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Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Why Western Countries Cannot Defeat Terrorism

I tend to get in trouble when I write political posts, but I hope you will see that in essence this is a Christian message, rather than a political one. That is actually the main reason that current Western governments cannot defeat Islamic terrorists—they fail to acknowledge that the battle is ultimately spiritual. 
I’m sure Christians around the world share in the sadness and frustration when yet another terrorist blows up innocent people, and our governments respond with condolences and extra security. If only they recognised that they are fighting a spiritual battle and turned instead to God in prayer, things could be so different.

I had thought that the arrival of Mrs May to the Prime Ministerial position in England and the appointment of Vice President Pence in America might signal some form of change in tactics. Maybe even a collective humbling and a seeking God, as they both profess to be Evangelical Christians.

However, events of the last few days indicate that there will be no sudden reversal of policy in our respective nations, or calls to prayer. This despite the fact that current protocols are clearly failing and nothing else has worked. In England, the threat level is at critical, the highest possible: armed police and military are patrolling the streets to protect us, and yet still we are defiant.

Important people appear on TV to offer their heartfelt sympathies to the families of the victims. Then there are promises that this will never be allowed to happen again. Followed by the guarantees to learn the lessons for the future. Next, the endless discussions about what has happened, how and why it happened, who was involved. Sadly predictable. Only this time, I’m noticing that people are starting to admit that they don’t have the answers.

These things have their place, of course. It is right that we mourn the victims and seek to help the families of those injured or killed. Any of us could find ourselves in this situation and we should remember that it is only by God’s grace that we are not. We can also try to investigate what has happened and try to prevent it happening again. But, with anything else in life, a thorough investigation would look at every possible angle. This is where the authorities seem to be falling short, as they refuse to believe that spiritual warfare should be a serious consideration.

For the first time today, I actually heard some politicians and commentators dare to suggest that Islamist ideology is the problem. They were immediately shut down with the usual reminders that mainstream Muslims don’t share the extremist’s views. We do need to be careful here, at the risk of alienating a growing percentage of our populations. We need Muslims on-board to root out the terrorists in their midst.

The problem is that certain interpretations of the Muslim’s Holy Book, the Quran, do lead to extreme behaviour. Within the Quran are the encouragements for a violent Holy War (Jihad) against all those who resist the Islamic faith (infidels.) (I’m not going to quote the verses here, a simple Google search will reveal them for those that care to look into it.) These instructions come with a promise of eternal life in heaven as an enticement. 

This is a serious temptation—Muslims cannot gain assurance that they will be saved without committing Jihad. They are reliant on the will of Allah at the entry point to heaven, in the same way that Catholics believe their fate will be determined in a place called Purgatory. According to their respective teachings, their good and bad deeds will be weighed and their afterlife destination decided at the point of death and not prior to this, but Jihad is a free entry pass.

With this in mind, we should consider it a blessing that the vast majority of Muslims choose to interpret the Quran in a peaceful way. Not to acknowledge the potential of the Islamic Holy Book to incite violence, however, is a serious error. Political correctness should not stand in the way of a proper investigation into the ideology that leads to these crimes.

Our governments cannot fight extremism with human weapons because they are fighting the devil himself. He is present in the minds and hearts of extremists and he lures people to extremism. He cannot be stopped with conventional methods—only using spiritual ones.

Our leaders may say that their thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims. How many of them are actually praying, rather than just offering the assurance that they are? How many of them even believe in the God they claim to be praying to? How many believe that it will make a difference? How many are trusting Jesus for their eternal salvation and therefore have the assurance that God will actually hear them?

It’s time for our governments to stop talking about learning the lessons and increasing security. Our leaders need to stop relying on themselves and earthly capabilities. It’s time for them to humble themselves and call our nations back to prayer. Then we will see what God can do with nations who once again are trusting in and relying on Him instead of leaving Him on the side-lines or relegating Him to a dark corner.

This message may seem hopeless—we cannot defeat terrorism, and it will continue. The opposite is actually true for a Christian. We can know that whatever happens, God is in control and has a plan. Even when evil seems to prevail and terrorists blow themselves up, we can know that there will be justice one day. 

