Thursday, January 31, 2013

Great Victories, Little Problems

"He was sore athirst, and called on the Lord, and said, Thou hast given this great deliverance into the hand of Thy servant: and now shall I die for thirst?" --Judges 15:18

Samson was thirsty and ready to die. The difficulty was totally different from any which the hero had met before. Merely to get thirst assuaged is nothing like so great a matter as to be delivered from a thousand Philistines! but when the thirst was upon him, Samson felt that little present difficulty more weighty than the great past difficulty out of which he had so specially been delivered. It is very usual for God's people, when they have enjoyed a great deliverance, to find a little trouble too much for them. Samson slays a thousand Philistines, and piles them up in heaps, and then faints for a little water! Jacob wrestles with God at Peniel, and overcomes Omnipotence itself, and then goes "halting on his thigh!" Strange that there must be a shrinking of the sinew whenever we win the day. As if the Lord must teach us our littleness, our nothingness, in order to keep us within bounds. Samson boasted right loudly when he said, "I have slain a thousand men." His boastful throat soon grew hoarse with thirst, and he betook himself to prayer. God has many ways of humbling His people. Dear child of God, if after great mercy you are laid very low, your case is not an unusual one. When David had mounted the throne of Israel, he said, "I am this day weak, though anointed king." You must expect to feel weakest when you are enjoying your greatest triumph. If God has wrought for you great deliverances in the past, your present difficulty is only like Samson's thirst, and the Lord will not let you faint, nor suffer the daughter of the uncircumcised to triumph over you. The road of sorrow is the road to heaven, but there are wells of refreshing water all along the route. So, tried brother, cheer your heart with Samson's words, and rest assured that God will deliver you ere long.

- - - Charles Haddon Spurgeon
Morning and Evening

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Iran: 8 years in prison for American pastor

Once again, the so-called "religion of peace," whose proponents constantly bleat that "There is no compulsion in religion," shows its true colors, by sentencing an American pastor to eight years in one of Iran's most Hellish prisons.  This can't be blamed on Ahmadinejad, or the "radical Islamists;" this is Mohammedanism pure and simple:

BREAKING NEWS: American pastor sentenced to eight 
years in Iranian prison for preaching Christianity in homes

Daily Mail Online
PUBLISHED: 10:45 EST, 27 January 2013  | UPDATED: 15:33 EST, 27 January 2013

An American pastor from Idaho has been sentenced to eight years in one of Iran's harshest prisons for preaching Christianity in Iranian homes, it was revealed today.

Saeed Abedini, a U.S. citizen who was born in Iran, has been held since September and charged with 'threatening the national security of Iran.

The 32-year-old father of two says he was in the country only to establish and orphanage and was not preaching Christianity.

The American Center for Law and Justice, which is working with Mr Abedini's family to free him from Iranian custody, says the pastor led house churches in the Islamic nation in the early 2000s, when the state did not consider such activities a threat.

'With today’s development I am devastated for my husband and my family.  We must now pursue every effort, turn every rock, and not stop until Saeed is safely on American soil,' Mr Abedini's devastated wife Naghmeh, said.

 Mr Abedini is being held in Evin Prison in Tehran, the infamous gulag that houses most of the country's political prisoners.

The ACLJ reports that Revolutionary Court Judge Pir-Abassi convicted and sentenced Mr Abedini after a hastily-called court hearing.

The group says that the ruling violated Iran's judicial rules and was motivated purely by politics.

'We know that with the Iranian Revolutionary Court, Pastor Saeed’s conviction and sentence had to be approved at the very top – The Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei had to sign off,' Jordan Sekulow, the director of international operations, wrote.

The ACLJ says that Mr Abedini was beaten and tortured while in Iranian custody.

He and his attorney were allowed to attend just one day of his trial, which began on January 21.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney and the State Department have both called for Mr Abedini's release, thought the Iranian government has clearly ignored the request.

