Sunday, March 29, 2015

Loving Our Neighbor, Neglecting Our God

Jesus said: “'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt 22:36-40)
If loving our neighbor is, as Jesus said, the second greatest commandment, then it's certainly vital for Christians to know how to obey it. And in order to obey the commandment, Christians need a biblical understanding of what loving our neighbor actually means.

Knowing how to love our neighbor seems like it should be a clear-cut concept, doesn't it? For it's true that after being pressed for answers by a self-seeking Pharisee, Jesus explained the commandment using the simple parable of the Good Samaritan, who, at his own expense, selflessly cared for a man in need (Luke 10:25-37). The Good Samaritan showed unmerited favor to a man whom others had passed off as unworthy of their love. The parable illustrates the way that loving our neighbor should mirror the nature of God's grace to us; for it was while we were unworthy sinners that Christ died for us (Rom 5:8).

But despite the simple truth exemplified in the parable, the pure, powerful, and gospel-centered meaning of the second greatest commandment has become distorted in our worldly culture today. To love one's neighbor has been twisted into something entirely different from the self-sacrificial love that Jesus demonstrated for us on the Cross. "Loving" others has been reduced to a flimsy paper-chain of feel-good human relationships that flutter and tear in the winds of emotion and circumstance—these relationships aren't rooted in Godly love, but are tied together by a frail substitute.

As the Apostle Paul reminded us, Satan comes disguised as an angel of light. There are many warm and fuzzy expressions of love in the world that may make us feel good for a time. But in actuality, they are cheap counterfeits of the everlasting love we can experience through Christ.

And, tragically, the perverted concept of "loving neighbor" that prevails within our worldly culture has even permeated the hearts and minds of many believers todayas the things of one's cultural context have a habit of doingadversely affecting the way Christians demonstrate our love to those around us and weakening our ability to truly love God and others.

This is because we have attempted, like the world, to fulfill the second commandment without first fulfilling the greatest commandment: to love God with all of our hearts, souls, and minds—And just as Jesus so aptly indicated when he quoted the greatest commandment, we do need to use our minds (as well as our hearts) to discern how to love our neighbor in a way that honors God and points others to Him.

More specifically, we need to use our minds by delving into a deeper study of God's Word (2 Tim 3:16-17; Josh 1:8; Deut 11:18-23; Acts 17:11; Heb 4:12). Knowing God's Word enables us to distinguish God-honoring love from the counterfeit that our worldly culture promotes. In doing so, it's useful to consider 1) what it actually means to love our neighbor, 2) the underlying reason why worldly love and God-honoring love are two very different things, and 3) why they may appear to be the same thing at first glance.

So, firstly, who is our neighbor? Jesus demonstrated this clearly in the parable of the Good Samaritan; our neighbor is anyone whom we may come across in life. Our neighbor is not a title reserved for certain people based on our personal preferences or political leaning. Our neighbor could be a stranger, a loved one, an acquaintance, an enemy, a fellow believer. And when the opportunity arises, we need to demonstrate God-honoring love toward them. Paul expanded on this in his letter to the Galatians, "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers." (Gal 6:10).

Secondly, we need to determine what God-honoring love is. When John said, "God is love" (1 John 4:8), he points us to the origin of love, for in the previous verse, he writes unequivocally, “love is from God” (1 John 4:7). Therefore, love doesn't first originate with us, but in God. As John further explains, "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." (1 John 4:10). John used here the Greek term agape, a form of agapeis, which is also used by Jesus (agapaƍ) when he quotes the greatest commandments. The essence of agape-love is unconditional self-sacrificeThe purest expression of love was demonstrated by Christ's death on the Cross. And it is the Holy Spirit who empowers us to love God and love others in a truly self-sacrificial way.

Loving our neighbor in light of the first and greatest commandment is to love others in a way that first honorsand in no way neglects—our God.

