Emptied, To Love

book-1659717_960_720.jpg“And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge… but have not love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2 ESV)

In the Garden of Eden, the devil tempted Eve with the forbidden fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Upon eating that fruit, the ancient Serpent promised, she would receive special knowledge and become like God. Suddenly Eve, formerly so intent on obeying God, was enticed by the marvellous possibilities laid out before her and forgot that God is the Giver of every good gift. Doubting God’s goodness and the sufficiency of His love for her, she sought the promised new experience- self-fulfilment through knowledge. How deceived she was, as she soon  found out! Eating that fruit brought nakedness, shame, fear, sin, death and separation from God.

“So I decided to discern the benefit of wisdom and knowledge… I concluded that even this endeavour is like trying to chase the wind!” (Ecclesiastes 1:17 NET). Solomon, the wisest of men, likewise, discovered the vanity and emptiness of intellectual pursuits that exclude God. Blessed  with superior intelligence, wealth and leisure beyond the lot of most humans, he learnt through bitter experience that the greatest of human achievements, in the end, fail to bring true satisfaction. For too often, we seek even things that are good and noble for wrong reasons-  envy and rivalry, for example- “I saw that all labour and all skillful work is due to a man’s jealousy of his friend” (Ecclesiastes 4:4 HCSB).

Yet, the scriptures describe wisdom and learning as desirable, rather than inimical for human flourishing. Consider the following scripture verses-

By wisdom the LORD founded the earth; by understanding he created the heavens” (Proverbs 3:9 NLT). “Wisdom is supreme. Get wisdom. Yes, though it costs all your possessions, get understanding” (Proverbs 4:7 NHEB)“Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 KJ2000).

These scriptures acknowledge the creative power of godly wisdom and exhort us to eagerly seek it. Studying and learning the Bible, for example, build spiritual resilience. There is no virtue in ignorance and far too many Christians are led astray by their lack of understanding of scriptures. However, if the quest for knowledge, whether worldly or spiritual, is driven by pride and selfish ambition, the end result will be marred, as Eve learnt. Consider the impact of scientists who use their knowledge and skill to develop ever more destructive bombs. Their achievements- which might bring wealth and success in this life- will neither promote human welfare nor bring them honour before the Judgement Seat of God.

Worse, what happens when believers pursue spiritual gifts- prophetic powers and the knowledge of mysteries- out of a desire for power, worldly acclaim or material gain? Even a superficial knowledge of divine ‘mysteries’ will cause them to grow proud, and pride is a fertile soil for deceptions to take root. Pride caused the fall of Lucifer, and scripture warns us that all who yield to pride will meet the same end unless they repent. “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18 NIV). “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).

Christian leaders who are puffed up by their own understanding will employ their learning in ways that hinder rather than advance the gospel. All of us in church circles have heard of Christian congregations being split up by possibly well meaning, but spiritually immature Christians, who rely on their personal charisma and supposed knowledge to influence others into accepting new and untested ideas. They refuse to submit to their leaders; and lacking in spiritual discernment, they force people to choose sides in needless arguments. The church soon becomes embroiled in pointless disputes as many, especially newer Christians are won over to their side of the debate. Instead of being ‘nurtured by the pure milk’ of the gospel, these believers and those who imitate them grow arrogant, lukewarm, unloving, bitter and quarrelsome; holding to forms of legalistic righteousness devoid of grace and power.

As Paul explained in Romans 14, while Christian morality and core beliefs ought never to be compromised, there are a whole host of situations where believers are free to decide for themselves based on their individual consciences. As I wrote on another blog-

“It is possible for Christians to hold a wide spectrum of opinion on [what are called] ‘indifferent’ matters. Some, for example, might believe the chapel to be sanctified space set apart to honour God in worship, and therefore to be used only for religious activities, while others might say, ‘This is just a room- there is nothing special about it’. One view is not necessarily superior to the other in God’s sight. The important thing for us Christians is not to break the unity of the Spirit over non-essentials. It offends God when we judge someone who thinks differently in these things, because He sees that they mean to honour Him in what they do. We must leave all judgment in such matters to God, for only He can do it perfectly.”

Yet, how many churches have splintered during the course of history over relatively trivial matters that have no bearing on salvation and are of no value as far as spiritual growth is concerned. Silence on ‘disputable’ matters is often the way of wisdom and of love. So Paul advised Romans on the best way to handle such issues- “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification… So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God” (Romans 14:22 NIV). 

