A sobering reminder that we’re refugees

Several weeks ago laws in 31 states banned same-sex marriage.  It didn’t matter that some of those laws had been ballot initiatives voted on by majority of that state’s voters.  Or passed by the state’s voted-for representatives.  5 of the 9 Supreme Court justices still found a constitutional right in the 14th amendment for same-sex couples to marry in each of our 50 states.  It’s being painted as no big deal.  In yesterday’s local paper, a letter to the editor said, “Hey, if you don’t like gay marriage, don’t marry someone of the same sex.”  But lawsuits against Christian bakers, florists, and others who have refused to endorse and participate in a sinful relationship, are ominous harbingers of what is to come.

As Molly Ball said in a recent Atlantic article reflecting on the Court’s lack of interest in a gay marriage case in 1972, “What changed,… wasn’t the Constitution—it was the country. And what changed the country was a movement.  Friday’s decision wasn’t solely or even primarily the work of the lawyers and plaintiffs who brought the case.  It was the product of the decades of activism that made the idea of gay marriage seem plausible, desirable, and right.”

“Right.”  There’s the rub.  What sorrow for those who say that evil is good and good is evil, that dark is light and light is dark… (Isaiah 5:20).  The gay juggernaut not only insists that homosexual relationships are right and good, but all who differ are wrong; that they are judgmental and unloving–even ungodly.  I’ll not review what God has said in His autobiography about homosexual behavior–I’ve done that in previous posts.  I’m more concerned with how we who follow Jesus will now react, and how we’ll keep our footing.

By react, I mean how we will speak to and about those euphoric over the Court’s stunning decision/legislation?  Homosexual men and women tend to see themselves as a persecuted and much-maligned minority akin to black Americans (linkage that has successfully routed much principled opposition because no one wants to be called a racist).  When gay college student Matthew Shephard was killed in 1998, his death became a synecdoche for all rude or crude treatment gay people have endured.  Every snide comment by Uncle Ned at a family gathering, every rant on Fox News, and every time a Christian points out that God prohibits homosexuality, their victim status is cemented and bitterness grows.

We can’t change what the Bible says.  But gay jokes, gay jabs, any kind of mockery or unloving speech/behavior, is unchristian.  God sends us to love our neighbors–and the homosexual is my neighbor (at least I can agree with author Letha Scanzoni on that part).  It’s not enough to just bring this kind of speech to an end, we must repent of it.  I must repent of it.

By keeping our footing, I mean, how will we withstand the gay propaganda tidal wave that has been unleashed?  In March the pastor and elders of an evangelical megachurch in San Fran informed its members that active homosexuals can now be church members.  In the next 3 years, we will be stunned at the number of evangelical churches who will change their minds about the wrongness of homosexual practice and join them.

On the other hand, I’m afraid I can’t join those wringing their hands over the Court’s decision.  The church benefits from anything that makes the distinction between it and the world, clearer.  When you have two clear liquids side by side, a good way to tell that one is water and the other is poison is to slap a skull-and-crossbones label on the poison so that the similar appearance no longer misleads.

The pressure to capitulate on the biblical teaching on man and woman is going to intensify to the point of being unbearable.  First, individually.  I have a gay relative and most likely you do too.  We know more and more people who are same-sex attracted, and they are all aware that they can turn an opponent into an ally through life exposure.  Many parents change their minds after a son or daughter admits he/she’s gay (like the San Fran pastor).  It’s hard to care about people and still disagree with them.  And to be thought by them as out-of-touch (one disparaging  label used in the propaganda war), or ignorant (another), or a religious crackpot (yet another)?  Yet this is the inevitable life of a believer: we are in the world, but not of it.  And we are missionaries to it.

