Sunday, July 27, 2014

God knows us completely

Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret 
sins in the light of thy countenance (Psalm 90:8).

In the divine omniscience we see set forth against each other the terror and fascination of the Godhead. That God knows each person through and through can be a cause of shaking fear to the man that has something to hide - - - some unforsaken sin, some secret crime committed against man or God. The unblessed soul may well tremble that God knows the flimsiness of every pretext and never accepts the poor excuses given for sinful conduct, since He knows perfectly the real reason for it. Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance (Psalm 90:8). How frightful a thing to see the sons of Adam seeking to hide among the trees of another garden. But where shall they hide? Whither shall I go from thy spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence? ... If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee (Psalm 139:7, 12, 12).

And to us who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope that is set before us in the gospel, how unutterably sweet is the knowledge that our Heavenly Father knows us completely. No talebearer can inform on us, no enemy can make an accusation stick; no forgotten skeleton can come tumbling out of some bidden closet to abash us and expose our past; no unsuspected weakness in our characters can come to light to turn God away from us, since He knew us utterly before we knew Him and called us to Himself in the full knowledge of everything that was against us. For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee (Isaiah 54:10).

- - - A. W. Tozer 


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Meriam Ibrahim freed, leaves Sudan

Finally.  After months of torture, cat and mouse games, a false "release," and a truly international outpouring of support from the world's Christian community, Meriam Ibrahim and her family have left Sudan and landed safely in Rome, Italy.  Their long, unimaginable ordeal at the hands of the followers of Muhammad is over.  Praise God!

Excerpted from The Telegraph:

By Josephine McKenna, Rome and Hannah Strange
9:15AM BST 24 Jul 2014
© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2014

Meriam Ibrahim, the Christian woman who was spared a death sentence for apostasy and then barred from leaving Sudan, met Pope Francis on Thursday after arriving in Rome to jubilant scenes following intense international efforts to free her ....

The 27-year-old was flown to Italy in a government aircraft and landed at Rome’s Ciampino airport accompanied by her family and Italy's deputy minister for foreign affairs, Lapo Pistelli, who flew to Sudan to collect her late on Wednesday. 

"Today we are happy, this is a day of celebration,” Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said as he greeted Ms Ibrahim and her family with his wife Agnese. 

“This gesture by Sudan is testimony to the friendship between our country and Italy’s choice to be a protagonist in this event,” said Mr Pistelli. 

Mr Pistelli first met Ms Ibrahim two weeks ago at the US Embassy in Khartoum where she and her family had sought refuge after a failed attempt to go to the US. 

He said her passport was only returned to her at the embassy on Wednesday afternoon and she was informed she could leave with her children. 

"While we were doing the final procedures she did not even know if she would be able to go,” he said.
Mr Pistelli, left Italy at 6.45 pm on Wednesday night to collect Ms Ibrahim and told journalists today she and her two children were in excellent health. 

The deputy minister said Pope Francis had expressed “his gratitude and joy” when he was informed of Ms Ibrahim’s arrival. The Vatican confirmed that she and her family would meet the pontiff, most likely on Thursday afternoon, before they transferred to the US in a few days. 

Ms Ibrahim had been trapped in Sudan since her release from prison where she was awaiting execution by hanging for refusing to renounce Christianity. 

She gave birth shackled in a Khartoum jail cell in May after her Muslim father claimed she had abandoned Islam and committed adultery with her Christian husband, as mixed-faith marriages are not recognised in Sudanese courts. 

She however insisted that she was raised a Christian by her Ethiopian Orthodox mother after her father left them when she was a young child. 

The case drew international outrage and the country's Supreme Court threw out the death sentence in June. 

Ms Ibrahim's previous attempt to leave the country with her husband Daniel Wani, an American citizen, days after her release from prison was thwarted by the authorities because they said she had "fake" documents, a claim she denied. 
We praise God for His mercy, and for answering the prayers of His people in this case.  Of particular note were the efforts of such groups as the American Center for Law and Justice, Amnesty International, and many others.  The Italian government took the initiative in actually doing something while the American Department of State merely whimpered some perfunctory protests. Although the Pope of Rome was, of course, front and center to bask in the spotlight, Meriam's family are not Roman Catholics, and there is no compelling evidence that the Vatican made any significant efforts to help them.