Solomon, having carefully investigated the value of wisdom and knowledge towards human well being concluded that, “There is no end to the making of many books, and much study is exhausting to the body. Having heard everything, I have reached this conclusion: Fear God and keep his commandments, because this is the whole duty of man. For God will evaluate every deed, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:12-14 NET).

To avoid the pitfalls of vain knowledge, we should seek love before understanding, and carefully evaluate the potential impact of what we teach on others. Will our arguments, valid though they may be, cause another believer to act rashly or unjustly, or produce disharmony within the body of Christ? Then all such knowledge and arguments are best kept to ourselves. Ayone who is wise in his own eyes distances himself from God, and the knowledge of which he is so proud is partial and deficient, because it is disconnected from God, who is the fount of all wisdom. The final result of such knowledge is feeble and ugly, incapable of achieving any goodZ “Knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know… (1 Corinthians 8:2-3 NIV). 

In order to exercise godly wisdom in our conversation and actions, we must prayerfully empty ourselves of pride and selfish ambition, and pursue love in all we say and do. Let us “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3 NIV). There is a hierarchy of priorities in these matters; in the Bible we are commanded to seek 1. God, 2. His kingdom and righteousness, 3. Peace, 4. Love, and then, 5. Wisdom- in that order.

How does one find wisdom? If anyone lacks wisdom, James instructs, let him ask the Father who gives liberally without finding fault” (James 1:5). The Holy Spirit will reveal to us more of the nature of Christ, who has become for us “wisdom from God” (1 Corinthians 1:30). “The wisdom from above”, which the Father imparts to us, is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (Ephesians 3:17 ESV). Here is the key to wisdom- when we compare the above verses with 1 Corinthians 13, we find that wisdom is remarkably similar to love in all its characteristics- it is indeed love’s identical twin, and where you find one you will find the other. So seek only to grow in love, and wisdom will inevitably follow.

Father, we pray that we will grow in love and wisdom, so that we may be a blessing to others and live lives that are pleasing to You. In Jesus’ name.

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When I was a young teenager, newly converted from atheism, having just met Jesus, I attended a Christian youth camp.

Amongst the many discussions we had, the tears that were shed as we shared our lives, the laughter of new friendships formed, I was taught the importance of taking time out every day to be alone with God in prayer and bible study.

I struck gold!

I had learned an important secret to living the abundant life.

In the decades to follow, the storms of life would rage – incredible financial loss, national tragedy, suffering, cancer, death of parents, illness – alongside the normal tides of college, exams, job interviews, unemployment, problems at work, marriage, parenting…I had found an anchor of hope behind the veil.

I knew, no matter how hard life got – through every crisis, big and small, or not – I could go to Jesus in…

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Love and Noisy Gongs

bell 3“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 13:1)

We all speak in the tongues of men, and some may imagine that they speak in the tongues of angels, exhibiting great pride in their gift of eloquence or powers of persuasion. The power of these gifts must never be underestimated for history has shown that weak or stupid arguments, when presented by someone with great charisma or eloquence can triumph, at least briefly, over a cast iron case or what we consider to be enduring values. Take Hitler, for example. The power of articulation, the ability to find loopholes in laws, to conceal, selectively display or twist true facts, has made lawyers richer than scientists and inventors. Nimbleness of the tongue, therefore, has a higher value in many worldly settings than great intelligence. In God’s kingdom, however, the eloquence of love surpasses the loftiness of speech.

Some of the most influential men in the Bible – and therefore in history – lacked this much coveted skill. Consider Moses with his halting speech and stuttering tongue or Paul who boasted to the Corinthians that he presented the truth to them not with natural eloquence but with the power of the Spirit – “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God… My message and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power…” (1 Corinthians 2:4-6 BSB). So the lack of communication skills is not a barrier for anyone intent on serving God.

Now, a noisy gong or a bell has its purpose; they were designed to make a sufficiently loud noise at the right time, and a noiseless gong is quite useless. The sounding of a church bell heralds the start of the service and the school bell reminds pupils of a new lesson about to begin or the end of a day. Yet, a ceaselessly ringing bell can be quite irritating. Speech is an important part of our Christian witness, and we are taught about the need for grace and wisdom as well as proper restraint in our language. A rash or uncontrolled tongue indicates lack of maturity in a Christian. Indeed, St James goes so far as to say that “If anyone does not stumble in – is never at fault in – what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well” (James 3:2). So, we should all strive to steward our speech wisely in our service for God’s kingdom.

