Saturday, February 19, 2011

Real Persecution

Praise God that Said was freed!

And now we pray for another brother in chains - Shoaib Assadullah.

I pray for boldness, courage, provision and ultimately freedom for God's glory and according to His will. I so want those prison bars to shake and his bonds to break as they did for Paul that all would know the God of the Bible is the one true God!


The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them;
he delivers them from all their troubles.
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit. - Psalm 34:17-18

"A dark hour makes Jesus bright." - Robert Murray M'Cheyne

"The weaker we feel, the harder we lean. The harder we lean, the stronger we grow spiritually, even while our bodies waste away." –J.I. Packer

Faith in God entails many levels. For instance, I have found it relatively easy to have faith that God exists given the scientific evidence that shows creation, design, art and order in this world and universe. Science has shown that life can't come from non-life and matter can't arise from nothing so it is only logical to believe that there is a Creator.

Faith in Jesus' resurrection is not as intuitive as we don't have any other example of someone rising from the dead after three days. Still, I have found this miracle relatively easy to embrace due to historical evidence including the inability of ruling authorities to disprove the claim, the 180 degree turn in the disciples' courage and conviction and Paul's assertion that he interviewed hundreds of individuals who saw Jesus after his resurrection. If we truly believe Jesus is divine then this becomes even easier to believe as God is sovereign over life and death.

However, what about our faith in God's heart toward us? We look at the cross and can see that God loves us. We can't grasp His love fully but each Christian has some sense of the sacrifice involved. Yet, it is very difficult to take that ultimate example and allow it to saturate our souls so completely that we are unshaken when the tragedies and sufferings of this life threaten to drown our hope. Each of us have been let down at one time or another by people we know love us. We begin to wonder, "Is God really any different? Has He forgotten about me? Is He not listening? Why does He allow a child to brutally suffer or prolong the life of an older person who continues to endure the effects of a long-term debilitating disease? Is He really close to the brokenhearted as the Psalmist proclaims? He couldn't seem any further away. I don't see God delivering me or my loved one from trouble."

"As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?' 'Neither this man nor his parents sinned,' said Jesus, 'but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.'" - John 9:1-3

I often come back to this verse. We often simply see what is visible and obvious and it makes no sense to us. The disciples attempt to find a reason for this man's blindness but aren't even close. They look for a worldly reason, namely sin, as the cause. Jesus says no. There is something much larger going on here. Jesus then restores the man's sight.

I once heard Piper give a sermon in which he said that when God is doing one thing He is actually doing a thousand things. We may be able to see a few but literally have no idea regarding the scope of His plan. God is working His plan to ultimately show His glory, which is also for our ultimate good, and this case was no exception. When we attempt to join our finite idea of what is just and good with God's infinite omniscient plan of what is right and true the result is confusion, frustration and doubt.

"So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." - 1 Corinthians 10:31

This is another big aspect of faith...the faith that agrees with God that His glory should take precedence over everything. Doesn't that make God sound like a megalomaniac? Yet, that is exactly what Jesus taught us to pray for in the Lord's prayer. The first petition is "Hallowed be your name". I wonder how many of us really know what we are saying. If we are sincerely praying that then we are agreeing with the Son that the Father's name should be made holy everywhere. God's name should be treasured, set apart and glorified above all else.

If we come to the understanding that there is nothing more beautiful, wonderful and meaningful that God can give us than Himself, then we will agree that His glory takes precedent and is being manifested in ways that are a complete mystery until the Spirit opens our eyes or until we learn all the answers in heaven. Still, God has promised us that we will have trouble in this life.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” - John 16:33

We can understand that we will have trouble in this world because we live in a sin-filled broken world. But wait a minute. Didn't the passage at the beginning of this blog say that God will deliver believers from their troubles? Isn't this a contradiction? Not at all...unless we once again have confused the temporal with the eternal. God's deliverance ultimately came through Jesus' death and resurrection which delivers us from trouble for all eternity. However, God offers us many promises as we must deal with earthly trouble in the here and now.

"And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." - Matthew 28:20b

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." - Philippians 4:6-7

Finally, it's not just that God allows trouble for the sake of trouble or that trouble is only used to demonstrate our weakness and need for God. He also uses trouble to change, conform and mature His children.

"In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed." - 1 Peter 1:6-7

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." - 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

"Whatever your losses have been, or may be, you enjoy present salvation." - C.H. Spurgeon

"Great hearts can only be made by great troubles." - C.H. Spurgeon

"One sees great things from the valley, and only small things from the peak." - G. K. Chesterton

For further insight on this topic you may want to check out "Why? Trusting God When You Don't Understand" by Anne Graham Lotz as well as:

A Story | Tears of Hope from Adam Kring on Vimeo.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Absolute Truth

I've had almost 48 hours to think about this and believe God has helped me reach some clarity. A nice long walk on a beautiful day didn't hurt either. I have found a commonality between the last post on persecution and a conversation I had Friday evening. I want to explore that further here.

In the last post I noted that one of the things Christians are often accused of lacking is "tolerance". I put it in quotations because I think people making those accusations are operating under a different definition than I am. Their definition usually goes something like this..."you can believe whatever you want as long as you don't attempt to impose your beliefs on others". However, that definition is now being extended to "you can believe whatever you want as long as it doesn't upset someone else". If it does, it will increasingly be called hate.

