Book Review of DNA of a Christian by Daren Wride

DNAHaving never heard of the author, Daren Wride, I loaded this book onto my kindle because it was offered for free on Amazon and it had a catchy title. If I’m being honest, I didn’t expect too much. As the title suggests, Wride offers what he feels are the essential traits of a believing Christian, as follows:

 

  1. Lover of God
  2. Lover of People
  3. Holy
  4. Truth Based
  5. Evangelistic
  6. Persevering
  7. God-Dependent
  8. Focused on Eternity

Wride admits that this list is not exhaustive, however, he tried to create it in a way that includes all other possibilities. As might be expected, some traits were more challenging than others, however, as a whole this book serves as a great reminder that our faith should change the way we live our lives. I actually used this book as a teaching tool in our church covering a different trait each week. It served well for that purpose.

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Book Review of “No God But One” by Nabeel Qureshi

nogodbutoneFrom the moment I read Nabeel Qureshi’s first book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, I wanted to read more from him. His first book details his conversion from Islam to Christianity and essentially serves as his testimony. In this book, Qureshi offers the reasoning behind his conversion. In essence, he subjects the claims of Islam to the same scrutiny skeptics demand of Christianity and the Bible, however, he does so in a fair and heartfelt manner. In doing so, he details the debates he used to engage in with his Christian friends and compares the claims of Islam with the claims of Christianity. In scrutinizing his Islam, Qureshi eventually arrives at a place of spiritual bankruptcy and discovers that Christianity holds up well to scrutiny. This discovery is what leads him to sacrifice all he’s ever known for the conversion that is detailed in his first book.

When I learned of Qureshi’s passing last year, I immediately resolved to read this book. I am glad I did so. He writes with the authority of one who has lived both faiths and loves people from each religion. His writing is honest and his testimony is incredible. His voice is unique and is sure to inspire. I highly recommend his work to anyone who wants to learn more about Islam, especially as it compares to Christianity.

The Answer to Our National Heartache

Public debate always deepens after horrific events like the one that happened in Florida on February 14. After a shooter tragically took the lives of 17 individuals inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, much of the debate has revolved around gun control. Well-intended people on both sides of the debate argue over the means and methods necessary to save future lives and I fervently believe it is a debate that we must have in our country. Our children’s live are very much at stake and I believe we should explore every possibility to save them. However, it is not the gun debate that I woke up thinking about this morning.

This morning, as our country tries to understand and make sense out of events such as Columbine, Sandy Hook, and Parkland, Florida, God is often at the center of discussion. The memes and comments I see most often on social media flow as follows:

“God, how could you let this happen in my school?”

“Child, I am not allowed in schools.”

The point is easily derived. In a country where God has been outlawed in our schools, we should expect horrific events to occur. Right? I fear, however, that the culture shift we have seen in the United States goes even deeper.

Consider, if you will, the very notion of outlawing God? How can we outlaw the Divine  Supreme being? The Almighty God is omnipresent. He exists in every time and every space at once. God can be manifest to every person and every situation as He sees fit (Isaiah 57:15, Psalm 33:13-14). We cannot control where and when God decides to make Himself known. He is God and we aren’t. In the early sixties, the Supreme Court made decisions that removed forced prayer and Bible readings from our school systems across the country. Prior to that time, communal prayers and Bible readings were common place in our schools. However, removing those prayers and those studies did not remove God. Why? Because the Supreme Court has no power over the Supreme Father. You cannot simply remove Him with the pounding of a gavel. Our God doesn’t change (James 1:17) and He has not changed since the sixties.

However, something has changed dramatically in the short 50+ years since the Supreme Court first ruled on prayer in schools. We have changed. Prior to the sixties, students in the public schools grew up watching their teachers and school leaders pay reverence to God. Even if they weren’t believers, they were exposed to people who were. Students were exposed to Scripture and were allowed to consider the truth of God’s Word without facing ridicule or derision. Such lessons left a mark on their personas and when they faced heartache, angst, and confusion they knew where to turn for answers. That influence has been removed from our school systems and what we now see is a troubled generation at a loss for what to do and where to turn. In two short generations we have begun to reap what we’ve sown.

The answer to our national heartache is not more or less guns. The solution is more Christ. Undoubtedly, some will read my words and call me a zealot or a “Bible thumper.” I’m okay with that. But mark my words, if we don’t figure out a way to bridge the divide between the secular and the sacred in our school systems we will continue to suffer heartache after heartache.

Know that I am not advocating “forced” prayer or “forced” Bible studies. I am convinced by God’s Word that He values the freedom of choice. However, we need to create environments where our young people are able to consider the Truth of God’s Word free from ridicule and mockery. These environments need to be fostered primarily in our homes and in our churches, but also in our schools.

