Tag Archives: Bible

Cross Examination (3) – Are Muslims Better Followers of Jesus than Christians?

The first to speak sounds right – until the cross-examination begins. (Proverbs 18:17)

This is the second part of a series examining some of the common claims Muslims make about Christianity. I am using a video I was referred to. This video is by a famous Muslim apologist named Zakaria Naik. He is supposed to be a doctor and an expert on the differences between Christianity and Islam. So far I have found his understanding of Christianity to be sadly lacking. Either he is being deliberately deceptive or he knows far less than he thinks he does.

Let me explain. First off, Naik makes the challenge for someone to quote from the Bible where Jesus makes a claim to be God. He says that if anyone can point to one, he will accept Christianity and leave Islam. I pointed to an abundance of scriptures in CE #1.

Second, Naik says that Christians claim to follow the teachings of Paul not Jesus when they say Jesus died on the cross for our sins. I showed that this is patently false. Time and again Jesus shows that He knew of His coming death and resurrection. Even more, Jesus Himself talked many times of the redemptive necessity of His coming sacrifice. See for yourself in CE #2.

Let us now continue on with the video:

Starting at four minutes in, Zakaria Naik makes his third claim that Christians are not following the teachings of Jesus like Muslims do. He mentions things like eating pork and drinking wine and points to multiple scriptures:

Ephesians 5:18 – Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit
Proverbs 20:1 – Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.
Leviticus 11:7-8 – The pig, though it has a divided hoof, does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you. You must not eat their meat or touch their carcasses; they are unclean for you.
Deuteronomy 14:8 – The pig is also unclean; although it has a divided hoof, it does not chew the cud. You are not to eat their meat or touch their carcasses.
Isaiah 65:2-5 – All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imagination, a people who continually provoke me to my very face, offering sacrifices in gardens and burning incense on altars of brick; who sit among the graves and spend their nights keeping secret vigil; who eat the flesh of pigs, and whose pots hold broth of impure meat; who say, ‘Keep away; don’t come near me, for I am too sacred for you!’ Such people are smoke in my nostrils, a fire that keeps burning all day.
Luke 2:21 – On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived. (Muslims are all circumcised but apparently most Christians aren’t.)

Naik then drops his accusatory bomb at about 4:50. I quote “If Christian means, ‘a person who follows the teachings of Jesus Christ’ (pbuh) I am proud to say, ‘we Muslims are more Christian than the Christians themselves.’ ”

Can somebody please say double standard? Naik just made a claim that Christians are following the teachings of Paul, not the teachings of Jesus. Not one minute further in, he goes and does the exact same thing Himself. Are Leviticus and Deuteronomy, in prohibiting pork quoting Jesus? Is Isaiah? Did Jesus write about alcohol in Proverb 20:1 or was that Solomon? What about Ephesians 5:18? Did Jesus write that or was it… wait for it… PAUL!?! For shame!

To be fair, Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day but that was something His parents did to Him, not His own teachings. Outside of mythology, we do not have any true words from Jesus until He is twelve years old and even that is merely a brief conversation (from which we can learn much)

So, about wine and pork, what did Jesus actually really say? Well, first of all his very first recorded miracle was turning water into wine for a wedding celebration. I am curious, if Jesus forbids it, why on earth would His very first miracle be putting such a great temptation (in abundant quantities) before them?

What about pork? Jesus doesn’t mention the food in particular but He does make a very strong statement about the concept in general:
Mark 7:18-23 – “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.) [Jesus] went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

Here is a fundamental statement Jesus is making that will be reiterated by Paul and other writers later on. What you do is far, far more important than what you eat or drink. Naik’s claim isn’t just false, it demonstrates that he entirely misses the point in focusing on foods rather than on lifestyle.

Now that we have that taken care of, the question still remains, what are the teachings of Jesus and who is following them better? Since I want to at least make an attempt to keep this short I will focus in on Jesus’ most famous sermon rather than going through everything He taught in the 80+ chapters the gospels write about Him. You can find this sermon in Matthew 5-7.

Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit… those who mourn… the meek… the merciful… the peacemakers… those who are persecuted… Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad,because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

The Quran says, “And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is all for Allah. But if they cease, then lo! Allah is Seer of what they do.” (8:39)
“Whoever then acts aggressively against you, inflict injury on him according to the injury he has inflicted on you and be careful (of your duty) to Allah and know that Allah is with those who guard (against evil).” (2:194)

—–

Jesus says, “ For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”

The Quran itself calls the Bible the “Books of God”, a “sign”, “light”, “guidance”, and a “mercy”. It commands us to follow it. (5:71, 7:156-157, etc) However common Muslim doctrine is that the Bible has been corrupted and changed and so it is no longer reliable. In making this claim are not Muslims calling Jesus a liar?

—–

Jesus says, “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.”

There are 36 references to enemy (عَدُوٌّ) in the Quran. Any guess as to how many of those are in reference to loving, forgiving, or praying for them? No. The quran teaches to be on your guard against your enemies, do not slow up in pursuing to the death your enemies, and ultimately kill them all. (4:101-104, 8:12-15, etc)

—–

Jesus says, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.”

Do Muslims pray in private or do they gather together to all pray in one place? Do Muslims pray in their native language or are they commanded to all pray in Arabic?

—–

Jesus says, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.”

If the lifestyle and words of another prophet do not match up with the life and teachings of Jesus, does He not warn us to be on our guard against them?

—–

Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”

I agree with Zakaria Naik that there are many who claim to be Christians who are not actually following the teachings of Jesus. We all, Christians and Muslims and everyone else, fall so far short of our own standards let alone the standards Jesus puts forth. The question is, are we even making an effort to follow Him or are we simply justifying our failures while still performing our outward duties? Whether it is prophesying, driving out demons, and performing miracles, or if it is living up to the five pillars, it is not enough. Whether it is going to a church or attending a mosque, it is not enough. The true test is not in the appearance but in the heart. Like Jesus said back in Mark, it isn’t what is on the outside but what is in the heart that matters. Let us stop with the comparison game and look inward. Am I truly trying to follow after Jesus? Are you?

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Cross Examination (2) – What Did Jesus Say About His Death?

The first to speak sounds right – until the cross-examination begins. (Proverbs 18:17)

This is the second part of a series examining some of the common claims Muslims make about Christianity. I am using a video I was referred to as a starting point and the first claim made in this video between 1:45 and 2:20 is that Jesus himself never made any claims toward divinity. Jesus actually many times made it very clear that He knew and claimed to be God. Feel free to jump back to CE#1 to take an in depth look at these many claims. Once you have done so, lets continue on:

In this video around 3:20-3:30 this Muslim scholar says that Jesus Christ dying for our sins is not something Jesus taught but rather a doctrine of Paul.

I will jump in, in one second, to look at what Jesus Himself said about His death, but before I do, I want to make it clear that the centrality of Jesus’ death and resurrection is not just something Paul made up. In the Quran, there are a few random quotes by or illusions to Jesus. These are the words of a man who never knew Jesus and had a very limited and warped understanding of Christianity writing a good six hundred years after Jesus’ life. From an historical standpoint they are extremely unreliable.

In contrast, the Bible has four different biographies of Jesus. Three of these were written by eyewitnesses (Matthew, Mark, John) and one by an historian who carefully recorded the testimonies of eyewitnesses (Luke). All of these were written within a few decades of the events they describe and for three of them if not all four, there were still plenty of others around who had seen and heard Jesus for themselves and so if their writings were not accurate they would never have survived. They are all incredibly reliable.

The thing that strikes me the most from these four gospels is how much of their writing focuses in on the final days of Jesus life. He had lived more than thirty years and had a public teaching ministry at least three years long but a very significant portion of what all four gospels write is about the death and resurrection of Christ. Clearly these writers (only one that could be said to be heavily influenced by Paul) all made Jesus death and resurrection the focal point of their story. Matthew gives 8 of his 28 chapters to Jesus final week.  Mark gives 6 of 16. Luke, the one who lived and learned from Paul, gave the smallest portion. He only devotes 6 of 24 chapters to this doctrine the Muslim scholar calls Pauline. Finally, John 10 of his 21 chapters to Jesus passion week. With decades of life to select from, all four gospel writers, contemporaries of Jesus, wrote between 25% to almost half of their biographies on the events surrounding Jesus death and resurrection. They obviously felt it was the single most important thing they could say. This was not just some doctrine made up by Paul.

