Prayer for the Persecutors

February 20, 2015

The image is arresting. Men in orange jumpsuits kneeling on a beach in front of their captors. The captors are dressed in black and have swords. The headline reads: “21 Coptic Christians Beheaded by ISIS.”

As a Christian living in the United States at the beginning of the 21st century, I’ve read about persecution in history. Now I’ve witnessed it in the 24 hour news cycle.1 Whatever prejudices we may have encountered as Christians in our country seem ever so slight in comparison.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives a blessing to those who are persecuted (Matthew 5:11-12). Jesus says that such people should rejoice because their reward in heaven is great. Later in the same sermon, he instructs: “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:44–45, ESV).

What would that look like? Beshir, the brother of two men who were beheaded on that beach, was interviewed on television. His comments are thought provoking.

ISIS gave us more than they asked when they didn’t edit out the part where [the martyrs] declared their faith and called Jesus Christ. ISIS helped us strengthen our faith. . . . I thank ISIS because they didn’t cut the audio when they screamed, declaring their faith.”

Believe me when I tell you that the people here are happy and congratulating one another. They are not in a state of grief but congratulating one another for having so many from our village die as martyrs. We are proud of them!

Beshir was asked about the airstrikes against ISIS.

Since the Roman times, we as Christians have been targeted to be martyred. This only helps us to endure such crisis because the Bible tells us to love our enemies and bless those who curse us. However, the air strikes were a good response by the government.

Today I was having a chat with my mother …. I asked her, “What would you do if you see ISIS members walking down the street, and I told you that was the man who slayed your son?” She said, “I will ask for God to open his eyes and ask him into our house because he helped us enter the kingdom of God!”

On air, Beshir prayed this prayer: “Dear God, please open their eyes to be saved and to quit their ignorance and the wrong teachings they were taught.”2

1This is certainly not the first case of persecution in the news. For more information about persecution, see http://www.persecution.org.

2Anika Smith, “Brother of Egyptian Martyrs Prays for ISIS,”
https://stream.org/brother-egyptian-martyrs-prays-isis/


Truth and Credibility

February 13, 2015

Bryan Williams, the anchor for NBC Nightly News, has been placed on a six month suspension without pay. The problem is that he has told a story about his reporting during the Iraq war where the helicopter he was on came under RPG and AK47 fire. Military witnesses claim that was true of another helicopter that day, but not the one Williams was on. The story raises questions about his credibility.

Williams has received some severe criticism in the media. This incident has raised questions about other reports he has made. Questions are being raised about some of his first person reporting during Katrina, and did he really rescue puppies from a fire?

What I find intriguing about the media is that they are the same ones who have given us reports through the years that suggest lying is normal. “Everyone lies,” they report. One expert said, “Lying has long been a part of everyday life. We couldn’t get through the day without being deceptive.” In the course of a week, people deceive 30% of the face to face contacts they have. Society, we have been told, often rewards and encourages lying. Lying is presented as a social lubricant that prevents us from hurting people’s feelings. One article ended with the reflection that “perhaps our social lives would collapse under the weight of relentless honesty.”1

This kind of theme has been in news reports off and on for the past twenty years. Humanity may have trouble telling the truth, but I’ve never bought the premise that it isn’t a big deal. In my mind the wisdom of scripture confronts us. Lying is an abomination to the Lord (Proverbs 6:17). “Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment” (Proverbs 12:19, ESV). “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:9–10 ESV). Being honest matters; lying has consequences.

So which is it for the media? Is lying a serious matter than undermines credibility or is lying something everybody does and is really no big deal. History would seem to suggest that it depends on the slant of a particular news story.

In life, however, I’ve known some habitual liars. My approach around such a person is to be extremely guarded. You can’t trust them. You can easily be hurt by them. In the real world, there seems to be a connection between telling the truth and credibility.

1https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/199704/the-truth-about-lying


What Is Biblical Meditation?

February 9, 2015

In popular culture meditation is a relaxation technique. You usually close your eyes and attempt to slow down your breathing and breathe more deeply. Then you may imagine the parts of your body relaxing one by one starting with your feet and going up to your head. Such methods do help a person to relax, although I would provide two cautions. Our minds are not meant to be empty for long. The old adage — idle hands are the devil’s workshop — is applicable to our thoughts as well. Further, relaxation doesn’t dispense with our need to pray and so “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7, ESV).This relaxation technique may at times be helpful, but it is not biblical meditation.