So how did we get here? We live in a postmodern society which says, "All values, beliefs, lifestyles and truth claims are equally valid." It is moral relativism. Truth is what you believe it to be. What might be true for you might not be true for me. Truth ultimately depends on the moment...also known as "situational ethics". There is no black and white, only shades of grey. For anyone to say differently is viewed as arrogance and intolerance. This thinking also promotes a "whatever feels good" mentality and lifestyle. You have effectively set yourself up as your own idol and life revolves around you. It doesn't take a genius to see that this way of thinking will ultimately lead to chaos as your idea of truth will eventually collide with mine.

Of course, what is more arrogant than claiming you are the barometer of truth? It works both ways but most don't see that. The real belief being espoused by those who live under moral relativism is that there is no absolute truth. Unfortunately, as I was reminded Friday evening, many Christians are prone to falling into this same trap.

I was having a discussion with a good friend of mine, former member of my care group and life long Catholic, when I shared my concern regarding a couple of people I knew who were wandering off in different spiritual directions and putting their hope and purpose in things other than Jesus Christ. His response was to feel like he needed to defend them and to tell me that I was judging them which I shouldn't be doing. I feel that having concern is different than judging someone but it is true that there is an implicit judgment in that what they are doing is sinful. So here is the verse he was thinking of:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." - Matthew 7:1-2

This may be the most misused verse in the Bible by believers and non-believers alike. He was using it to say that I have no right to say that someone is involved in sinful actions and that their heart is straying from the Lord. I will certainly agree that only God can judge the heart but to say that I can't have concern based on the fruit, or lack thereof, I am seeing in someone's life is simply wrong.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." - John 15:5

Since he was upset that I would point out sin in someone's life that was jeopardizing their relationship with God, it begged this question from me - "How do you believe you get to heaven?" You would have thought that I asked him, "Which of your family members would you most like to get cancer?" He was visibly angry that I would ask such a question and stated that he would never answer a question like that where he was being put on the spot. Keep in mind, this was asked humbly and out of sincere curiosity and the only expectation I had is that he would have an answer. This is really Christianity 101 and I thought a Christian of 50 years would have an answer. His defiance was the last thing I expected.

There were already signs of postmodernism in him that he was so defensive about the idea of calling a sin a sin. Upon reflection, the next piece of information I got out of him was the clincher. As he was telling me why it was so wrong of me to ask him that question, I said that I thought that Scripture was pretty clear on the matter. He then took great offense at my using the term "Scripture" and said it made me sound insincere. OK, at this point I was pretty lost. But I think I understand (somewhat) a bit better now. He went on to say that the Bible was basically unknowable. There is no way that human beings with finite minds can hope to correctly interpret God's Word. There are different interpretations and schools of thought for pretty much every verse and for me to claim that I had some understanding of what the Bible says was arrogant and wishful thinking.

There is the commonality. My friend doesn't believe in absolute truth because he finds the author of truth - God - to basically be unknowable. How incredibly sad. I will be the first to admit that there are a lot of challenging parts of the Bible that are difficult to understand. That is why I study as much as I do and listen to godly men who immerse themselves in the Word and preach with wisdom and discernment. I make no claim to understand everything and know that I won't have every answer until I am in heaven. But just because we can't understand everything doesn't mean that we can't understand anything. I used John 3:16 as a verse that is readily understandable and at the core of Christianity. Why would God give us His Word if He knew we wouldn't be able to learn from it?

"But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." - 1 Timothy 3:14-17

He also made the comment that anything Paul wrote was mysterious and impossible to understand. Yet, here is Paul writing to his friend and disciple Timothy, and making some very clear statements. First of all, Timothy has had at least some understanding of Scripture his entire life. Keep in mind, that the Holy Spirit grants us wisdom, well beyond the capabilities of our finite human intellect. Timothy has clearly had the indwelling of the Spirit throughout His life as does every Christian from the time they are born again. Secondly, the Scriptures make us wise for salvation, meaning they help us to know and see God and open our hearts and lives to Him, even as our faith begins as an act of God's grace. Also, the Scriptures are essential for rebuking and correcting. That sounds a lot like it is our duty to call sin what it is and to bring our Christians brothers and sisters back in line with God's will when we see them drifting away.

"Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts." - Colossians 3:16

The message of Christ is wisdom. If that message was unknowable to us then that verse would make no sense. That conversation left me confused and saddened. I was unprepared for what I heard and it has been on my mind and heart ever since. I am reluctant to ask any follow-up questions because I have already been met with anger from what I felt were very innocent and non-threatening questions. But it did leave me with a couple thoughts.

If you are a Christian you are commanded to study Scripture. You don't get to just throw your hands up in the air, say you don't understand anything and go about your life. Yes, there will be passages from which you don't have complete clarity. You won't understand everything. But to use that as an excuse to not study at all is to basically throw the Bible back in God's face.

"Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it." - Joshua 1:8

If you don't know God's truth then you don't know absolute truth. That means you will fall prey to your own ideas of truth and you will simply join the postmodern masses. Your light for Christ in this darkened world will also dim and your witness will be greatly neutralized if not extinguished. You may still be saved. Only God knows that. Regardless, you will have lived a life that will only be a shadow of the purpose God intended.

“If you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” - John 8:32