Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?

The other day as I was getting a haircut, my stylist (I know – what hair do I have to style?), found out I was a pastor and so asked me a great question based off of an earlier conversation about the news coming out of the Middle East. “Why do Muslim’s and Christian’s fight each other? Don’t you really worship the same God anyways? Why not just focus on the stuff you are the same like the love stuff and be kind to each other stuff?”

She probably didn’t expect me to answer the way I did. Most people just say “You’re right, why don’t we?” I think most people would answer that way because they don’t know what to say or because they’d agree with her premise. Before you accuse me of promoting hatred and warfare, I did agree with her about the peace part. After all, we are to love God and our neighbour as ourselves, and the neighbour thing includes my muslim neighbours whether they be next door here in Halifax or across the ocean.

What I didn’t agree with her about was the idea that we worship the same God. So I seized on her openness of the moment to share the beauty and uniqueness of Jesus and his teachings. She engaged in the conversation and was genuinely surprised about the differences – apparently no one had told her what I was telling her, along with the obvious fact that she hadn’t explored the idea herself.

I wasn’t surprised, and in fact I find this to be a common way of thinking. What I do find surprising however, is that there are some within the Christian camp who hold a similar belief, in that there isn’t much difference between the three Abrahamic faiths; Christianity, Islam and Judaism. In fact, there are a large number who’d say that we actually worship the same God.

Back in December of 2015, Dr. Larycia Hawkins, a professor with Wheaton College (An evangelical institution), put on a hijab and stated on Facebook, “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”

Five days after that posting, Wheaton College gave Dr. Hawkins a ‘time out’ saying that they wanted to give her “more time to explore (the) theological implications of her recent public statements.” Giving a grown woman, a Doctor none the less, a time out wasn’t received well, based on the firestorm of controversy it ignited.

The Chicago Tribune, described Wheaton’s actions as “bigotry… disguised as theology.” This assessment was partially based on the input of Yale Professor Miroslav Volf, a theologian who said, “There isn’t any theological justification for Hawkins’s forced administrative leave. Her suspension is not about theology and orthodoxy. It is about enmity toward Muslims.” That sounds a bit harsh, but is he right?

WHAT IF ANY, ARE THE SIMILARITIES?  

The founder of Islam, Muhammad, saw himself as the last in a line of prophets that reached back through Jesus to Moses, beyond him to Abraham and as far back as Noah. According to the Quran, God (known as Allah) revealed to Muhammad:

“The Book with the truth [the Quran], confirming what was before it, and [before He sent down the Quran] He sent down the Torah of Moses and the Gospel of Jesus… as a guidance for the people.” 

The Muslim and Christian views of God certainly do have some similarities. For example, Christians believe in one eternal God who created the universe, and Muslims apply these attributes to Allah. Both view God as all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-present. Jesus is mentioned 25 times in the Qur’an. And then there’s the fact that Christianity and Islam having similar teachings on morals and ethics.

The obvious conclusion to some then is that Muslims worship the same God as Christians, it’s just that the two mega faiths are simply having some familial misunderstandings about what he’s like and what he’s done – yet still the same God. After all, both Christians and Muslims recognize that their books speak about the same God who created Adam and Eve, who rescued Noah from the flood, who promised Abraham a vast progeny, who helped Moses escape Egypt, who made the Virgin Mary great with child, who sent Jesus into the world, who helped the disciples overcome, and who is still sovereign today. Is that not the God of the Bible being described in the Quran? The Quran even asserts that the Torah and the Gospel are inspired scripture and that Jews and Christians are people of the Book.

And then there’s the fact, the Quran tells Muslims to say to them (Christians and Jews), “Our God and your God is One, and unto Him we surrender” (29.46).

That sounds very benign… and inclusive to me. Listen, if the Quran asserts that Muslims worship the same God as Jews and Christians, doesn’t that settle the matter?

Fair question deserving a fair answer. My observation however, is that those assertions do not settle the matter even remotely. That’s because Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God. Here is why I make that claim. It’s because making a claim that it is the same God being truly and honestly worshiped equally by both Muslims and Christians quite simply subverts Christian orthodoxy in favour of Islamic claims.

ARE THE DIFFERENCES REALLY DIFFERENT ENOUGH?

Christians believe Jesus is God, but the Quran is so opposed to this creed that it condemns Jesus worshipers to Hell (5.72). In fact, any belief in the deity of Jesus is considered shirk (“polytheism”) to Muslims. Further to this, Islam denies the death of Christ on the cross (4:157–158). So, right at the start, the most crucial doctrine of the Christian faith is rejected in Islam. This fact alone should be enough to settle the matter.

But even if that wasn’t enough, there is the doctrine of the Trinity to consider. In the Bible, God has revealed himself as one God in three Persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. So from a right understanding of Christian scripture, we see that while each Person of the Trinity is fully God, God is not three gods, but three in one.

God’s Son came in the form of man, a truth called the incarnation, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Sonfrom the Father, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14(Also look up, Luke 1:30-35; Colossians 2:91 John 4:1-3).

Jesus conquered the penalty and power of sin by dying on the cross, and then after rising from the dead, went back to heaven to be with his Father and sent the Holy Spirit to believers.

 “’But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’ And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven’.” – Acts 1:8-11.

Islam, on the other hand, roundly condemns worship of the Trinity (5.73), establishing, in contrast, its own core principle: Tawhid, the absolute oneness of God. Tawhid specifically denies the Trinity, so much so that according to Islam, worshiping the Christian God is not just wrong; it sends you to Hell.

ARE WE BEING HYPOCRITICAL WHEN IT COMES TO THE JEWISH FAITH?

Allow me to answer a question that many might be asking at this point. “How can you Christians accuse Muslims of worshiping a different God without also indicting the Jews of doing the same thing, isn’t that hypocritical & inconsistent?”

That is a fair question, however the response should be obvious to those who have studied the three Abrahamic faiths: The Trinity is an elaboration of Jewish theology, not a rejection. By contrast, Tawhid is a categorical rejection of the Trinity, Jesus’ deity, and the Fatherhood of God, doctrines that are grounded in the pages of the New Testament and firmly established centuries before the advent of Islam. Most of the earliest Christians were Jews, incorporating their encounter with Jesus into their Jewish theology. Nothing of the sort is true of Muhammad, who was neither a Jew nor a Christian. Islam did not elaborate on the Trinity but rejected and replaced it.

For the Christian though, no Trinity means no incarnation of God’s Son in the Person of Jesus Christ. Without Jesus Christ, there would be no salvation from sin, no matter you be religiously Christian, Jewish or Muslim. Without salvation, sin condemns all to an eternal hell. And for Christians, the deity of Christ is non-negotiable, because without his deity, Jesus’ death on the cross would not have been sufficient to be the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the entire world, He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” – 1 John 2:2

So, do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? A better question is, “Do Christians and Muslims both have a correct understanding of who God is?” To this question, the answer is definitely a big fat NO! And that is this, because of the crucial differences between the Christian and Muslim concepts of God, the two faiths cannot both be true. The biblical God alone addresses and solves the problem of sin by giving his Son, the God man Jesus Christ.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” – John 3:16-18

Is Suicide The Unforgivable Sin?

I love travel documentaries and one of my favourites has been, “Parts Unknown” on CNN hosted by Anthony Bourdain. You can imagine my surprise when I heard that Anthony was found dead by suicide this past Friday June 8th2018. According to his mother, Anthony had everything to live for. “He is absolutely the last person in the world I would have ever dreamed would do something like this,” Gladys Bourdain told the New York Times.

Another celebrity, Kate Spade, sounded happy the night before her body was found in her New York City apartment last Tuesday morning. “There was no indication and no warning she would do this,” her husband Andy Spade said in a heart-wrenching statement published in the Times.

For more than four decades Antoon Leenaars has tried to construct a theory to explain why people kill themselves. Among his findings is that those who die by suicide are often tragically gifted at concealing their true intentions, even from themselves. “We find it in the suicide notes and in the psychological autopsies,” said Leenaars, a Windsor psychologist whose archive of more than 2,000 suicide notes is believed the largest collection of its kind in the world. “There’s both a conscious and unconscious intent to be deceptive, to hide, to mask,” he said.