What God intensely desires for His people is for us to reflect His love to one another. For the day will come when human tongues are, in a sense, stilled, but love will endure. In heaven, cleverness or excellence in speech will have little value, and our tongues will no longer be employed to deceive or to control our neighbours or to convince judges or to conceal the true intentions of our heart. The light of heaven will expose all motives, and few explanations or arguments will then be necessary. In eternity, our tongues will be used mainly to praise God, and love one another. On that day, those who walked in love on earth will be greatly rewarded.

In practical terms, this means that Christians ought to learn to speak the language of love now. We must eliminate from our repertoire, words that are negative, unkind, harsh, critical, scornful or sarcastic. It might, on occasion, be loving to point out a wrong, but this must be done in a spirit of love and gentleness. The key is to consciously practise using our tongues as instruments of love, and this, of course, is a work of time. Indeed, all Christian virtues need cultivation – effort, tears and patience. We may fail many, many times, but let us not grow discouraged or weary. So many times we may have used our tongues unwisely or without love; yet if we humble ourselves before God and others, we receive forgiveness and the grace to continue.

The prophet Isaiah was given a special ministry of encouragement. Where other prophets were commanded to pronounce judgment on Judah and Israel, Isaiah was sent with God’s healing balm. In order to quip him to be an effectively minister of God’s comfort to His people, God dealt with Isaiah’s speech and his hearing. He was first made aware of his past failure in the use of his tongue. This revelation filled him with a sense of profound horror, and then as the angel ministered healing, a new urgency to be sent with the message of God’s peace. ‘“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:5-8 NIV).’

Then, the Lord  ‘awakened’ Isaiah’s ears to hear exactly what God would have him say – “The Sovereign LORD has given me a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed” (Isaiah 50:4 NIV). Although he was sent to a people who were resistant to the things of God, he was commanded to speak words of hope and encouragement. “Comfort, O comfort My people,” says your God. “Speak kindly to Jerusalem; And call out to her, that her warfare has ended, That her iniquity has been removed… (Isaiah 40:1-2 NASB). These words have brought hope to generations of believers in their darkest hours.

So the power of words prompted by love and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit is tremendous. As we practise yielding our tongues to the control of the Holy Spirit, as Moses and Paul learnt to do, we will discover the truth of these words –“Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances” (Proverbs 25:11 NASB) and “With patience a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue will break a bone” (Proverbs 25:15 ESV). As we depend on Christ to help us use our lips as instruments of love and grace to build others up, and draw them closer to God, we ourselves will be continually refreshed by the dew of heaven (Proverbs 11:25). 

Father, take our lips, and make them an instrument of Your love. Fill us with Your wisdom. In Jesus’ name.

Praying for One Another

beach-1868772_960_720“Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16 ESV)

We have been exhorted to pray for one another. Before Jesus went to the cross, He prayed for His disciples and for all of us who would subsequently come to know and believe in Him, through their message. This sublime prayer recorded in John 17, has come to be known as the ‘High Priestly Prayer of Jesus’. Even before He prayed – His prayer of anguish – for Himself at Gethsemane, we see Christ our great High Priest, standing before the Father’s throne,  to intercede for all those who belong to Him.

Christ continues to perform the role of our Advocate and High Priest before the Father. His intercession is a source of great strength and security for us. “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate before the Father-Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (1 John 2:1). “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (Hebrews 7:25 NIV). “Who is there to condemn us? For Christ Jesus, who died, and more than that was raised to life, is at the right hand of God and He is interceding for us” (Romans 8:14 BSB). “Therefore, since we have such a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we profess” (Hebrews 4:14).

We, Christ’s own in this world also share in His ministry of intercession. The apostle Peter reminds us that we are a ‘royal priesthood’ (1 Peter 2:9), so like our great High Priest, we ought to stand before the mercy seat of God to plead for our brothers and sisters. What better way to perform this noble task than to imitate Jesus Himself?