Unlike other faiths, Christianity assures us that we can know now where we will spend eternity. We don’t need to wait for a distant deity to decide or for karma to kick in. The Bible tells us in Romans 10 vs 9 “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, YOU WILL BE SAVED.”
The Bible assures us that all of the events on earth, good and bad, are recorded carefully by a Holy, Perfect, Righteous, Just, Good, God. Jesus will one day return to earth and gather all those who believe in Him for their eternal reward. All who have rejected Him will sadly be lost to hell, forever. 

Let us remember that this is a spiritual battle and let us have hope as we pray for Jesus’ return.

Friday, 19 May 2017

The Consequence of a Wrong View of God

In a previous post, we looked at the folly of those who convince themselves that God doesn’t exist. However, those of us that do believe in God often make a mistake that is just as dangerous—we think of God as a human, and try to understand Him on that level. Maybe we allow Him some extra powers and abilities, or think of Him as a bigger version of ourselves, but we still make this fundamental error which affects everything that we do.
Volunteering for Chatnow, a Christian live-chat organisation taking calls from people all over the world, I can see that this flawed way of thinking is at the root of most of our problems. We don’t really understand what God is like or Who He is, or we choose to ignore what the Bible tells us about Him.

Sadly, I have spoken to people who believe that God exists, but who have decided to reject Him because of His failure to do what they perceive to be right. People who believe that a good God wouldn’t allow suffering in the world or “send” anyone to hell. They label God as “unfair” and determine that He is either indifferent to things here on earth or is lacking compassion. Worse, there are some who decide that He is cruel or vengeful based on their assessments of His activity or failure to act.

When I point out that suffering is caused by sin that entered the world originally through people, it usually falls on deaf ears. When I comment that God doesn’t want anyone to go to Hell, and that He has provided an escape through Jesus, for those who choose it, they don’t want to know. When I suggest that an indifferent or aloof God would hardly go to the lengths of sacrificing His Son to restore the broken relationship with them, they scoff. When I warn that in rejecting His offer, they are choosing the broad path to Hell, they don’t believe it.

There are also people who believe that God exists, but reject Him the minute He fails to deliver something they have demanded.  They treat Him as a genie or good luck charm to be called upon when they have a financial, material or relational need. They quote out of context verses about health, wealth and well-being and conveniently overlook passages about cross-bearing and counting the cost of following Jesus. Again, these attitudes come back to a wrong view of God.

Some of these erroneous views have come about due to the “God is our friend” theology. The Bible does speak of God as our Father and Jesus as a friend to sinners, but this should not be taken in a casual manner. God is not our chum, buddy or mate, He is worthy of our respect and total devotion, and should be approached through Jesus with reverence due to His holiness.  We need to remember Who God is according to the Bible, when we approach Him.

Try to imagine the earth (and humans) from God’s perspective—He created it (and us), He sustains it and He is in control. Now, imagine God looking down at a load of tiny, ant-sized people, marching around the earth, shaking their fists at Him, refusing to acknowledge Him in one way or another, and seeking to rebel against His authority. 

If this seems ridiculous, it really is, but it is a good analogy in terms of our comparative insignificance. This life is short. We are just a vapour that appears for a little while and then vanishes away (James 4 vs 14.) It is incredible that God pays attention to us at all, let alone watches over us with the kind of love and care that the Bible describes.

All of us suffer from this wrong perspective or wrong view of God, to some extent—we fail to consistently give Him the worship He deserves and we fail to love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. We reduce Him to a god of our own making or try to put Him in a box of our own understanding. We relegate Him to a small corner of our lives and often only pay attention to Him when we are in trouble.

As soon as we start asking “Why?” questions of or about God, we need to be careful—there are a lot of things about God that He has chosen not to reveal to us, and others that our tiny human minds cannot comprehend. The bottom line, is that God is God and He can do whatever He wants. The fact that He chooses to involve us through prayer is a privilege not a right.

We read in Isaiah 55 vs 8-9:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

It can be difficult to use these verses when trying to help a Christian struggling with trials. They want God to explain Himself and feel that His failure to do so is due to inability or inadequacy on His part. They don’t consider that their perception may be completely wrong. 