But I have spent more time on that than I planned. It is time to get back to what Jesus said about His death. First of all, there are three times where Jesus clearly and unambiguously predicted His death:

Then Jesus began to tell them that the Son of Man must suffer many terrible things and be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but three days later he would rise from the dead. (Mark 8:31)

He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of his enemies. He will be killed, but three days later he will rise from the dead.” (Mark 9:31)

“Listen,” he said, “we’re going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die and hand him over to the Romans.  They will mock him, spit on him, flog him with a whip, and kill him, but after three days he will rise again.” (Mark 10:33-34, each of these has parallels in Matthew and Luke)

He also refers to it secondhand when speaking on other matters:

Jesus replied, “Go tell that fox that I will keep on casting out demons and healing people today and tomorrow; and the third day I will accomplish my purpose. Yes, today, tomorrow, and the next day I must proceed on my way. For it wouldn’t do for a prophet of God to be killed except in Jerusalem! (Luke 13:32-33)

Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. (Mark 8:34)

He weaves His death and resurrection into some of His parables:

The owner finally sent him, thinking, ‘Surely they will respect my son.’ “But the tenant farmers said to one another, ‘Here comes the heir to this estate. Let’s kill him and get the estate for ourselves!’ So they grabbed him and murdered him and threw his body out of the vineyard. (Mark 12:6-8)

In addition to those found in the first three gospels, there is an abundance of predictive prophesies or prior references  in the gospel of John. Here’s a link that includes all that I found…
John 2:19-22, 3:14,  7:6-8, 7:33-34, 8:20-21, 8:28, 10:11, 10:15, 12:5-7, 12:23, 12:32-34, 13:31-32, 15:24-25, 16:16-17

Clearly, Jesus knew that He was going to die. He knew also that He would rise again. He said, “It is for this reason that I have come.” He also made it clear that He was doing so for others and that it was a good thing. (John 3:14-16, John 15:13 among many others)

He said that His death would bring others life. (John 12:24)

He refers to His death as a coming judgment through which Satan will be dethroned. (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11)

He said His life would be given as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45)

In the upper room, hours before His crucifixion Jesus quotes from Isaiah 53. (Luke 22:37) I am going to quote that at length to demonstrate exactly what Jesus was going to happen and why:

He was despised and rejected – a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all. He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. Unjustly condemned, he was led away. No one cared that he died without descendants, that his life was cut short in midstream. But he was struck down for the rebellion of my people. He had done no wrong and had never deceived anyone. But he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave. But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands. When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins. I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier, because he exposed himself to death. He was counted among the rebels. He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels.

It was this portion of scripture that Jesus was quoting right before His imprisonment, trial, and execution. It is abundantly clear that throughout Jesus’ life and ministry He knew that He would ultimately die as a sacrifice for our sins. Anyone who is willing to look at even a cursory glance through the most reliable accounts of Jesus life would see this is crystal clear.

The question is not: Did Jesus believe His death would be a ransom for our sins?

The real question is: Do you believe Jesus death can be a ransom for your sins?

Cross Examination (1) – Did Jesus claim to be God?

The first to speak in court sounds right until the cross-examination begins. (Proverbs 18:17)

Every now and then I am referred to videos like the one shown below. These are videos where Christians (or Muslim plants pretending to be Christian) ask a simple question and then a Muslim Scholar will get an extended time to show that “Christian” why they are completely wrong. For argument’s sake I am going to put aside all my reasonable skepticism at the claim and assume that “Dr Matthew” who “works” at Creation.com (formerly Answers in Genesis) really is who he claims. Let’s watch:

Dr Matthew says: “Being an American doctor, I came here because I am very much interested in peace and as you mentioned, peace is both internal and external. Now personally, when I and millions of other people have found how to be convicted of our sin and having repenting of it that… and having accepting and believed that Jesus Christ the sinless man paid the full price for my sins, He took my shame and guilt on the cross and died for me. Because of it I have peace and that peace is something that passes understanding. I want to know, would you like to take away that peace which I have, which is a peace that passes understanding? Can you answer that? Thank you.”