In this prayer for His disciples, Jesus first lays down the case for their special claim upon the Father’s care and protection – their deep union and identification with Himself. His words, which He speaks in their defence, are worth noting.  Jesus reminds the Father that ‘they are Yours’; ‘You gave them to Me; they have ‘believed’ Me; they ‘know’ Me; and they ‘know that I came from You’; they ‘accepted Your word’; and they ‘obeyed Your word’. The prayer reveals Christ as our ‘merciful and faithful High Priest’ (Hebrews 2:17), One who is able to ‘sympathise with our weaknesses’ (Hebrews 4:15) and ‘makes peace with God’ for our sins (Hebrews 2:17).

Jesus does not speak a word about the disciples’ past failings or their unchristian behaviour – there is not a single word of criticism or condemnation. How encouraging for us to know that Jesus goes before the Father not to discuss our faults, but to argue our case. To accuse us is the job of our adversary, the ‘accuser of the brethren’; let us be careful never to follow Satan’s example and indulge in fault finding when we pray for our friends; rather let us imitate Christ in pleading for them, and upholding their cause.

Secondly, Jesus reveals how much He has invested in them. Their special role as ones who will represent Him in the world, and their circumstances as people ‘who are in the world, but not of it’ and therefore ‘ hated by the world’ – are laid out as the reasons why they are deserving of the Father’s tender mercy and care. The Father gave them to Him, and He sent them out into the world, where they must remain, separated for a while from their heavenly Bridegroom. On earth, Christ kept His disciples safe, but now in departing, He entrusts them to His Father’s care. The most beautiful words – “For them I sanctify [or consecrate] myself, that they too may be truly sanctified” (John 17:19 NIV) show that no sacrifice was too great for Jesus on behalf of those He loves.

How can the Father turn His face away from a plea so fervent as this? This, indeed, is how Christ continues to plead for us, putting forth such strong arguments in our defence. Finally, He makes specific requests on their behalf, and His priorities are sevenfold; He asks that they might be,

  1. Kept by the power of the Father’s name
  2. United with one another
  3. Filled with the full measure of His joy
  4. Protected from the evil one
  5. Sanctified by His truth
  6. In His presence to see His glory
  7. Continually in the love of God.

These ought to be our priorities too, in praying for the church and for individual believers.

Father, we bring before You, our brothers and sisters,

  1. They were Yours.
  2. You gave them to Jesus,
  3. They have obeyed Your word.
  4. They know that everything that Jesus has comes from You, our Father.
  5. They have accepted the words You gave Jesus.
  6. They know in truth that Jesus came from You, the Father.
  7. They have believed that You sent Jesus.

We pray for them because-

  1. Jesus sanctified Himself on their behalf 
  2. He gave them Your glory and He is glorified in them.
  3. While He was on the earth Jesus guarded His own, and none were lost.
  4. Jesus is no longer in the world for He has come to You.
  5. Jesus has sent them out into the world
  6. They are in the world and yet, they are not of this world.
  7. The world hates them, for Jesus gave them Your word.

Father, we ask You 

  1. To keep and protect them by the power of Your name, the name You gave Jesus.
  2. That they may they be perfectly one, as You and Jesus are one, so the world may know that You sent Jesus.
  3. That they may have the joy of Jesus fulfilled in them.
  4. To keep them from the evil one, not that You take them out of the world.
  5. To sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.
  6. That they may be with Jesus where He is, and see His glory.
  7. That they may continue in Your love.

We humbly ask these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Your Son.

Only Love

baby-feet-1527456_960_720.jpg“Now eagerly desire the greater gifts. And yet I will show you the most excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 12:31-13:1 NIV).

Once I knew a man named Philip, who lived the most extraordinary Christian life. He was one of the most Christ-like persons I have ever known. His endeavours for the gospel stretched across continents, but it was his humility and love that set him – and his wife Muriel – apart from others. He preached the gospel with so much power and wisdom that many who were privileged to know him would remark how like the apostle Paul he was. He had endured suffering and rejection, but love lifted him above all those things. I asked him what his secret was, and this is what he had to say: “I asked the Lord to shape my heart according to 1 Corinthians 13”. It is in this chapter that Paul shows us the most excellent way.

The greatest gift of God is His love. Few religious scriptures dwell on the love of God in the way the Christian scriptures, and particularly the books of the NT, do. Here, the all-consuming love of God is revealed to us in great detail from the first to last. Jesus, the divine staircase that links us with heaven, was sent down to our sinful planet to demonstrate the infinite depths of His Father’s love for us.