Because God-honoring love is not self-seeking (1 Cor 13:6), but is self-sacrificial, living it out can be costly to us. Having God-honoring love for our neighbor motivates us to die to self (Luke 9:23; Gal 2:20). It can cost us material possessions, timeeven friendships and popularity! For because God-honoring love is of the Spirit and not of this world, it is often rejected by the world. And because God-honoring love rejoices with the truth (1 Cor 13:6) it can cause offense. Indeed, God-honoring love cannot be separated from truth. God is love, just as He is truth, for not only did John say, "God is love," but Jesus also said, "I am the truth." (John 14:6). Because of this, if we truly love someone, our strongest motivation will be to share the saving truth of the gospel with them and to point them to Christ.

But, worldly lovethe fleshly love of a world that has rejected Christdoes not rejoice with the truth and it is ultimately self-seeking.

Loving others in the flesh may appear, at first glance, to be the same thing as loving others in the Spirit. This because all humans are made in the image of God and therefore reflect His likenessimperfectly albeit. Each of us has, for example, an innate desire to give and receive love and occasionally even to sacrifice ourselves for those we love. For as Paul tells us, the law—summed up by Jesus in the two greatest commandments—is written on the hearts of men (Rom 2:15). We all have a God-given conscience that bares witness to this law in our hearts; We are all pre-wired to express and to seek love.

Yet while the law is written on the hearts of men, the fulfillment of that law is another story. Paul says, "but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous." (Rom 2:13). And to fully obey the law is impossible without Christ; Paul also writes: "For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit." (Rom 8:3-4). If we live in the flesh, then, we are unable to fulfill the law to love God and neighbor. But if we live in the Spirit, the righteous requirement of the law is fully met in us, through Christ, not through ourselves.

Loving others without loving God first is a fleshly and corruptible way of expressing our natural propensity to love. It will ultimately lead to a self-serving, consumerist form of "love" that actually takes away from God and other people more than it gives. For Scripture is clear that to live—and love—in the flesh alone is to be bound by sin and death (Rom 8:13). Without being made righteous in Christ, we cannot love others in a God-honoring way with a love that endures forever.
It's vital, then, that the second commandment is viewed in light of, and motivated by, the first and greatest commandment: to love God with all our hearts, souls, and minds.

Despite this, however, there are many Christians today who are failing to love their neighbors in a God-honoring way. This isn't necessarily for lack of effort; the theme of loving our neighbor has been more strongly emphasized of late among Christian preachers and within many churches. And this is a good thing. But if loving our neighbor becomes the ultimate thing, then it actually becomes a bad thing. For anything that takes God's place in our hearts is an idol. And unfortunately, it is a misapplication of the second greatest commandment that has, in fact, led to unbiblical patterns of behavior within the Church that fail to uphold the gospel and instead mimic the flimsy, paper-chain love of our worldly culture.

These unbiblical applications of loving neighbor are widespread and are sometimes so subtle that they fly under the radar. They can, however, be identified by the following behaviors, some specific examples of which are sadly all-too common among Christians today:

Part I: When loving neighbor becomes pleasing [postmodern] people
Part II: When loving neighbor promotes tolerance over truth
Part III: When loving neighbor puts friendship before faith (coming soon)
Part IV: When loving neighbor turns peace into pluralism (coming soon)
Part V: When loving neighbor emphasizes humanitarianism over evangelism (coming soon)

Loving Our Neighbor, Neglecting Our God: Pleasing [Postmodern] People

Part I: When loving neighbor becomes pleasing [postmodern] people.

Sometimes, it's tempting to tell people what they want to hear. To make them feel better about themselves. To avoid potential conflict and to smooth things over. But seeking to please people isn't always to serve them—often, it is to serve ourselves. For its underlying motivation is to win their acceptance, affirmation, affection, or allegiance for our own self-gain. People-pleasing can attract an audience. Fill pews. Sell conference tickets. People-pleasing can keep the peace (albeit temporarily). It can result in popularity. It can lead to worldly status. But Jesus said, "If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you." (John 15:19). If a Christian finds widespread popularity and acceptance in a secular world that hates Christ, this begs the question, is he really fulfilling the first and greatest commandment?