Iranian officials had previously said they were planning to release the pastor, so the news that he was sentenced to eight years in a harsh prison came as a shock to his family and supporters.

This pastor may not have been "preaching Christianity," although it's unlikely that he would invest so much work in a secular mission; but it begs the question: Even if he was preaching Christianity, so what? Do you imprison a man, away from his family, for sharing his faith, when "there is no compulsion in religion?"  Tell us, Muhammad.  Tell us, all you imams and mullahs, if you can get your eyes off the children in the above picture long enough to answer.  Tell us all about the respect Mohammedans have for "People of the Book."  We've heard it all before.

And, while we're at it ... any comment on this treatment of an American citizen abroad, Secretary Kerry?  How about you, President Obama?   No?  That's what we thought....

Corroborating sources:
Christian Post 
Fox News
The Huffington Post

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A United Heart

Teach me thy way, O LORD; I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear thy name.
- - -  Psalm 86:11

It's a question that's not often asked, but which is instantly understood by most people: Do you have a united heart ... or a heart that's divided?  There are other ways of asking the question, of course: is your life marked by clarity and unity of purpose, or by indecision and conflict?  Do you have divided loyalties, or conflicting opinions and inclinations?

Most of us  suffer from "mixed emotions," and contradictory thoughts, at various points in our lives.  For most people, certainty and a real clarity of vision are hard to come by.  Sometimes, it can be a real problem: do my primary loyalties lie with my family, or my career?  Which course of study should I pursue: the artistic or the technical?  I want the baby ... but wouldn't a trip to the "women's clinic" be more practical at this stage in my life?  And where does God fit into all this?  Is He a priority, or an afterthought?

Life can be very confusing - - - but it doesn't have to be.  And, as we see in the words of David, in Psalm 86, God doesn't want it to be.

Having a heart that's torn between various priorities and loyalties is very similar to the problem of being "double-minded," about which we've written before. It's a pretty common part of "the human condition:" but the "human condition" is exactly what the Christian is able to overcome, if he or she has accepted Jesus Christ according to John 1:12.  It's possible to get rid of the "double-mindedness," and to have a united heart.

Teach me thy way, O LORD; David prays: I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear thy name. Now, that's quite a mouthful, even if it were the only verse in the Psalm.  But, as usual, we need to examine the verse in context.  We don't have the space for a commentary on the entire thing, but we need to hit a few of the high spots:

Bow down thine ear, O LORD, hear me: for I am poor and needy (v. 1). David begins his prayer with an honest confession of his own inadequacy and need: and that's the very first step in achieving a united heart, a heart free from conflict and confusion.  Until we admit that we can't work out our problems or correct our thinking by ourselves,  we're hopeless.  A man who doesn't admit he's sick won't consult a doctor; a child who won't acknowledge that she's hungry probably won't get fed.  Achieving a united heart begins and ends with recognizing our dependence on God.

Preserve my soul; for I am holy: O thou my God, save thy servant that trusteth in thee (v. 2).  You and I aren't "holy" in the same sense that David was; the definition of righteousness for an Old Testament Jew was different than for a modern Christian, whose only righteousness is found in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). But notice those four little words: O thou my God.  Jehovah was David's God: His personal Lord, not merely the God of his parents or his culture.  David had a personal relationship with God.  And, if you don't have a personal, one-on-One relationship with Jesus Christ, which begins with being born again (John 3:3, 7), then you might as well forget about having a united heart, because you can't achieve such a thing on your own, and God won't help you to achieve it in your unsaved condition.  Of course, you don't have to stay in that condition!

Rejoice the soul of thy servant: for unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul (v.4). David knew where to go for help.  He had a divided heart at various times in his life, just as we do.  (For example, he certainly had some "mixed emotions" when he first saw Uriah's wife, Bathsheba, taking her bath!)  But he knew better than to take his problems to "Adulterers Anonymous" or some other human counsellor.  (Human counsellors, including psychiatrists, have their place, but only God can heal and unite the heart.) When David grew weary of having a divided heart, he knew exactly where, and to Whom, to go.