The whole object of our existence is to know God, worship and serve God; yet until we begin to perceive something of His love, we cannot know or understand Him, and what we worship or serve is a caricature of God, an idol set up in our own minds. For God is love. Just as the nature of God is beyond human comprehension, our finite minds will never fully grasp His love. The old hymn captures perfectly this vast chasm in our understanding of God’s love – “The love of God is greater far, than tongue or pen can ever tell…”

All around us, we see glimpses of God’s love reflected in human relationships – but these only weakly reflect divine love. Even the love of a mother for her baby is feeble compared to God’s love. Since we cannot know the depths of His love, it must seem impossible to obey God’s command to walk in it; yet God intends for us to receive as much as we need of His love on this earth, to enrich and empower every area of our lives. As we receive God’s love by faith, and willingly impart it to others, our understanding as well as our capacity to receive His overflowing love within our hearts, and to move in it, will increase. As we begin to taste God’s love, received by faith, and share it with other souls, we begin to understand Him better.

So faith is the funnel, which delivers love into our souls. We are taught that without faith it is impossible to please God, and also that love surpasses faith. The apostle Paul makes it clear that “the greatest is love”, and without love, even faith that can move mountains is meaningless, for it would have failed in its very purpose. The true work of faith is to reveal and impart love, and all the exploits of faith, if devoid of love, will be empty works. As we live and work for the kingdom of God, if the motive behind everything we do is love, then our works, whether small and seemingly insignificant, or great, will endure for all eternity, for we are building on foundations of gold. Otherwise, our works which may seem great in the eyes of our fellow human beings, will be burned up by fire on that final day.

Trials come to show us the dearth of love in our hearts – how little we have yet known or absorbed of God’s love into our beings. In trials we retrace our steps to God, the fount of all love, and receive fresh supplies of grace for ourselves. Through grace we learn to love those we previously saw as unlovely or unloveable. The way to overcoming trials is to find the key of love, which opens doors, deepens our insight into issues and delivers into our hands, much needed miracles.

All human relationships move smoothly, when the oil of love is poured between the wheels. Love is, however, not just the key to finding solutions to problematic relationships – rather love is the goal. Our struggle is not to change a difficult person, but to love him or her. By faith, we must choose, indeed firmly resolve, to stand in love towards people who have, by their behaviour, darkened the skies for us. Love sets us free because it releases us from the pressure to judge others, leaving all judgment in the hands of the perfect Judge. Never having to judge is truly a wonderful freedom. As we continue to love, never judging or keeping an account of people’s wrongs, the freedom within our hearts is imparted to those who receive our love, so that they are also set free from the many faults, which might have lowered them in our esteem or caused us to see them as a trial. How beautiful is love!

Love brings sunshine into our days. As the Shepherd, in Hannah Hurnard’s Hinds’ Feet in High Places, said, “It is so happy to love”. When we love, the joy of Jesus is poured into our hearts, making our days, and our time here on earth, richer beyond our wildest imaginations. So, let us pray for more love and seek this beyond all other virtues. Let us ask God to shape our hearts according to 1 Corinthians 13.

Father, fill our hearts with Your love. Grant us the grace too overlook people’s shortcomings and to love them with the love You showed us on Calvary. In Jesus’ name.

Loving Muslims

woman-748211_960_720

“As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him, and will make him fruitful and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation” (Genesis 17:20 NASB).

Islam and the Muslims: This is the season of Ramadan, when Muslims all over the world fast – “not a drop of water to be sipped” – from sunrise to sunset, followed by communal nightly feasts. This month is a good time to pray for and reflect on our relations with the people of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, for whom he prayed this heartfelt prayer: “Oh that Ishmael might live before You!” (Genesis 17:18 NASB). He longed for Ishmael to be reconciled and made ‘acceptable before’ God. The desire to gain divine acceptance is deeply ingrained in the hearts of Muslims.