Biblical meditation is a reflection or contemplation on something and not an emptying of our minds of thoughts. The noun or verb occurs 30 times in the New King James Version. Other translations may have fewer occurrences but may use synonyms like muse, ponder, and think.

The righteous meditate on the law day and night (Psalm 1:2). Psalm 4:4 instructs: “Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still” (Psalms 4:4, NKJV). Although the psalm is not explicit, it would seem that we are to ponder our relationships and how we will handle them in the light of God’s will. Meditation may be on God’s character (Psalm 63:6) or his dealings with his people. Paul instructs us to meditate on things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, or are of good report (Philippians 4:8).

Meditation in Eastern religions has to do with their world-views. In Hinduism, the world is an illusion. Buddhism views desire as the problem to be extinguished. The following chart provides a helpful comparison.

Biblical Meditation Eastern Meditation
The goal is to fill the mind with good things. The goal is to empty the mind.
The goal is personal responsibility before God. The goal is the loss of the individual self (which is viewed as an illusion in Hinduism) or the loss of desire (Buddhism).
The goal is to draw near to the personal God. The goal is merging with impersonal cosmic oneness (Hinduism) or the extinction of desire (reach Nirvana in Buddhism).
The goal is withdrawal for reflection so that we might act properly in life. The goal is detachment from life.

Biblical meditation is closely related to prayer and scripture reading. It is the filling of our minds with thoughts on God and his will for us.


Willing to Do God’s Will

January 31, 2015

I could describe my life as one of faith seeking answers. I was blessed with a believing mother and grandparents. I was able to lead with faith. But I relate to the father of the demon possessed boy who was challenged by Jesus with these words: “If you can! All things are possible for one who believes” (Mark 9:23, ESV). The father gives a wonderful reply, “I believe; help my unbelief.”

Faith is like that. It is difficult for humans to have faith completely unmixed with doubt. We are given the encouragement that even faith as small as a mustard seed can do great things. Faith can grow!

Jesus says, “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority” (John 7:17, ESV). Willingness to do God’s will is necessary. This kind of willingness can be instructed. It too can grow.

Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli provide an interesting analysis about psychological motives for unbelief in a footnote near the end of their Handbook of Christian Apologetics.

    The most powerful psychological motive for unbelief, as distinct from the most effective argument to undermine belief, is a different matter. The answer to that question is almost always moral rather than intellectual. That answer is addiction to sin and selfishness, usually in one or more of the following areas:
  1. Addiction to power in this world. How often have you heard about the value of detachment or otherworldliness lately? Yet all the saints extol this as indispensable.
  2. Addiction to lust, our society’s favorite pastime. A sex addict is hardly more capable of objectivity than a cocaine addict.
  3. Addiction to greed, the sin Christ spoke against the most frequently, and the one our consumerist society relies on for its very survival.
  4. Addiction to worldliness, that is, acceptance and popularity, not being distinctive, like the prophets or the martyrs.
  5. Addiction to freedom, defined as “doing your own thing,” “accepting yourself as you are,” “self-assertiveness,” “looking out for Number One”—in short, acting like a self-centered child and calling it the psychology of maturity.1

Unbelief is not just about intellectual problems. Moral issues can get in the way of coming to faith. My own observations in life would confirm Kreeft and Tacelli’s observations. Faith requires someone willing to do God’s will.

1Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers to Crucial Questions (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 202–203.


The One Who Came from Heaven

January 28, 2015

In 2004 at the age of six Alex Malarkey was in a horrible car accident. The accident left him paralyzed, and he was in a coma for two months with questions about whether he would survive. But when he awoke from his coma, he talked about having been to heaven. This became the basis for the book, The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven. The book lists Alex and his father as co-authors, although I suspect that six year olds don’t really author books. The book became a New York Times Bestseller.

But the bestseller has become a recent scandal. Alex, now a teenager, has recanted the story. In fact, he has attempted for the past two years to get the publisher and booksellers to listen to him. This is what he wrote to the publisher, booksellers, and what he calls “the Marketers of Heaven Tourism.”

I did not die. I did not go to Heaven.

I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth.1

The scandal has more to do with when did the publisher and booksellers know. Emails would seem to indicate that in the case of one bookseller, they knew and did nothing. They have subsequently agreed to pull the book, and the publisher has agreed to stop selling the book (although the book had a reprint in 2014 and is still on Amazon.com). I feel badly for Alex. He was a child and is still a minor.