Looking at the next few verses, we need to notice two things: what David said in his prayer, and what he didn't say:

For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee. Give ear, O LORD, unto my prayer; and attend to the voice of my supplications. In the day of my trouble I will call upon thee: for thou wilt answer me. Among the gods there is none like unto thee, O Lord; neither are there any works like unto thy works. All nations whom thou hast made shall come and worship before thee, O Lord; and shall glorify thy name. For thou art great, and doest wondrous things: thou art God alone (vv. 5-10).
Is David complaining and bemoaning his condition, and concentrating on his own fragmented heart?  (He certainly complained in other Psalms, but not here.)  No, he's praising God, and "reminding" God of His own greatness.  He's telling God how wonderful He is.  And God likes to hear that; He enjoys being praised.  Because He's conceited No, because He deserves it.  He's worthy.  And He wants us to know He's worthy.  (That's one of the reasons we sing hymns.) God responds to this sort of praise, much more quickly than He does to the "woe is me, I'm in such trouble" that He hears from so many of us - - - and from so many Biblical characters, who had plenty to complain about, like Job and Jeremiah.  It's not that He loves David more than those other men; it's that He responds to praise.

God already knows our problems, be they sickness, family troubles, poverty, or a divided heart.  We really don't need to spend a lot of time telling Him about them, although He encourages us to bring Him our problems and concerns (Philippians 4:6; 1 Peter 5:7).  But if we can praise Him in the midst of these things .... well, He appreciates it.  If you're a parent, you love your child, whether she's griping and screaming, or whether he's hugging your neck, telling you how wonderful you are.  But which do you enjoy more?

Then, finally, we come to it:  Teach me thy way, O LORD; I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear thy name. Now, we'll learn how to achieve a "united heart," to achieve single-mindedness, clarity of vision, and purpose (a word which has been much abused by some). We don't have to be double-minded, or divided in our loyalties, or even our desires.  We can have a "united heart" - - - on two conditions.

First is the prerequisite for having a united heart:  Teach me thy way, O LORD. The reason we're torn between God's ways and our own, or between our ways and some of our other ways, is that we don't understand God's ways - - - and we can't understand them until we know what they are.  This is where the Bible comes in: because the Bible is where God has propositionally revealed His ways to us.  We need to read it, and study it, and learn it.  We'll need human teachers and preachers, but more than anything, we'll need to get off by ourselves, away from the maddening crowd, and simply study God's word.  Unless and until we know His ways, we won't be able to have a "united heart."  (Unbelievers or skeptics or infidels, who sneer at God's words, don't have united hearts, even united for evil purposes: they're torn in a hundred perverse directions.)  We need God to teach us His ways.

Second is the purpose of a united heart.  Actually, there are many results of a united heart, such as peace of mind, freedom from certain psychological problems, and consistency in our behaviour.  All of those things are worthwhile and desirable.  But the real purpose of a united heart is to learn to fear thy name, to fear God as we should.  The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction (Proverbs 1:7). And with knowledge comes wisdom: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 111:10).  And the fear of the Lord is the result of a united heart, a heart undistracted from God and God's ways by the baubles of this world, or the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.

In the old days, people referred to an upright man or woman as "God-fearing."  You don't hear that word very often now, because generations of money-grubbing "preachers" and "Bible translators" have taught people that fear is evil, and that surely a loving God wouldn't want His creatures to fear Him!  But nothing could be farther from the truth.  Fear is one of the most positive and healthy emotions there is: ask anyone who brushed off their healthy fears, and didn't consult the doctor in time, or who didn't fear traffic and ran a red light once too often.  And again, if you're a parent - - - an intelligent parent, at least - - - you should understand that sometimes fear is the only motivation that works.  Your toddler might not understand that walking into the street can result in death; but if they know that it'll result in some unwanted discipline, they'll stay out of the street.  