Clearly, pleasing people in place of God violates the greatest commandment, as expedient or advantageous as it may be. People-pleasing is something the Apostle Paul vehemently rejected, as is reflected in his letter to the Thessalonians when he explained to them, "We are not trying to please people, but God, who tests our hearts." (1 Thess 2:4). Paul was acutely aware that people-pleasing perpetuates the human desire to remain in the flesh, gives rise to false teaching, and rejects the authority of God. Yet tragically, there is a people-pleasing epidemic spreading within the Christian community, which is producing more and more unbiblical behavior in our churches—behavior that's often misrepresented as "loving neighbor."

Nowadays, too many of our church communities are consumer-driven rather than servant-minded, catering to the needs, interests, and preferences of people rather than seeking to grow them as disciples of Jesus. In our commitment-phobic, consumeristic society, the problem of "convenience-store Christianity" in which our churches have become distributors of faith-based goods and services rather than manifestations of God's Kingdom, is on the rise. In this context, the focus is on what the church can do for us (good kids' programs, an accommodating facility, inspiring sermons, fun events, a social network), not what we can do for the church. When this happens, we're not thinking so much about serving and glorifying God as we are about Him meeting our own needs and desires. And when a particular church doesn't meet our expectations, we soon lose interest and go elsewhere.

A concerning example of this can be seen among Christians who often self-identify as post-evangelical or Emergent believers—a growing, broad, and typically quite vocal, group who have taken on the indomitable task of rescuing Christianity from the stagnated tenets of traditional evangelicalism into a more "loving," culturally relevant, and "accessible" church environment. Pioneers of this movement (although many of them dislike the term, "movement") long for what Sam Storms has called "'a kinder, gentler' version of evangelicalism that is devoid of the doctrinal dogmatism, moral certainty, and absolutist mindset that they are convinced is out of touch with so-called postmodern developments in our culture."[1] In other words, the primary concern is to cater to, and retain, a post-modern audience.

Indeed, Emergents place great emphasis on the evolution of Western culture from modern to post-modern in order to show how fundamental aspects of traditional evangelicalism have been outmoded. The traditional traits in question are not limited to stained-glass windows, pews, and a "stuffy" church atmosphere alone, but include other fundamentals such as absolute truth and sound doctrine, along with the importance of apologetics and biblical teaching. This bold move away from Christian "dogma" in the name of "loving neighbor" is in essence an unapologetic departure from the what the Bible teaches with a view to becoming accessible and relatable to a post-modern world.

Many of these churches publish vague or ambiguous statements of faith—if, indeed, they publish one at all. Instead, Emergents endeavor to meet the needs of the postmodern world, which demands touchy-feely faith: narrative rather than propositions (“tell me your story, don’t explain principles”); affections and feelings over and above rational, linear thought; experience over truth; inclusion rather than exclusion; the corporate over the individualistic, etc. In this context, "tolerance is the principal virtue, as nothing is more indicative of the mentality of modernism than telling someone they are wrong (either intellectually, doctrinally, or morally)," as Storms so aptly puts it.[2]

Emergents—keeping in step with a culture that touts "self-esteem" as the answer to the gamut of societal woes—focus on building up the self, through their trendy self-help teaching and an insipid form of quick-fix spirituality that demands no heart-change on part of their audience, and blatantly contradicts our biblical exhortation to die to self (Mark 8:35; Luke 9:23; Gal 2:20). The focus, then, remains squarely on the self, not on God. While the self-helpism of the Emergent Church may generate popular appeal for a time, it is hardly sustainable for the long haul, however, for a shinier, newer trend of thought will soon come along to take the limelight.

Undoubtedly, though, Emergents are responding to very real problems in the Church, which should not be ignored; the evangelical Church in the West has seen worrying decline over recent decades. And the rift between the Christian and secular communities is certainly widening. Many evangelicals have chosen to huddle together, remaining safely within their own conservative Christian comfort zone, cutting themselves off from an increasingly secularized and hostile society. This is the antithesis of going out into the world and making disciples (Matt 28:19), which could certainly be a major contributing factor to the diminishing numbers of evangelical Church-attendance in America. (In contrast, the Mormon Church—in which a two-year stint of missionary service is mandatory for all males—is growing with notable rapidity. Indeed, Mormonism has been dubbed the fastest growing religion in America[3]). This highlights an important deficiency within the Christian Church. And so, the Emergent effort to attract people to the Church by reaching out in love is understandable, while sorely misapplied.