In the Bible, Job made this mistake. He endured a lot more than most of us will ever have to deal with. He refused to curse God during his terrible suffering, even when his wife told him to! However, he did eventually ask God to explain Himself. He wanted a reason. He asked God, “why?” We all behave like Job, we want to know why bad things happen to “good” people and why things we see as unjust or unfair are allowed to continue.

We might expect that God would explain Himself to Job after all he had suffered. But, He doesn’t. He reminds Job of his comparative minuteness. God asks him whether he (Job) has the right to question the Creator of the universe and the One who sustains everything. He rebukes Job for his presumption. He details His power and greatness and makes it clear that Job is the creature and He the Creator, Job the clay and He the Potter (Job 38)

At this point, Job doesn’t say, “But you still haven’t explained yourself” or “How could you allow me to suffer in this way and not do anything about it?” or “I don’t like the decisions that you made, I’m going to serve a different god.” Unfortunately, that is how a lot of us respond when faced with trials and difficulties. We think that by walking away from or rejecting God, we can win the battle for supremacy, or somehow hurt God with our lack of allegiance or through sinful behaviour.

Pride is at the root of our rebellion, and Job, recognising this, humbled himself. In one of the most famous passages of the Bible which tells us more about Who God really is, he said, "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; But now my eye sees You; Therefore, I retract, And I repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42 vs 5-6) Job was a faithful and righteous man, but he had had a wrong view of God. He tried to reason with God on a human level and ended up in serious difficulty. 

When God revealed Himself to Job, his immediate response was repentance and humility. His view of God had been dramatically altered and it affected everything. Job’s only concern was to correct his earlier mistake, there was no longer any discussion of the suffering that Job had had to endure. He had seen who the God of the Bible really is and dared not question Him or suggest He was anything other than perfectly Holy.

As Christians, we must start with the right premise. We must believe what the Bible tells us about God. We must believe that everything He does is perfect, including allowing suffering on earth and creating a place called Hell. We must accept that God is perfectly just and that He cannot lie, that He doesn’t change His mind like humans do. God has many other attributes (for a fuller discussion read The Attributes of God by A.W.Tozer,) and all of them are consistent with His nature and character.

When our mind starts to ask why something is happening, let’s make the decision straight away to trust God.  If our brain begins to consider that maybe God has got something wrong. Let’s dismiss this immediately knowing that it cannot be true because God doesn’t make mistakes. If we wonder whether God is aware of something or whether He has forgotten us. Let’s remember the promises in Scripture—that He knows everything that is happening and that He will never leave nor forsake us.

We can be confident that all things are being worked out according to God’s sovereign purpose and that His plans are for our good. There will be many things about God that we can’t understand but we need to learn to trust Him anyway, because He is faithful. 

Let’s make sure that we have the right, Biblical view of God. It is best to assume that where there are question marks in our minds, it is either due to sin, or due to our finite minds being unable to fully comprehend a perfectly holy and omnipotent God.

Romans 11 vs 33-35
“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”

Numbers 23 vs 19
"God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?”

Monday, 8 May 2017

Can a Christian Author Write for the Secular Market?

As an avid reader and book reviewer with a Christian worldview, I often face dissenting opinions. I expect this, to some extent, because I try to be honest and apply critical thinking which can be sadly lacking. (Here are ten reasons for writing honest reviews.) The interesting factor in all this, is that it is often Christians who are uncomfortable with my views and sometimes they seem to be arguing from a secular perspective on behalf of the world…..

One of the biggest areas of debate is definitely what I would describe as “content issues.” Is it okay for authors to include bad language, graphic violence, explicit or detailed sexual activity, drug taking and its effects? How about a Christian author? And what about Christian authors who write for the secular market? Is there any difference in acceptable standards?

Let’s start with authors who are not Christians, those who are in the world and very much of it, who haven’t yet had their eyes opened to the saving hope that Jesus offers. What about them? 