And we are children, compared to God.  You can have the mind of Stephen Hawking in the body of Mike Tyson, but compared to your Creator, you're a helpless infant.   Those of us who are not too enamoured of ourselves will realize this.  And the fear of God is the beginning of true wisdom and knowledge - - - and the purpose of a united heart, with its clarity of vision and unity of purpose.

You still don't understand the fear of God?  That's because, God bless you, you haven't learned God's ways yet.  So why not get into the Bible right now, and start learning?  You'll be surprised at what you learn!

But first, just be sure that you've received Jesus Christ, and know Him on a personal basis.  That's your primary obligation - - - and your primary opportunity.

Tired of confusion and indecision and doubt?  You need a united heart: and God, in His mercy, has shown you how to achieve it.  But it doesn't stop there.  The very next verse gives us the "acid test" for knowing whether we've achieved a united heart: I will praise thee, O Lord my God, with all my heart: and I will glorify thy name for evermore (Psalm 86:12).

That's the result of a united heart: an ability, a willingness, and even an eagerness to praise God, to thank Him, in every circumstance.  Yes, God wants us to have peace of mind, and good mental and emotional health: after all, God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). But the Christian has something that goes far beyond that: the ability to praise God in everything, even life's disappointments or trials - - - once the heart is united.  In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you (1 Thessalonians 5:18).  For the Christian, that's not a "suggestion:" it's a command.  But it's only possible when we've achieved a united heart - - - a heart wholly given to God, focused on God, rejoicing in God, despite the turmoils and conflicts that might surround us.

God gives us commands, and has high expectations for us: but He never leaves us to our own devices to figure things out.  He gives us the power to obey, and the instructions on how to obey.  He tells us that we need a "united heart," and then tells us how and why it's possible to have it.

How gracious He is!  How worthy of praise, and how magnificent in His understanding! 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Crash of Symbols

In a  moment of  deliberately contrived historical synchronicity, Barack Hussein Obama will celebrate his second inauguration as President on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  (As of this writing, he has already been quietly sworn in, because the Constitution mandates January 20th as Inauguration Day; but the ceremonies and celebrations will be held on Monday.) No doubt much will be made of this "coincidence," and the press and intelligentsia will milk it for all it's worth, as the world focuses on the two most important black leaders in American history.  (Sorry, Crispus Attucks: you were merely the first man to die for the burgeoning republic, at the Boston Massacre in 1770.  You never incited your people to riot, or lied your way into the White House.)  Both men have been, and will continue to be, deified by Good Liberals Everywhere, and held forth as symbols of all that is fine and progressive in our world.  But, as Lillian Hellman might have said, Monday's celebrations should be regarded as "scoundrel time."

But this post is not intended to be a screed against Obama, or an exposé of Martin Luther King Jr.  It is, rather, an opportunity to reflect on certain of God's words, as regards the "great men" of this world, the so-called  "men of peace."  I take responsibility for the first two paragraphs; the remainder of the post will be the words of God.

The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the LORD (Jeremiah 23:28.).  

There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked (Isaiah 57:21). 

For they have healed the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace (Jeremiah 6:14, 8:11). 

I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied (Jeremiah 23:21). 

"Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets" (Jesus speaking, Luke 6:26).

....this is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the LORD: which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits: Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path, cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us (Isaiah 30:9, 11). 

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables (2 Timothy 4:3).

For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple (Romans 16:18). 

For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape (1 Thessalonians 5:3).

Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God (Jesus speaking, Luke 16:15).

Sunday, January 6, 2013

A Tree Grows in Israel

I wonder how many forests have been planted in the United States, in memory of Israeli children killed in Muslim rocket attacks and bombings?  Probably none; we Americans, once so generous, have become some of the most provincial, self-centered people on this planet.  But, happily, there are at least a few exceptions to the national egotism that seems to have overtaken America in recent decades.  God bless these people....