The outreach-mindedness of the Emergent church certainly strikes a biblical cord; it is true that we're called to be salt and light in the world, not to shut ourselves off from it. Making disciples can't be achieved inside a Christian bubble. But the fact is, Christians, by all worldly accounts, are called to believe a foolish message and live a foolish lifestyle. We need to get to grips with the fact that being salt and light in the world won't always mean we will be liked by the world. In fact, it usually means the opposite. Jesus was clear about this when He warned us that we would be rejected by the world because of Him (John 15:19)Yet we can take courage because God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise (1 Cor 1:27).

But, Emergent concepts of cultural sensitivity and loving neighbor conform to worldly patterns rather than the counter-cultural Word of God. Emergent churches strive to be relevant in a rapidly evolving culture, but in doing so they attempt to surf the cultural tide, failing to go against it, as following a counter-cultural Christ necessitates. And so, rather than mirroring Christ, they end up mirroring worldly culture in an effort to draw people in and build bridges between secular and Christian communities. Essentially, these churches look to the world first (not the Bible first) for the answers on how to reach unbelievers in their attempt to tailor the church-experience to a post-modern audience. As a result, inconvenient truths are often brushed under the rug and the seriousness of sin is downplayed so as not to alienate anyone.

But as an old pastor of mine used to say, "we are in sales not management." In other words, it is the role of the Holy Spirit to convict hearts, not ours to finesse the gospel to make it more culturally appealing. We are to proclaim the gospel message, and let the gospel stand for itself. For seeking to ingratiate ourselves to, and merge ourselves with, a world that has rejected Christ is like trying to mix oil and water. Moreover, the truth of the gospel is often lost in the mix, with "tolerance" taking precedence over the Word of God.

In the following article, some concerning examples of this pattern of behavior among a growing number of leading evangelicals are discussed.

< Part II: Tolerance over Truth


Sunday, March 15, 2015

A Christian's Response to ISIS

As a relatively sheltered Christian (at least for now) living in a relatively free country (at least for now), I've found the unconscionable atrocities against fellow believersmen, women, and childrenat the hands of the Islamic State to be literally unthinkable, too horrific to fully contemplate, as I'm sure is the case for many others. We see the headlines as they pop up in our newsfeed, or flash by on our TV screens. But it is impossible to truly absorb the horror of what we're seeing. So, sometimes, we scroll past wearily without trying. It all seems too much. Yet, these atrocities are actually happening to our brothers and sisters in Christ, even as I write this.

So, when confronted with Christians being buried alive or barbarically decapitated...when confronted with the burnt bodies of our little ones...when confronted with the reality that ISIS terrorists are growing in should the Church respond?

The Apostle Paul exhorts us to remember those who suffer for the sake of the faith as if we ourselves are suffering in their place (Heb 13:3). He urges us to mourn with those who mourn, and to weep with those who weep (Rom 12:15). So, it's important that we don't emotionally distance or disassociate ourselves from the plight of the suffering Church, because we are all members of the same Body. No matter how far apart we are geographically, culturally, or economically, we are all children of the living God, bound together in the love of Christ. When one member of the Body suffers, the whole Body is affected (1 Cor 12:26).

But while we may be perplexed at the suffering of our fellow believers, we must not despair (2 Cor 4:8). And while we empathize, we must not dwell on evil. Jesus said, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33). Amen! We need not fear men or what they can do to our earthly bodies, for our hope is in Christ, not in this world. God's judgment is coming. And as horrifying as the atrocities in the Middle East are, we can rest in, and encourage others with, the truth that the saints who are dying for their faith look forward to an eternal reward. Their momentary earthly affliction is preparing for them an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Cor 4:17). For they are victors—not victims—for God's glory! And persecution spreads the gospel.

