Thursday, March 26, 2015

Israel: Does this small nation still matter?

When was the last time the news covered stories from Brazil, Vietnam, or South Africa? You probably don’t know. I know I don’t. What about hot spots like China, Ukraine, or Venezuela? You might hear them mentioned every week or two. One country, however, is in American news almost every day, despite being about 6,000 miles away – Israel.

Another place mentions Israel a lot – my Bible. In fact, my Bible uses the word Israel almost 3,000 times although some of them refer to Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham who is one of the nation’s founding fathers. God changed Jacob’s name to Israel after the two wrestled one night (Genesis 32:24-32). His many sons became the fathers of Israel’s twelve tribes.

So, Israel’s in the news and in the Bible. Why does that warrant a blog article? America and Israel have been key allies since Israel declared independence in 1948. President Truman was the first world leader to recognize Israel’s statehood on the world stage. From that point on, America and Israel have been key allies. However, that is changing. The Obama administration is distancing itself from this important middle-east relationship. I’m writing to share that I stand with Israel and why…

Why do I stand with Israel?

God’s blessing is on Israel
God blesses many individuals, but not many nations. I personally believe the hand of God’s blessing led to America’s prosperity over the last 200 years. Even that, however, may very well be due to our historical support and relationships with the Jewish people. Yes, our support for them goes back much further than 1948. I also believe that if we, as a nation, discontinue our support and friendship with God’s chosen people, then He will remove His blessing from us.

After all, Israel is the only nation of which God has said, “I will bless those who bless you, I will curse those who treat you with contempt, and all the people on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3).

God’s treasure is Israel
Treasures are rare; I know I’ve never seen one. Yet God placed one treasure in this world – the Jewish people and the blessing that comes through them. God called Abraham’s descendants out of slavery in Egypt. A short distance into their journey, God was ready to take them to the next level. He was ready to make a covenant with them that would include the giving of His Law. In this covenant, God promised to separate them out as a holy nation as long as they obeyed Him. He told Moses to tell the people, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6 NIV).

God’s love is for Israel
Yes, I know what you’re thinking – God loves the world. He loves everyone in the world. He loved them enough that “He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). That love was ultimately expressed through God’s only Son, Jesus, who is also the son of Solomon, son of David, King of Israel. The queen of Sheba spoke words to Solomon which I believe are also prophetic of his descendant, King Jesus. “May Yahweh your God be praised! He delighted in you and put you on the throne of Israel, because of the Lord’s eternal love for Israel. He has made you king to carry out justice and righteousness” (1 Kings 10:9).

God’s eye is on Israel
Many people groups from the Bible no longer exist. We don’t hear about the Perizzites, Agagites, Hittites, or Amalekites in the nightly news because they don’t exist. Other biblical people groups are still around such as the Persians (Iranians), Greeks, Romans, Syrians, and Egyptians.

Israel holds a unique position, however. The Jews were scattered – disbursed among the nations in the late part of the first century AD. However, God promised the land of Israel to the Jewish people and He promised that a remnant would always remain, no matter how many times evil tried to exterminate them. So, despite their dispersion for nearly 2,000 years, the Jewish people aren’t destroyed as were the Hittites and Amalekites. They remain and God is bringing them back to their homeland en masse.

I’d encourage you to read all of Jeremiah 31 but let me share a few verses here, “Nations, hear the word of the Lord, and tell it among the far off coastlands! Say: The One who scattered Israel will gather him. He will watch over him as a shepherd guards his flock, for the Lord has ransomed Jacob and redeemed him from the power of one stronger than he” (Jeremiah 31:10-11).

God still has a plan for Israel
God’s plan since Adam has been the redemption of all mankind. It was never only about one people group. It’s for those who, like Abraham, believe God and God credits their belief to them as righteousness (Romans 4:3). From Abraham came Isaac who then had Jacob whom God renamed Israel. Through Israel’s son Judah came King David, King Solomon, and later, Jesus. Through Jesus, all nations are blessed and salvation has come to the whole world.