Second, it’s going to be unbearable in the church.  The church is going to have to steel itself against pressure to host same-sex weddings; and pastors, to officiate at them.  This will come, the only question is when.  Most likely a church’s tax-exempt status will be used as leverage.  At some point church staffing will be targeted.  In pondering where the gay agenda should go next, activist Eric Rosswood  writes, “It’s time to pass an inclusive ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act) without giving people the right to discriminate while hiding behind religious exemptions.  All people should have the right to work regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.”  In other words, in the future a federal law (or Supreme Court decision) may forbid a church to just hire an applicant who agrees with their positions.  At our church recently an applicant threatened to get his lawyer involved because we would only hire employees with certain convictions and moral characteristics.

Will the church be stopped from trying to help those with same-sex attractions who want to become more heterosexual in their orientation?  Yes.  Recently the Restored Hope Network which seeks to do just that, held a local conference in our area.  In a letter to the LNP editor, a local LGBT spokesman complained that such attempts were based on “bogus science” and harm gay people.  California Rep. Ted Lieu agrees and in May introduced legislation in Congress making this kind of help illegal; it would become “consumer fraud” with appropriate penalties.

Pastors who now support same-sex relations like Rob Bell, Brian McClaren, Steve Chalke, Fred Harrell, and Stan Mitchell–were once prominent evangelicals and still have sizable public clout.  Their ranks will influence both other pastors and other Christians.  The more who capitulate, the greater the pressure will build.  No longer will churches just be divided by mainline or evangelical labels, but evangelical churches will be divided by progressive (pro-gay), and regressive (anti-gay) labels.  Poorly grounded or shallow disciples will jump on the noisiest and most crowded bandwagon.

How do we keep our footing with all this pressure?  One, remember that by its nature the gospel is unwelcome.  Jesus admitted that he …came not to bring peace, but a sword.  (Matthew 10:34).  They killed him because they didn’t like what he did or said.

Two, similarly remember that we are not “at home” here.  …Jesus suffered and died outside the city gates to make his people holy by means of his own blood.  So let us go out to him, outside the camp, and bear the disgrace he bore.  For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.  (Hebrews 13:12-14).  In America, Christians have enjoyed a season of popularity.  But that is an odd blip in an otherwise hostile 2000-year history.  Therefore we should be more nervous when “people speak well of us” than when they speak ill of us.  What’s normal for a believer is to be criticized and maligned.

Three, the only way to resist a false message that’s loud and shrill is to repeatedly slip off to listen to the sweet melody of God’s truth.  Absorb God’s autobiography.  There will be many who will fall away in the days ahead.  Some, because they love the crowd’s approval.  Some, because they have neglected the Word of God altogether–or just nibbled on what their pastor, favorite author, or popular teacher fed them second-hand.  That’s unnecessary.   You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others.  Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word.  You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food.  For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right.  Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.  (Hebrews 5:12-14)  Time to spiritually bulk up.  It may mean the difference between surviving and being swept away.

Check my phone

guy-checking-cell-in-bedAnnoyingly chipper at that hour, waves notify you it’s 6 AM.  I have got to change that ringtone!!  Silence it.  Now you get up; or like me, stay laying.  Let’s not rush it.

OK, now you’re up.  Grab your phone, what’s next?  Not things like showering, shaving, getting the kids up, putting on makeup or eating breakfast, but who gets a hearing first in your morning: others or God?  The culture or the Creator?  Your phone or your Bible?

Several apps can tell us how often we check our phones and how much time we spend on them.  Increasingly even the most devoted smartphone users are wondering if their phones consume them.  BuzzFeed loaded the Moment app on several people’s phones, and asked them to guess how many hours a day they used them. Most were stunned by the facts.

Over at Desiringgod Tony Reinke recently had a provocative conversation with John Piper on the dangers of checking in with our phones before checking in with God.  Reinke wrote: whatever we focus our hearts on first in the morning will shape our entire day.  A survey of 8000 Christian readers was telling.  73% check their phones before they go to their quiet place for some time with God.  See the survey results and read why being the first voice of the day matters: http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/six-wrong-reasons-to-check-your-phone-in-the-morning.