Pray, Pray, Pray
And so we pray. It is the single-most important thing we can do. We pray for the persecuted, that they won't lose heart. We pray for the oppressor, that they will repent and believe. We pray for the Church, that we will stand firm in our faith. We pray for this broken world, that Jesus will be made known in it. We pray for an end to the suffering, the sin, and the torment. "For He who testifies to these things says, 'Yes, I am coming soon.' Amen. Come, Lord Jesus." (Rev 22:20).

Love Our Enemies
Now for the puzzling part. Jesus taught us to love our enemiesto bless and not to curse those who persecute us (Luke 6:20; Rom 12:14). But how can we love an ISIS terrorist who commits such merciless acts of brutality against God's people? Yet Jesus unequivocally said:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matt 5:43-38)
So then, we must pray for ISIS terroristsand indeed for all Muslimsthat they would repent and believe in Jesus as the true Son of God. Loving our enemies does not mean turning a blind eye to their wickedness. Love cannot be separated from truth, or it is no longer love. And loving our enemies shouldn't be confused with a warm, fuzzy emotion or sentimental feeling. (The world has a funny idea of what love actually is). Instead, loving our enemies harnesses the gospel-driven motivation to point them to Christ. It is to intercede for our enemies in prayer, to tell them the truth about their sin and their need for a Savior, to stand firm in our faith before them as a testimony, andif we are ever called to do soto die at their hands in Jesus' name for His glory.

The 21 men who were mercilessly beheaded by ISIS terrorists recently was an act of love; dying for their faith was a powerful testimony to Christ. It's important to pray for the ISIS terrorists' eyes to be opened to the truth, just the Apostle Paul's eyes werefor let's never forget that before his conversion, Paul himself was a murderous persecutor of Christians. God can, and does, redeem the lives of even the most depraved and sinful of people by His grace, for His glory, so that no one can boast (Eph 2:8).

In the same vein, showing love towards all Muslims does not mean seeking common ground with, or cozying up to, a false religion that claims wrongful ownership of Jesus as a their prophet. It means reaching out to them in the self-sacrificial love of Christ and sharing the gospel with themwith gentleness and respect.

In showing Christ-centered love to Muslims, we should be careful to distinguish between individual Muslims and the institution of IslamWe should prayerfully reach out to our Muslim friends and neighbors in the love of Christ, as per the Great Commission (Matt 28:16-20, Acts 1:8). Our efforts to relate to Muslims on a one-on-one basis, however, should not be confused with forging friendship and/or unity between the Christian and Islamic faiths. This is to be unequally yoked (2 Cor 6:14-18). Churches should not work corporately with mosques and engage in interfaith partnershipsa common practice that has stemmed from the Interfaith Movement, which seeks to unify mystical elements in all religions and identify the common ground between them. For in the interfaith context, the Bible cannot be treated as the supreme authority on matters of faith.

Today, various—seemingly benign—aspects of the Interfaith Movement have permeated the Church. One of these is the practice of interfaith dialogue. Many churches are engaging in interfaith dialogue as a means to seeking deeper understanding, friendship, and common ground, between religions. Within evangelicalism, the practice of interfaith dialogue for the purpose of "building bridges" between those of different faith-backgrounds has become increasingly popular. The initial motive for evangelical churches in reaching out this way, is usually intended as a starting point for sharing the gospel. Often, however, the rules of engagement involve a prior agreement to refrain from attempting to convert one anotheras has been the case with the Christian-Muslim dialogue sessions practiced at Rick Warren's Saddleback Church with neighboring mosques, for example. This can result in the gospel message being obscured, and relativistic compromises being made, in an effort to maintain the amicable relations that have been forged through such sessions. Moreover, the biblical Jesus is obscured, even misrepresented, so as to be compatible with differing religious beliefs. In these dialogues, deal-breakers like the Trinity, for example, are almost always conveniently ignored or downplayed. Interfaith partnerships set up a false peace, brushing important differences under the rug, and essentially attempt to mix lightness with darkness (2 Cor 6:14). Yet Scripture is clearly teaches us to speak the truth in love for God's glory. Interfaith dialogue, then, fuels pluralism not evangelism—it gives rise to lies not love.