I think that’s why, for the most part, we are often surprised when someone takes their own life. I haven’t personally experienced a close friend or family member commit suicide, yet I have been around many others who have had close friends or family take their lives, and I can tell you that it can be terribly confusing and heartbreaking. For the friends and family of that person who has taken their own lives, grief can be like a wild animal inside, thrashing to get out. There are times It won’t be contained, spilling out in sobs and screams, while at other times it turns inward, causing those left behind to desperately examine every interaction over the weeks and days preceding their loved one’s death, wondering what they could have done differently. It’s a terrible place to be.

Does the bible say anything about committing suicide?

Is suicide the unforgivable sin? Does the person who self kills go immediately to hell? Within the church community, this controversial topic has unfortunately often been addressed in emotional ways, not through biblical analysis. For example, for those who grew up Roman Catholic the prevailing view is that suicide is definitely a mortal sin, irretrievably sending people to hell. Influenced by the arguments of Augustine and Aquinas, this belief dominated through the Reformation. This of course causes much angst and problems for the survivor to process through. As a result, the approach is most often an emotional one. Besides this traditional position of the Catholic Church, we encounter three others:

1) A true Christian would never commit suicide since God wouldn’t allow it.

2) A Christian may commit suicide but would lose his salvation.

3) A Christian may commit suicide without losing his salvation.

As purposeful as those statements are, we still need to ask what the Bible, not tradition or opinion says. As much as we don’t have all the answers, let’s begin by talking about those truths we do know as revealed in God’s Word.

We know that humanity is totally depraved (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:10-18). Of course, we should understand that this doesn’t mean we’re as evil as we could be, but rather that every human capacity – intellect, heart, emotions, will – is tainted by sin. We also know that even after regeneration, a Christian is capable of committing any sin except the unforgiveable one. We see the unforgivable sin mentioned in Mark 3:25-32 and Matthew 12:32. A study of these passages leads us to the conclusion that they are referring to the continual rejection of the Holy Spirit in the work of conversion, ultimately referring to a committed unbeliever.

I think that it’s important to remember as well, that a believer is quite capable of taking the life of someone else, as David did in the case of Uriah, without this action invalidating his salvation. After all, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross has forgiven all of our sin – past, present, and future (Colossians 2:13-14; Hebrews 10:11-18). Still, suicide is a serious offense against God because it represents arrogant violation of the gift of life the Creator has given. However, if a genuine believer is theoretically capable of taking another’s life, why is it impossible to conceive he or she could ever take his or her own?

The truth is that the sin a Christian will commit tomorrow was forgiven at Calvary – where Jesus justified us, declaring us positionally righteous. He accomplished this work through one single offering that didn’t need to be repeated again. On the cross Jesus didn’t make us justifiable; he made us justified (Romans 3:23-26; 8:29-30).

Granted, some point out that Scripture contains no instance of a believer committing suicide, while it includes many cases of unbelievers doing so, thus coming to the conclusion that believers simply don’t (won’t) commit suicide. But this is an argument from silence. Scripture doesn’t explicitly mention many things in life. Moreover, some hold suicide robs a Christian of her salvation because it doesn’t provide an opportunity for repentance. But if you were to die right now, would there be any unconfessed sin in your life? I think that we could only say that yes, of course there would be.

The sacrifice that covers the unconfessed sins we have remaining until death is the same sacrifice that would cover a sin like suicide. Suicide is not what determines whether a person gains entrance into heaven anyways. If an unsaved person commits suicide, she has done nothing but “expedite” her journey to hell. However, that person who committed suicide will ultimately be in hell for rejecting salvation through Christ, not because she committed suicide. “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” – John 3:18

We should also point out, however, that no one truly knows what was happening in a person’s heart the moment he died. Some people have “deathbed conversions” and accept Christ in the moments before death. It is possible that Anthony Bourdain could have had a last-second change of heart and cry out for God’s mercy, we don’t know, but if he did, we can know that God’s mercy would have reached him even there.

Back to our original question. Issuicide the unforgivable sin? If we’ve established that a Christian is capable of committing any sin, why can’t we conceive that someone could commit the sin of suicide? And if we believe Jesus’ blood is capable of forgiving any sin, wouldn’t his blood cover this sin too? The wonderful truth of the matter is that if Jesus’ sacrifice has made believers perfect forever (look up Hebrews 7:28-10:14), could any sin remove their salvation? Based on scripture, I’d have to say a resounding no – including suicide.

Further to this point, if someone like Moses (and Job, and Elijah, and Jeremiah) came to a point where he wished God would take his life, couldn’t a believer with schizophrenia or extreme depression, who lacks Moses’ strength of character, make this wish a reality? Martin Luther believed that a true believer could be oppressed by demonic powers and thus driven to the point of suicide. The suicide of a believer is evidence that anyone can struggle with despair and that our enemy, Satan, is “a murderer from the beginning” – John 8:44

Having said that, on the basis of Scripture, history, and the experience of God’s people – as well as the indwelling Spirit and the means of grace in the church – it’s most likely that suicides will be rare (though not impossible) for genuine believers.

How should we respond to a survivor?

Even still, when a suicide does occur, we should seek to comfort, not accuse. Instead of identifying the horrors we should seek to comfort the hurting. Our chief focus should be on that about which God has said much (salvation), not on that about which he’s said little (suicide).

Sometimes the best thing we can say to a survivor (friend or family member of someone who took their own life) is NOTHING! In fact, sometimes the best reaction is no words at all, but a hug. There is much comfort that comes with the caring presence of friends, and the assurance others are praying for them. Even still, if you do feel led to say anything, here are some examples you can use that I have found helpful as I have come along side those who are hurting.

“Tell me a favourite memory of…”

“I love you, and my prayers are with you.”

“How can I help you today?” (Following through with errands, grocery shopping, cleaning, going to church with them, etc.)

“I am so sorry for your loss. Words fail.”

“I’m here.”

The best advice to anyone who wants to comfort a suicide survivor is: “Show up, let them see you care, and respect the griever’s right to feel bad for a while (guilt, anger, sadness, etc.). Too many survivors reported “friends” who avoided them altogether after their loved ones’ suicides rather than to risk saying the wrong thing. Please don’t do that, because that hurts most of all.

Why We Should Talk About Hell

A while back I read Rob Bell’s book ‘Love Wins’ and it caused me to re-think a lot about how I view hell, even causing me to have some concerns about what I had been taught all my life. That fallback position to go back to ‘what I’ve always been taught’ isn’t the best standard to judge the legitimacy of an idea, though, like comfort food, can be a good starting point. I will admit that I even had some doubt about what I believe. What is hell? What is its purpose? Is it a place? Is it forever? Should we fear it? Does it cause people to turn away from God? Does it make it hard if not impossible for us to share the love of Christ with someone else? Is it a problem for Christianity?

I think that the whole idea of hell is one of Christianity’s most offensive doctrines. Peter Kreeft writes: “Of all the doctrines in Christianity, Hell is probably the most difficult to defend, the most burdensome to believe and the first to be abandoned.”

 Many are repulsed, sickened and appalled by the idea of an eternal place of punishment, especially if someone suggests that includes themselves, friends & family. “Hitler maybe, but not my grandmother.”

Because of these angsts, many Christians will avoid the topic of Hell altogether. We don’t hear it talked about from the pulpit in may churches anymore and it isn’t usually a part of the conversation around a shared meal. We don’t want to rock the boat maybe or we think that Hell isn’t a required subject when sharing the gospel.

I propose however, that we need to talk about Hell more than we do. I believe that it is integral to the Gospel message and is doing the church a disservice when we hide it away as though it is the crazy uncle we’re embarrassed to talk about.

So, I did what I always do when faced with a spiritual and / or theological question. No, I didn’t ask Siri or head to the theological depths of Wikipedia, I went to God’s word… and even more specifically the Word made flesh. If we want to answer the question of hell, then we need to look at Jesus and what he had to say on the subject.

He’s a great place to start for a few reasons. The first is that people in the West think Jesus is a pretty good guy so if you want to help others understand a particular subject it helps if you can ‘name drop’ someone they like. Oprah likes him, at least the non-confrontational Jesus, and Deepak Chopra has even written books about Jesus as a great mystic and guru of Eastern religion.

In our culture we find that Jesus isn’t painted with the same brush as that angry, vengeful, cranky God of the Old Testament who hadn’t matured out of his confusing puberty years yet. But when God finally grew up and entered his college years in the New Testament, he reemerged as the party guy named Jesus. Good times! Parties in Cana, lots of talk about love and compassion and grace, and of course helpful spiritual sound bites. Selfies all round!