God still has a plan to redeem Israel. They haven’t fallen from grace so as to be unredeemable. Praise God, no one can fall so far that God can’t still reach them. “I ask, then, have they stumbled in order to fall? Absolutely not! On the contrary, by their stumbling, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel jealous. Now if their stumbling brings riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full number bring!” (Romans 11:11-12).

God’s attention may have shifted to the Gentile church for a while but soon it will shift back to Israel. Now, He calls them home physically to their land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River but soon He will call them home spiritually. “Then I will pour out a spirit of grace and prayer on the house of David and the residents of Jerusalem, and they will look at Me whom they pierced. … On that day a fountain will be opened for the house of David and for the residents of Jerusalem, to wash away sin and impurity. … They will call on My name, and I will answer them. I will say: They are My people, and they will say: Yahweh is our God” (Zechariah 12:10, 13:1, 9).

I stand with God

God made all of these promises to the Jewish people. He promised to bless them and keep them as His treasured possession. He promised to love them and watch over them. He promised to not forsake them but to redeem them. He promised to take them as His people and to be their God.

I stand with Israel because I refuse to accept that God would go back on His promises. “God’s gracious gifts and calling are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). God’s spoken word can’t and won’t be broken. His promises don’t change. So, I stand with Israel. Why? Because I stand with God.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Deal Breaker: Crossing the line into false teaching

False teaching. It’s a touchy subject but one that thrust itself into my life this week. It wasn’t loud or obnoxious; it didn’t come from an arrogant televangelist or celebrity Christian. It was small – only a few lines quietly buried in the middle of an otherwise great message.

I’m sure I’ve taught the Word of God incorrectly at times through the years, as much as it pains me to say so. I know God’s Word is absolutely true – every word, every concept, every story. I also know my mind isn’t perfect, my heart is sinful, and sometimes I just mess up.

So this week, I heard something that goes against God’s Word – an errant teaching I’ve encountered before on the internet but not from the mouth of a friend. I’m not going to share what it was as that would be an article in itself. But today I’m wondering a few things…
  • What distinguishes a false teacher from a teacher who messed up on a particular point?
  • What distinguishes a false teaching from a teaching with which I happen to disagree?
  • Where is the line between areas where we “agree to disagree” and areas that are “deal-breakers” under valid Christian teaching?

Many believers think the end times are approaching quickly. If this is so, Scripture warns that false teaching and deception will be prevalent in our world. “False messiahs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24). And again later, “Now the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will depart from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons, through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared” (1 Timothy 4:1).

So, if false teachings and deceptions will increase, I think it’d be wise of us to answer some of these questions.

A false teacher from a teacher who messed up

No Bible translation is perfect, no denomination is perfect, no pastor or teacher is perfect, no commentator is perfect, and no Christian blogger is perfect. Sometimes I think God allows this on purpose as only He is perfect. No one and nothing will ever match His sinless perfection. Every person who’s ever tried to teach something from the Bible has messed up at some point. So how do we distinguish between a teacher who messed up and a false teacher?

I think a key factor is intent behind the teaching. I can only speak for myself, but I know my intentions in studying the Bible and writing about it is to know Him and make Him known. My books and blog are a natural outcome of my desire to love and serve God. A false teacher’s intention is destruction. “But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly bring in destructive heresies…” (2 Peter 2:1). It goes on to describe their work as unrestrained, blasphemous, exploitative, and greedy.

Another key factor is the outcome of their teaching. Good teaching brings others into a relationship with Jesus and then helps them continue to grow in their relationship with Him. This isn't the case with false teachers. “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves. You’ll recognize them by their fruit. … Every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit; neither can a bad tree produce good fruit” (Matthew 7:15-18).

A false teaching from a teaching with which I disagree

Or, to say it another way, it might be ok for us to disagree on some teachings. In other areas, lines have to be drawn, truth spoken, and even relationships severed at times. Where is the line between these two areas? After all, I know of no other person with whom I agree on every single detail of Christianity. When is it ok and when is it a deal-breaker?