Uphold Justice
By faith we are called to be administrators of justice (Heb 11:33) and to correct oppression (Isa 17:1). As Christians, we cannot show authentic Christ-like love to others without also upholding justice on behalf of the weak, the poor, the vulnerable, and the oppressed—regardless of cultural or religious context, race, or social status. Christians are commissioned to be upholders of truth and justice in a deceitful and unjust world, and this means standing up for what is right in the eyes of God, not man.

Upholding justice is not the same thing as seeking revenge. It isn't about spewing bitterness and rage. Upholding justice can, in part, be motivated by righteous anger. But it's main motivation is our love of God and our love of others (Matt 22:37-40). It takes courage, conviction, and careful discernment.

The Hebrew word for “justice,” mishpat, which is used in its various forms over 200 times in the Old Testament, essentially means to treat people equitably; acquitting or punishing every person, without partiality, according to the merits of each case. In other words, mishpat is giving people what they are rightfully due, whether punishment, protection, or provision. Repeatedly throughout Scripture, therefore, mishpat describes taking up the care and cause of widows, orphans, immigrants, the oppressed, and the poor.

And so, as upholders of justice, we cannot passively stand by while our brothers and sisters in Christ are being oppressed. We must actively pray. And we must also speak up on their behalf and be the voice of righteousness in a morally perverted world. As upholders of justice, we should stand against bigotry, hatred, and the demonization of Muslim people. Yet we should also not flinch from addressing the 
true evil and violence that is at the core of the religion of Islam.

Be Informed
Many Westerners, including Christians, are apathetic towards, or ignorant about, the world-wide political impact of the growth and radicalization of Islam. Many choose to stick their heads in the sand, despite the warning signs of unrest in the Middle East and Africa or the growing problems in Western Europe. Many Westerners essentially have the wool pulled over their eyes.

But in order to uphold justice and be the voice of reason, Christians must be informed about what we're dealing with in ISIS and how it relates to the religion of its origin.

Born from an especially brutal al Qaeda faction, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has grown from relative obscurity in recent years to overshadow its extremist patrons. It now terrorizes large swaths of Syria and Iraq. With the public, cold-blooded execution of multiple Westerners, ISIS now dominates headlines the across the world.

It's important to understand, however, that the actions of ISIS are not contrary to Islamic principles and theology as is commonly claimed. ISIS is, in fact, a necessary outworking of the Islamic faith. Calling Islam a "religion of peace" is a blatant misrepresentation. This may sound like an extreme and/or bigoted statement, especially in light of the myths, lies, and selective quotes from the Qur'an, propagated by liberal imams and perpetuated accordingly by the mainstream Western media. For while it is true that there are certainly peaceful Muslims in the world, it is also true that there is violence, deceit, and evil at the core of Islam. Simply put, it is a religion fueled by the venomous Father of All Lies.

Plenty of politically correct know-it-alls like to scoff at this and tell us that Islam is a peaceful religion, that Muslims love Jesus, that Islam is misunderstood and has much overlap with Christianity. But these are grave and dangerous misconceptions.

While anti-Christian sentiments have steadily risen in the West (including among Christians!) over recent decades, sympathies for Islam have increased accordingly. But befriending, or seeking unity with, Islam, is to ignore the repeated warnings of Jesus (as echoed by the Apostles after Him) that we need to be on watch for, and flee from, false teachers. Let us not forget that Muhammad is one of the most infamous false teachers of all time. The astounding number (1.8 billion) of people who identify as his followers shouldn't intimidate us or cause us to view his teachings any more favorably.

For the fact is, the threat to our nation in mounting. A senior Iranian cleric with close ties to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed on Friday, February 27, 2015, that “we will raise the flag of Islam over the White House” in response to the killing of Hezbollah and Revolutionary Guards operatives on the Golan Heights the month before. But this sentiment is nothing new. It is the same war cry that has been consistently expressed from Islamic leaders in the Middle East, both before and after 9-11, and it should take no one by surprise.