Islam imitates several aspects of the Old Testament religion, but it does not arise from the same Source, for it ‘denies the Father and the Son’ (1 John 2:22). Christ and the apostles were clear that the purpose of the Old Covenant and the Mosaic Law was fulfilled in the cross of Jesus Christ. Christ set us free of the demands of the Law, so that we may ‘worship the Father in Spirit and truth’. Islam arose 600 years later, with the express intention of subjecting the whole world, to a pseudo-Mosaic legalistic system,the ‘Sharia Law’, which aims to nullify the work of the Cross and deprive us of the freedom we have in Jesus Christ. The fulfilment of the Islamic ‘Great Commission’ – the setting up of a worldwide Caliphate – necessitates the militant Jihad or Holy war, followed by forcible conversions, slaughter or subjugation of those who will not ’embrace’ Islam to a servile ‘dhimmi’ status. In most Islamic countries, Christians practise their faith under severe constraints and evangelisation is a criminal offence. Islam has a long history of war with the ‘People of the Book’, as they term Christians and Jews.

Growing up in the Middle East, my closest friends were Muslims. As shocking as the events of the past 2 decades have been, there is much I love and admire about the Muslims themselves. There is indeed much that non-Muslims can learn from them about friendship, hospitality and loyalty. Since 9/11, however, many of us have been deeply troubled by the terrorism spreading across the globe like wildfires from House of Islam. Many peaceful Muslims are equally dismayed at what is going on, but dare not speak up either from fear of reprisal or a misplaced sense of loyalty. Yet the root cause of the violence, of course, lies in the teachings of the Quran, the Hadith, and the example of Mohammed, their prophet. Thankfully the vast majority of Muslims express their piety by keeping to the Five Pillars of Islam, ignoring the command to wage Jihad. With the recent spread of puritanical teaching by the Saudi Wahabi school of Islam, however, an increasing number of Muslims no longer see Jihad as being optional.

Muslim response to the spread of terror: Ordinary peaceful Muslims are undoubtedly horrified by the spread of Islamic extremism, yet, those Muslims calling for actual Islamic reform like Ayaan Hirsi Ali are vilified and often face death threats. Indeed, the responses of mainstream Muslim leaders and organisations to Islamic terror attacks are confusing to a neutral observer. While Muslim leaders in the Middle East will freely admit that killing infidels is permitted by the Quran, and call for further restrictions on Christians and churches; their western counterparts will assert that Islam is the ‘Religion of Peace’, that terrorism is un-Islamic and therefore reform is unnecessary. They pressure western governments to forcefully defend Islam – often by restricting freedom of speech – against its critics. Islamophobia in the West- which has received them hospitably, granting them citizenship, freedom and rights- they maintain is what stokes the fires of terrorism, ignoring the fact that the vast majority of terrorists originate from Islamic countries, where shades of Sharia law already govern aspects of people’s lives. Others will gleefully point to the internal weaknesses of the societies still reeling from shock, with hardly a word of sympathy for the maimed or families of the dead, or a sense of solidarity with the nations that welcomed them.

Their words reveal that the ultimate goal of these Muslim representatives is to advance Islam, and the fate of its victims come low in their list of priorities. What is most worrying is the increasing sense of entitlement, and Muslim exceptionalism, displayed by mostly second generation Muslims, who demand endless privileges in the nations where their fathers sought refuge, as they smugly flout local cultural norms, refuse to integrate and expect host societies to indulge their every whim. There are 4 noticeable trends that we would be foolish to ignore when seeking solutions – 1. The problem of Islamic terror is growing, not lessening; 2. The well meaning and peaceful Muslims are powerless to do anything about it, 3. The mainstream Islamic leadership lack the will or the ability to contain terrorism, and 4. Muslim reformers have no meaningful influence within their communities; rather their outspokenness puts them in great danger.

The Christian response: What are we Christians – called by our Lord to love those who hate us, and to bless those who curse us – to do in these unstable times? How can we remain free of bitterness and frustration towards Muslims, while standing up for the values of peace, freedom and tolerance in our societies. There are 5 things that we should be careful to do in our relations with our Muslim neighbours:

  1. Show great love towards Muslims at a personal level. In all our conversations with them, be considerate and respectful. Never give in to the temptation to mock their prophet for this will only hinder all future communication.
  2. While being respectful, do not hesitate to politely point out aspects of their faith or even their prophet’s teaching, that nurture intolerance or extremism, or are incompatible with our values, in a slavish attempt to be politically correct.
  3. Pray for their salvation.
  4. Pray for an end to Jihadism.
  5. Never compromise when they demand special treatment or privileges.