Broken Nepal

It was about 2 AM and I couldn’t wait to collapse into bed after David Platt’s 6 hours of teaching Saturday.  About the same time Nepal was collapsing.  A 7.8 earthquake leveled homes and took the lives of over 5000.  Poor, poor, poor is the life of most of Nepal’s 29 million people.  1/3 live on less than $1/day.  Most are Hindus, some Buddhists.  Less than 3% follow Jesus.

ReachGlobal’s Kevin Watterson always says a mission field’s created in the wake of every disaster.  You can help give to the relief effort through the Free Church.  Either online at https://my.efca.org/NetCommunity/SSLPage.aspx?pid=359&des=Earthquake%20Response%2021709-39708, or send a check to:

901 East 78th Street
Minneapolis, MN 55420-1300 (designate it for Earthquake Relief 21709-39708)

A Free Church missionary living in a nearby country quietly works with Nepalese pastors (Christianity is not viewed favorably) in Nepal and gives this report:  Greetings! It is with heaviness of heart that I write to you because of the devastation in Nepal. As you know, we have been working with pastors and church planters there for the last four years and have built precious friendships. In this picture you see some of the brothers and sisters whose lives have been changed because of the earthquake. You have seen the situation on the news.
Nepalese Christians worship on Saturday, rather than Sunday. The earthquake hit at noon on Saturday when many Christians were still worshiping. People ask if any of our partners are among the victims. To my knowledge, all our partners have come through safely, although we have been unable to reach some of them. Some have lost their homes or church buildings. What can you do?
First of all please pray:
·        Pray for a Christian leader, K. He is safe but their church building is badly damaged.
·        Pray for a church planter, Kr. He and his family are OK but one of the walls of his house collapsed.
·        Pray for S and R who lead an inner city church and are reaching out to the people in need.
·        Pray for Stephen Chandra of ReachGlobal and Gil Nash of OC International going in the see how best to channel help for long-term relief and gospel transformation.
·        Pray for people to turn to the true and living God now that many of the temples and statues they have revered for centuries have been destroyed.
·        Pray for the Church to be strong and full of God’s love.

Second, give (see above)

This is Your Dad

At the end of tomorrow’s sermon on prayer, I’ll suggest that enriching our understanding of our Heavenly Father enriches our love for Him–a weapon in fighting the devil who’s trying to separate us from Dad.  Because He loves us, the Father told us a lot about Himself in the Bible so we could worship Him and love Him back.  The quest to knowing Him is lifelong.  The following Bible verses may aid your journey.

What’s true of God that’s not at all true of us?

  1. He is Spirit: John 4:24.  The Father is not hampered by a body, but He sometimes take on one.  Genesis 18:1-2, 16-23
  2. He is Invisible. John 1:18; 1 Timothy 1:17; 1 Timothy 6:16; Colossians 1:15
  3. He is Sovereign. Daniel 4:32; Isaiah 46:10; Acts 17:26
  4. He is Eternal. Isaiah 26:4; Romans 16:26; 1 Timothy 1:17
  5. He is Unchanging. James 1:17: Malachi 3:6
    1. If this is so, is the God of the OT different from the God of the NT?       Does He evolve? Improve? No!       God OT is identical to God NT.       However, the fulfillment of God OT’s plan by the coming of the Messiah, does change a lot of things. (Like, no more animals to sacrifice!)
  6. He Knows everything. 1 John 3:20; Hebrews 4:13; Psalm 139:1-2
    1. What is going on that He is ignorant of? Is He aware of how unjustly you are being treated? Of the awful crimes being perpetrated against innocent children?
    2. What secret do you think you’ve been able to hide from Him?       What façade doesn’t He see through? Isn’t it startling that God knows every major and minor detail about you…, every good and horrible thing about you…, and still loves you with an everlasting love!
  7. He Is everywhere. Psalm 39:7-10.  Can’t run from Him; can’t hide from Him (although Adam tried).
  8. He has unlimited power. Jeremiah 32:17; Matthew 19:26; 2 Corinthians 6:18 [anywhere in the Bible God is called “Almighty”, it refers to His limitless power.] (also Job 42:2).  There is nothing He can’t do—INCLUDING raising the dead.
  9. In His being He is a Unity: Deuteronomy 6:4; 1 Timothy 2:5 (also 1 Corinthians 8:6)
  10. He is Free. Romans 11:34-36; Psalm 115:3; Acts 17:25; Daniel 4:35

What’s true of God that in some small way we can mirror?