The speaker then makes a challenge for Doctor Matthew to point out a single unambiguous verse where Jesus claims he is God.

OK. John 8:58 “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was, I AM.”

Here Jesus uses the very same name for Himself (I AM) that God gave to Moses when Moses at the burning bush asked God what his name was.  The Jews, as soon as they heard this immediately picked up stones to kill him for blasphemy. They unambiguously knew exactly what he was saying.

Two chapters later, they tried to kill him again when Jesus said unambiguously, “The Father and I are one.” (John 10:30)  Others might try to rationalize and explain this away but the Jews at that time wanted to kill him because they said, “You, a mere man, claim to be God.”

There are also the seven I AM statements in John where Jesus takes on divine prerogatives and which are in essence Jesus saying, “I am God, and this is what God is like”
I am the Bread of Life (John 6:35)
I am the Light of the World (John 8:12)
I am the Door (John 10:9)
I am the Good Shepherd (John 10:11) note also Psalm 23:1 – YHWH is my Shepherd…
I am the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25-26)
I am the Way, Truth, and Life (John 14:6)
I am the Vine (John 15:1)

And then of course, when Jesus was on trial right before His crucifixion the High Priest says, “Tell us plainly. Are you the Messiah, the Son of God?”

Jesus replied, “You have said it. And in the future you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand[i] and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matthew 26:64)

This here was a very clear, unambiguous reference to Daniel:
As my vision continued that night, I saw someone like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient One and was led into his presence. He was given authority, honor, and sovereignty over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race and nation and language would obey him. His rule is eternal—it will never end. His kingdom will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14) 

The High Priest and all his cronies knew this scripture and ended the trial immediately. They knew that Jesus had just claimed all authority and power and that He claimed they had a responsibility to worship Him. Since this was something they were not willing to do, they crucified Him instead.

But that is not the end of the story. Three days later Jesus rose from the grave. He had appeared to some of the disciples but not yet to Thomas who had his doubts. When Thomas finally sees him, Thomas cried out, “My Lord and my God.” Jesus does not rebuke him for this but rather blesses those who would believe without having to see.

Thomas is not the only disciple who lived and ate and learned from Jesus for years to call Jesus God. John does it (John 1:1-2,14) Peter did it while Jesus was alive (Luke 9:20) and after the resurrection (2 Peter 1:1). Of course Paul calls him God many times (Romans 9:5, Titus 2:13-15, etc) The author of Hebrews quotes God the Father as calling Jesus God (Hebrews 1:8)

Lets wrap this up with one more quote from Jesus Himself. In case there remains any doubt, Jesus Himself said, “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”

So to sum this up:
Did God the Father believe Jesus was God? Yes.
Did Jesus the Son believe He was God? Yes.
Did the apostles believe He was God? Yes.
Did the early church followers believe He was God? Yes.
Do I believe He is God? Yes.
Do you?

Finish The Task

One of the most important lessons I ever learned happened when I was about six years old. I had been given the task of sweeping the floor and, since it was my bedroom, the floor was incredibly dirty. My dad checked in on me and I bragged to him, “Look at how much I got!” He took the broom and said, “Let me show you something.” Then my father started sweeping up the area I thought I had already done. It was amazing how much more dirt he was able sweep up from my already “clean” floor. He then gave me the wisest piece of advice my little mind could handle, and it is still great advice for all of us today. He said, “Don’t focus on everything you swept up. Instead look at what still remains to be done.”

In our lives today, that same advice still rings true. If you are anything like me, it is much easier to start something than it is to finish it. I know for many the summer is a time of transition. Some people are graduating, others moving, and a good many others in one form or another are starting a new chapter in their lives. In my church a lot of students will be returning to their homes after spending a year studying abroad. In fact, recently on a Wednesday night a group of us were sitting together when someone asked who was in a period of transition in their lives. Virtually all of the seventeen people in the room raised their hands. Many people are, but there will be some reading this who are halfway, or a third of the way through whatever their current chapter in life might be. Either way, the encouragement is the same. Whatever you find yourself doing, work hard at it while keeping the end goal in sight. Then don’t quit until it is finished.