The problem with this view though is that it’s not true, which is another reason why I find it helpful to go to Jesus. We get most of our understanding of hell, not from the Old Testament, but from Jesus own words. When you start reading the Gospels, you find that Jesus speaks about hell more than anyone else. About 13% of his teachings and half of his parables are about hell, judgment, punishment, and the wrath of God.

Jesus talked about hell and it follows that we should too. First though, how do we reconcile a Jesus of grace & mercy & love with a Jesus’ of wrath, punishment & hell?

I think that number one, we need to see that interwoven with the love of God is his mercy that requires justice. If a judge pardons an unrepentant child abuser without any good reason, we wouldn’t applaud his mercy and see it as an act of love, particularly when we consider the rights of the victim (and the safety of potential future victims). Mercy without justice is reckless and dangerous. True justice requires adequate payment for the crime or crimes committed.

“When a person goes through rape or child abuse, she needs to know that there is a God of such holiness and beauty that his reign can tolerate no evil.” – Tim Keller

Even if someone got off because of a loophole in the justice system, we’d call it “Injustice!” Why? Because we have something within us that tells us that injustice is wrong. It’s a universal belief that we know it has to be paid for.

If God is truly just, then there is punishment for offenses committed.

Yet, many people will demand God show them mercy while still refusing to love that very same God. “I will not follow you and obey your commands –  but don’t send me to hell.” However, the facts are that God’s mercy & love are inseparable.

The other concern I needed to address after reading Rob Bell’s book was the idea that hell was symbolic as opposed to a real cavernous abode of fire and brimstone… so I went back to the Word of God to see what is revealed there.

Some people get confused and will deduce that hell can’t be a physical place because of how it is described. For example, when scripture describes hell, it speaks about “eternal fire” “unquenchable fire”. But it also says that hell is a place of utter darkness.

So, what is it?

It’s all the above. It is fire, darkness and a real place hung in real time. Yet, because of our culture, we often imagine the fire and darkness as literal flames and literal inky blackness. Instead we need to understand the language was used to help us understand the magnitude of the place.

For example, when the bible speaks about a God of unquenchable fire, we don’t imagine him being a big ball of literal fire. Rather we understand that it’s giving us a picture of his holiness.

Likewise, when we read that God has blinded the eyes of the unbeliever in John 12:10, we don’t expect to see a bunch of unsaved people on the roads driving around with dark glasses on because they’re literally blind all of a sudden. We know that it’s speaking of their spiritual condition.

At the same time, in Luke 16, Jesus speaks about heaven and hell as being real places with hell as a place of separation from the presence of God. Yet it wasn’t utter darkness in a physical sense since the Rich man could see Lazarus (albeit through sweaty eyes). However, think about the following; Since God is the source of all spiritual light, and all joy and all wisdom and all love or good thing of any sort, and since we were originally created for God’s immediate presence, it is then only before him will we thrive, flourish, and achieve our highest potential.

So, if we were to lose his presence totally, that’d be the deepest darkness of the soul. Without his light, we can only expect the loss of our capability for giving or receiving love or joy and finding any kind of satisfaction.

Add to that the picture of fire which speaks to its nature as a degenerater, something that deteriorates to ash everything it touches. Even in this life we can see the kind of soul deterioration that self-centeredness creates.

We know how selfishness and self-absorption leads to piercing bitterness, nauseating envy, paralyzing anxiety, paranoid thoughts, and the mental denials and distortions that accompany them.

We see this process in a small way in addictions such as drugs, alcohol, gambling, and pornography. First there is the degeneration, because as time goes on you need more and more of the addictive substance to get an equal kick, which leads to less and less satisfaction.

And then add the bitter darkness that isolation brings we had talked about in the Rich man’s situation, as increasingly you blame others and the surrounding environment or circumstances in order to justify your behaviour.

With that in mind ask the question:

“What if when we die we don’t end, but spiritually our life extends into eternity?”

With that picture in your mind’s eye you can see that Hell is the fire or the deterioration of a soul by living a self-absorbed, self-centred, angst driven, anxiety filled, blame shifting life – going on & on forever.

“Yeah, but I’m not all that bad. I haven’t murdered somebody, I’m not a drug addict, I don’t look at porn – often. I only get mad at ‘stupid’ drivers, God will be fair and let me into heaven.”

Jesus didn’t say the greatest commandment is to not murder, or to not commit adultery, though he did say that if you had anger in your heart you’ve committed murder, or if you’ve ever lusted after someone other than your spouse you’ve committed adultery.

But what Jesus did say was that the greatest commandment was, “to love God with all your heart soul and mind.” There is no greater evidence of the inability of man to obey God’s law than this one commandment. No human being with a fallen nature can possibly love God with all his heart, soul, and strength 24 hours a day. It’s humanly impossible.

Even without considering the sins we commit daily, we are all condemned by our inability to fulfill this one commandment. Further to that, the Bible declares that everyone sins, and that all sin is ultimately against God.

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” – Romans 3:23

“Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.” – Psalm 51:4

Those verses are sobering enough, but then also understand that those who go to Hell aren’t going to be suddenly sinless and perfect. Those who go into eternity without Christ will be confirmed in their decision to not follow him while on earth.

Jesus said that there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” in Hell. The gnashing of teeth isn’t a picture of someone who is in sorrow and repentance but rather a picture of a continued defiance toward God.

In Hell there will be no repentance.

So, unless you surrender your life to God in this lifetime, you will not only be living in disobedience to God for 70, 80, 90, or 100 years, you will be in disobedience before him for eternity – which requires an eternal penalty.

Why did Jesus speak about hell more than anyone else in the Bible? Because he wanted us to see what he was going to endure on the cross on our behalf so that we might choose heaven – so that we might choose God.

On the cross, Jesus’s sacrifice was scarcely describable: this bloodied, disfigured remnant of a man was given a cross that was perhaps recycled, likely covered in the blood, feces, and urine of other men who had used it previously. Hanging there in immense pain, he slowly suffocated to death. All the while knowing he could end the suffering, but choosing not to for our benefit.

But that wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was the separation from the Father that Jesus felt, a separation that was like hell itself. “My God, my God,” he cried out, “Why have you forsaken me?” – Matthew 27:46

An eternity without God is hell.

Without the cleansing of sin that he provides, and the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit who lives in the hearts of the redeemed, loving God to any degree is impossible.

But, when we receive the free gift of salvation offered by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we are cleansed from sin and receive the Spirit of holiness to do the impossible. That being, a transformation of our hearts and minds to love God as we have been commanded to do, and as a result heaven becomes our home. This is great news!

That is why we talk about hell, because it allows us to talk about Jesus and his sacrifice… it allows us to make Jesus known, it brings clarity to the Gospel message about why Jesus died, and it lets us brag up our Saviour in order to bring him all the glory he deserves.

How Might We Influence Current Culture?

If you visit the front page of the Westboro Baptist Church’s website, you will be bombarded with all kinds of hateful messages. ‘God hates fags’ to ‘Thank God for 2 more dead soldiers’. I don’t know about you but it makes me sick looking at the hate being displayed towards those they should be loving. Most of us are well aware of their protests and many have seen the photos of them holding up signs proclaiming disgust for the sinner along with a glee of their impending doom. They come across as hateful, self-righteous and hypocritical to a watching world. Most of us would agree that their methods are way off target, and in fact are making enemies of those they claim to be reaching with Christ’s love instead of building relationships. I think it’s safe to say that they are doing more harm than good.

But I wonder about how the ‘rest’ of us come across to a hurting world? An issue comes up that gets our Christian community all worked up, and we go on the warpath, protesting on social media, demanding boycotts of this movie, that book, or some political figure. I have been guilty myself of ‘protesting’ on social media in the past and found myself acting like a jerk, building walls instead of bridges. Are we justified in our ‘methodology’ often acting like jerks while we decry ‘Westboro’s’ practices? Whatever our position is (on anything), if we can’t communicate it in love, we’re nothing more than a clanging cymbal and our message is worthless. (1 Corinthians 13).