Soon, they will be back on American soil, where Meriam's disabled husband (and therefore their children) are American citizens.  We cannot praise God enough, and we continue to remember such imprisoned brethren as Saeed Abedini and Asia Bibi.  Christians will always be persecuted, but the monstrous "religion" of Islam is currently taking the lead in this.

See also:
Meriam Ibrahim: Sadism in the Sudan

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Flunking the Israel Test

Here's an interesting presentation which open-minded people should find very thought-provoking. A brief snippet of the ideas contained in his book The Israel Test, it is presented by George Gilder, whose 1981 runaway bestseller Wealth and Poverty revolutionized economic thinking in the United States:


Sadly but inevitably, it is all to evident how our "Palestinian" friends fare on this test.  They make their deepest feelings (perhaps their only genuine feelings) very clear:


Some people simply don't like the truth.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Conviction or Condemnation?

Have you ever been down on yourself ... felt vaguely guilty, or acutely guilty ... felt like you were the biggest foul-up, or the biggest fool, in the world?  If you're a normal human being, you've felt that way more than once.  But, as a Christian, have you ever wondered where those feelings come from?

It's normal (and healthy) to feel guilty at times.  That's part of the human experience; none of us are perfect, and when we've done something wrong, we should feel a certain amount of guilt.  Contrary to what some psychologists might say, guilt can be a very positive thing, if it helps motivate us to change our behavior, or correct a mistake, or make restitution when we've wronged someone.  That's conscience, and it's one of the greatest gifts God ever gave to man: it's our moral compass.

But, in the life of a Christian, there are other factors that can cause us to feel horribly guilty ... or cause us to realize that we're on the wrong track.  Because every Christian is perpetually hearing two voices, in addition to his or her own: the voice of the Holy Spirit, and the voice of the enemy of our souls, Satan.  But sometimes we don't know which is which.

When the Holy Spirit speaks to us about a sin we've committed, or a mistake we've made, we say that we feel "convicted," or that we're "under conviction."  The Spirit of Jesus Christ is whispering in our heart, "Don't do that; do this!" And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left (Isaiah 30:21).

But there's another voice, and it's the voice of the Enemy.  He doesn't convict us: he beats us over the head, and besets us with unhealthy guilt (often when we've done nothing wrong): he condemns us.  He makes us feel like we've blown it irreparably, or that we're worthless.

But how can we tell which voice we're hearing?  The Enemy is the great imposter, and he can pretend to be God ... he can even use scripture to do it.  (That's one reason why we need to constantly study the scriptures: so that when the Enemy misuses a verse or a passage, we'll recognize that something doesn't ring true.) This is one of the Enemy's favorite games.

There are several ways, when we feel that things aren't right, to tell the difference between God's conviction, and the Enemy's condemnation. We'll look at three of them.

First of all, when the Enemy is condemning us, or placing us under "false conviction," he always centers our attention on ourselves.  "Look what a mess you've made of things! Look at you, committing the same old sin again and again.  What a miserable excuse for a Christian you are!  Why don't you just give up?"  That's the pronoun he prefers: you. And as long as we're looking at ourselves, he has us right where he wants us.  Because there's no hope in us, even if we're believers: For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing, Paul says in Romans 7:18.

But conviction, coming from God the Holy Spirit, doesn't work that way.  Remember what Jesus said, when He promised the disciples that the Spirit would come? Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak ... He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you (John 16:13, 14).  The Spirit doesn't point the finger at us; in fact, He doesn't even point the finger at Himself.  The Spirit always points the finger to Jesus Christ.  And, when He convicts us of something, He doesn't focus on "you;" He focuses on Jesus Christ, and all the hope and power and forgiveness that are available in Christ.  Condemnation places the attention on us; true conviction places the attention on Jesus Christ.

Second, the Enemy's condemnation always discourages us.  We feel defeated; we feel hopeless; we feel like we'll never have victory or joy in our lives again.  Once more, the Enemy is trying to demoralize and defeat us, so that we won't even try to follow Christ any farther, or talk about Him (or to Him) any more.  This can have tragic consequences. It can affect our mental health, leading to self-destructive behaviors, whether drinking, overeating, or even self-mutilation.  How the Enemy enjoys seeing us in that state!  If we're saved, he can't get our souls; but if he can just make us miserable, and cause us to give up, he'll be overjoyed.

