Thursday, April 20, 2017

Devotion 18: A Prophet of God Against the Prophets of God

"See how they say to me,
'Where is the word of the Lord?
Let it come to pass'."
Jeremiah 17:15
New American Bible

A.W. Tozer writes that the prophets of the Old Testament, although different in many ways, all held a common bond: "enforced aloneness."

Here we see Jeremiah - a man forced alone because he is commanded by God to speak for Him to the nation - prophesying against well-known, established, and perhaps beloved leaders and prophets of Israel.

How lonely must he have felt.

What was the nature of Jeremiah's experience of the Divine to have propelled him to be so confident his words - words of condemnation - were God's words?  Whatever the experience, it was enough to compel him to believe that his message of divine anger and retribution against God's own people was, in fact, God's message and to publicly proclaim it at the risk of breaking off all ties of family and friendship.

What an encounter he must have experienced to be so sure that his message was from God, a message of divine judgment, in contradiction to the "divine oracles" of all the other "prophets" of God who proclaimed ease and deliverance.  For Jeremiah, the dreams of the prophets were delusions, but his visions were true divine encounters.  Jeremiah knew that only his message was God's message, which God would bring to pass; that his message was the prophecy that God would fulfill while all other prophetic utterances would fail.

Jeremiah may not have fully realized at first that, because his message alone was God's message, he would be alone in proclaiming it.

Jeremiah was the only prophet with a different message.  All the other prophets spoke in the same way of God's great power to deliver and free the nation of Israel from the cruel oppression of their enemies.  On the contrary, Jeremiah proclaimed the greatness of God to judge and punish His people by means of the cruel oppression of their enemies!

With the whole nation against Jeremiah, how lonely he must have been.  How oftentimes did self-doubt creep in to trip him up and to so stand in his way that he complains to God.  Nevertheless, how oftentimes did he buckle under the burden to carry God's word of judgment and condemnation to the nation when everyone else said something different, things edifying and encouraging.  Where Jeremiah said, "God is against you!", all others insisted, "No!  God is for you!"
"Whenever I speak, I must cry out, violence and outrage is my message; the word of the Lord has brought me derision and reproach all the day" (Jeremiah 20:7 NAB)."
Jeremiah, faithful to his experience of the Divine, prophesies as he is commanded against the established religious leaders, teachers, prophets, and even against kings.  Jeremiah contradicted the whole religious and political hierarchy.  He went publicly against all those whom the common people ran for words of hope and comfort, while turning away from Jeremiah's message of sin and guilt, of judgment and condemnation, of banishment and death!

God's primary intention in speaking words to a prophet is not to convey hope but to proclaim truth.  To the one whom God has truly revealed Himself and His message to give to others, let him not think it would endear him to his own family and friends, or to God's people.  Let that prophet arm himself with the realization that he will be alone.  Let him prepare himself to be whispered against and denounced on every side by all who have convinced everyone that they know God's will better and are better experienced, more mature in the things of God than you are.

You will be alone.

Prayer:  Father, where are the prophets of truth who speak Your words, whether of comfort or doom, of truth?  Reveal your heart towards your people to those seeking to know what it really is you are thinking.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Review: Understanding Islam: An Introduction to the Muslim World

Understanding Islam: An Introduction to the Muslim World Understanding Islam: An Introduction to the Muslim World by Thomas W. Lippman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is my first reading on Islam. This appears to be a very brief introduction to the Islamic history and belief, very objectively written if, perhaps, in some respects a little bit biased; although, there is obvious appreciation and respect for Islam in the author's writing, perhaps, because he was a journalist who "has traveled throughout the Islamic world."

Published in 1990, much has happened between now and then to engender a real distaste for anything Islamic, it being properly understood or not. However, it should be remembered, before this book's publication, there were enough violent events happening in the Muslim world that should have influenced me to read up on the religion of Islam sooner.

In any event, this was a clear and, I felt, objective look into the history and teachings of Islam. I list a few things that caught my attention, which may or may not surprise us.

