Tag Archives: God

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 (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?

Oh Be Careful Little Mouth What You Say

cakeI have heard the story of a mother whose oldest daughter was in her last year of high school. This daughter’s class had a trip coming up and were holding a bake sale to raise money for it. Because the mother was very competitive she decided she was going to make the biggest and best cake anyone had ever seen. She had ambitious plans for a huge three layered cake and everything was at first going along well. Then, when she tried to put the third layer on, the middle of the cake started sagging.

tpWhat was she to do? There was no time to start over and she couldn’t bring the cake into school as it was. So this mother did what any sensible person would do. She propped up that middle with something that was sturdy and the right size even though that prop was not quite edible. She took this cake into school and after dropping it off, she went to visit her daughter. She gave her daughter some money and told her to make absolutely sure to be the first one after school to get to the bake sale and buy that cake before anyone else does.

A couple hours later this mother got a text message: “Mom. I got there as quick as I could but the cake was already gone. Somebody else bought it before the bake sale even started.” The mother was horrified but what could she do? She could only hope and pray that whoever bought that cake did not notice who had made it.

That evening all the ladies from the church were to get together for a dinner. After the meal the pastor’s wife said, “I have a surprise.” Then she brought out this beautiful, three layered cake. Of course the mother who made it was mortified to see her cake. She was wondering what she could say or do that could somehow prevent what was about to be a horrible situation. Then one of the other ladies said to the pastor’s wife, “That is such a beautiful cake!” The pastor’s wife beamed with pride, “Thank you so much. It took me forever to bake it.”

– – – – –

The title of  my message comes from a song I remember singing way back when I was a little kid. “Oh be careful little mouth what you say. Oh be careful little mouth what you say. For the Father up above is looking down with love. Oh be careful little mouth what you say.” That pastor’s wife is about to learn the truth of this song.

I know I have been gone most of the time but I understand that this summer we have been going through the book of James and we have made our way up to James 4:11 but I would like to back up a little bit and read a few of the verses that came before:

 

And He gives grace generously. As the scriptures say, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you… Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.
James 4:6-7, 10

I wanted to back up here because this is a direct contrast of what we will be looking at today. Today’s scripture talks about gossip but when I was starting to prepare, I realized that the three things we are really saying when we gossip are also true about bragging so I will be talking about them both. In James 4:11-12 we read:

Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you. God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor?
James 4:11-12

 

A couple decades back I was working for my first of many summers as a counselor at a Christian kids camp. Things seemed to be going along fine when suddenly one of my campers got angry and started yelling at everybody about everything. We dealt with the issue but then later one of the older, wiser counselors pulled me aside. He asked me what the camper was really saying? At first I didn’t understand and so he taught me that very often there are words that are spoken beneath the words that we hear. Often what the mouth speaks and the ears here are not the same thing as what the heart is crying out.

Today I want to look at the words beneath the words. All too often we only deal with the words spoken and although that can correct the behavior it does not change the heart. Instead of saying, “don’t brag and don’t gossip” lets look at our motivations for sinning in these ways and what we are really saying when we commit these sins. Lets get to the heart of the issue.

text1The first thing we are saying is the easiest one to spot. We are saying, “I want you to think I am better than you.” Why do we brag? We want the world to think we are like that beautiful cake. We want to lift ourselves up in others eyes. Why do we gossip? We want to expose the toilet paper lurking hidden inside someone else’s cake. By putting them down we will make ourselves look nicer in comparison. Rather than walking in humility and letting God lift us up in His timing, we are trying to do it ourselves. We will use both the bragging cake and the slanderous paper to put ourselves on that pedestal and knock off any threats to our beautiful reputation.

What is going on in our heart that gives us the urge to do this? Do we even know how often we do it? Has it become so commonplace in our hearts that we do not even realize how often we sin in this way? Is it insecurity? Do we fear that this TP is what we are even though God has called us beautiful? Is it idolatry? Are we more concerned with the opinions of others than we are with our standing before God? Is it apathy? DO we think that these sins are not really a big deal?

text2That is at the heart of the second thing we are saying. In addition to saying, “I want you to think I am better than you” when we are bragging or when we gossip we are also saying, “The rules don’t really apply to me.” This is what James is talking about when he writes:

If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you.