But God's conviction is just the opposite.  Yes, He tells us we're doing wrong, or making a mistake: but He offers us hope and encouragement, as well.  I say it reverently: when we're sincerely trying to please God, and are trying to maintain fellowship with Him, and reading His word ... the Holy Spirit is our greatest cheerleader.  He doesn't say, "You've blown it.  Give up!"  He says, "Okay, a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again (Proverbs 24:16), so get up, let's keep moving.  The future is straight ahead, and I'm with you!"  True conviction offers hope, not just guilt.

Finally, the condemnation of the Enemy paralyzes us.  It renders us ineffective and useless, to ourselves and others, by plunging us into a gloom of unhealthy introspection. He reminds us of all the things we've failed to do, and convinces us that we can't live as we should - - - so, for a time, we quit trying.  He convinces us to drop out of the race. And we quench the Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19), not because we've rejected Christ, but because we're only listening to the Enemy.  In terms of living the joyous, fruitful Christian life, we might as well be frozen in amber.

But God's conviction doesn't paralyze us; it motivates and empowers us.  If nothing else, it assures us that God is still speaking to us, and that He's still interested in us. But it's very practical, too.  When our lives are cluttered with sins or mistakes, God's conviction shows us what needs to be done.  It helps us clear the decks. God's mercies are new every morning, and one of these mercies is giving us a clean slate at the beginning of each day (assuming that we've responded to His conviction). Instead of paralyzing us in self-loathing or self-pity, God's conviction gets our eyes back on Christ, and reminds us of the staggering possibilities that lie ahead for any committed Christian.  Because the Holy Spirit does something that the Enemy can't do: He doesn't just talk.  He acts through us.  He gives us the power to bear His fruit, and fulfill our purpose here on earth.  

The Enemy has a thousand ways of discouraging us, or slowing us down, or making us quit.  But if that's so, then God has a thousand and one ways of giving us the power and the joy and the motivation to stay in the race ... and to join Him in His victory!

What a Christ!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Praying for Israel

Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3).

I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid.  For I also
  am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin (Romans 11:1). 

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee (Psalm 122:6).

Father, You know me.  You know my innermost thoughts, and the deepest motivations of my wicked heart: nothing is hid from Thee. I am conscious of my Savior's warning in Matthew 6:5-7, about praying in public, to appear "pious."  But I also know that there's a time for public prayer, and this does not always displease Thee.  I come before Thee in the strong Name of Thy Son Jesus Christ, to pray for Thy nation, Israel, in this terrible time of testing, as she is attacked once again by the Philistine barbarians. This time, not for the first time, she is  abandoned by her former ally, the nation in which You placed me, the United States, under the diabolical guidance of a President who, like his predecessor, cares more for the barbarians than for Thy nation: a President who loathes Thy people as did Haman of old.  Who on Earth has the power and the will to help Thy nation, Lord?  None, Thou knowest.  Israel is alone, except for Thee, and for the prayers and support of Thy people.  We thank Thee, Father, that Iron Dome is helping, and that Operation Protective Edge is helping, and that Israel's current leader is resolute. But apart from Thee, none of man's plans or devices can avail.   Please, dear and holy Father, protect Thy nation, and save her people.  It is not for me to curse any man, but I ask Thee to curse Hamas, Fatah, ISIS, and all of Israel's enemies throughout the world, especially those Mohammedans who hate Thee and hate Thy nation.  In the words of the old song, Father: "confound their politics, frustrate their knavish tricks, on Thee our hopes we fix!"

Father, we are not blind to Israel's faults or sins. Instead of being the truly Godly nation You desire, they have gone whoring after modern enchantments and devices, such as "liberal democracy," and their coddling of the Sodomites and other sinners in their midst is no different from that of my own nation, or any other.  They are not a Godly people, and we know that this displeases Thee; but that is between them, and Thee.  We are too conscious of our own nation's sins to cast stones.  But You have said, in the context of Israel, that the gifts and calling of God are without repentance (Romans 11:29). Israel is still Thy beloved nation, despite those among my brethren who deny this with their Hellish "Replacement Doctrine." We repudiate that doctrine, and fly to the pages of Thy word, and beg You to preserve and protect Thy nation once again.  We know from Thy holy prophecies that it will get worse before the end, and we pray for the people of Israel, in their coming tribulations.  