In the Introduction alone, the author notes:
- All Muslims believe in the same God, yet think and independently towards non-Muslims (x).
- There is no distinction between church and state; Islam is, predominantly, an "arbiter of social behavior" and the source of statecraft (pages x, 70).
- Although Muslims are no more prone to aggression than non-Muslims, however, "if the principles of Islam were followed, every Muslim would treat every other Muslim like a brother; in fact, they have been attacking one another since the founding of the faith" (xi).

Throughout the book, what was prominent in my reading was:
- Although, they are believed to have distorted the revelation received from God and for that were condemned, the roots of Islam are in Judaism and Christianity. (5); and, as a matter of fact, Jew and Christians are to be "accorded special status as 'people of the book'." (120).
- The primary motivating factor in Islam is the fear of God, "fear of the last judgment and of eternal damnation." The author admits that "Islam places less stress upon the love of the Deity as a motivation for piety than does Christianity" (11). Nevertheless, "Koranic revelations spoke of the Jews in harsh terms" (50).
- The Qur'an, as a book dictated by God is, "rather than any person, the earthly manifestation of the divine existence" (57).
- Disputes over what Muhammed taught were immediately disputed after his death (61).
- Most Muslims today are not Arabic and cannot read the language.
- It is an error to say that Arabs warring against their neighbors were purely defensive and that these wars were executed to force conversions to Islam.
- Disputes between Muslims and Arab conquests in war began immediately after the death of Muhammed and filled the next century with turmoil and violence, making peace as elusive then as it is today (61,116). "Muslims still take arms against each other, at least, as often as...against unbelievers" (178).
- Notions of a Caliph to rule over Muslims is nowhere taught in the Qur'an (104).

The author seems to thoroughly, if briefly (only about 185 pages), the history and teachings of Islam. He covers:
- Basic belief and practices.
- Life and death of Muhammed
- Qur'an (Koran) and other writings, e.g. Hadith and Sharia
- Islam and government
- Other schools of islamic thought, e.g. Sunni and Wahhabism, and others.
- It's history and impact today (up to the books publication, 1990).
- Glossary of terms that I found very helpful throughout my reading.

I would recommend a more up-to-date introduction of Islam for those interested, but if you come across this book, it should be helpful in understanding the fundamental beliefs and history and how we have arrived today with situations in the Middle East with the rise of ISIS and Muslim intolerance of Jews and Christians, which may not actually be faithful to the of Qur'an teachings but true to Islamic history.

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Review: Handbook of Revivals

Handbook of Revivals Handbook of Revivals by Henry Clay Fish
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Disappointing. Book seems to have actually been written in 1874. The first chapter was fairly well but, for the most part, the rest of the book was a struggle for me to read through as it seemed written in a way, at least to me, that is too elaborate (flowery?) that did not hold my mind. Nothing like Charles G. Finney's "Revival Lectures."

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Saturday, April 15, 2017

Devotion 17: Collateral Damage

"The Lord who planted you has decreed misfortune for you
because of the evil done by the house of Israel..."
Jeremiah 11:17 (New American Bible)
Read Jeremiah 11-12

Is there an intended double-meaning here?  That is, in the phrase "Lord who planted you," does "you," refer to both the nation Israel and the prophet Jeremiah himself?

If God is also here speaking directly to Jeremiah about Jeremiah, we read that he complains, basically saying, "Lord, I'm obedient!  Why include me is Israel's misfortunes in judgment?" God's answer is, "Are you so afraid, so weak in faith that I will care for you when everything is at peace and I have not yet acted in judgment to bring calamity?  How strong will your faith be when I go through with the judgments decreed against Israel and an enemy invades the land and war erupts?"

In the last day of God's judgment against the nations, Christians must realize they will be spared the judgment against sinners, but not the total effects of it upon the nations.  If in judgment against the rebellious there is a famine, the obedient also will go hungry.  If invaders attack and forcibly remove unbelievers out of their homes, the Christian next door will be the next removed from their's.  

This idea of a "rapture" providing an escape is nothing more than an empty hope, a theology that abandons the reality of our solidarity in the sins of men although we ourselves may be innocent.  Yet, while the sinner is under the direct judgment of God, the Christian must endure collateral damage, that is, the accidental damage that ensues as a result of divine judgment, whether it be (a) that which spills out directly from God's judgment (for example, an enemy invasion), or (b) the resultant response of sinners against being judged by God, or (c) our faithfulness to God in proclaiming the misfortunes of men as divine judgments.