Obviously, we cannot expect people not claiming to be Christians to behave like believers. They will live as they choose and don’t see themselves as accountable to God. The fact that they will ultimately face God on Judgement Day and give an account of their lives is not really the issue. As Christians, we cannot seek to inflict Christian standards on non-believers. It is when someone becomes a Christian that their lifestyle will change as they seek to please God rather than themselves or other people.

Can a Christian reviewer express faith-based opinions about a secular book? Yes, of course we can and should be doing this. We don’t remove our Christian hat (or head) when picking up a book, and our faith is at the centre of what we do and who we are. How can we write an honest review without including faith principles or seeking to make some kind of spiritual application?

However, when reading such books and writing such reviews, I try to keep in mind that the author is not a professing believer, and that I have chosen to select their book knowing this. My review will still detail things that may be of concern to a believer, but I would render a less harsh judgement for graphic content.

Turning to the other end of the spectrum—Christian authors writing for the Christian market. This should be an easy one. Christian authors should expect to be held to certain content standards by their readers. We are all part of the body of Christ and are therefore responsible to hold each other accountable—to offer correction, advice and a loving rebuke for the benefit of His Kingdom. I have written extensively about this elsewhere with a particular emphasis on swearing in Christian books.

For some reason, things seem to get complicated when dealing with the third category of authors. People like John Grisham who profess to be Christians, but who are writing for the secular market. Should Christians even attempt to do this? Is it a grey area? Can this content be held to different standards?

Most definitely, we need talented Christian authors writing for a wider secular audience and entering the spiritual battle-field in the process. Why should writing be any different to any other profession? We need Christians in every work-place and every corner of this world. Light needs to be shone in areas of spiritual darkness. Christians are reflecting the light of the world, or at least we should be.

Christians who have chosen to make their living as writers have massive potential influence especially with the rise of the internet. I would suggest, that those writing for the secular market have an even greater responsibility. They have access to thousands, maybe millions of people who might never set foot in a church or pick up a Christian book. These authors are effectively representing Christ to the world. Well, again, they should be.

It has been argued that it is okay for a Christian author to breach generally accepted standards of content when they are writing for the secular market. I cannot understand this on any level. Christians are Christians all of the time. 

We don’t become non-believers for a day, a month or a year when we are in the secular workplace—why should writing a book be any different? What is the point of having Christians in secular work places if they are going to conform to worldly standards. We might even ask the question—is someone really a Christian if they are going to behave like the world and there is no visible difference between them and Joe public?

The content of secular books by secular authors is deteriorating, but that is to be expected. People are becoming desensitised and are demanding more and more of what their fallen nature desires. Christians need to buck the trend and swim in the other direction whether they are writing for the secular market or not. It shouldn’t be a grey area.

Sure, Christians will differ on what is and isn’t acceptable content wise, but let’s develop our critical thinking skills. We should at least be considering whether what we are writing and reading is acceptable to God. We can take responsibility for warning others or at least making them aware of the things we observe so they can make informed decisions.

Can a Christian author really justify causing someone to lust or form graphic violent images in their mind or find themselves repeating bad language they read in a book? What about teenagers experimenting with drugs having read how to do it in a book written by a “Christian”? Maybe you think this is an exaggeration, but we all know how easily our minds can be corrupted, how quickly we fall into temptation and let’s not forget that our hearts and minds are attracted to evil in the first place.

Some full-time Christian authors may feel pressurised to increase the graphic nature of their books or to include bad language to attract a wider audience. There may be financial pressures or the need to make a name in the various genre markets. But, if someone is a true Christian, this will prove to be a false economy. God promises that He will honour those who honour Him. Conforming to worldly standards of entertainment comes back to a lack of trust that God will provide.

We must make sure we keep our priorities in check and remember that we are accountable to Him. Why don’t we use our talent for His glory and to reach out to those still in darkness with the saving message of hope. Let’s not waste the opportunities we have been given for evangelism and to represent Jesus, by instead writing rubbish, or even offensive content that might push people away from Christ. 

True Christians are serving one Master all of the time. Let’s remember Who we are living for, wherever we are and whatever we are doing!

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.  

Colossians 3 vs 23