You have commanded us to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, and we eagerly and enthusiastically obey.  Forbid it, Lord, that we should sin against Thee by neglecting to pray for Thy nation (1 Samuel 12:23).  Protect Thy nation, Lord, regardless of her shortcomings and unbelief: and, as it pleases Thee, save the individual residents of that nation by bringing them to faith in Thy dear Son, their Saviour and mine, the Lord Jesus Christ, in Whom alone lies eternal hope.

I pray this, not for Israel's sake or my own, but for Jesus' sake, and in His Name.  Thank You for hearing this faltering prayer, Lord.

inside an Israeli bomb shelter

Monday, July 7, 2014

Taking Grace for Granted

"The grace of God." It's a common enough phrase ... and, for Christians, one of the two or three most important concepts that can be imagined. But what if someone asked, "What does the grace of God mean to you, personally?"  Not merely a theological definition, but something that you experience on the gut level.  How would you answer the question?  Any Christian will sing "Amazing Grace;" but, on a day to day basis, in your daily life, does it really amaze you?  Or do you take it for granted?

Just so we're all on the same page, exactly what is grace?  In this context - - - the context of God's dealings with man - - - grace can be described as God's unmerited, undeserved favor toward a sinner: it includes mercy and forgiveness and is the key to salvation itself.  And, since all men and women are sinners, it's something that we all need, if we're to escape God's wrath: because no matter how "good" we may consider ourselves, or others may consider us, we are members of a fallen race, totally and hopelessly alienated from God.  And, despite the teachings of nearly every religion on earth - - - Roman Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism, most branches of Protestantism, and so on - - - we cannot "earn" our salvation by "good works." Job, who was one of the three most most "righteous" men in the Old Testament (Ezekiel 14:14, 20), said, If I wash myself with snow water, and make my hands never so clean; Yet shalt thou plunge me in the ditch, and mine own clothes shall abhor me (Job 9:30-31). Jesus said, For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:20).  When it came to "good works" and "following the Commandments," the scribes and Pharisees were the most outwardly "righteous" people on earth.  Our "morality" and "charity" and "love of our fellow man" won't get us a single millimeter closer to Heaven.  Only the sacrifice of God's perfect Son, at Calvary, could pay our debt of sin, if we receive Him (John 1:12).  That's what "grace" is all about: God giving us the favor and love and mercy that only Jesus Christ deserved.  We receive Him by simple faith: For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:8, 9). 

That's the "amazing grace" that the old slave trader, John Newton, wrote about in his famous hymn.  And if you've been born again by the Spirit of God (John 3:3-7), you understand that. Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15)

But grace goes far beyond our salvation.  It permeates our everyday lives, and it does so .... well, every day.  The "best" person who ever lived on this planet, other than Jesus Christ, deserved nothing but damnation and pain.  (If you can't accept that, or believe it, then it's because you're stuck on yourself: and you think that if a "good" person can earn a place in Heaven, then you can, too.  But you can't.)  Every breath you take, every morsel of food you consume, every moment of laughter or love or joy, is a manifestation of God's grace.  And that's not just true of Christians: that's true of everyone on earth.  If you're an atheist or a Muslim, and you have a measure of good health, it's because God's grace allows it.  If you're a Hindu or a humanist, and you have a roof over your head or someone who loves you, it's an example of God's grace.  Because we each deserve something far worse: because we're members of the race that has rejected God from Eden to Calvary to today. The theologians call this "common grace," because God extends it to all mankind, but there's nothing "common" or cheap about it.  It's God's mercy, and nothing else.

But the grace that gets us to Heaven, by faith in Jesus Christ and dependence on Him alone, is really the subject of this post, which is really aimed at Christians.  The question arises again: does God's transforming, unlimited grace amaze you, or do you take it for granted?