I am not saying that we don’t warn other Christian brothers and sisters by shining the light of God’s word on the dangers in the culture, especially dangers that might hurt our children or the little ones (new believers) within our care. I am not even saying that we should never prayerfully ‘protest’ and or ‘boycott’ as we sense the Holy Spirit’s prodding, such as when the medical system is brutally murdering unborn children, when assisted suicide is becoming mainstream, when paedophilia is being championed as normal by some in the psychiatry world. The gospel tells us that God is concerned for the relief of poverty, hunger, and injustice. Obviously, there are times when we can’t remain silent and we have to step up and make some noise.

But here’s a news flash… our culture doesn’t care what we think about the evil creeping into our world. In fact, the culture is already evil, has been for a long time, ever since a couple named Adam & Eve. Honestly, what do we think the world thinks when we stamp our feet and tell them we’re upset with them for not acting like Christians? Think about that for a moment. Here’s the point – they aren’t Christians. That being the case, why do we expect them to act like Christ?

The thing is that we are called to be influencers in our culture. The question however is just how do we live and act to be those witnesses we have been called to be? If we truly believe that we must be influencers in our culture, as I do, allow me to share five ways that I believe will make a difference.

1) Intentionally become involved in the lives of those we live with

“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14

Since Jesus stepped into our culture and journeyed beside us, working to renew us, I believe that it be-hooves all Disciples of Christ to commit to becoming a part of the lives of individuals who make up the culture around us to see them transformed to live for Jesus.

That means then that we must be a part of the shaping of, engaging in & participating with culture to see it renewed. We’re not called to be taken out of the world but to use the things God has given human culture in order to bring glory to him: things such as music, movies, artistic expression, technology, etc. It is our privilege to redeem it to his glory – personal and cultural renewal through the gospel of Jesus.

More specifically, I believe that the local church needs to be equipped to be an outpouring of our relationship with Christ in our communities by identifying the needs of the community and then using the gifts at our disposal to meet those needs. This can only truly be done as relationships are created with the surrounding community otherwise all we become is a program machine instead of a place where mission meets needs.

2) Sacrificially love the neighbour we come in contact with

In the book of Jeremiah, we read about how the Israelite nation had been destroyed by the Babylonian empire, and were now relocated to that great city of Babylon. How should they react to this strange new foreign world and culture? What was their attitude supposed to be now that they were living there as a part of it?

Possibly they could just keep to themselves, stick their heads in the sand and have nothing whatsoever to do with it. Maybe they could just make lots of noise to point out their case whenever something they didn’t agree with came into view. They could have, but God said something to them that spoke to a unique way.

“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” – Jeremiah 29:7

God was saying that they were to put their energies and their focus into making Babylon a great city (culture) to live in. We’re not talking about a prosperity gospel thing or a social gospel thing, rather we’re talking about a societal welfare through loving others thing. In other words, his approach for them is to serve their neighbours – even though their language is different and have different morals and they don’t believe what they believe.

God wants them to pray for the city and people, which really means to love them. Love them, pray for them, and look for ways to help them become a prosperous, peaceful city, to become the greatest place to live. God’s campaign platform was “Make Babylon Great Again!”. In other words, God was calling them to a totally different approach than what we might have expected.

3) Humbly serve the people in our sphere of influence

Jesus was the perfect model for gaining influence through humble service and unconditional love. How did he respond to his enemies? He didn’t call down legions of angels to fight them, instead he died for their sins, and even as he was dying what did he do? He prayed for them!

Jesus must be more than just a good example for us, he needs to be the ‘heart beat’ in how we actual live out our faith. In other words, if that is his fallback position, that needs to be our starting point too. “If at the very heart of your worldview is a man dying for his enemies, then the way you’re going to win influence in society is through service rather than power and control.”[i]

Jesus certainly got upset at the religious elite for hypocrisy and selfish nonjudgmental-ism, but we never see him getting ‘upset’ at sinners for acting like sinners. The religious leaders saw the average person (sinner) as losers. Jesus on the other hand viewed them as ‘lost’. He cared deeply about them with an unfathomable depth of compassion. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” – Luke 19:10 When we view people as ‘losers’ there is always contempt, however when we see them as Jesus sees them, as ‘lost’, there is compassion.

The average person in first century Israel saw their religious leaders as unapproachable, judgemental and contemptuous. On the flip side, many of the same people saw Jesus as completely approachable, and as someone who genuinely cared about them.

What about us? We say everyone is welcome in our churches, but do we really believe that? If a transgender person walked into your church service this Sunday, would you genuinely reach out and show hospitality (maybe invite them for lunch) and display sincere love? Remember that a transgender man or woman is a real person trying to discover who they really are, and they, as we, can only find our identity in Christ. Do you have compassion like Jesus enough to commit to walk with them through that journey?

Here’s the thing, people will only trust us when they see that we’re not only out for ourselves, but out for them too with a sincerity in our compassion. It’s when they begin to recognise the attractiveness of our sacrificial love, that we’ll have real influence.

 4) Actively live out the gospel to reach the culture

I came across something I read in a book by Martyn Lloyd-Jones that speaks to the church being the church…

“I am certain that the world outside is not going to pay much attention to all the organized efforts of the Christian church. The one thing she will pay attention to is a body of people filled with the spirit of rejoicing… If you really do feel what you say about the daily evidence in the newspapers of the moral rot that is setting in in this country, if you feel that we are facing ruin economically and industrially, because people are worshippers and lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of god, if you really believe that and mean it and feel it, then it will be your duty to become a person such as is depicted here, because this is the only thing that is going to persuade men.  They say, ‘Oh we know your teaching and preaching, we have had it all before,’ but when they see it in operation they will listen because they are miserable and unhappy.  When they see this quality, they will begin to pay real attention.”[ii]

The truth is that outside of the Holy Spirit’s convicting work, the greatest and best invitation to the gospel is a community of disciples living out the active and breathing gospel to the world. Christians who live under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and in obedience to Christ, instead of making demands on a world who simply doesn’t understand or agree with those demands, will inevitably influence the world for good.

5) Shine brighter in contrast to the darkness of the age

Jesus said about us, “You are the light of the world” – Matthew 5:14. What does light do? Wherever there is even the least bit of light, darkness disappears. You can be in the darkest place imaginable and just a tiny light has the power to drive away all that black, oppressive darkness. That’s what we do. The presence of a Christian in the world is supposed to be like a light in the darkness, not only in the sense that the truth of God’s Word shining a light into the darkness of humanity’s heart, or as a beam of hope into a despairing soul, but also in the sense that our good deeds can’t help but be seen.

A flashlight can be like a glorious light in the darkness of a mining tunnel, but that same flashlight in the middle of the brightest day and it would be hardly visible. Here’s my question, where do lights shine the brightest? The answer of course is in the darkest of places. So, I wonder, for the witness of Christ to be truly effective, would it not then make sense that the world be dark?

“And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness.” – Acts 4:29

I find it interesting that the early church asked for boldness and not for the tribulations they were facing to be taken away. I wonder what would happen to our world if we prayed that we shine brighter rather than asking for the dark days to disappear? After all there is nothing like meeting a Christian who is reflecting the light of Jesus. That person is a thing of beauty in a dull world. That is how Jesus lived and this is what every one of us needs to aim to be like.

Finally…

“Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” – Philippians 2:14-15

Let’s strive to be just like stars that don’t draw attention to the individual pinpoint of light, but rather draw their ‘oohs’ & ‘ahhs’ because of the expansive majesty of the night sky. We aren’t to draw attention to ourselves but instead put all the focus onto the majesty of Jesus, while we influence our ‘Babylon’ by praying for it, serving with everything we’ve got and by being so sacrificially loving that the people around us, who don’t believe what we believe, may soon come to a place where they can’t imagine this world without us.

[i] Timothy Keller, King’s Cross, (Dutton Redeemer, New York, NY 2011) pg. 149

[ii] Lloyd-Jones, Joy Unspeakable (Harold Shaw Pub, Wheaton, IL, 1984) pgs. 102-103

How Can We Forgive When We Can’t?

We all love to pull out the following verse from Matthew when someone doesn’t seem to forgive us and present it to them as if it was written ‘special’ for them. “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times’.” – Matthew 18:21-22 (NIV)

The reality is that when the shoe is on the other foot we often find It harder to accept that verse as written for ourselves. If truth be told I need to seek forgiveness much more often than I extend it. So, if I expect grace extended to me, I better extend grace to others, easily and willingly.