How many people think bragging is wrong? How many people think gossiping is wrong? How many people think that God says we should not brag? How many people think that God says we should not gossip? Those of you who aren’t raising your hands, well phooey. Next time play along. This isn’t a debatable issue. I could list out dozens of scriptures condemning both of these sins but here is just a quick sample:

He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets. Therefore do not associate with a gossip.
Proverbs 20:19

Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor, him I will destroy.
No one who has a haughty look and an arrogant heart will endure.
Psalm 101:5

Let another person praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger and not your own lips.
Proverbs 27:2

Like clouds and wind without rain is a man who boasts of his gifts falsely.
Proverbs 25:14

Last week Partos Mark mentioned how we tend to rank sins. We might look at some sins and then think about how horrible they are while others like showing favoritism we tend to think are no big deal. All too often I think I put things like gossip and bragging right down there with playing favorites. I haven’t murdered anyone or robbed any banks so I must be doing good. What we don’t realize is that almost every time Paul lists the sins “evil” people do, he puts both bragging and gossiping right up there with others. One such example is found in Romans:

Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. (Romans 1:28-30)

We can’t think we only have to follow the easy rules. It is easy for me not to murder people. In fact, it has been over a month since I last visited my siblings and so I have gone at least that long without even contemplating it. Murder isn’t a struggle, but gossip? That isn’t so easy so I am just going to say that rule doesn’t apply to me. That way I won’t feel so guilty. No. It doesn’t work like that. When we hold this attitude we come dangerously close to the third thing we are saying when we brag and gossip.

 

 

text3Not only are we saying, “I want you to think that I am better than you” and “The rules don’t really apply to me” but also we are saying, “I am a better judge than God.” At this point, many might be thinking, “Wait a minute, stop. You are making this a much bigger deal than it really is. Nobody really thinks that.” If that is true, why does James write:

God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor?

When we show judgement through either boasting or slandering we are trying to take God’s job for ourselves. One day He will reveal to the world how valued we are so there will be no need to brag. One day he will expose what is in each person’s heart so we have no need of trying to do so now.

When that day comes we will also have to give an accounting of what we have said as well. No matter how small a sin we might think it is, we will then see it for what it really is. Jesus Himself said,

I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.
Matthew 12:36

Now you might be thinking, “OK. You’ve convinced me, gossiping really is a big deal. But how do I quit it? I knew it was wrong, knowing it is worse than I thought doesn’t help me quit doing it.” I’ve got good news. James has already shown us how to do so. Let’s go back and look at verses 6-10:

And He gives us grace generously. As the scriptures say, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” So humble yourself before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.
James 4:6-10

 

First we need to recognize that it is His grace. We cannot do it on our own. We need His help. So we come close to God. When we do so, He also comes close to us and we begin to better understand what it means to be holy. That brings sorrow. There are tears for what we have done. We realize that when we gossip and brag we aren’t just hurting others, we are blaspheming this holy God. But He has provided the way for us to be pure. Through His sacrifice on the cross a means for us to purify our hearts, not just from these sins but from every sin, has been provided. He can make us clean. Once we have accepted this, we need to recognize that our loyalty can no longer be divided. It can’t be God plus anything else. It is God and God alone. It is complete surrender. We are His. Finally, we need to learn to trust His timing. We must trust that when the time is right He will then divide the cake from the paper. Our job is to just humbly follow Him until that day.

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 Story In A Rug

OK, OK. So I haven’t been posting all that much on here even though I have had (limited) internet now for about 5 days. One reason for that is because I was trying to catch up over at that other place I write. Another part of the reason for that is because I am starting to come down to the monotony and drudgery of language and grammar learning. You don’t really want to know too much about that do you?

For any of you that answered yes, I will cure you quick: the Turkish language likes to throw all their adjectives, qualifiers, pronouns, etc on to the back end of their words. For example know is biliyorI Know is biliyorum, you know is biliyorsunuz. Do you know is biliyormusunuz, and so on and so forth. Below is my favorite example that I have come across so far:
Car: araba
Cars: arabalar
Our cars: arabalarımız
In our cars: arabalarımızda
He who is in our cars: arabalarımızdaki
Those who are in our cars: arabalarımızdakiler
From those who are in our cars: arabalarımızdakilerden

Cured yet? Anyways, on the home front, I’ve managed to get electric and water up and running. I bypassed the loopholes around normal internet for now by paying 40 TL per 10g. That means, I can check up on stuff but I won’t be doing any skype, facetime, major downloads, or streaming of any music or movies just yet. My date for my residence Visa is on June 2nd so mark that on your calendars as a day to talk to Dad about. Once I have that in hand getting real internet, gas (no more cold showers!) and maybe even cable will be much easier.