Today I am writing about three negative examples of people or groups who started well but did not finish their tasks. The first of these was a man who quit his home but did not come into the Promised Land. The second was a nation who came into their land but did not conquer it. The third was a man who conquered the enemy but did not complete his assignment. By avoiding their mistakes we can learn to live in the victory that comes with finishing well the task God has given to us.

The first of these is a man named Terah. I know most of you are thinking, “Who is that?” Most people have never heard of him or, if they have, it is only because he is the father of Abraham. What most don’t realize was that it was originally Terah who set out to go to the Promised Land. One of the things Abraham is often praised for was actually a task his dad started, but we never hear about the father because he never arrived at his destination. In one of the only times Terah is mentioned in the Bible we read…

Genesis 11:31
Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter in law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there. Terah lived 205 years, and he died in Haran.

Terah set out from Ur to go to Canaan… but when he came to Haran, he settled there. He settled. Terah quit his home but he did not come into his destiny.

What does arriving look like? In the dreams and visions that God has given you, what will it look like when you say, “I have arrived.” Do you even have any? If you don’t know where you are going, how can you know when you will get there? If you don’t have a sure destination in mind, how do you even know if you are headed in the right direction in your life? If you don’t have one, please stop reading this and get on your knees and correct that sin first. Everything I am writing assumes that those reading do have at least some idea or vision for their future.

Anyways, back to the matter at hand… I have never run a marathon. I never will. Growing up I did enjoy running and I have done my fair share of five and ten k races. Those are distances I cannot achieve today and have no intention of ever being able to again even though they might be far shorter than the 42 kilometers of torture I would have to put myself through to run a marathon. As I have grown and matured I have realized that running is a sport for people who have no patience. For those who do have that fruit of the Spirit, we have realized that there is no need to run when walking is perfectly fine.

With all of that said, I do have a friend who decided on a whim that he would run a marathon. He was a really good runner but he wasn’t ready or trained for that distance. Not even close. About 23 kilometers into the race, just over halfway, he was done. Now don’t get me wrong, 23k is good. That is really good especially for someone who was not ready. But he didn’t finish the marathon. He can brag as much as he wants about how far he came, but he didn’t finish the task.

ur haran canaanIn the time of Abraham and Terah, the average person did not travel more than fifty kilometers from the place of their birth. When he looked around at what everyone else was doing, Terah could have been very proud. When he looked at how far he had come and everything he had accomplished he could have said, “This is good enough. I have done so much better than everyone else I know.” The truth is he settled. My friend passed the fourteen mile marker in his race and said, “Good enough.” he settled. When sweeping up my floor I was proud of everything I got so I settled.

Terah’s son didn’t settle. He kept going when his dad stopped. Today nobody knows dad’s name, but his son Abraham? Almost four billion people today view him as their spiritual father. As we begin a new chapter or continue in the one God has called us to, let us not stop short of the finish line. Let us keep that goal in focus and not stop running until we have arrived.

—–

Terah quit his home but did not com to Canaan. The Israelites made a different mistake. They came into the Promised Land but once there, they didn’t conquer it. In the beginning of Judges we read:

 

Judges 1:19
The Lord was with the people of Judah, and they took possession of the hill country. But they failed to drive out the people living in the plains who had iron chariots.

Moses had led the entire nation of Israel out of Egypt. In one day two million people packed their bags and skipped town with their Egyptian neighbors begging them to hurry up and go. They passed through the Red Sea and then God sustained them in a desert with one miracle after another. Moses and Aaron died but they passed the baton on to Joshua. He led the people through the Jordan River just like they had crossed the Red Sea. Then they marched around Jericho and the walls fell with a shout. For the next few years, Joshua led them on a whirlwind campaign toppling every powerful king in the area. But then he passes from the scene. They have made it to the land and they are safe there, but the battles have not all been fought. The war was not over. There was still more conquering to be done, but the Israelites were not willing to put in the effort or the sacrifice necessary to fight that battle.

This verse above is the beginning of a series of failures listed in the first chapter of Judges. Judah failed to drive them out. Ephraim failed to drive them out. benjamin failed to drive them out. One by one each tribe is listed in their failure to conquer the land. What does that look for us today? Even if we are faithful to be where God has called us to be and even if we are doing what God has called us to do, are we living in victory?