Sometimes we may disagree but we don’t have to argue about it. I think of a friend who believes the rapture will happen at the end of the tribulation whereas I think it will happen at the beginning. We can’t know for sure and simply agree to disagree.

At the other end of the spectrum, I heard a church deny Jesus rose from the dead after His crucifixion. I don’t have to question or wonder; I know this is a deal breaker. If we deny the resurrection of Jesus, then God’s Word is a lie. The whole plan falls apart.

The problem comes in a wide range of areas in between these two extremes. That is why Paul wrote, “Test all things. Hold on to what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). We have to put this into practice rather than blindly accept every teaching we hear – even if that teaching comes from someone we know and respect.

John gives us a little more help when trying to discern the validity of a teaching. He wrote, “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to determine if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit who confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. But every spirit who does not confess Jesus is not from God” (1 John 4:1-3).

Denying Jesus isn’t only denying what the Bible says about Him. To deny Jesus is to deny the whole of the Word of God as John also wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1, 14). The Word isn’t merely about Jesus; Jesus is the Word made flesh.

I guess it comes down to one thing when we’re trying to determine if we can agree to disagree or if the issue is a deal-breaker. Does this teaching deny Jesus – His truth, His Word, or His work? If the answer is yes, then it’s more in the deal breaker range. If the answer is no, then maybe we can agree to disagree. We’ll only know into which category it falls if we know the Bible for Jesus Himself – the Word made flesh – said, “You are deceived, because you don’t know the Scriptures or the power of God” (Matthew 22:29).

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Courage Until the End: Utilizing the power in our words

Encourage – to fill someone up with courage.

Discourage – to take any shred of courage they have and throw it in the trash.

We wield a lot of power when we choose whether to encourage or discourage another believer.

God has worked with me a lot on the power and necessity of encouraging words over the last few years. A lot of it has showed up on here…

Handling Discouragement

Don’t Diss Someone’s Courage

Encouragement in the Last Days

As we draw nearer to Jesus’ return, it will become almost impossible to maintain our courage. God knew that when He inspired the writer of Hebrews to say, “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Hebrews 3:13, emphasis mine). Did you catch the word “daily” in that verse? We may have been full of courage yesterday, but today it’s zapped. Gone. We need a daily fill up of courage to keep believing, keep loving, and keep serving. Later, he also wrote, “Let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25). As the time of the end draws near, we have to get together and fill each other with courage. Otherwise, we won’t be able to serve as God calls us – by loving and doing good works.

I’ve written a lot about how to deal with the discouragement so prevalent in the last days…

My Peace I Give You

A World in Chaos: What can I do?

Where is God in a Tragedy?

Life Sucks

The Hand of God

Finding Good Things in Bad Times

Encouragement in general

Jesus may return tomorrow or decades from now; either way, we must keep our courage level full. Our enemy doesn’t want us showing true love or serving in a real way; he knows those things will witness to the world of God’s awesomeness. Our enemy knows if we do those things, people might catch a true glimpse of the Savior of the world. He wants to keep that from happening at all costs. He will do everything in his power to keep you from loving and serving in the same way that Jesus loved and served us. He succeeds when we become discouraged – when our level of courage zeroes out.

I’ve written a lot about the necessity of encouragement in general…

Spark: Five ways to renew the light within you

The God of Peace

Bible Band-aids

Thankful for You: Finding ways to appreciate each other

And yet…

So, like I said, over the last few years God has really been teaching me the importance of encouragement. Even still, the other day someone said something to me that totally discouraged me. In the day that followed our encounter, I felt completely drained. I didn’t want to pray, study, or write. I didn’t want to serve in other areas – forget responsibilities at home, quit on projects at church. As I look back, I realize now that the words of discouragement left me without the courage needed to love and serve in the ways which God has called me.

I tried praying – more out of discipline than anything else. It helped because God is always faithful to hear us when we call out to Him. It wasn’t complete, though. I knew something else was still missing. I knew griping to a friend or my husband wouldn’t help – been there, done that, doesn’t work.