  1. He is Holy. 1 Peter 1:16; Exodus 15:11; Psalm 29:2 (also Joshua 24:19); Revelation 4:8.  Holiness is not just something that’s true of Him, it’s His identity.
    1. Holy means “Other,” set apart, separate.  Hosea 11:9: I am God and not man, the Holy One among you. Leviticus 10:8-10 (learning to distinguish between the holy and the common); Leviticus 20:26.
    2. Sinless perfection (purity); fire often represents this such as the burning bush Moses saw, Mt. Sinai on fire as God visited, fire of punishment on Israel’s camp [Numbers 11], chariot of fire…, works tested by fire [1 Corinthians 3:12-15], final plague (scorched with fire [Revelation 16])
      1. How others have reacted to an encounter with Holy God.
        1. Isaiah 6:1-7
        2. Luke 5:1-11
        3. Revelation 1:9-18
      2. The natural response to God’s holiness is reverent awe, wonder, even dread. Psalm 96:9
  2. He is Just. 2 Thess.1:6-10a. Ps.9:16
    1. Conforming to a standard of correctness. Acting or being in conformity to what is morally upright or good. (Justice: Deciding guilt or innocence with complete impartiality, with absolute fairness.)
    2. 2 Chronicles 12:1-8. If God is just when he orders judgment, is He unjust to then relent when people humble themselves?
    3. Romans 9:14-18 (Because God is just, no one will ever be judged with a judgment he/she does not deserve. But because He is merciful many will escape the judgment they do deserve.)  [The only Christians who grasp their justification enough to leap and shout with joy, are those who grasp God’s justice.]
  3. He is Merciful. James 5:11; Ephesians.2:4; Titus 3:5; Nehemiah 9:31When God shows mercy He withholds the punishment that we rightly deserve.
  4. He is Loving. 1 John 4:8; John 3:16; Romans 5:8; Galatians 2:20 (also Psalm 25:10; 1 John 3:1; Psalm 62:12)  How wonderful! How have you seen the love of God in your life? God didn’t need to love us, He chose to.
  5. He is Gracious. Exodus 34:6; Ephesians 1:7-8; 2:8; 2 Chronicles 30:9; Titus 2:11; 2 Corinthians 9:14.  Grace is everything good that God gives us which we do not deserve.
  6. He is Kind. Romans 2:4; Isaiah 54:8; Titus 3:4
  7. He is Good. Mark 10:18; Psalm 107:1; Psalm 145:9; Romans 8:28.  This is why His sovereignty is reassuring instead of terrifying.
  8. He is True. Numbers 23:19; Titus 1:2; 1 John 5:20; 1 Thessalonians 1:9
  9. He is Glorious. Ephesians 1:17
  10. He is Wise. Romans 11:33; Colossians 2:3.  Anything He recommends you do, become, say, avoid or devote yourself to, is pure wisdom.
  11. He is Patient. Exodus 34:6; 2 Peter 3:9 (& 3:15).  Without God’s patience, each of us would feel the weight of God’s wrath at the first breath we took as sinners (which would be our very first breath!). If He were not patient, we would know no mercy, no grace, only wrath.
  12. He is Wrathful. Ephesians 5:6; Romans 12:19; Psalm 7:11; Jeremiah 21:5; Revelation 19:15; Romans 2:5.  That God expresses wrath does not in any way checkmate God’s love, mercy or grace. His wrath it is neither constant nor haphazardly applied.  But when its fullness is one day experienced by the world (Revelation 6-19), all people will know just how violently God objects to being ignored, despised, unloved and unworshiped.  Hell is the fitting fulfillment to His righteous wrath.
  13. He is Zealous. Ezekiel 39:25; Isaiah 9:7
  14. He is Jealous. Exodus 20:5; 34:14; Joshua 24:19; Nahum 1:2
  15. He is Righteous. Daniel 9:14; Romans 3:4; 1 John 2:11; Jeremiah 12:1
  16. He is Faithful. 1 John 1:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:3; Deuteronomy 7:9; Psalm 25:10
  17. He is Orderly. 1 Corinthians 14:33
  18. He is Peaceful. Isaiah 9:6 (also possibly John 14:27 & Micah 5:5)

Your Bible: Digital or Paper?