Still, I can’t think of a more difficult command given in scripture. It goes against our nature. Every pore of our body screams, “No, I won’t do it – I can’t do it!” And then Jesus says, “If you do not forgive, I will not forgive.” We know what is right to do. We even want to do what is right. But we feel paralyzed.

I read a story of Yoko Ono requesting that the anniversary of John Lennon’s death be made into an international day of forgiveness. What a wonderful thought, just imagine (do you like what I did there?). The thing is that Yoko added a disclaimer in the same conversation. She stated that though she wished for an international day, she herself couldn’t be led to absolve the murderer of John.

She herself couldn’t forgive. When it comes to us Christians however, forgiving others is not an option even if we feel we can’t. How can we forgive when faced with that dilemma – how can we forgive when we can’t?

First of all, Jesus gives us a great example of what our hearts should be like in the whole area of forgiveness found in John 13:3-17…

After washing the feet of his disciples, he drops a bombshell on the group, announcing that one of them is going to betray him. Our images of the last supper have largely been shaped by renaissance masters such as DaVinci who portray Jesus sitting at the centre of a long table with six disciples on either side, much like a team photo. But DaVinci got it wrong.

The last supper would have been eaten according to their custom’s and their cultural norms. The practice would have been in the fashion of a Greco-Roman triclinium which meant that the Jesus’ guys would have been reclining on their left hips and elbows, freeing up their right hands to eat from the settings on the floor or on slightly raised tables instead of sitting upright on chairs.

Place settings in this fashion would be shared by three people, where one diner could lean back to place his head on the chest of the person to his left, or if someone was to the right, lean forward into his neighbour’s back if he wanted to share a private word. It was certainly a much more intimate way of breaking bread than what we’re used to.

With that picture in mind imagine that at one point in the meal John leans back into Jesus’ chest to ask him a question. Knowing that Jesus was the host, this would place John in the “best man” position immediately in front of Jesus.

Meanwhile, Mark tells us that Judas shared the third spot in that place setting when he records, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me.” – Mark 14:20

Given that the spot immediately in front of Jesus was taken up by John, the only spot left was immediately to Jesus’ back, the spot reserved for the guest of honour. And that was where Judas was breaking bread that night. Imagine that! Judas was Jesus’ guest of honour at the last supper. This seating arrangement was equivalent as saying… “I trust you my friend… you’ve got my back.”

Jesus knew who would betray him and yet he continued to extend grace to Judas, even washing his feet and giving him the honoured place at his table. Sadly, Judas was given the chance to repent all the way to the end but didn’t accept it, ultimately refusing Jesus’ amazing grace while leaving the party to carry out his plan of betrayal. When he did this act, he condemned himself.

Here’s my point. Should we not live in the same way as Jesus did with Judas, with those who may have wronged us? Should we not continue to extend grace and forgiveness and love no matter their response to us even if they reject us?

Rebecca Pippert relates the powerful story of the late Corrie ten Boom. This Dutch woman and her family were sent to Auschwitz for hiding Jews in their home during the Second World War. Corrie was a Christian woman and had been invited to speak at a conference in Portland Oregon. This is what she said,

“My name is Corrie ten Boom and I am a murderer.” There was total silence. “You see, when I was in prison camp I saw the same guard day in and day out. He was the one who mocked and sneered at us when we were stripped naked and taken into the showers. He spat on us in contempt, and I hated him. I hated him with every fiber of my being. And Jesus says when you hate someone you are guilty of murder.”

“When we were freed, I left Germany vowing never to return,” Corrie ten Boom continued. “But I was invited back there to speak. I didn’t want to go but I felt the Lord nudging me to. Very reluctantly I went. My first talk was on forgiveness. Suddenly, as I was speaking, I saw to my horror that same prison guard sitting in the audience. There was no way that he would have recognized me. But I could never forget his face, never. It was clear to me from the radiant look on his face while I spoke, that he had been converted since I saw him last. After I finished speaking he came up and said with a beaming smile, ‘Ah, dear sister Corrie, isn’t it wonderful how God forgives?” And he extended his hand for me to shake.

“All I felt as I looked at him was hate. I said to the Lord silently, “There is nothing in me that could ever love that man. I hate him for what he did to me and to my family. But you tell us that we are to love our enemies. That’s impossible for me, but nothing is impossible for you. So, if you expect me to love this man it’s going to have to come from you, because all I feel is hate.”

She went on to say that at that moment she felt nudged to do only one thing: “Put out your hand, Corrie,” the Lord seemed to say. Then she said, “It took all of the years that I had quietly obeyed God in obscurity to do the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I put out my hand.”

 Then, she said, something remarkable happened. “It was only after my simple act of obedience that I felt something almost like warm oil was being poured over me. And with it came the unmistakable message: ‘Well done, Corrie. That’s how my children behave.’ And the hate in my heart was absorbed and gone. And so, one murderer embraced another murderer, but in the love of Christ.” [Hope Has It’s Reasons p. 189, 190]

There is something deep within fallen human nature that thirsts for revenge and urges retaliation in kind. We just can’t seem to forgive – naturally. Someone seeks forgiveness and I think “Yeah, but don’t do it again”. In fact, we naturally want to inflict the same type of injury on the one who injured us – an eye for an eye seems only fair. But we must give up on the idea that we are the judge, jury and executioner and instead leave the judging to God.

I’ll admit to you that I have struggled to forgive someone who technically is on the same cosmic level with me and yet have expected God, who is light years above us in the same scale, to forgive me. But for the Christian, forgiving others is not an option. If I can’t forgive I guess the question is whether I am truly trusting in God’s transforming power – in my life and others’.  At the end of the day I need to forgive a human being who is like me with all the faults and weaknesses that come with being a human if I in turn expect God, coming from all his perfection and holiness, to forgive me.

That being the case, just how can I forgive someone when I can’t? Corrie got it right. What is impossible for us is completely possible for God, which is why forgiveness can only come about through the transformational power of God in our lives. We all need to rely on the Holy Spirit to forgive through us. That’s a God job and only God can do God jobs well.

What to Do If You’re Chronically Frustrated at Church

September 14, 2017                                                  by: Brett McCracken

Stopping the Cycle of Discontent

We live in an age of constant dissatisfaction. Because of our digital connectedness and access to everything all the time, we have never been more aware of the “other options” at our disposal and how what we have stacks up against what we want (or what Instagram or Facebook reveals that others have). Furthermore, the deeply ingrained nature of consumerism tells us to never settle for what we have but always to strive for more and better. And so we live in a constant state of glass-half-empty unsettledness, hyperaware of what could be a better fit for us, what might make us happier and more comfortable.

This attitude is everywhere, including in our churches. Most of us can relate to feeling unsettled and a bit disgruntled in our churches. The reasons are manifold. The pastors never seem to speak to the current-event topics that occupy your mind and stir your heart. The worship band always adds annoying contemporary additions to perfectly good old hymns. Your suggestions for social justice initiatives or small-group curriculum never gain momentum. Everything about the church is just so predictable. Week after week it’s the same thing. It doesn’t feel relevant to what’s happening in the world, at least as you see it.

Could it be that our own self-centered approach to church is the problem?

These feelings of frustration are aggravated by the constancy of media, which bombards us with images and ideas and other stimuli that are dynamic and always changing. Any church would feel stifling and boring by comparison! Furthermore, the nature of social media is predominantly negative, conditioning us to view the world through the lenses of grievance and complaint. We naturally bring these lenses to bear in how we see our church. We have eyes to see what’s wrong, but no patience to dwell in the goodness of what’s right. What starts as small nitpicky things grow in our minds over time, snowballing to become larger grievances that eventually become deal breakers. We slowly disengage from the church, from a place of bitterness and anger, or we just leave.

How can we stop this cycle? Rather than letting dissatisfaction fester to the point that we leave the church or become embittered, what can we do to deal with our frustrations?

1. Search your own heart.

The pervasive “culture of complaint” in today’s internet age has led us to focus our anger and frustration externally, blaming this person or that institution for the things that are wrong. But what about us? What role is our own sin playing in our disgruntled state? Could it be that our own self-centered approach to church is the problem? Perhaps we should start where G.K. Chesterton starts when he answered the question, “What is wrong with the world?” with two simple words: “I am.”