I saw the person. We talked. We worked it out and reconciled the situation. Grace was required on both sides; forgiveness was present. We parted ways once again in unity as fellow believers in Jesus. Once again, I was encouraged.

What’s the point?

Life’s hard and it’s going to get harder. We can’t let little differences keep us down. Sometimes we have to talk to others and work out our problems. They can’t rob us of the courage needed to love and serve God through difficult times.

God says a lot in His Word about pouring grace out all over the place, sacrificing ourselves with unconditional love, humble forgiveness that looks to the other person first, and complete service that gives until nothing’s left to give. We can’t live that way until we have the courage to do so – courage that comes from the power of words poured into us by our fellow believers.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Servant Suffers: Finding victory in the pain of suffering

“Abram believed the LORD, and He credited it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). We know this to be true from these writings in the Old Testament / Torah but Paul confirmed it again in Romans 4 of the New Testament. For Jews and Christians alike, Abraham was a man of righteousness.

He was also a man of blessing. It was to him that God spoke, “Go out from your land, your relatives, and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, I will curse those who treat you with contempt, and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:1-3).

I doubt Abraham had any idea the persecution and trials that would befall the Jewish people – his descendants through Isaac and Jacob – over the next several millennia. From the Egyptian enslavement, through countless attempts at extermination, and culminating in a final attack prophesied by Ezekiel which is still yet to happen, the Jewish people have suffered. They have known pain unlike any other ethnic group.

Many people of compassion look at Jewish history and ask, “Why?”

The Hebrew prophet Isaiah offers a hint of explanation in one of his most well-known prophecies. Yet, we often overlook it.

Join us as we consider Isaiah 52:13-53:12 – the fourth of Isaiah’s songs of the suffering servant. In this five-part study, we’ll consider the role Jewish persecution had to play in the coming of the Messiah, the significance of Jesus’ humanity, the purpose for Jesus’ life and death on earth, and the outcome for all humanity, including the Jewish people.
Click on picture to view a downloadable, printable pdf file of the study.

What do I do with it?

Several people have asked for copies of various blog series over the years. We're thrilled to make them available to you in a free downloadable, printable format. We've even added questions at the end for personal reflection or group discussion.

Click here to view the full selection of available Bible study downloads.

As hard as this is to believe, not everyone in the world has an internet connection. Not everyone has access to online study resources or neighborhood Christian book stores. Some of those who do have access don't know where to start when it comes to Bible study. So here are some suggestions on what you can do with these free downloads...
  • Use them as a guide for your own personal Bible study time on a daily or weekly basis.
  • Send them to a friend, relative, or missionary living in a remote location.
  • Start a short term study with friends at work, in your neighborhood, or in your church.
  • Be creative! Let us know in the comment section how you may utilize these resources!

Click on the above picture to open a .pdf file. From there, you may either download it to your computer or print the file.

May God bless your time in the study of His Word!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Netanyahu: A man called for such a time as this

History does indeed repeat itself.

I toured the Jewish concentration camp Dachau while on a mission trip in 1992. I read a sign on a particular display that I’ve never forgotten. Even in the moment, it impacted me enough that I took a picture of it.

It’s a well-known expression but I find it appropriate that I first learned it in a concentration camp. In English it reads, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (George Santayana).

I took a picture of another sign that day 23 years ago. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reminded me of it today when he addressed holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel during a speech to the US Congress. He reminded all of us that the horror experienced by Mr. Wiesel and the powerful life he has lived since those atrocities is a testimony to why we must all proclaim, “Never Again.”

Approximately 2,500 years ago, a man named Mordecai refused to bow to Haman, the chief minister under King Ahasuerus in Persia. Rage enflamed Haman; when he discovered Mordecai was a Jew, he decided to destroy the entire Jewish race rather than execute only Mordecai. Haman manipulated King Ahasuerus to bring about the Jewish people’s annihilation. He wrote a decree “to destroy, kill, and annihilate all the Jewish people – young and old, women and children – and plunder their possessions on a single day” (Esther 3:13, emphasis mine).