Just look what happened to Jeremiah.  Not only did his own family betray him, plotting evil against him, but we read that he was imprisoned, thrown in a well, and forced into exile with those fleeing out of the Land of Israel.  Jeremiah was not tucked safely away from all the turmoil caused by God judging the nation of Israel for their sins.

Our hope is not in a "rapture" but in Christ whether or not we are delivered from misfortune. The "Day of the Lord" will, apparently, not leave the innocent unaffected; there will be collateral damage when the stars begin to fall and the sky is completely darkened.  To prepare for that time, you must face the question now: If history shows us how the thousands of God's people have suffered fearful and terrible calamities and tragedies, as well as persecutions, what makes us think we will avoid these things now and, especially, in the last days?

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, strengthen us to stand that we may endure to the end.  Be glorified in our standing, in our endurance, and doing good to others to those who sin against You and us. Even when the time comes that we ourselves suffer misfortunes as the outgrowth of Your judgments against evil men, give us strength of will and action to do good to those very men for whom you bring judgment.  In Jesus name.  Amen.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Devotion 16: Angered Through A Broken Heart

"I you loved me...
yet you do all the evil you can."
Jeremiah 2:2; 3:5.
(Read Jeremiah 1-3)

As angry and bitter sounding are the accusations God makes against Israel in chapters two through three of the book of the prophet Jeremiah, nevertheless, it comes from a broken heart.

I am of the personal opinion that atheists deny God, not on the grounds of science or facts as they may claim, but because they had a tragic experience that has left them with a broken and bitter heart.  "If God exists, he is cruel and evil," they would say.  And there may be those who would sympathize with the atheists and see their anger as justified.

We ourselves may manage to use our hurt as an excuse to be cruelly angry towards others.

Yet, just as deeply broken is God's heart that he responds by rejecting his people, refusing to deliver them from the violence of their enemies.

Do we ever give God the same benefit of the doubt we give others who respond angrily because of hurt? Do we ever consider God justified in his anger?  We never seem to acknowledge God's brokenness behind the words of judgment we read in the Bible. Rather than sympathize with God's brokenness, we speedily condemn God as mean, harsh, and even evil.

However, although a man would not take back his wife who committed adultery by prostituting herself, God's broken heart, nevertheless, does not so overcome his love for His people that he would not take them back if they would only return in repentance to their "first love" (Jeremiah 3:12; Revelation 2:4-5a).

Prayer:  Lord, influence us in grace in such a way that our hearts would break with even the thought of breaking your heart.  And, in your anger, lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.  In Jesus name, amen.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Review: The Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit The Holy Spirit by Stanley Hauerwas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A good book on any aspect of Christian theology is one that brings clarity and new insights into what is believed. An even better Christian book is one that challenges assumptions and forces the reader to rethink concepts and values taken for granted.

This is an even better book.

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Sunday, April 2, 2017

Review: Bearing Witness: Stories of Martyrdom and Costly Discipleship

Bearing Witness: Stories of Martyrdom and Costly Discipleship Bearing Witness: Stories of Martyrdom and Costly Discipleship by Charles E. Moore
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Brief, but emotionally moving accounts of persecution and martyrdom from the Biblical account of Stephen's martyr to Anabaptist persecutions and martyrdoms in Nigeria under Boko Haram. Included are five accounts, out of 36 stories, of persecution and martyrdom in the United States from the late 1700's to the mid-1900's.

This book is a good introduction the the reality of Christian suffering and bear witness not only to the depths of cruel violence men will inflict upon others, but the courage that graces those under persecution committed to their Christian faith and, especially in many stories involving Anabaptists, the depth and strength of conviction to non-violence as taught and exemplified by Christ in the Gospels.

I found that the introduction to this book was honest in dealing with the complexity of human nature in the face of persecution and martyrdom. Especially insightful is where we read, "At their best, martyr stories help communities validate their own cultural identity. At their worst, these memories can serve to justify resentment of one group against another and even lead to retribution."

An excellent read that will not only cause you to examine your faith but question the nature of your love for enemies.

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