Back in college I became president of a group that was heading in the wrong direction. The first couple months of my senior year, it seemed like things were continuing to go downhill fast. I remember talking with the group’s faculty advisor about whether this would be the last year Delta Chi existed. I told him, “God has called me to be faithful, not necessarily successful.” He gave me a “Don’t be stupid” look and asked, “Has He called you to preside over a funeral?” It took a lot more time and effort than I initially wanted to spend. My grades suffered that year. My commitments in other areas had to be pulled back. Even still I was not nearly as victorious as I wanted to be, but the group was stronger when I left than when I came. More important, there were leaders in place who would make it even better after I was gone from the scene.

It was much easier for Israel to rest on their past accomplishments than to pick back up their sword. It was easier to say, “I have arrived” than to fight through to victory. Conquering the land is hard work. It will almost always take more from us than we are willing to invest. Even then, the outcome is in God’s hands not our own. But one thing is certain, if we are not willing to fight then mediocrity is the best we can ever hope for.

—–

Terah quit his home but did not come into the land. The Israelites came into the land but they did not conquer it. Their first king made the third common mistake of those who will not finish the task. Saul conquered but he did not complete his task. Through the prophet Samuel, God told Saul to go in and conquer the Amalekites. He and his army were to destroy everything and keep nothing for themselves. They did go out and conquer, but then we read this:

1 Samuel 15:13-15
When Samuel finally found him, Saul greeted him cheerfully. “May the Lord bless you,” he said. “I have carried out the Lord’s command!”
“Then what is all the bleating of sheep and goats and the lowing of cattle I hear?” Samuel demanded.
“It’s true that the army spared the best of the sheep, goats, and cattle,” Saul admitted, “But they are going to sacrifice them to the Lord your God. We destroyed everything else.”

 

 

At the beginning I talked about the wise advice my dad gave me. He told me not to focus on all that I had accomplished but instead on what remains to be done. I’m now going to share what was always his favorite quote. “The miracle isn’t complete until the change takes place.” Coming into the land and conquering it… Those are external things. In whatever this next phase of life you are about to go through, the greatest miracle God does will not be external. The greatest miracle will not be all that you will accomplish. That might be what the world looks at but what God does in you has the potential to be a far greater miracle than what He does through you.

Thirteen years back I was a youth pastor at a church on Long Island, NY. By any measure I was doing well. The group was growing. They had record breaking giving to Speed the Light. Kids were getting saved. Inside I was a failure. I was messing with sin I had no business messing with and ultimately it caught up with me. Like Saul I thought I was really, truly conquering the land. The definition of integrity is “the state of being whole and undivided.” At that point in my life I had none. Neither did Saul and eventually it caught up with him.

After a later battle that cost Saul his life, a man came to David with this report:

2 Samuel 1:11
“So I killed him,” the Amalekite told David, “for I knew that he couldn’t live. Then I took his crown and armband, and I have brought them here to you, my lord.”

Who was it that Saul was supposed to completely destroy? Who was it who ended up killing Saul? The sin that we are unwilling to kill, will kill us.

 

 

No matter what the task ahead of us is, the greatest and most important thing God has called us to is a passionate pursuit of Him. No matter what else we do, no matter where else we go, this is our greatest task. So as you step forward into whatever this next phase of life might hold remember to always keep that finish line in sight. Don’t stop running until you have arrived. Don’t stop fighting until you have conquered. And most importantly, don’t forget that what God completes in you is far, far more important than what He does through you.

Greater

great (1)

Today is election day here in Turkey. Strike that. It’s actually re-election day since a few months back should have been election day. Problem is, the powers that be didn’t much like the outcome of that first election. They proved too intransigent to allow for a smooth transition of power and a new coalition government since they wouldn’t be in control. So now Turkey gets to try again. Needless to say, things are a wee bit tense around here. There isn’t so much fear that another bombing like what happened in Ankara a couple weekends back as there is surprise that more hasn’t already occurred.

With all that tension and all that is riding on these elections, I have heard friends, both Muslim and Christian say things along the lines of “This could be the most important day in the history of Turkey.” While I understand that today is extremely important, it would have to be quite huge to top such days as October 29, 1923, when the Republic was founded, May 29, 1453, when the Turks took Constantinople from the Byzantine Empire, the day Constantine decided to move the capital of Rome eastward to Byzantium, or the day Paul landed near Antalya to begin his first missionary journey. Though I may be wrong, I personally believe things like the burning of Smyrna (the lowpoint of the Armenian Genocide) was and more recently Gezi Park two years back will probably considered a bigger day than today.