The reality is, however, America is in danger of going down the same treacherous path of capitulation that Britain has paved for itself. Being myself British born, it has been devastatingly hard to watch what is happening to my homeland, where due to pressure from the British Muslim community the country is becoming slowly and subtly Islamized. The government routinely allows foreign jihadis to enter the country, while it bans counter-jihadis solely for the crime of speaking the truth about Islam and jihad. When defenders of free society against Islamization took part in the country's first "anti-Islamisation" rally recently, they were dismissed by fellow Brits as “right-wing nutters” and “fascists.” In fact, the counter-demonstration was over five times larger. By all accounts, it seems that Britain as a free nation is in its last days. But Americans should take heed; America could be close behind.

Christians need to understand what the Qur'an and Hadith actually teach and we need to get to grips with the demonic roots of the religion. For true Islam, Muhammad’s Islam—not the peaceful Islam of liberal Muslims or that which is presented to the West by Imams who are permitted to lie for the furtherance of Islam as under the law of taqiyya—is a religion of the sword. Many injustices against Christians, women, and other minorities living in Muslim-majority countries occur as a direct result of what the Qur'an and Hadith teach about the life of Muhammad.

As per Islamic tradition, Muslims are taught to model their lives on the Sunnah, Muhammad's perfect life example. In other words, Islam is built upon Muhammad's words and deeds. This is deeply unsettling when we consider that Muhammad was a warlord and a polygamist who took many concubines and married a six-year-old girl, consummating the marriage when she was 9 years old and he was 53 (which is the grounds for Iranian constitutional law permitting grown men to marry 9-year-old children).

Here are some important points to know:

1. Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. It is expected to increase by about 35% in the next 20 years, rising from 1.6 billion in 2010 to 2.2 billion by 2030, according to population projections by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life.

2. Islam is a false religion that cannot be syncretized with Christianity. You may hear that there are similarities between Islam and Christianity. This is true. But they are minor when compared to the fundamental, deal-breaking differences between the two faiths. Focusing on common ground between the religions, as is the current trend among many churches and missionaries working with, and engaging in interfaith dialogue with, Muslims, ends up leading to more confusion than it does to conversion. It muddies the waters and gives credibility (inadvertently albeit) to dangerously false religion. One example of this is the use of the Qur'anic verses about Jesus to witness to Muslims (as per the CAMEL method endorsed a few years ago by the Southern Baptist Convention), which gives the false impression that the Qur'an is a dependable source of information about Him. While using our common admiration for Jesus as a starting point to presenting the gospel to Muslims has proven to be an effective means of outreach, the common ground approach has been frequently taken too far, blurring biblical truth about who Jesus is to accommodate amicable Muslim-Christian relations in the name of loving our neighbor.

3. Islam acts as a political institution (in fact it is intrinsically political in nature). This often has dire implications for Christians and other religious minorities living in Muslim-majority countries. Democracy and true Islam are incompatible because Islam runs counter to the basic democratic tenet of freedom of religion, thought, and expression. Islam, more than any other monotheistic religion, invites itself into every aspect of social life. More specifically, Islam is inherently, and by definition inconsistent with, the separation of church and statean idea that is entirely foreign to Islamic orthodoxy; even Muslim-majority political parties that are secular in name dare not forsake the basic tenets of Islam, which take precedence even over economic advantage.

The political nature of Islam poses a mounting threat to the West that is not being taken with the seriousness it deserves by the current Administration. As the President continues to show weakness and Muslim sympathies, the bellicose rhetoric from those who consider themselves to be at war with the United States continues to heat up.

4. Islam is a religion of the sword by its own interpretation. The Qur'an is unique among religious scriptures in its acceptance of the doctrine of abrogation in which later pronouncements of Muhammad declare null and void his earlier pronouncements. This is significant because the violent verses in the Qur’an from Muhammad’s later warlord years abrogate (nullify) the more peaceable verses from earlier in his life as dictated by Islamic tradition.

5. Muhammad's own life models violent jihad. Muslims are commanded to model their lives on the SunnahMuhammad's prefect life example. The violent verses from Muhammad's warlord years command Muslims to “fight and kill [non-Muslims] unless they convert” (Surah 9:5), for example, which is a principle that Muhammad himself practiced, beheading infidels. Violent jihad is at the heart of Islam—it is not just the misinterpretation of a peaceful religion by extremist fringe groups. There are hundreds of Qur’anic verses on the subject of jihad, as well as the "Book of Jihad," which found in all Hadith collections. In sum, the Qur'an and Hadith demand jihada holy war, for the furtherance of Islam. 