Someone asks, "How could anyone take such a thing for granted?"  Why, Christians do it all the time.  Becoming a Christian is the most important event in a person's life, but it's not always the most outwardly dramatic; and, just as married couples can come to take each other for granted after an initial burst of passion, so Christians are experts at "getting over" their salvation.  They may flame brightly for a month, or a year, but they often grow dim, and hide their light under a bushel.  Yes, they still love Jesus ... just as they love their grandparents.  But they probably think about their grandparents more.
Just as every person is an individual, different Christians have different ways of taking God's grace for granted.  I'll mention only two: there are many others.
The Bible teaches that, once a man or woman has been saved by receiving Christ, he or she can never lose that salvation, or become unsaved again.  Some Christians refer to this concept as "eternal security;" others call it "the perseverance of the saints."  Many Christian groups reject this teaching; that doesn't mean that they're not Christians, but it means that they don't understand the Bible very well.  If I can't earn my salvation by my "good works," my "good works" can't keep me saved. My salvation doesn't depend on what I do or don't do, once I've received Christ: it depends on what Jesus did, at Calvary. Once I'm saved, of course, the good works are a product of that salvation: For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:8-10).  But the good works don't earn the salvation - - - and sin doesn't destroy the salvation.
That's the tricky part! We're so hung up on the idea that "being good" saves us, that we can't believe that "being bad" wouldn't blow the deal.  But it doesn't; because my sins can't undo what Jesus did on the cross.  So, we sometimes, usually unintentionally, take grace for granted, by toying with sin, or plunging headlong into sin - - - because we know we won't be damned for it, now that we're saved by grace.  That's called "taking grace for granted."
It's disgusting, isn't it? In fact, it's disgraceful!  But probably every Christian has done it at one time or another, and some do it almost habitually.  "Well, now that I'm saved, I can do what I want!  I can't go to Hell!"
No, you can't, not if you're genuinely saved.  But you're a fool to think that way.  You're not a damned fool; you're a saved fool.  Yes, go ahead and sin: you'll still get to Heaven, because you can't lose your salvation.  But there are other things you can lose, you dummy (I say it charitably); there are other things you can lose, you dimwit!  Your sins can cost you your health.  (Ever visit a cancer or AIDS unit?) Your sins can cost you your family. (Seen the divorce statistics lately?) Your sins can cost you your freedom.  (You think there aren't Christians in prison?)  And, when God gets fed up, your sins can cost you your earthly life: God slew numerous Christians in the New Testament. (Acts 5:1-11; 1 Corinthians 11:29, 30.) Yes, you'll still go to Heaven: but what a way to get there!  Anyway, that's an example of taking grace for granted.
tavern drunks
Another way we can take grace for granted is by laziness, or cowardice: shirking our responsibilities in the area of the Christian life.  "I don't feel like studying my Bible today; I'm so tired!  Surely God understands!"  Yes, and He also understands that you might not be here to study it tomorrow.  Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away (James 4:13-14).  You're presuming on God's grace to think that you can read the Bible or pray "some other time."  There may not be another time. "Oh, I don't think my co-worker, or my fellow student, is in a very receptive mood today.  I'd better tell them about the Gospel another time."  That might work out ... or it might not.  They might not be here tomorrow, either.  I'm not saying they'll die in a car crash; I'm saying that people move abruptly for many reasons, for many emergencies.  Postpone your witness, and you're taking God's grace for granted.  
The person who takes God's grace for granted in the deadliest way, of course, is the person who postpones coming to Jesus Christ for salvation. The person who wants to do things his or her own way for a few more years, and then they'll come to Christ.  The person who says, "I don't have to receive Christ today; there's always tomorrow."  Oh?  Is there?  I wonder what the people who died on 9/11 were planning for 9/12, or the next weekend?  Did they have time to get their affairs in order?  Well, what makes you think that you will?

The grace of God is the most wondrous thing in the human experience.  It can't be contemplated or celebrated too much.  But to take it for granted .....  Doesn't God deserve a little bit better than that?

Friday, July 4, 2014

July 4: One Day Closer

Today, as my fellow Americans take a day off from work to supposedly celebrate the birthday of a once-great country, which has now taken its place among the most heathen nations in history, I have chosen to turn my back of the flags and the fireworks, and celebrate the fact that we are one day closer to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the time when the nations will, finally, acknowledge Him as the Creator of the Universe, the King of the Earth (which He is not at the moment), and the Saviour of our souls.  Instead of "God Bless America," I invite you to join me in looking forward to that blessed time!