Occasionally I use my phone’s YouVersion Bible app but mostly just if my paper Bible isn’t within reach.  In private worship time, study, or preaching, I’m all paper except for comparing translations.  Admittedly, I’m old school but I think there are some good reasons for being slow to abandon paper.  Several months ago the elders started a conversation about whether digital Bibles are a plus or a minus.  We also discussed the concern others have that putting Scripture on the screens Sunday mornings may be reducing a person’s interest in his/her own Bible, in bringing it to worship, even in reading it.  That discussion is ongoing.

One elder said he is now bringing his paper Bible for worship more often after being digital for some time.  Notes are more readily made–and remembered/reused.  A few days ago I read the following by a Canadian pastor who is also leaving digital more often in favor of paper.  His 5 reasons are worthwhile considering: http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/252327-five-reasons-im-starting-read-paper-bible.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=clnewsletter&utm_content=CL+Daily+20150420+4/16/2015+4:34:20+PM.

Called to Kill?

After slipping across Somalia’s border, on Thursday, four Al-Shabaab militants in suicide vests padded across the grounds of Kenya’s Garissa University to a lecture hall where Christian students were praying.  With a hail of automatic weapons’ fire they cut down worshipers.  Fanning out, the killers stalked dormitory halls, promising students in hiding they would be spared if they came out.  But those who came out were immediately shot.  The attackers promised not to kill “ladies”.  That too was a ploy and many were shot.  Witnesses say Christian students were targeted and Muslim students were permitted to leave unharmed.  The attackers laughed at their handiwork and chanted in Swahili, ‘We don’t fear death, this will be a good Easter holiday for us!”

When Kenyan soldiers arrived the terrorists took dozens of hostages.  13 hours after the horror began, soldiers gunned down the attackers and moved in to assess the carnage.  It was unspeakable: 147 dead, over 65 wounded.

Al-Shabaab claims to serve Allah.  Islam is the fastest growing faith on the planet.  A just-released Pew Foundation study suggests it will also surpass Christianity as the largest by the middle of this century.  Yet the most extreme of its practitioners zealously believe a doctrine of death: slaughter those who don’t believe–often in the most gruesome of ways, and suicide/death during jihad is one of the few sure paths to heaven.  No wonder Ayaan Hirsi Ali, author of the book Heretic and former Muslim herself, labeled Islam “…a destructive, nihilistic cult of death…”

This weekend Christians celebrate the God who not only rescues His people from death, but out of love willingly dies Himself to liberate rebels like me from His wrath.  How different these doctrines: one calls people to hate, kill and seek death, and one calls people to love, offer life–and be willing to die so that others might live.  All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.  We have left God’s paths to follow our own.  Yet the LORD laid on [Jesus] the sins of us all.  Isaiah 53:6

Something Surprising about Pornography

Disclaimer: I’ve seen porn but never been a porn addict.  I wish I could say it’s because of my great faith but it’s probably easier for me to avoid because what I have seen is so artless and crude–which isn’t that appealing to a romantic like me.  Then again, I have to be on guard against the pull of erotic stories.

Having dealt with numerous men under the spell of porn–and I think “spell” may be a better word than “addiction” since it’s pull is not just biological but supernatural and  occultic–I remain unconvinced that techniques and gimmicks will end porn use–or keep men from it.  In general, the benefit of running from something bad has clout only if we’re running to something better.  Jesus is better.