Why would I think that? Because elections usually are far less influential than we give them credit for being. It wasn’t an election that brought Hitler to power, it was a movement. Elections played a part but they were a product of what was happening, not the cause. In the same way, these elections seem to me to be more of a product of what is happening already in Turkey and, perhaps, a catalyst for what is to come.

For those reading this back in America, you also have elections coming right around the corner as well. Granted, the elections this Tuesday are barely a blip on the radar and already the focus is on those coming a year from now as candidates line themselves up more than a year in advance, wasting time and resources, to try and sit on America’s throne. There are greater things to focus on.

I have often said and thought things along the lines of “All politicians are the same. Voting democrat or Republican (AKP, CHP, or HDP) is a choice between tweedledee or tweedledum.” In a sense, this is a reflection of my view that politicians are more often a product of the flows of history than the causes. On the flip side, I take strong umbridge when others use similar arguments in the religious sphere. I have Muslim friends who, I think they are trying to be nice, will say things along the lines of “We have Muhammad, the Jews have Moses, you have Jesus. They are all great prophets who should be respected and followed.” I have heard similar statements from Buddhists and Hindi who would add the Buddha to the list.

For the sake of argument, lets just say that Muhammed was a prophet. I don’t believe it but for the moment, I will concede the point. Lets say that Muhammed and Buddha were great prophets who truly changed the course of history as did Moses and Abraham. The thing is, Jesus isn’t just different in impact, he is different in kind. Even if we were to say that Muhammed and Buddha, like Abraham and Moses and David were faithful servants in God’s house, Jesus is greater. He is the Son over God’s house.

Lets just say that those who are elected here in Turkey, or there in America, or wherever you happen to be reading this from, are God’s faithful servants. That is what we should be hoping and praying and voting towards. But no matter how good and godly they might be, Jesus, as God, is greater. His impact and influence is greater. He isn’t just a product riding the currents of history. He is its cause and destination.

The Ride Down

We were traveling through Isparta right about the time the sun woke up the sky and me with it. Roughly two thirds of the bus occupants were still asleep but within minutes of my waking up the bus steward was offering me a pogaca (a breakfast biscuit). This was the first time I have  had the opportunity to ride a bus long distance and the experience is much closer to an American flight than an American bus ride. Like an airline steward, there is a man who would get blankets and pillows, assist with luggage, and pass out snacks and drinks at scheduled intervals. Unlike most airline stewards, he seemed to genuinely have fun doing his job. He carried on a running conversation with some men further to the front for hours, he laughed and played with babies and young kids, and when a boy of about ten got too curious, the steward co-opted him into helping pass out the snacks. That boy was in his glory.

As the bus continued its southward journey, I realized that I would soon be walking in the opposite direction through these same mountains. What I was viewing struck me as a bit like the badlands of Arizona. It was also rocky and dry but there did seem to be a bit more vegetation than I remember from my one visit to the southwest and the Westerns I’ve seen plenty enough on TV. None of the trees I was viewing looked to be much taller than I am and those small trees are vastly outnumbered by the bushes.

As I was passing by one of the many cliff faces giving evidence that this road cuts through the mountains rather than up and down or around them, I wondered if I was cheating. When Paul and team made this same trek was there a Roman road working its way through the Taurus Mountains? There was certainly a path from Pergia to Antioch of Pisidia but how well traveled was it? I have daily stops planned at towns roughly 15 miles apart. Was there any human habitation to speak of after Pergia until the lakes region?

Any guilt I might have been feeling was quickly squashed remembering that Paul was almost certainly using a four legged transport vehicle while I would be walking. Even if he did make that journey on his own two feet, they certainly had a donkey or a mule carrying the team’s traveling gear. I would be hefting 32 kilograms of food, water, and supplies on my own two shoulders.

The rising sun did not let my neighbor, Mustafa, sleep much longer than I did and soon all thoughts of my impending journey were set aside as we struggled past language barriers to get to know each other better.