The role of Christian citizens in the state: The scripture reveals the separate roles of individuals and states in dealing with subjects. In tackling Islamic extremism, the state must employ methods consistent with its role. Whereas individual Christians must reach out to their Muslim neighbours in love, the state has a duty before God to uphold law and order. “For government is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For government is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong” (Romans 13:4 HCSB). Christ, who taught us to turn the other cheek, also warns us to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves”. There are important lessons to be drawn from the example of Paul who did not hesitate to use his rights as a Roman citizen when confronting his enemies or those in authority. As citizens of democratic societies, Christians ought to hold the state to account, and demand that they actively take steps to limit the damage of violent extremism. As I recently commented on an Anglican blog –

“‘Do to others as you would have them do to you’, is the Christian way, but the state has a duty before God ‘to bear the sword’, not to advance Christ’s kingdom, but to enforce laws which promote social harmony and justice. Rulers are being negligent if they turn a blind eye, when a group of people do harm to their fellow citizens. Muslims are not being forced to give up their faith, but having decided to move to a non-Muslim nation, it is not too much to expect them to practise their religion without inconveniencing their neighbours. If a significant number among them choose to behave badly, and refuse to obey the laws of the land, or heed the counsel of their more moderate co-religionists, the state has the duty to step in and look into this matter for the benefit of all.”

Bearing in mind that granting Islam unrestricted freedom to flourish in the West and elsewhere has produced such damaging consequences, including violence and terrorism, the governments must consider specific measures to curtail the influence of Islamists. Restrictions on Islamic preaching (and preachers); limits on the number, size and funding of mosques; censorship of literature promoting Jihad, and controlling immigration from Muslim terror zones are steps that need to be considered by individual governments. It is wrong to label all such sensible precautions – as the media often does –  as ‘undemocratic’. Indeed such measures facilitate the greater common good, so all civilised countries – and none more so than Islamic nations – have, in the past, applied (and still apply) similar restrictions to new arrivals from other cultures. Nor are these violations of human rights, for many lives are saved. Many right-thinking Muslims have been quietly supportive of such measures in the past, for they hardly wish to see their children fall prey to extremism.

The following youtube videos show an Australian Muslim imam discussing Islam and terrorism with such refreshing candour and rare insight, that we would be foolish to ignore his pleas.

The Real Solution: Finally, coming to a significantly more important point. As Christians, we ought to set our own house in order. ‘Islam has always been Islam’ but our generation is more vulnerable to its dangers than our ancestors were. As an Islamic Caliphate, and all that it entails for the ‘Kaffir’, suddenly looms on the horizon, we ought to ask ourselves – “Is this not divine judgment, being poured upon the household of God, for our unfaithfulness?”

Indeed the root problem is not Islam. The spread of violent Jihad, while symptomatic of Islam, is also evidence that God’s hand of protection is being withdrawn from so-called Christian nations that have turned away from Him. Widespread legalised abortion, gay marriage, family breakdown, and the moral corruption promoted by the media and celebrities, show the extent to which the nations despise God. In the midst of such corruption, the church refuses to speak the truth in love to the lost, out of a desire to be politically correct. So He set up leaders who, lacking in discernment, foolishly open the doors to people from cultures that have no intention ‘of seeking the prosperity of the land where they dwell’.

Unless there is true repentance, the Islamists will take over. If we fail to fulfil our divine mandate to be ‘salt and light on this earth’, then the sword of Islam will ensure that our light is hidden, as it is in Muslim lands where evangelism is forbidden; that we are trodden underfoot, cast into a state of dhimmitude, deprived of the freedom, progress and prosperity that followed the Reformation 500 years ago. Therefore, let us pray for ourselves as well as for our Muslim neighbours in these perilous times.

Father, forgive us our unfaithfulness to You. The world no longer respects us because we have forgotten to honour You. Grant us the grace to repent and turn from our sinful ways. Forgive us for being stumbling blocks before an unbelieving world; many have turned away from the waters of eternal life, because of our sins. Help us to live righteous lives, and bear true witness to our Muslim neighbours. Open their eyes to the truth of Jesus and His cross; may they find peace in Him. In Jesus’ name.

The Difference

daily-prayers-1461030_960_720So Jesus asked the Twelve, “Do you want to leave too?” Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that You are the Holy One of God” (John 6:67-69 BSB).