2. Focus on God.

Sometimes we get so caught up in the nitpicky particularities of church that we forget what it is all about. We are there not to be comfortable, nor to be affirmed in our preferences. We are there to worship God; to hear from him; to proclaim his glory and to rest in his goodness. Choosing this posture can go a long way in softening our edginess about church. Don’t look inward in worship, rehashing bitterness in your heart. Don’t look around you either, finding fault in what your fellow churchgoers or leaders are doing. Look upward to God. Focus your gaze on him. That’s why you’re there.

3. Talk to your leaders.

Another unfortunate way social media is changing us is that it frames our complaints in a distant, anonymous, decontextualized way. We air grievances with the ease of a tweet, with the protective buffer of screens and distance, but we rarely do the harder work of hashing things out in person, in longer, more nuanced, and more civil conversations. But this is crucial in a church community.

If you have problems or grievances about the church, talk to your leaders in person. Emails aren’t the best. Texts are worse. Ask them for a meeting, one where you do as much listening as talking. Frame your issues not as demands or critiques but as observations and suggestions. And approach it all in a spirit of love and edification. This is not about you and your comfort; it’s about you as one member seeking to strengthen the whole body.

Brett McCracken

Brett McCracken is the managing editor of Biola Magazine at Biola University and the author of Hipster Christianity and Gray Matters. He writes regularly for the Gospel Coalition website, Christianity TodayRelevant, and his website, BrettMcCracken.com.

3 Ways We Can Express The Fruit Of The Spirit, Love Each Other, & Bring God Glory Everyday

I enjoy a good movie…problem for me is that my attention span is so short that I have to watch movies with lots of action to keep me watching. If some kind of gun blasting, car crashing, ceiling walking, space ship zooming action isn’t taking place every 3 minutes or so I can’t be bothered to watch.

Even in an action flick, if the hero of that movie all of a sudden pulls out a picnic basket while in the park with his girlfriend, that’s my cue to go to the fridge.

On the other hand my wife & daughter can sit together and become completely enthralled with a bunch of women on the screen sitting around a table for hours just talking about …stuff. One of their favourite genres is these romantic movies where they end up living “happily ever after”.

It’s that stereotypical ending, the one where the Cowboy hero and his girl ride off into the sunset, the credits moving up the screen, the music fading as they disappear over the horizon into bliss and joy, while my dear women folk weep, not like they hadn’t seen a million of these before.

As the screen goes blank the movie is done and the understanding is that the Cowboy and his girl are now forever happy, the rest of their lives wrapped up in this crazy love for each other, blissful and joyous, sacrificing everything forever for each other, beautiful, glorious, sounds so wonderful. But come on, who really lives that way?

Let’s revisit the couple an hour or so after the credits have gone up. An hour later after we have all gone home from the movie theatre they are still riding. She’s getting a little sore by now from that saddle, hanging on to sweaty Tarzan in front, she’s starts to ask him about where they’re going, when will they stop, where’s the next bathroom, do these boots make her look fat.

Meanwhile, he needs his ego stroked again. That question “did you like how I took care of the bad guys?” after two hours is starting to get kinda old. Then she brings up the fact that they have to go to her side of the family for Christmas in Texas this year even though he had promised his grandma that they’d be at her place in New Mexico.

She suddenly whips out the honey dew list for all the chores that need to be done when they get home, that’s if this beast ever speeds up. He meanwhile, just wants some peace and quiet to watch the Buffalo roam and the deer and the antelope play.

“I knew it!” I knew it! I knew that they couldn’t really live that way”

We may or may not receive some small satisfaction that they didn’t live that happy ever after. But most of us would have that hope or wish that it be so, that it just might work, this time at least.

In real life, when the world observes prominent Christians fail, there is sometimes that sentiment, “I knew it!” I knew it! I knew that they couldn’t really live that way” And many times we Jesus followers succumb to that in our own hearts and we agree, “Yes your right, it all sounds good but no one really lives that way” 

But what if it was possible? What if we could have a love relationship with God where we lived life in obedience to him and in a love relationship with our neighbour and fellow church folks? And those relationships of love and obedience will not only be a reality, but will grow richer and fuller and deeper in spite of the struggles and challenges we face daily? What if we could actually live that way? Live lives that actually expressed the fruit of the Spirit, loving with abandon, completely and fully, and with everything we got, bringing glory to God as a result?

The truth is this type of life is not only probable, but absolutely and completely possible for you and me right now – today – this moment and then every moment hereafter if we simply learn three things.

Prove Your Love

 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. – John 14:15-17

I am reminded of a story in which two ladies were standing in the entrance of one of their homes talking when suddenly the teenage son of one of the mothers appears from the kitchen dressed in a freshly pressed shirt, clean and fitted jeans, scrubbed face and hair though messed up messed up with a purpose. As he rushes towards the front door, he pauses long enough to plant a kiss on his mother’s cheek as he heads outside.

The visiting neighbour couldn’t help to comment “How do you get your son to dress so nicely in such nice clean clothes and scrubbed face and looking so good?”  To which the mother replied, “Actually I had nothing to do with that… it is amazing even to me that what I have been trying to get him to do for the past 18 years, another pair of blue eyes and long blonde hair could get him to do with just the tilt of her head and a smile on her face.”

This guy didn’t get himself all cleaned up because he was commanded to; he did what he needed to do because he wanted to. I think that’s a bit of what we see here in verse 15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. We begin first with a love relationship which then causes a change in heart or a transformation in our mind to the point where we can’t help but want to obey Jesus’ commands.

The emphasis is not Prove to me that you love me by obeying me. The focus is put on to the love part of the relationship as in,If you love me you will want to obey my commands.”

When it comes to our relationship with Jesus, we must begin to live our lives of obedience not because it’s commanded, but rather because we can’t help ourselves. Remember that, “Christ’s love compels us”. – 2 Corinthians 5:14

Just Do It! 

As a parent, I continue to learn the art of communication through daily interactions with my children, most noticeably the art of clarity. I’m sure this only happens in my house but on occasion my wife & I will return home from being away for an evening only to discover that the dishes hadn’t been done (we have a dishwasher) or that the basement is a complete mess and nothing has been put away.

I understand that being a teenager is all about sleep, eating, connecting with friends through Facebook, texts and phone calls, watching TV, eating, playing video games and eating (I have two teenage boys), after all what else is there? But when I comment about the fact that nothing was done regarding making their world, within the house, a better place for ‘all’ and that my expectation was that it should have been done, whether it be dishes or cleaning up after themselves, I have often heard the response, “But dad, you didn’t tell me to do it.”

Interesting how their entertainments and other priorities didn’t have to be dictated clearly to them but the other stuff was not acted on because it ‘apparently’ wasn’t so clearly said. But reading John chapter 14 and more specifically verse 15 made me wonder how often I do that to God. “If you love me, you will keep my commands.”

Though I wouldn’t necessarily say it, I too often find myself acting like I’m waiting for God to bring clarity about what I need to do for him, to have him reveal his call on my life instead of just doing what I know needs to happen in my life to obey him.

I’m not talking about making a decision concerning whether or not we should be heading out to the mission field, but what I am talking about is living out our faith in action in the everyday.

I think too many of us use the “I’m waiting to hear God’s will for my life” as a means of avoiding action. Did you hear him tell you to watch TV or exercise or go on that last vacation? Probably not but you still did it. Those other things aren’t wrong, but I find it interesting in how we seem to be able to rationalize our entertainment & other priorities but can be so slow to commit to serving God.

Just look around us. There are myriads of opportunities to obey God. But the first obedience is to learn to love him. Begin to love him by getting to know him. Read his word, spend time talking to him while you drive around in your car or get ready for work in the morning. Don’t wait to get ready to be ready to find a place to wait to be ready, instead talk to him even now while you read this post – bottom line is just do it! Just begin and get rid of excuses for not getting to know him and thereby learn to love him.

Rely on the Holy Spirit

I know this love thing is tough. In fact much too often we see people who profess love but don’t display it. They don’t display it because this love thing is tougher than we think.

Love that results in obedience isn’t an easy thing and that is why we see in verse 16 that Jesus leaves us a helper. “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth.”

 The word helper comes from the Greek work “Parakletos” which means quite literally “someone who is called in” … a ringer if you will. To the hearers of Jesus’ day, they would have understood immediately what Jesus was saying about this parakletos or helper he promised.