Do Not Fear
There is a difference between being informed about the serious dangers of Islam and being fearful of it. This is not a call for panic or for obsessive survival prepping to withstand what might be coming. Alternatively, living in denial and sticking our heads in the sand is not an option; the challenge of Islam to the Church calls for a balanced, informed, well-reasoned, and prayerful response—all of which should reflect the hope we have in ChristThe Church must recognize what we are dealing with in Islam, stand firmly in our faith, and set forth the truth of the gospel plainly in order to save ourselves and our hearers (2 Cor 4:2).

None of these facts about Islam or ISIS should strike fear in our hearts. Our God is sovereign and His final judgement is coming. Let us not forget that Jesus has already overcome the world! Let us never lose sight of the fact that as Christians we are children of the promise who believe in GOOD NEWSLet us remember that we are watching and waiting for His triumphant return! If our eternal Savior is our ultimate focus, we will not be overwhelmed by the temperate evil that swirls around us, nor the fleeting trials we may face. Our hope must remain firmly in Christ.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Truth About Joy

Should Christians feel a sense of joy when others are suffering in the world? When there is poverty, sickness, and children dying at the hands of ISIS? When our newsfeeds are a constant reminder of all that is wrong with the world?

Who are we to feel joyful when bad things are happening to others all around us? Is it insensitive and selfish to have joy in our hearts when other Christians are being persecuted?

Yeswe are urged to remember those in prison as if we ourselves are in prison (Heb 13:3), for if one part of the Body hurts, the whole Body is affected (1 Cor 12:26). Yes—we are urged to mourn with those who mourn and weep with those who weep. But let us not forget that we are also encouraged to rejoice with those who rejoice (Rom 12:15)!

Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, not a product of the flesh. It is not merely a mindset or an emotion. The joy we receive from the Spirit, like peace, passes understanding and transcends our earthly circumstances. Such joy doesn't just come when something good happens and go away when something bad happens. It is from a constant, unchanging, and divine source that doesn't depend on the world or conform to its patterns.

Joy can co-mingle with grief, for it isn't merely a happy-go-lucky attitude. We can be perplexed by tragedies, earthly circumstances, suffering, and disappointments. We can have empathy and compassion for others. But when we are hard pressed on every side, we are not crushed. We do not despair when we have joy (2 Cor 4:8). Jesus wept (John 11:35). But even so, He was full of a constant joy through the Holy Spirit (Luke 10:21).

Joy is a gift from God. It cannot be sustained in our own strength; it's not attainable through positive thinking, fleshly pleasures, or meditation, for example, which produce only a cheap and fleeting substitute. Joy is a natural outworking of our faith, which comes from God's grace, not from our works, so no one can boast. When the disciples were rejoicing that they had cast out demons, Jesus affirmed them, but also He exhorted them, "However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:20). If our joy is in our salvation, it will not be increased by our achievements or reduced by our failures.

Joy rejoices in hope. And it sustains our patient endurance of trials. Paul urges us to “rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation.” (Rom 12:12). For joy preserves us while we wait for our blessed hopethe coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13).

Joy glorifies God. Joy revels worshipfully in who God is and what He has done for us. Joy comes from praying to, and praising, God. Joy is most deeply experienced through dying to self and living in Christ for God's glory.

Joy is Christ-centered. Joy looks upward to the Lord, not around us at the world. Joy doesn't come from living in denial (for this is foolishness), but from embracing an eternal perspective. It comes from fixing our eyes on Jesus.

Joy draws others to a faith in Christ. When we rise above earthly trials, rejoice always, and give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thess 5:16-18), this is a powerful testimony to the hope we have in Christ. When we radiate joy as His witnesses, we are shining the light of Christ into a dark world.

Joy is knowing the truth; despair is believing the lie. For joy is found in the blessed assurance of our salvation—it is a foretaste of glory divine! As heirs of salvation, born of His Spirit, washed in His blood, how can we not have joy?