Queen Esther, a Jew who had until that point concealed her ethnicity, stepped up in a phenomenal act of bravery. At the urging of her cousin and guardian, Mordecai, she approached King Ahasuerus to plead the case of the Jewish people. Esther’s life was in danger the moment she stepped into the king’s presence unannounced as he could have had her executed for doing so. After a series of acts which displayed her humility, the King asked her to reveal the desire of her heart. She boldly yet humbly petitioned, “If I have obtained your approval, my king, and if the king is pleased, spare my life – this is my request; and spare my people – this is my desire. For I and my people have been sold out to destruction, death, and extermination” (Esther 7:3-4).

In the end, the king ordered Haman executed on the gallows Haman had built to execute Mordecai. The king gave the Jewish people the freedom to defend themselves, sparing the genocide of their race.

Despite the passing of 25 centuries since Esther’s act of bravery, the Jewish people still celebrate her every year on Purim. This year, Purim falls on March 4-5 on our calendar.

25 centuries later, Persian leadership once again threatens Israel’s existence in the form of Iranian nuclear capabilities. They likewise could destroy the Jewish people in a single day once their weapons are complete. The leader of the Jewish state of Israel, PM Netanyahu, spoke to the US Congress on March 3rd, the eve of Purim. Similar to Queen Esther in the past, his petition went against all established protocol of the time. Similar to Queen Esther, he made the request to stop the promised annihilation of the Jewish people. And like Queen Esther, I believe PM Netanyahu came forward in humility but also knowing that if he didn’t speak, massive death would come upon his nation and his people.

The timing of this event reminds me of one more correlation with the ancient Queen Esther. God has promised an eternal destiny for His chosen people, Israel. They will survive and indeed have done so through multiple persecutions throughout history. But for PM Netanyahu, as was the case with Queen Esther, “If you keep silent at this time, liberation and deliverance will come to the Jewish people from another place, but you and your father’s house will be destroyed. Who knows, perhaps you have come to your royal position for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).

PM Netanyahu submitted to his call for such a time as this as he declared to the world, “The days when the Jewish people remain passive in the face of genocidal enemies – those days are over.”

I’ll leave all the political ramifications of this speech to the political pundits.

Here’s what I see, though. The Obama administration has deteriorated our relationship with Israel – a country of freedom and democracy. They also have validated relationships with terrorist regimes such as Iran – a country of “death, tyranny, and the pursuit of jihad,” as PM Netanyahu shared.

Lines are being drawn in the sands of the Middle East; on which side of the line will we stand?

I think now is the time for us to individually consider this question. We tend to think all of this is over there – thousands of miles away – and doesn’t matter to us. Our jobs and activities keep us from taking time to educate ourselves as to the multiple crises occurring throughout the Middle East.

But here’s the deal. A time is coming when the world’s attention will focus quite intently on the Middle East. The Bible prophesies many earth changing events still to happen in that region of the world. We need to know what’s going on, how situations might fit in with prophesied events, and discern which side of the line we will choose.

We have different priorities by which we choose which side of the line we prefer. Democracy, freedom, rights for different races, religions, and genders, economic resources, and social standards are among the criteria we naturally consider. However, biased reporting and dishonest leadership can make those areas very difficult to accurately assess.

Let me give you one key criteria that’s very simple and won’t let you down – side with Israel. As events occur, deals are negotiated, and wars and rumors of wars come – side with Israel.

God made it very simple when He said thousands of years ago to the Jewish patriarch Abraham, “Go out from your land, … to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, … I will bless those who bless you, I will curse those who treat you with contempt, and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:1-3).