A Parakletos might be a person called in to give witness in a court of law in someone’s favour; he might be an advocate called in to plead someone’s case; he might be an expert called in to give advice in some difficult situation. He might be a person called in when, for example, a company of soldiers were depressed and dispirited to put new courage into their minds and hearts. Always though a Parakletos is someone called in to help when the person who calls him is in trouble or distress or doubt or bewildered.

What Jesus is saying is this: “I’m giving you a hard task to do… this love thing… It’s a very difficult assignment but has to get done. So I’m going to send you someone, the parakletos, In this case it is the Holy Spirit who will be there for you and who will guide you to what you need to do to make this happen and will also enable you to do it”.

Who really lives this way?

So back to the original question I asked, just who really lives this way? The credits move up the screen at the end of our life’s movie – the music fades away and we discover that we live that way by loving God with everything we’ve got.

And how does that happen? It happens as we get to know him. Read his word, pray, hang out with others who love God, join a community of other believers learning to love him, rely on the power of the Holy Spirit and ask him to help us and he will as he promised. He will be your Parakletos, and what will we discover as we live his way? We discover that we are living lives that express the fruit of the Spirit, loving with abandon, completely and fully, and with everything we got, bringing glory to God as a result.

What Should Be The Christian’s Response To Anti Christian Sentiment?

I recall a number of years ago, the University of Saskatchewan’s student newspaper ‘The Sheaf’ published sexually derogatory cartoons depicting Jesus Christ. There were apologies and resignations over it but controversy continued to surround the situation for months. At the very least it was tasteless, at the worst it was a personal attack on Christians. I saw it as a growing appetite of society to showcase a defiant ‘fist pump’ in God’s face.

Truth is that the fist pumping isn’t stopping anytime soon. We have recently witnessed boycotts and even legal actions taken against Christian bakers who refused to bake a wedding cake for same sex couples, anti Christian graffiti on church walls, employees being fired for pro-life stands, subtle and not so subtle undertones of intolerance in the media, or outright abuse of power in the government.

In the June 21st, 2014 edition of the National Post, journalist Rex Murphy wrote an article that spoke to a very troubling issue with regard to the suppression of personal choice based on conscience, religious or otherwise. Rex said, “Elected Liberal MPs are under Justin Trudeau’s direct order that, in any legislation that touches on the abortion issue, they must — mindless of their faith, their previous professions on the subject, or their conscience – vote the “pro-choice” dogma. Pro-abortion is the party line. And it is the only line allowed.” – full article can be found by clicking on the following link: http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/rex-murphy-in-justin-trudeaus-world-christians-need-not-apply

The responses to all the aforementioned anti-Christian sentiments have been overwhelmingly angst driven. Many comments were angry (rightly so), but what was notable was the almost militant responses. Much of the reaction was a result of fear, quickly turning to hate, with some individuals on the very edge of making death threats against Trudeau. We’ve seen this fear / hate in other situations as well. Similar threats have been thrown the way of same sex couples, and in the situation of ‘The Sheaf’ in Saskatoon, calls for the editor of the University paper to be publicly humiliated were abundant. I wasn’t surprised about people exercising their freedom of expression in areas of disagreement… we should always allow for healthy dialogue, especially in places of disagreement. What did surprise me however, was that many of the most hateful and fearful comments came from within the Christian camp.

My question is how are we Christians supposed to respond to the growing anti-Christian sentiment? Are we to ‘fist pump in your face’ back for every ‘fist pump in your face’ received? Please don’t misread me. I absolutely believe that we must respond, but what does that look like? Death threats? Civil uprisings? That last one may be answered differently depending on what side of the Canadian / U.S. border you live on of course. But does the bible have something to say that would – should direct us, independent of our country’s history’s?

Regarding the government, it’s always good to remember that the civil government is a means ordained by God for ruling and maintaining order in communities (1 Peter 2:13-17). As Christians, we must acknowledge that God gives the local government the “power of the sword,” the lawful use of the force to administer just laws (Romans 13:1-7). We are also called to pray for those who God has placed in the positions of authority over us (1 Timothy 2:1-4). But if that government forbids what God requires or requires what God forbids, then of course Christians cannot submit, and some form of civil disobedience becomes necessary (Acts 4:18-31; 5:17-29). But this civil disobedience must still be done with respect and according to the heart of God’s Word, not the way of our old selves – the carnal, revenge seeking, hateful hearts we once had.

What we are seeing are events in our world that we, as Christians need to learn and understand will increasingly become an expectation rather than an exception. I think it really speaks to what it means to follow Christ. And what is that? Simply it is that the work of Christ is based on being insulted.

Already in the Psalms and in Isaiah the path of mockery was promised: “All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads” – Psalm 22:7 “He was despised and rejected by men as one from whom men hide their faces and we esteemed him not” – Isaiah 53:3

If Christ hadn’t been insulted, there would be no salvation. This was, after all, his saving work: to be insulted and die to rescue sinners from the wrath of God. This helps us establish a benchmark for ourselves of what the Christians’ response needs to be (even if it includes civil actions or individual ‘retributions’).

That being the case then, just how should his followers respond? In answer to those who say we need to protest or seek revenge I would like to point us back to the words of Jesus himself, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” – John 18:36

So… what is our response?

On the one hand we are grieved and angered. But on the other hand if we identify with Christ, embrace his suffering, rejoice in our afflictions, and say with the apostle Paul that vengeance belongs to the Lord, then we will seek to love our enemies and win them with the gospel. If Christ did his work by being insulted, we must do ours likewise. Pray for those who persecute us. Love those who say all manner of evil against us. Live so that others may know the real Jesus, the Jesus who sees with the eyes of compassion.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” – Matthew 5:43-45

So before we all plan that next fist pumping march on Ottawa, Washington or London to call for the head of someone we perceive is trampling on our Christian rights, maybe we should make sure we got the love ‘your enemies and pray for those who persecute us’ figured out first.

5 Key Dangers That The Prosperity Gospel Presents To The Christian

I’m not a fan of the prosperity Gospel, and in fact I believe a lot of it is just plain false teaching. But I’m also not a fan of the idea that all Christians must be poor… that’s just poor theology.

God can bless his children, and I have the greatest respect for those who are wealthy and who still have a strong relationship with Jesus Christ, because I think it must be one of the hardest things to do in life.

Christians can be blessed with riches, but we must remember their limitations. Money can buy a bed, but it can’t buy you sleep. It can buy a house, but not a home; medicine, but not health; pleasure, but not peace; amusements, but not joy. Just remember its limitations!

There are many reasons I’m not a fan of the prosperity gospel, more than I am sharing on this blog post, however allow me to share 5 key dangers that the prosperity gospel presents to the Christian. I’m sure that you’ll agree that even only 5 reasons will be enough to keep us away from that false teaching.

1  The prosperity gospel presents the Holy Spirit more like a ‘Force’ to use than a ‘Person’ to love

A major problem I see with the prosperity gospel is that the Holy Spirit is seen more as a power to be put to use for whatever the believers heart desires – if of course you have enough faith. After all didn’t Jesus actually say that we would receive the desires of our hearts? The understanding is that the Holy Spirit’s pleasure is to fulfill the desires of our hearts immediately if you have enough faith. The problem with that process of thinking however, is that the Word of God does not teach anywhere that one of the Holy Spirit’s jobs is to act as a force that will fulfill the desires of my will and heart but is instead a ‘Person’ who empowers the believer to do God’s will.  “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually has He wills”. – 1 Corinthians 12:11

2  The prosperity gospel becomes more a matter of what we say than in whom we trust

The prosperity gospel (Word of Faith) teaching presents us to a God who is not truly Lord of all, because in that teaching, he can’t work until we release him to do so. Faith, according to the Word of Faith doctrine, is not humble and submissive trust in God; rather it’s a watered down formula by which we may manipulate the spiritual laws that prosperity teachers believe govern the universe. As the name “Word of Faith” implies, this movement teaches that faith is a matter of what we say more than whom we trust or what truths we embrace and affirm in our hearts. Truth is though that our hope is in the Lord, not in our own words, not even in our own faith. “Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.” – Psalm 33:20-22

3  The prosperity gospel is about pursuing material wealth and health over of the presence of God

In Numbers 13 & 14 we are introduced to an intriguing drama regarding the children of Israel and their choice of a lifetime. When they were about to enter the promised land they faltered because they feared the giants in the land and so chose to run away. God punished them by denying them access into the land flowing with milk and honey because of their sin.