Unlike some well-meaning preachers today, Jesus never minimised the cost of following Him. It was never, “Join us, and we’ll have lots of fun” or “Come along, and you will be given an easy passage through life”; rather his disciples were informed in no uncertain terms that each of them was being called to “deny himself, take up his cross and follow me”. The hardships they would face were laid out in quite stark language-

“And you shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that shall endure to the end, the same shall be saved” (Mark 13:13 AKJV).

“Look, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves; therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. But beware of men; for they will hand you over to their councils and flog you in their synagogues. On My account, you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles” (Matthew 10:16-18 BSB).

“For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:14 ESV).

“Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:58 ESV).

Still, is it not true that in the initial euphoria of being born again, we as new Christians often expect an easy ride ‘from now on’? One believer, who thought that he was getting on a life long merry-go-round, was shocked to discover that the Christian life is more like being enlisted on an army draft. The scripture seems to suggest that the disciples never fully understood – and were never quite prepared for – what following the Messiah entailed. Meeting Jesus for the first time is to encounter One who is so full of light, with whom nothing is impossible, and who loves us infinitely –  this combination can lead us to hope rather naively, for only good things in life and never bad.

Yet Christ never promised us an easy road, that we should expect to be insulated from the hardships common to humanity. Indeed, by belonging to Him, we are often at odds with the world; the things we say or do, may be treated with suspicion or even outright hostility by those who do not understand us. The world is too full of the enemies of the cross; and among them we are commanded to resist every temptation to compromise. This is never easy even for the best among us. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NIV). It is the fact that we share in the overcoming life of our Saviour that should fill us with hope and confidence for the future. What does this mean in practical terms?

Christian life is really about overcoming temptations, weaknesses, struggles and stressful relationships. To be an overcomer means to triumph over the circumstances of our lives using the tools of the Kingdom. We align our priorities with Christ’s, and willingly choose to do what pleases Him. We are enabled to imitate Him, not by our own will power, strength or personal qualities, but by Christ’s resurrection power, and the daily portion of light and grace, available to us from the One who loves us. This light and grace has definitely been promised to us- we only have to ask and receive it by faith. So, it is this sharing in the life of the Risen Christ that sets us apart from the rest of humanity, not freedom from struggle or sorrow.

We live and walk in the Spirit, who comes to indwell our hearts when we yield our lives to Christ, and the way is illuminated before us. There may be occasions when we called to walk on paths less trodden, unknown and seemingly dangerous; and even the promised light may temporarily be hidden from us. Still, we have God’s guidance as to how we ought to cross these dark passages in our journey  – “Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the voice of his servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God” (Isaiah 50:10 ESV). The promise is not that we will always have absolute clarity or full understanding of the road we are called to take, but that God, our perfect Guide will never leave us. He sees everything, and knows the way ahead.

We draw from God’s infinite stores  of love, guidance, comfort and protection at every stage of our lives. Even when we stumble, He is by our side to pick us up and set us on the right path. His word will sustain and strengthen us. The longest psalm (Psalm 119) dwells on the effect of God’s word on the believer’s life, and its sufficiency to meet every contingency that we might face.  Everything necessary for life and salvation is ours through Christ Jesus, and so our lives are enriched in every way. The beautiful things that we receive in this new life amply make up for the things we are called to give up; and everything we lay down for His sake is restored to us either in this world or in eternity. Yet even these manifold blessings fade in the light of the great hope that we have of spending eternity in the presence of the Altogether Lovely One, Jesus Christ, our Redeemer.

A whole new dimension is added to our lives, and anyone who has tasted life at this level cannot easily deny Him, or go back to their old ways. Peter and the disciples, as they grew in understanding of the enormity of the task before them, the rejection and the dangers that they would inevitably face as they merged their lives and destinies with Christ’s, were then offered an opportunity to return to their old lives, as some others had done. Yet having seen the light they would not – and could not – choose to walk again in darkness.

“So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22 ESV).

As difficult as it is to explain to those who do not know Christ, it is this hope that makes all the difference. Those who share in the abundant life may see an uphill path ahead, but we have tasted the choicest wine and nothing else will now satisfy.

Father, thank You for the wonderful privilege of belonging to You through Jesus Christ, and for the abundant life we now share in Him. Keep us in Your love all the days of our lives. In Jesus’ name.