Thursday, February 26, 2015

What's the Point: Living hope in a violent world

Stories of horror at the hands of ISIS’ members continue to pour out of the Middle East. In fact, what began as a trickle of atrocities has grown into a raging river as incidents increase in frequency and barbarity. This week, they reportedly kidnapped approximately 150 Christians from a region in northeast Syria. Early reports put this number at about 90; subsequent reports have increased it to 150. I say with a prayerful sorrow the future is bleak for those followers of Jesus. News reports have also surfaced that ISIS funds their operation in part through harvesting organs, such as kidneys, from prisoners. An alternate source of their income is selling young girls and women into sex trafficking.

My older two daughters asked me the same question at different times last week. “Is this it? Is our world falling apart? Is this the end?”

My daughters were two and newborn when Al-Qaeda flew airplanes into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. I realized the world they grew up in would look very different than did my childhood environment. I realized that was their reality – better to help them deal with it than sugar coat their exposures. I answered, “We don’t know for sure. ISIS’ behavior is consistent with biblical prophecies of the end times. Many Christians are sensing that this will lead to that time soon.”

They both responded in similar ways; basically, “Then what’s the point?”

What is the point?

Our purpose doesn’t change
God gave us signs to watch for which indicate the end is drawing near. However, He chose to withhold exactly when those events would begin. I believe one reason why is because our job doesn’t change whether we know the exact time or not.
  • Love God with all your heart, soul, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5).
  • Love other people as much as you love yourself (Matthew 22:39).
  • Love faithfulness, act justly, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8).
It doesn’t matter if Jesus returns today, in a decade, or in a century, our call as Jesus’ followers is the same. We are to know, love, and serve God. We are to love and encourage a hurting world. We are to behave in a way that honors God and glorifies His name.

We have a message of hope
Current events in the Middle East may or may not lead to the fulfillment of biblical end-time prophecies. Either way, we have a message of hope for the world. I don’t know about you, but the number of hurting people in my life is increasing. Economic problems, family relationships, drugs, unemployment, and many others are all surface indicators of hard times. Below the surface, though, much bigger problems arise under names such as fear, depression, rejection, bitterness, insecurity, disbelief, and deception. Followers of Jesus, we have a message of unconditional love, strengthening joy, unsurpassable peace and gentleness, limitless patience, sacrificial kindness and goodness, unwavering faith, and supernatural self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). We have everything we need to accomplish the task to which He calls us – the task of reaching the world with His gospel of grace (2 Peter 1:3, Philippians 1:6, Matthew 28:19-20).

We have hope even in midst of persecution
I can’t speak for the hundreds of Christians held captive in Syria right now. But I can speak for countless others throughout history who’ve faced persecution for following Jesus. I can speak the words of Paul who endured a lifetime of persecution, “For me, living is Christ and dying is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

In studying Paul’s testimony, along with others in the New Testament, I discovered seven aspects of persecution that seem contradictory to human thinking…
  • Serves to advance the Gospel
  • Encourages others and reduces fear
  • Causes rejoicing
  • Promotes patient endurance
  • Teaches us to trust God and about the power of prayer
  • Is a source of comfort
  • Brings us to maturity
You may read more in depth on this area in Everything We Need: God’s Path to Know Him Better.

The point is Jesus, the Messiah

I’d like to give you rose-colored glasses through which to view the world. I’d like to give solutions for defeating ISIS and promises that bloody religious persecution will never reach America’s shores. Just like I realized when my daughters were babies, that isn’t the world in which we live anymore. We can ignore it or deny it; reality doesn’t change.

But I can give you a point – a reason – to endure it. I can give you a message of hope. Our hope and reason are both in the name of Jesus. One day, after seven years of tribulation, He will return and reign peacefully over the entire earth. Until then, we have a purpose that doesn’t change. We are to love and serve God, love and encourage others to believe in Him, and live in a way that glorifies His name. In the midst of all the turmoil, only Jesus’ followers have a message of hope found in salvation through faith in Jesus. He alone has the power to bring comfort, encouragement, patience, rejoicing, and more out of barbaric persecution.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Religious Extremism: Why it's a good thing

Religious extremism.

This term has bounced around social media and news outlets a lot over the last couple of months.