But why bring up a scandal? Partly because it is in the news. Partly because stumbling blocks to faith exist, and we need to be prepared for them. Christian scandals are not new; they go back all the way to Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). We need to be reminded that our faith must be in Christ. People can disappoint.

I appreciate Alex’s statement: “They should read the Bible, which is enough.” I believe in heaven because of Jesus. He is the one with Old Testament prophecies pointing to him. The New Testament teaches that he had an existence prior to conception, that he came to us from heaven (John 1:1-14, John 3:13, Philippians 2:5-11). He is the one with witnesses to his resurrection and ascension, who were transformed and persecuted. I can have confidence about heaven, because Jesus is truly the one who came from heaven.

1“The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven” Recants Story, Rebukes Christian Retailers


The Gift

December 17, 2014

It is one of our funny, family Christmas stories. By funny, I mean awkward, painful, and only slightly humorous at the time. It has become funnier with time and retelling.

My wife and I purchased a Christmas gift for one of our nephews. The gift was a hardback copy of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, one of the books in The Narnia Chronicles. This C.S. Lewis children’s story is a favorite in our family. I had read it in college and had wished it had been read to me as a child (and yes, the books are old enough that it could have happened). Before our son was born, we had purchased a set of The Narnia Chronicles, so they were his first, earthly possession. I say this to indicate from our point of view, this was a precious gift.

Our nephew opened our gift and immediately his face fell with disappointment. He threw the book on the floor and stormed off nearly in tears. The adults experienced the laughter of awkward moments. As I said, it’s become funnier with the retelling.

To be fair, he later read the book and enjoyed it, and maybe he wasn’t old enough at the time we gave it. But I suspect that many of us have that awkward, painful, and only slightly humorous gift story to tell.

Gift giving involves the transaction between two parties: the giver and the recipient. What is precious to the giver may not be precious to the recipient. If in doubt on this point, please check the gift exchange line the day after Christmas at your nearest, busiest store.

This brings me to the most important gift. God gave his only son. God had no more precious gift to give. The gift was costly beyond measure. The price included the suffering of crucifixion and death. It was costly to be a sin offering for others, and our need for the gift couldn’t be greater.

So how have your responded to this precious gift? Have you headed to the exchange line for what the world can offer in its place? Or have you received with joy and learned how precious is the gift!


The Prophesied Christ

December 6, 2014

Early Christians did not counterfeit the prophesies about Christ. The first century Jewish understanding of the messianic prophecies and the Christian’s claims about those prophecies are not far apart as Arlie J. Hoover notes in his book Dear Agnos: Letters to an Agnostic in Defense of Christianity (pp. 209-210).

The best proof that Christians didn’t invent the messianic argument is that long before Christ the Jews had a body of messianic literature that agrees substantially with what Christians said of Christ. Both Jew and Christian expected that the Messiah would be a descendent of Judah and David, be born at Bethlehem, be filled with God’s Spirit, be a king and priest, rule with justice, bestow peace, have a glorious and enduring kingdom, subject the gentile nations to his law, and so on.

What some of the Jews in their unbelief failed to recognize was the fact that along side the passages that depicted the glory of the Messiah were those darker passages that also depicted his death and resurrection.

The important point to note is that the prophesies were written before the birth of Jesus. We can know that from the Jewish literature of the time, the manuscripts of the Old Testament that date before the first century A.D., and the translation of the Old Testament into Greek which dates from 200 to 100 B.C. We do not have to worry about the criticism that would claim the prophesies were written after Christ to make it look like Jesus had fulfilled them.

That means the messianic prophecies need to be taken seriously as evidence about Jesus. The number of prophecies to consider are numerous. James E. Smith in his What the Bible Teaches about The Promised Messiah treats 73 prophecies. Alfred Edersheim listed 456 passages which were interpreted as Messianic in ancient Jewish literature. J. Barton Payne in his Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy identified 1239 predictions in the OT (6,641 verses) of which 127 (3,348 verses) were personal Messianic predictions.

Josh McDowell in Evidence that Demands a Verdict (p. 167) gives an interesting statement on the odds of Jesus fulfilling the various Old Testament prophecies. McDowell notes that one mathematician calculated the odds of fulfilling eight key prophecies as 1 chance in 100,000,000,000,000,000. The fulfillment of these prophecies by Jesus is evidence of God’s intervention and omniscience. They are an important part of the evidence to authenticate Jesus as God’s promised Messiah.


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