Archive for the ‘ The Christian Spirit ’ Category

Meriam Ibrahim & Islamic Injustice

I could take up this space today commenting on the VA scandal as it grows, or I could pick apart President Obama’s weak, defensive speech to West Point cadets yesterday. Those, and a hundred other things, could be the topic of the day. But I’ve decided to draw attention instead to the absolutely awful pending execution of a woman in Sudan whose only offense is that she’s a Christian.

Perhaps you’ve seen the wedding photo of this couple:

Meriam Ibrahim

The wife, Meriam Ibrahim, was recently sentenced to death for not renouncing her Christian faith. Her husband, Daniel Wani, became a naturalized American citizen a number of years ago. Meriam sought to do the same, but her request for a visa to come to the U.S. was delayed for some reason by our State Department. Daniel is wheelchair bound and depends on Meriam for what he calls “all the details” of his life.

The background: Meriam was born into a family with a Muslim father and a Christian mother. The father deserted the family and she was raised by her mother. She became a Christian under her mother’s influence. She never was a Muslim. Yet Shariah law in Sudan requires children to follow their father’s faith. She has been found guilty of adultery (for marrying a Christian) and apostasy for not “returning” to Islam, even though she never was Islamic before. The penalty is hanging.

The couple has a 20-month old son who is in the prison with Meriam. Also, she just gave birth to a baby girl while in the prison. The “merciful” judges have decided to delay the execution until the new child is weaned. Then Meriam will be hanged.

Christians should work on her behalf. Many are doing so. The American government should be working to reverse the original error that kept her from emigrating to the U.S. I have no idea if it is doing anything; reports are not encouraging. After all, this is the Obama administration, and cases such as Meriam’s are not priority, if they are on its radar at all. Only increased pressure from those who care will push the Obama team into action.

Pray for Meriam and her family. She has shown her faith is genuine, refusing to recant under threat of death. Jesus said Christians would be persecuted until the end of time. It’s part of what we must expect. Yet that doesn’t mean we should be resigned to let this unjust sentence be carried out. We need to publicize the injustice. If giving notice in this blog can help even a little, I will be grateful.

The New Gideons

Had dinner last night with some friends I hadn’t seen in 34 years. How can you not see people for 34 years and be friends? First, and foremost, we share the same hope in Christ. That makes us friends forever. Second, we share a common concern for this nation. By the time we had finished catching up on the last 34 years, we settled on the topic of the future of the country. I have to say we were pretty much of one mind in thinking the future is not bright.

Just consider what has occurred since Barack Obama has taken office: the open acceptance of homosexuality in all of society, now being forced upon us by the courts; an attack on Christian organizations through Obamacare, attempting to make them offer abortifacients; the overall denigration of Biblical morality and the demonization of those who continue to hold up that standard; the overreaching arm of the federal government delving into our lives in ways only hinted at previously; one scandal after another, seemingly without end.

Can this be turned around?

GideonI’ve been reading in the book of Judges. Yesterday and today, I’m looking at the Gideon episode. He was God’s chosen man of the hour, yet he was hesitant and fearful. He had reason to be. His nation was dominated by another and multitudes of his own people had voluntarily chosen to abandon faith in the one true God and had turned to the idols of other nations. The situation appeared hopeless. But then God showed up. I won’t go into all the details, but if you know the narrative, you know that a minority overcame the majority and the tide was reversed.

The Gideon “revival,” if that’s the proper name for it, didn’t last much beyond his lifetime, but it did provide a breathing space and slowed the spread of sin. Upon reading this once again, I’m reminded that the Lord only needs a committed minority to accomplish His purposes. The only real question is whether new Gideons will arise who remain committed to the task He has given. He never promised it would be easy or simple. He never promised we wouldn’t face persecution and ridicule for our stand. He did promise, though, His presence and spiritual reward for those who stay faithful.

Can we reverse what’s happening in this nation? I wouldn’t write this blog or teach or do anything if I didn’t think it could make a difference. Even if I only touch a few lives, those lives can then touch others. We won’t know all the good we did until we stand before Him and see the fruit of our labors.