Most people use it to refer to ISIS – a militant, radical Islamic group who established a caliphate in regions of what you and I call Syria and Iraq. The leaders of ISIS embrace a form of Sunni Islam called Salafism. From what I understand, this classification level would be comparable to a particular denomination in Christianity, such as Methodist or Presbyterian.

President Obama and many others have referred to ISIS as not representative of true Islam. Perhaps the problem is that ISIS doesn’t ascribe to the same branch of moderate Islam that many in western culture would prefer.

Our western culture prefers to keep religion moderate. It’s OK to believe in God as long as you don’t actually talk to Him or think He speaks to you as well. Then you’re a fanatic. Helping the poor and less fortunate is a good thing… unless you give them too much of your time and resources. Then you’re obsessive. Reading a Bible is valuable literary understanding, but don’t let it affect how you live or view the world. Then you might be an extremist. You may believe whatever you want – just keep it to yourself and don’t try to impose it on anyone else.

Members of ISIS, however, are doing those things. They are studying the Koran and other ancient writings. They are letting it transform how they think, view others, and live their lives. They are praying to Allah daily – several times a day. They are sharing their message with others on a massive global scale as thousands of young people from all over the world pour into the region to join ISIS. They’re religious extremists; whether you like their form of Islam or not doesn’t change that.

When Islam is taken to extreme measures, ISIS is what it looks like. And it is massively changing our world.

But any religion may contain extremists. Christianity does… and should.

Balance is critical to so many areas of our lives. Wise financial sense balances income with expenses. It spends an appropriate amount on charity, bills, savings, and a little entertainment. A balanced diet includes mainly fruits and vegetables, some dairy, meat, and grains but also knows a little chocolate now and then is a good thing. Peaceful time management utilizes available blocks of time to accomplish tasks but also realizes we need a little rest every now and then. Moderation and balance is good in life.

Except in one area… Religious extremism is a good thing.

Shocked to hear me say that as the blood of 21 Christian martyrs soaks into the sands of Tripoli? Or, as the ashes of 45 Iraqis blow through the streets of al-Baghdadi, Iraq?

Religious extremism shows us the true nature of the religion.

What does Christian extremism look like?

As I walked through my journey to learn balance in most areas of life, I found two areas where balance isn’t acceptable. They are all or nothing kind of deals.

First the “All”
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5).

We can’t love God moderately. No balanced approach exists for loving God. You are a three-part being. You have a heart or mind that relates to others. You have a soul or spirit that links with God. You have a body (“strength”) that connects to the physical world. We love God with all three parts. We love others unconditionally and sacrificially. We tenderly love our world – His creation. We love Him unashamedly.

Then the “Nothing”
“Do not love the world or the things that belong to the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For everything that belongs to the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s lifestyle – is not from the Father, but is from the world” (1 John 2:15-16).

We can’t avoid sin moderately. No balanced approach exists for dabbling in sin. The world likes to pull us away from God physically, mentally, and spiritually. It does so through desires that feel good to our body and our mind. It does so through the prideful self-exaltation of our own spirit over God’s.

But we mess up
I get it. I’m right there with you. We can’t love as unconditionally, sacrificially, tenderly, and unashamedly as God loves. We can’t avoid sin’s pull on our mind, body, and spirit completely on our own.

They aren’t going to happen.

That’s the beauty of God’s grace and forgiveness – two concepts unique to Christianity among religions. I’ve written about them before and I’ll write about them again. Today, they’re not my point though.

Christian Extremism

ISIS takes the practices of Islam to extremes; the world is rapidly becoming a different place because of it.

As Christians, now is not the time for moderation. Now is the time for our own version of religious extremism. Now is the time to take the teachings of Christianity to extremes and show the world what it looks like.

Extreme Christianity loves sacrificially. We follow Jesus’ example of love that gives until the last breath and extends to every soul on the face of His creation. We love even when it means we deny our prideful rights. We love even when loved one’s actions tear our hearts into pieces. We love because He loves us.

When Christianity is taken to extreme measures, it looks like Jesus. And it can massively change our world.