I sometimes read Michigan blogger and pastor Noah Filipiak who battled porn for years.  Covenant Eyes just posted this fantastic piece by him on porn that is written to husbands.  http://www.covenanteyes.com/2015/03/31/porn-is-not-your-problem-entitlement-is/?utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=16822649&_hsenc=p2ANqtz–s_PH68KiDaoWVhDgDU2On2WLvZ8TjgdN4gQNMtH5U2Khxu_dAKLNz5JxwC1Qid0F4xam6sDfrCugbq-d9bYgfcfkrNA&_hsmi=16822649

What Your Kids Need Most

Matt Slick is tough to back into a corner.  He’s a hardhitting defense-of-the-faith expert who runs CARM, the Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry–a ministry I’ve turned to on numerous occasions.  He’s a precise and articulate theologian who debates atheists, evolutionists, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc.  Watch a few videos and it’s hard to escape the conclusion that he relishes the debate–and the chance to annihilate the competition.

Nearly two years ago Matt’s 20 year-old daughter Rachael announced she was an atheist.  Posting her story on Patheos, she described being theologically groomed and grilled by her father from the age of five.  “What is pneumatology?”  What is the hypostatic union?”  He would take her along to church events, publicly have her spit out answers to such questions before challenging believers: “My daughter knows more about theology than you do!  You are not doing your jobs as Christians to stay educated and sharp in the faith.”

Rachael said her father would “frequently make blatantly false statements—such as ‘purple dogs exist’—and force me to disprove him through debate.  He would respond to things I said demanding technical accuracy, so that I had to narrow my definitions and my terms to give him the correct response.”

Mrs. Slick homeschooled Rachael and her siblings in a “…strict and highly regulated environment”.  Friends were limited to children of like families.  Rachel says that “If we did not respond immediately to being called, we were spanked ten to fifteen times with a strip of leather cut from the stuff they used to make shoe soles.”  When asked about this, Mr. Slick admitted on tape, “Yes, I beat her.  Yeah, I beat her.  So, that’s what happened.  Whatever, and um, that’s it.  She was very very very very very stubborn.  Children are different.  So she is where she’s at now. It’s her choices [sic].”

Rachael says she and her sisters were “…extremely well-behaved children, and my dad would sometimes show us off to people he met in public by issuing commands that we automatically rushed to obey.”

But look at her journal entry when she was just nine: “I’m hopeless.  Oh boy.  I’ve got a lot to work on.  I try to be obedient but it’s so hard!  The more I read, the more I realize how bad I am!  My problem is that when things don’t make sense to me, I don’t like them.  When Dad gets mad at me for something, everything makes perfect sense to me in my mind, so I tend to resent my parents’ correction.  I have just realized that I yearn to please the lord, but why can’t I? I  just can’t be good!  It seems impossible.  Why can’t I be perfect?”

Enslaved to the law.  Where’s the grace of the gospel?  (Keystone parents, check out Mike Fisher’s class this Sunday at 9 AM in Fellowship Hall North, “Raising Jesus’ Lovers instead of Obedient Pharisees in Today’s World”.)  The Bible commands us to teach, discipline, and correct our children.  Sometimes well-meaning parents think that means it’s up to them to MAKE SURE THEIR CHILDREN TURN OUT A CERTAIN WAY.  But children aren’t mechanical devices that if tuned, tightened and tempered properly, will come off of the assembly line exactly as programmed.  Kids aren’t products.

They are people who–in time will make all kinds of important–and independent decisions.  What we parents do is lovingly pray, train, influence, and teach–but our kids will eventually decide many things on their own.  Training them to succeed in that is why we let them make more and more decisions as they get older.  They learn by doing and making mistakes–like we did.  In the aftermath we pray, talk, love them–and point them to the gospel.