Gideon’s revival didn’t guarantee Israel would continue to receive God’s blessing. Our efforts can’t guarantee this nation can be saved from its current depravity. Yet we never know how much can be accomplished unless we try. I believe the Lord still looks at the hearts and strongly supports those whose hearts are wholly His. Who knows what He might do if we remain stalwart guides into His truth?

Where are the new Gideons?

Insights from Tozer

A. W. TozerNormally, on weekends, I draw from C. S. Lewis and Charles Finney for some thoughtful quotes. I’m not home this weekend, and therefore don’t have my usual sources to use. However, I have a habit of collecting quotes from all sorts of people who have offered wise and sound insights. One of those is A. W. Tozer, a Christian and Missionary Alliance pastor whose books have encouraged many and have guided them into a closer relationship with the Lord.

Let me just offer some of my favorite Tozer quotes for your pondering on this Lord’s Day. As much as I value correct theology, Tozer issues this warning to all of us:

You can be straight as a gun barrel theologically and as empty as one spiritually.

Whenever we fall into the error of thinking that all that is necessary is proper theology, we miss the mark. If our life doesn’t exemplify that theology, we are deceived.

In our day, with many churches preaching an “easy” gospel that doesn’t require a true change of heart, another of Tozer’s admonitions hits home:

The idea that God will pardon a rebel who hasn’t given up his rebellion is contrary both to Scripture and to common sense.

God gave us both—Scripture and common sense—and they confirm each other. Tozer brings that common-sense approach to the subject of prayer also:

To pray without expectation is to misunderstand the whole concept of prayer and relationship with God.

Prayer is not just a discipline we practice for our own good. It should be offered in the expectation that God actively listens and wants to respond. He looks to our hearts to see how genuine they are, and we need to understand that what we should have with Him is a relationship and not merely head knowledge of how to get one’s sins forgiven. That distinction is significant. It echoes the cry of Tozer’s heart:

There are rare Christians whose very presence incites others to be better Christians. I want to be that rare Christian.

That’s where the Lord wants to lead all of us.

One final Tozer quote worth pondering:

A. W. Tozer Quote

That’s where I seek to be: firm on the truth, yet gentle and inviting enough to draw others to the truth. Take these few thoughts with you today. May they make a difference in how you handle life.

The Pause

Life sometimes needs a pause button.

I’ve been in Williamsburg, Virginia, since Wednesday. My main reason for being here is to show students some of the most significant sites related to the history of the nation, a task that’s hardly a task for me—it’s a joy to do so.

Bassett HallYet I’ve had some free time just to stroll and not feel rushed about anything. On Thursday afternoon, I walked from the Visitors’ Center to the home of John D. Rockefeller Jr., the man who put upwards of $68 million of his own dollars into the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg. It probably was about two miles to the home, Bassett Hall, and I’ve not been accustomed lately to extended walking. Later in the evening, I had “charley horses” in both shins, something I don’t ever recall experiencing before. But it was worth it.

It was worth it not so much for the home itself, although it was interesting, but simply for the time to saunter over there and not be subject to a schedule for a change. The rest of the afternoon I spent in the museum, listening for a while to a humorous and informative Q&A with “Martha Washington,” then on to some truly fascinating eighteenth-century portraits. Again, no rush, just relaxation.

House of BurgessesLast night, I had a sandwich at the well-known Cheese Shop in Merchants Square, then a nearly one-mile trek to the Capitol, where I spent a pleasant hour taking in a harpsichord concert of music from the era. The concert took place in the House of Burgesses room in the reconstructed Capitol. This is the same spot where Washington, Wythe, Henry, Jefferson, and so many others helped make history. Although I’ve been in that room many times previously, I had the same sense of historical presence as always. For me, it never gets old.

Afterwards, in weather that was cool, but not too cool, I leisurely retraced my steps back nearly one mile to Merchants Square, got a coffee, and sat on a bench outside, watching tourists going to and fro from one specialty shop and restaurant to another, all under a sky that slowly shifted from dusk to dark. Peace prevailed externally, but more important was the peace within me. On the walk and on the bench, I had a conversation with the Lord about being content with life, no matter what the circumstances. We also spoke of being able to enjoy the small things and treasuring those moments.