Here’s the question, what was their sin? Their sin was believing that the birthright was about the material goods – the land flowing with milk and honey. Think about the fact that the pagan nations who already inhabited the land weren’t enjoying the blessing of God and yet already possessed the land for many generations. enjoying it’s bounty.  Truth is that the Israelite people’s birthright wasn’t about the flowing milk, honey and olive trees – their birthright was about the Glory of God being manifested in their lives no matter what.

God had been with them throughout the Exodus and was going to be with them as they took possession of the land. but they forgot all about that and only saw giants guarding grapes. The prosperity gospel emphasises the gaining of money and possessions in this life, even going so far to declare that as children of the king it is a birthright. But if that was the case why would Jesus say, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal” – Matthew 6:19

Also the Bible warns against pursuing wealth. Believers, especially leaders in the church, are to be free from the love of money. “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” – Luke 12:15

Our lives need to be nothing less than the manifested presence of God in our lives so that the world who watches us may glorify our God in heaven, not our god in our wallet.

4  The prosperity gospel does not prepare the saints for tough times

“Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” – 1 Peter 4:19

When a crisis strikes, as it always will in our flee bitten sin diseased, sin cursed world, how are we to handle those times of trouble? I’m not sure what the Word of Faith folks say to the fact that we are called upon to suffer not just persecution suffering, but body-wasting-away, and disease-type suffering, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” – 2 Corinthians 4:16 

Sadly what happens however, is that Christians in prosperity churches are often unprepared for the day when a tragedy happens in their lives.

Our hope rather should be found in and through the gospel message of renewal and transformation. This damaged world will be made right one day. Jesus will return and make things new. Knowing this helps me to look to God when I have been diagnosed with cancer, when your spouse loses his or her job, or when bankruptcy is declared because of circumstances beyond our control.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials.” – 1 Peter 1:3-6

5  The prosperity gospel can only lead to discontent and unsatisfied hearts

The teaching of the prosperity gospel belittles the true gospel to earthly betterment such as material goods, better health or better relationships. This though only leads to discontent and unsatisfied hearts. “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” – Hebrews 13:5-6

The word ‘content’ here in verse 5 literally means ‘to be enough’, ‘to be sufficient’, ‘to be adequate’ on a continual basis. That means we come to Christ first and for Jesus’ sake alone. That means that Christ is enough even if the added things never get added.

Even if my marriage is terrible I can still find deep satisfaction because I find it in Jesus. If I am to remain single for the rest of my life I can find complete satisfaction because I find it in Jesus. If my job is a dead-end job or the boss treats me terribly, my satisfaction is complete because I find contentment in Jesus. Even if I never get that candy apple red Jaguar, or if I get sick or my child gets cancer and dies, or it seems that there’s always more month than pay-cheque. We must come to Jesus because of Jesus, Jesus is sufficient. God is enough.

“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” – Psalm 73:25-26

God absolutely does want his children to prosper and in fact we are promised prosperity. However the promise is made for the day we enter glory. So it’s a timing thing really. One day we will undeniably be healthy & wealthy – just not necessarily today.

In the end we must know and believe that though we rejoice in suffering now, there will be great joy in the prosperity of Christ’s coming. “Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” – 1 Peter 4:13

It’s Not Too Late – Hope for the Fight Against Porn

(Guest post – )

I could see the pain in his eyes. And fear.

His question was about his lack of assurance of salvation, and it was easy to tell this was not philosophical or merely theoretical. It was turmoil of soul over some besetting sin.

All it took was one clarifying question to uncover the source: guilt over his repeated return to Internet pornography. It was good he felt guilty, as I’d soon tell him. It was a sign of God’s grace.

By now, such a scenario was no surprise in college ministry. Here on a Christian campus, the pastoral issue that had come up more than any other was assurance of salvation. And after some initial bewilderment and a few extended conversations, the typical culprit soon became clear. Porn and the subsequent acting out.

Epidemic in This Generation

Assurance of salvation may be at an all-time low among Christians with the epidemic of porn use through ubiquitous Internet access. Sometimes it takes the form of existential angst and epistemological confusion, but often lack of assurance is the product of some deeply rooted sin. Could I really be saved if I keep returning to the same sin I have vowed so many times never to return to again?

We recently surveyed 8,000 Desiring God readers. Our study found that ongoing pornography use is not only dreadfully common, but increasingly higher among younger adults. More than 15% of Christian men over age sixty admitted to ongoing use. It was more than 20% for men in their fifties, 25% for men in their forties, and 30% for men in their thirties. But nearly 50% of self-professing Christian men, ages 18–29, acknowledged ongoing use of porn. (The survey found a similar trend among women, but in lesser proportions: 10% of females, ages 18–29; 5% in their thirties; increasingly less for forties, fifties, and sixty-plus.)

Graph of survey results

Hear His Voice Today

“Online access to porn may be new to this generation, but the invitation to repentance is gloriously ancient.” 

While the issue of online access to porn may be new to this generation — and progressively devastating to those who were exposed to it younger — the invitation to repentance from besetting sin is gloriously ancient. And perhaps no biblical text is more relevant to today’s struggles than Hebrews chapters 3 and 4.

Two-millennia old itself, the book of Hebrews points even further back into the past, to God’s invitation to repentance in Psalm 95:7–8: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 3:7–8, 13, 15; 4:7). While this offer of rest stretches across the centuries, the actual application to individual believers is restricted to those who have not yet fully hardened their hearts in unbelief and moved beyond repentance.

Hebrews is written to a group of persecuted Jewish Christians who are tempted to abandon their worship of Jesus as Messiah (the reason for their persecution) and return to the Judaism to which they once adhered apart from Jesus. Not only is such a move theologically disastrous (in terms of how one understands God and his revelation), but it is also personally, and eternally, devastating. These early Christians were experiencing the same hardness of heart that accompanies repeated sin and unfought unbelief in professing Christians today.

Into such a context, Hebrews reaches for Psalm 95 and the immediate exhortation it holds out: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” It’s a word our generation desperately needs to hear.

If You Still Hear Him

The emphasis on “today” is essential. Tomorrow is not a given. What you have is right now.

If you hear God’s voice today — calling you to Christ and his holiness — and reject that voice, your heart will be some degree harder for it, and do not take for granted that you will have next week, next month, a year from now, or even tomorrow to find repentance.

Every time we ignore the convicting voice of grace, we inch one step closer to judgment. Every conscious embrace of unrighteousness darkens the soul and adds callouses to the heart. At some point, no warmth or softness remains. Then, like Esau, who “found no chance to repent” (Hebrews 12:17), it will be too late.

“Our great hope against porn lies not in ourselves, but Christ, who has overcome, and in whom we too will overcome.”

 But today — today — if you still hear his gracious voice in the promptings of his Spirit, if you still feel the guilt, if you still sense the shame, if you still know some distaste for the impurity of sin — make today your point of turning. “See that you do not refuse him who is speaking” (Hebrews 12:25).

 

It is good that you feel bad about your ongoing sin. That’s the touch of grace. You still have the chance to turn from sin’s coldness to the warmth of a forgiving Christ. If your heart was already hard beyond repair, you wouldn’t be bothered by sin. Your conviction is his kindness.

As Long as It’s Still Today

Make today count for some new initiative in the fight. Renounce the sin while you can still muster the heart to do so. Involve a Christian friend in your struggle, with whom you can live out the priceless grace of Hebrews 3:12–13:

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

Choose righteousness today. Every concrete embrace of holiness matters. Every choice against evil, every act of righteousness in heart and mind and body. Every renouncing of sin prepares you, at least in some small measures, for choosing righteousness the next time. “We are always becoming who we will be” (Joe Rigney, Live Like a Narnian, 52), and today really does matter. Right now counts.

Where We Have Our Hope

And most importantly, fix your eyes afresh today on your advocate and great high priest, who is able “to sympathize with our weaknesses” and “who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). He is ready to dispense mercy and send grace “to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). We say no to sin by saying yes to Joy in him.

Here, at God’s right hand, sits our final hope. Not in our accountability, or our resolves, and definitely not in our willpower. Not in our record in the past, nor our ability in the present, nor our potential in the future. Our great hope lies not in ourselves, but outside of us, in Christ, who has overcome, and in whom we too will overcome.