That said, what has really been on my mind to write about was a little bit about what Dad shared with me over the next couple days regarding that trip turned job invitation I had back at the rug store. In my last post I mentioned that I was given a brief history/explanation of the various types of handwoven rugs, but I did not really share much of the detail of what it was he taught.

This isn't one of those two rugs. It is one of my own.
This isn’t one of those two rugs. It is one of my own.

In all there were five different types of rugs we looked at and for two of those types, he demonstrated the story those types tell with the examples he rolled out for me. One of those was a relatively modern (about 80 years old, but looked like new) of an original rug that one family/clan has been creating for roughly nine hundred years.

Around 1100 AD the Byzantine city of Myra fell into the hands of the Seljuk Turks. Up to that point, and still to this day, Myra was most famous for being the home of St Nikolaos. More commonly he is known today as jolly old St Nick or Santa Claus. Even though the legend and man as we know it owes more to commercialism than history, even in the Seljuk’s time the nearly 800 year old legend of the man’s love, kindness and generosity were already huge.

Now at this time the Seljuks were still in the process of becoming a Muslim people so many of these Turks still held to their Shaman beliefs and I am sure more than a few were proselytes to both Judaism and Christianity. Either way, inspired by the story she learned of St Nikolaos, a Seljuk woman from Myra spent eight to ten months, six to eight hours a day, six days a week, crafting a single rug. In that rug she took symbols of all four beliefs and interweaved them with symbols for love and unity. She spent a good portion of her year creating the original request, “Can’t we all just get along?” Beyond that, her message touched enough people that her descendents have been creating rugs of that same design from that day to this. She has left a legacy that endures long beyond her lifetime.

The other story rug I was shown was an older rug (about 140 years, again it was in amazing condition) but carried a newer message. Before going into the message itself, I would want to preface that the creator’s culture – Islam a hundred forty years ago – was a much more formal, male dominated, and conservative culture than what we east or west have today. Children cannot bring up serious topics for discussion. Boys, being more free to speak, would do their best to hint around an issue until a parent caught on and broached it. Girls… they would create a rug. This rug had a message one poor girl a hundred forty years ago cared deeply about but was afraid to discuss with her parents. Along the outside edge of this rug (which, again, would have taken 8-10 months to make) the girl had woven symbols telling her parents, “I have reached my womanhood. I am ready to bear children now and it is time for me to branch out and start a family of my own.” The center of this rug, the heart of the message which also would be hidden when she kneeled on it to present it to her father, was a cross. Along the outside edges of this cross were tulips representing Islam. She, as a Muslim, wanted permission to marry a Christian man. That. Just. Doesn’t. Happen.

Both of these rugs were handcrafted and woven together over a period of nine months. We are like that rug. The King David wrote of God:

For it was You who created my inward parts; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise You because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, and I know this very well.

Long before his time, the patriarch Job said:

You clothed me with skin and flesh, and wove me together with bones and tendons. You gave me life and faithful love, and Your care has guarded my life.

Added to this are the words of the prophet İşaya:

This is the word of the LORD your Maker who formed you from the womb, He will help you. Do not fear… This is what the LORD, your Redeemer who formed you from the womb, says: I am the LORD, who made everything, who stretched out the heavens by Myself, who alone spread out the earth.

Like a rug that takes nine months of love and labor to come into being, so has our God knitted us together from the moment of conception. Those rugs were made to last. Barring catastrophe or abuse, they are expected to last at least eighty to a hundred years. Barring abuse or catastrophe, most of us should at least make it on to the low end of that spectrum.

But most importantly, these rugs were made to tell a story. Their creator wove them together because she had something deep and important in her heart that she just had to share with her world. In the same way we also have been created to tell a story.

God said to the prophet Yeremya:

I chose you before I formed you in the womb. I set you apart before you were born. I appointed you a [messenger] to the nations.

The same is true of each and every one of us. We have… no we are a message of the love of God to the world around us. So let’s go get that story out there.