Forest in Beersheva to Memorialize Newtown Massacre

Over 2,000 people have donated money to plant a forest of over 3,000 trees in Be’ersheva in order to honor the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School Massacre. The trees will be part of the Be’ersheva River Park, a 1,700 acre environmental area being constructed by the Jewish National Fund in the Negev’s provincial capital city. 

The idea to plant trees in Israel in order to commemorate the young victims of the Newtown Massacre came from Veronique Pozner, the mother of the youngest and only Jewish victim, Noah. Marcie Natan of Hadassah declared, “Everybody was so affected by the massacre and wanted to do something to express their solidarity with the families. Each of us have had the experience of non-Jews who have found it very meaningful when a tree is planted in the Holy Land. We felt no one would be offended by this and we thought it would be a very appropriate way to honor the memory of the victims.”

In recent days, a delegation of 15 representatives of Hadassah came to Israel in order to plant the first tree in honor of the Sandy Hook Massacre victims. Natan asserted, “A tree is the ultimate symbol of new life. The initial idea was to dedicate the forest in memory of Noah Pozner, who was among the victims of the massacre at the school in Connecticut and was Jewish, and then we realized that we would like to honor the memory of all the children who were murdered in this horrible massacre. Within a few days our members contributed more than $50,000 and I am proud to be the first person to plant the first sapling in the forest.” 

Upon planting the first tree into the ground, Natan stated, “The roots of this mulberry tree will hold the desert soil, produce fruit, and give shade to the families recently under fire who will enjoy the park. Trees are a Biblical symbol of life, and the saplings donated will bloom, grove after grove, in the memory of the children and the staff in Newtown.” Around 7,000 Hadassah members reside in Connecticut, with 230 of them living in Newtown itself.

In the Newtown Massacre, 20 children and 6 adults were murdered in cold blood by Adam Lanza. Governments around the world, including the Israeli government, have condemned what happened. An Israeli humanitarian aid organization had provided assistance in response to the first responders in Newtown. The residents of Be’ersheva have also suffered from attacks on their schools by Palestinian terrorists, thus making the Negev provincial capital city a fitting location for a memorial to the Newtown Massacre victims.

Source: United with Israel 
(Emphasis in the original)
Contributions to this project may be sent here.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A New Year

"They did eat of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year." --Joshua 5:12

Israel's weary wanderings were all over, and the promised rest was attained. No more moving tents, fiery serpents, fierce Amalekites, and howling wildernesses: they came to the land which flowed with milk and honey, and they ate the old corn of the land. Perhaps this year, beloved Christian reader, this may be thy case or mine. Joyful is the prospect, and if faith be in active exercise, it will yield unalloyed delight. To be with Jesus in the rest which remaineth for the people of God, is a cheering hope indeed, and to expect this glory so soon is a double bliss. Unbelief shudders at the Jordan which still rolls between us and the goodly land, but let us rest assured that we have already experienced more ills than death at its worst can cause us. Let us banish every fearful thought, and rejoice with exceeding great joy, in the prospect that this year we shall begin to be "for ever with the Lord."

A part of the host will this year tarry on earth, to do service for their Lord. If this should fall to our lot, there is no reason why the New Year's text should not still be true. "We who have believed do enter into rest." The Holy Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance; He gives us "glory begun below." In heaven they are secure, and so are we preserved in Christ Jesus; there they triumph over their enemies, and we have victories too. Celestial spirits enjoy communion with their Lord, and this is not denied to us; they rest in His love, and we have perfect peace in Him: they hymn His praise, and it is our privilege to bless Him too. We will this year gather celestial fruits on earthly ground, where faith and hope have made the desert like the garden of the Lord. Man did eat angels' food of old, and why not now? O for grace to feed on Jesus, and so to eat of the fruit of the land of Canaan this year!

- - - Charles Haddon Spurgeon
Morning and Evening