Ultimately, your children’s missteps are their responsibility.  Yes, we can and should evaluate ourselves when they go awry.   But if we’ve been faithful, God holds our children accountable–not us.  God held Eli responsible–not because his adult sons turned out bad, but because he “failed to discipline them” (1 Sam.3:13).  We don’t blame Jesus for Judas; or God for Adam and Eve.  God said if the city gets attacked and people die, the city’s watchman is responsible only if he didn’t warn the people to flee.  If he did warn them and they stayed, it was on their own heads (Ezekiel 33:1-9).  Yes, we grieve when they defy what we’ve taught them.  I’m just saying that if we admit at the start that we cannot guarantee an outcome that God doesn’t promise, it may lead to more sane parenting.  Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them.  Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.  (Ephesians 6:4)

None of us do/did the parenting thing right.  I have 4 witnesses to that fact.  But the extremes of permissiveness and rigidity are both too parent-focused to serve our children’s best interests.  Permissive parents can be lax because they find the demands of diligent discipline too wearying and heartbreaking (kids get mad at them).  Rigid parents who thunder from Mt. Sinai can be driven more by the determination to be “successful” parents (i.e., those with well-behaved children) than to shape their children for God’s glory.  Diligent parenting is too taxing on the permissive parent, and firm parenting that’s kind may not adequately reassure the parent of the desired outcome.  In both cases the child is the loser.

Ask Rachael.  “Someone once asked me if I would trade in my childhood for another, if I had the chance, and my answer was no, not for anything.
  My reason is that, without that childhood, I wouldn’t understand what freedom truly is—freedom from a life centered around obedience and submission, freedom to think anything, freedom from guilt and shame, freedom from the perpetual heavy obligation to keep every thought pure.  Nothing I’ve ever encountered in my life has been so breathtakingly beautiful.”

Rachael thinks she’s been set free but only the grace of the gospel can bring true freedom.  That’s what our children need most desperately.  They need that more than we need compliance, their obedience, a break or night out, or anything else that seems to matter most.  They need to see it in our forgiveness, in our love–even when they disobey, in our own faith (love for what HE did instead of loving us because of what WE do), and in our expectations.  Seriously, stop expecting your kids to be perfect.  They’re just like you; imperfect.

If you’re parenting today, consider reading, “Give them Grace” by Elyse Fitzpatrick and her daughter Jessica Thompson.  The subtitle says it all: Dazzling them [your children] with the Love of Jesus. Wish I had read this when my kids were ten. Or five.

On a side note, children don’t need parents who pretend their faith has no difficult answers–or times when there seem to be no answers at all.  It won’t destroy your child’s budding faith to admit to him/her “I don’t know”.  Or, “You know, you’re right; that’s a hard thing to swallow”.  Rachael said that “…every question I brought up was explained away confidently and thoroughly.  Many times, after our nightly Bible study, we would sit at the table after my Mom and sisters had left and debate, discuss, and dissect the theological questions I had. No stone was left unturned, and all my uncertainty was neatly packaged away.

”  Kids are pretty young when they figure out mom and dad aren’t perfect–and not long after that they figure out mom and dad don’t know everything.  They’re right.  Don’t try to convince them otherwise lest they eventually conclude you weren’t always telling them the truth.  We should be able to give our children answers.  But appearing to have all of them just isn’t honest.

Serious about their Faith

I pray regularly for the Islamic State leaders.  Probably not what you think.

President Obama could not have been more mistaken last year when he dismissed ISIS as Al-Qaeda’s JV team.  If anything, that’s A-Q itself.  Almost daily after seeing the latest ISIS atrocity in HD, the world’s secular citizens become more indignant.  Secular heads of state seem unsure how to deal with ISIS other than the way they’d deal with any regional spat.  But neither diplomacy nor indignation–nor the inane suggestion that job creation will somehow curb this wind of religious devotion–will stop ISIS’ advance.  And yes, they really do plan to one day govern from places like Rome, Jerusalem, and D.C.  A plan to reach southern Europe has already been sketched out.  It’s what Allah requires.

This is what secular leaders cannot fathom.  Diplomacy is normally shaped by offering an enemy something that serves their self-interest: money, land, peace.  Diplomats are not accustomed to dealing with people who put their god’s wants before their own.  It doesn’t seem that ISIS’ leaders desire personal power to enrich themselves, and their barbarism cannot be explained simply by using labels from the DSM-5.

Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his followers are devout believers who obey their holy book even when it seems odd–or out-of-step with the times.  Isn’t that what Christians do too?  We of all people should understand their motivation–and the depth of their resolve. In a way that those with no god can’t, we should grasp that true believers of any faith will remain faithful to the path they believe is true obedience–no matter what.  ISIS’ path just happens to have convictions like these…

  • Muslims who vote are sinning.
  • Slavery is mandatory in a caliphate.
  • Terror is really an act of mercy (it frightens enemies to more quickly surrender; hence, it shortens war–which is merciful).
  • There are no such things as borders: the caliphate must continue to wage war and expand. Otherwise the caliph is sinning and must be removed.

Moderate Muslims are quick to deny that groups like ISIS practice true Islam.  But they do.  21st century followers may have tamed the Qur’an but make no mistake: Muhammad would be proud of al-Baghdadi.  Read some of his surahs.

In Wood’s article below, he says the top expert on ISIS’ theology is Princeton scholar Bernard Haykel who argues, “…its fighters are authentic throwbacks to early Islam and are faithfully reproducing its norms of war.  This behavior includes a number of practices that modern Muslims tend to prefer not to acknowledge as integral to their sacred texts.  ‘Slavery, crucifixion, and beheadings are not something that freakish [jihadists] are cherry-picking from the medieval tradition. They are smack in the middle of the medieval tradition and are bringing it wholesale into the present day.'”

Since Islam is the second largest faith in the world–and the fastest growing, I think Christians are wise to learn all they can about this wildly popular (according to a recently updated study by the International Center for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence, at least 20,000 people from around the world have streamed into Syria and Iraq to join ISIS) but brutal movement inside Islam that is committed to forcing the planet’s 7 billion people to swear allegiance to a descendant from Muhammad’s tribe–or die.  Knowing will help shape Christian praying, Christian witness, and Christian mission strategy.

Begin with this remarkable article by Graeme Wood just published in The Atlantic http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2015/02/what-isis-really-wants/384980/.

The Day God gets Even

I was doing some woodworking Tuesday when my phone chirped with a CNN alert: “ISIS photo shows Jordanian fighter burned alive.” After reading that they had put him in a cage likely dressed in fuel-doused clothing, and set him afire, I angrily bellowed, “Bomb the crap out of them!”

I made the mistake of watching (don’t) the slick but horrific video the PR people at ISIS’  made of their work.  Words like Sicko, savage, barbarism, and demented come to mind.  There’s a kind of fury that’s almost automatic for rational people who learn of man’s extreme inhumanity towards man.  Retaliation and revenge seem the only appropriate response. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, blood for blood, death for death.

Government leaders, military and court personnel have unique responsibilities in deciding how to respond to such evil.  They are …God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong (Romans 13:4).  But God has this to say to people who follow His Son: Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord (Romans 12:19).

Even though none of us can do anything about the fighter pilot’s death, are you serious?  Don’t even wish for revenge?!!  Choose not to hate those people?  Is that even moral?

The Bible is clear that all God’s servants should advocate for justice.  But is revenge for an injustice, just?  (Again, be sure to distinguish between an individual follower of Jesus, and forces of justice in the government who are servants of the Lord for the protection of citizens.)

I suspect only the gospel can soften our natural inclinations.  After all, who was ever treated more unjustly than the Holy Son of God?  Entire books have been written about how savagely he was tortured from the beating to the flogging to the crucifixion. Yet He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered.  He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly (1 Peter 2:23).  Jesus was unfairly and brutally treated…, for me.  It would have been just for me to be punished like he was.  For me to endure torture and death, not him.  Yet instead of imposing what I so justly deserved, he took my place.

A day is coming when God will right all wrongs. Will right all wrongs. He even has a score to settle on behalf of a Jordanian fighter pilot who died in early 2015.  I don’t know how that works, but I don’t doubt for a moment that He’ll square things.