No, I didn’t hear an audible voice on the other side of the conversation—but He was there. And where He is, that’s where life is as well. Without Him, and without the peace He brings, we are the most miserable of all creatures.

Life sometimes needs a pause button. Thank you, Lord, for all those pauses that renew our strength and restore purpose.

Finney: Truth in a Spirit of Love

Charles Finney AutobiographyEverywhere Charles Finney preached, conversions followed. God worked in a great way through the message he brought, which, of course, was nothing less than the genuine gospel. In Finney’s autobiography, after an account of one of the revivals that occurred, he summarized just exactly what he taught in these words:

The doctrines I preached in promoting that revival were those that I have preached everywhere. The total moral, voluntary depravity of unregenerate man; the necessity of a radical change of heart, through the truth, by the agency of the Holy Ghost; the divinity and humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ; his vicarious atonement, equal to the wants of all mankind; the gift, divinity, and agency of the Holy Ghost: repentance, faith, justification by faith, sanctification by faith; persistence in holiness as a condition of salvation; indeed all the distinctive doctrines of the Gospel were stated and set forth with as much clearness, and point, and power, as were possible to me under the circumstances.

A great spirit of prayer prevailed; and after the discussion on baptism [on which the various denominations differed], a spirit of most interesting unity, brotherly love, and Christian fellowship prevailed. . . . In my readings on the subject of baptism, the Lord enabled me to maintain such a spirit that no controversy was started, and no controversial spirit prevailed. The discussion produced no evil result, but great good, and, so far as I could see, only good.

This sounds like the perfect combination of devotion to truth and a willingness to work with those who have some differing views on the non-essentials. It’s a fine recipe for today as well.

 

Lewis: Interrupting “Real Life”

Do you ever find yourself complaining to God about all those “things” that keep getting in the way of what you want your life to be? If only, we tell ourselves, all the distractions of life could be removed, we could really live. We even get quite spiritual about it and confidently assert we would be so much better Christians without all those distractions.

C. S. Lewis 4In one of his letters to a friend, C. S. Lewis addressed this, calling out this attitude for what it is:

The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s “own,” or “real” life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life—the life God is sending one day by day: what one calls one’s “real life” is a phantom of one’s own imagination. This at least is what I see at moments of insight: but it’s hard to remember it all the time.

Whenever we rail against the “interruptions” in our life, we are being supremely selfish. It takes practice—and I haven’t achieved total success in this yet—but the more we reorient our thinking on this point, the more we will take on God’s perspective, and the more useful we will be to Him to carry out His purposes. After all, we are supposed to be living for Him, not ourselves, right?

Finney: The Intent of the Heart

Of what does true virtue consist? What determines a person’s moral character? Charles Finney deals with that in his Systematic Theology. His language is not modern, so some of this may be hard to follow for some people, but I would urge you to think this through carefully. Here’s what he says:

Finney's Systematic TheologyIt has been shown that moral character consists in the supreme ultimate intention of the mind, and that this supreme, disinterested benevolence, good willing or intention, is the whole of virtue.

Now this intention originates volitions [i.e., the power to make one’s own choices or decisions]. It directs the attention of the mind, and therefore, produces thoughts, emotions, or affections. It also, through volition, produces bodily action. But moral character does not lie in outward actions. . . . Moral character belongs solely to the intention that produced the volition that moved the muscles to the performance of the outward act. . . .

Moral character no more lies in emotion, than in outward action. It does not lie in thought, or attention. It does not lie in the specific volition that directed the attention; but in that intention, or design of the mind, that produced the volition, which directed the attention, which, again, produced the thought, which, again, produced the emotion.

So it all comes down to the intent of the heart, the motive for why we do the things we do. There are only two ultimate intentions: to serve God or to serve self. That’s why Jesus condemned the Pharisees who, although they were doing outwardly good things, were doing so with a wrong motive: for their own vanity.

Once we get the intention/motive right, then God is pleased with the outward action.