for being content.  Here are five of his directions (in bold face) with my comments following.

Get grace in your heart.  How?  By turning and giving our lives by faith to Jesus Christ.  According to Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9, grace is God’s power displayed in our weakness. In Philippians 4:13 Paul writes, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”  God’s strength (that is, his grace) comes to us through the Lord Jesus Christ.   ” . . . grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).  Therefore, if we receive Christ, if we believe in his name, we have God’s grace.  Further, he invites us to “drink” again and again of that grace.   “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).  Getting contentment is primarily a relational, not academic, learning process.

Do not love the world.  In 1977 the Rolling Stones complained “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction”— not from the car radio, not from TV commercials, not from girls they tried to “make”.   (For fans, here’s the song—  The Rolling Stones aren’t exactly preeminent commentators on the culture.  But their song reminds us if we seek satisfaction from what this fallen world does, we can’t get none! “The whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19b).  Whatever pleasures sin may give are fleeting (Hebrews 11:25b).  “And the world is passing away along with its desires . . . ” (1 John 2:17a).  Loving the world and all that’s in it leads to discontent no matter what promises car makers and gold dealers and sex sellers and smooth politicians and pill pushers make.  If you look closely at all the things connected with this fallen world order, you’ll see the sign:  NO CONTENTMENT FOUND HERE.

Don’t focus on your affliction.  This is tough for me.  My chronic illness/disability is always with meHow not to focus on it?  Sleep—usually welcome, but not very productive!  The other is to focus completely on something else.  Frustratingly, I’ve found that prayer isn’t a “something else.”  That’s because, though I reluctantly visit doctors, I believe if healing is to come it will come through our Father in heaven.  So when I talk to him “my illness” is my mind’s default setting.  I have to get off that topic quickly and get into a serious reading of his Word.  Presently Lois and I are “doing our devotions” in bed at night.  Praying with her—even when some of it is about me—helps turn me from my pain to the Lord’s glory and goodness.

Labor to be spiritually-minded.  “Labor” implies hard, sweaty work.  Not little, occasional  effort but big, disciplined effort.  Think:   a burly man digging a trench with pick and shovel, not a polished CEO behind his mahogany desk.  So Paul writes with strong language to the church . . .

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above,
where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth . . .
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you:
sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which
is idolatry . . .
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,
compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience,
bearing with one another and . . . forgiving each other (Colossians 3:1,2,5,12,13).

Being “spiritually-minded” to Paul meant more than envisioning gold streets and personal mansions.  It meant thinking about virtues like compassion and humility, but it also meant living out those virtues—being compassionate, kind, humble, meek, patient, forbearing and forgiving.  In a dissatisfying, potentially painful life, this gives us purpose.  For example, by forgiving each other, instead of holding grudges, we show that we belong to a heavenly kingdom and the heavenly King.  Our aim is to make much of him.  We find contentment in progressively living out the new person we are in Christ.

Live by faith.  We live in a visually-oriented world that subconsciously teaches us to “walk by sight.”  Over against that the apostle Paul wrote that we followers of the Lord Jesus Christ are to “walk by faith” (2 Corinthians 5:7).  He wrote those words in the context of the end of life (2 Corinthians 5:1-10).  So this faith believes that now “we are at home in the body [and] away from the Lord” (5:6).  It believes that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (5:10).  Therefore, this faith believes that our aim should be “to please [Christ]” (5:9a).  In my affliction that’s what my aim should be—because I will receive from him at judgment what I’ve done in this body, whether good or evil (5:10).  I’m to live, not just  to endure my affliction, but to please Christ in it.  Contentment, then, comes to me as I live with eternal judgment in view—which is to say, as I live by faith in a reward and a Lord I haven’t yet seen.

* * *

Burroughs’ directions aren’t steps leading to contentment at the top.  Contentment is part of the Spirit’s ongoing sanctifying process in us.  And that process is more roller coast than level highway.   For example, Paul himself was not always content.  Writing to the Corinthians in the mid-50’s A.D., he told of the “affliction we experienced in Asia” and admitted, ” . . . we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8).  Doesn’t sound like contentment, does it!  But seven years later imprisoned in Rome he was able to write, ” . . . I have learned in whatever state I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11b).  Up and down.  On and on.  Moving ahead slowly.

So, we are learning.  I pray that the Lord will  use this series to advance that learning process, so increasingly we might say with Paul, “I have learned in whatever state I am to be content”—satisfied, fulfilled through Christ to his glory and our joy.





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