Christians, please join me in praying for our young people. Pray for our school leaders. Pray for our political leaders. Pray for the brave men and women in law enforcement who have accepted the call to protect our children. Know that what happened in Florida can happen in any school district in any town in America. I believe we need to tighten our security wherever able and protect our kids as much as possible, however, we also need to arm our youth with something far more powerful than any weapon. We need to arm them with the truth of God’s Word.

“7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap” Galatians 6:7 (NASB). 

 

 

Personal Accountability in the Book of Amos

Bible Backgrounds: AmosThe first four chapters of Amos are gut-wrenching. Amos is a prophet delivering God’s Word to the nation of Israel. He is not happy. Nor does Amos beat around the bush; he calls Israel out in a very explicit way. He begins by preaching judgment on the nations that surround Israel. With each pronouncement he moves closer and closer to Israel like a noose tightening around their neck. Midway through Chapter 2, the full judgment of God is being preached on the nation of Israel and their sins are many.

The prophet tells Israel that their days are numbered because they are taking advantage of the needy. The Israelites  “sell the righteous for money and the needy for a pair of sandals” (2:6), “turn aside the way of the humble” (2:7) and “a man and his father resort to the same girl” (2:7). Amos paints a picture of Israel that is disturbing. It is a land that is built on the backs of the poor and is characterized by sexual immorality. What’s even more disturbing is that Amos preaches that the Israelites do these things to “profane [God’s] holy name” (2:7). 

Amos is suggesting that the Israelites take delight in their sin. They take pleasure in flaunting their sins before God and they mock Him with their disobedience. Their disobedience is not cause by ignorance; rather, they have gleefully chosen to live in sin.

What’s even more disturbing to me is that I can see this in our own culture. We live in a world that often celebrates what God has called out as sin. Our world mocks those who attempt to be loyal to God’s Word. Our world often profanes the Holy name of God.

The first four chapters of Amos are difficult to swallow because the prophet is preaching to Israel collectively. He is dealing with them on a corporate level as a nation and things appear to be hopeless. Amos preaches that “flight will perish from the swift, and the stalwart will not strengthen his power, nor the mighty man save his life. He who grasps the bow will not stand his ground, the swift of foot will not escape, nor will he who rides the horse save his life. Even the bravest among the warriors will fly naked in that day” (2:14-16).

God’s wrath is going to crush Israel. They are going to be punished for their sins.

There’s a shift in the fifth chapter of Amos. The prophet takes a break from proclaiming doom on the nation and begins speaking to individuals within the nation. He tells them repeatedly to “seek the Lord so that [they] may live” (5:6). Amos is writing a dirge for the nation of Israel (5:1), however, in the midst of the nation’s funeral he is preaching life. Amos preaches:

“Seek Good and not evil, that you may live; and thus may the LORD God of hosts be with you, Just as you have said! Hate evil, love good, and establish justice in the gate! Perhaps the LORD God of hosts may be gracious to the remnant of Joseph” Amos 5:14-15, NASB.

In the midst of a doomed nation, Amos offers a prescription for life. He speaks to individual hearts and tells they must swim upstream to avoid the current of their culture. They must hate evil and love good. They must seek and establish justice. They must look to God for life!

The same is true for us. Jesus stands in stark contrast to our culture. Much of what He preached seems upside down to us. He taught that the last shall be first (Matthew 20:16) and that the meek shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). He also taught that He is the only path to God, “I am the Way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6).  Jesus taught a message that is often ridiculed, distorted, and even profaned in our culture … and it is left up to the individuals within our culture to embrace Christ’s message.

Amos preached that individuals needed to seek good and not evil. Jesus is the good they need to seek. Jesus says that if we know Him, we know God and if we’ve seen Him, we’ve seen God (John 14:7).

In the midst of a culture that is sinking under the weight of its own sin, Jesus is the answer. 

 

Take Responsibility for Your Spiritual Growth: A Devotional

gfgm2hcq92s-aaron-burden“… but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:18, NASB)

In 2 Peter 3:17, Peter warns believers not to “… lose [their] footing and get swept off [their] feet by these lawless and loose-talking teachers” (2 Peter 3:17, Message). Not only are believers prone to stumble on their journey with Christ, there are those who would intentionally trip us up if given the chance. There are false teachers who would lead us astray in our walk … this is why it’s crucial we stay faithful to the gospel as it has been passed down to us (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Because of all the pitfalls that confront us in our walk, it is important that we take a proactive stance when it comes to our spiritual growth.

Too often, we treat spiritual growth as something that just “happens” to us. We go to church, hang out with other Christians, and listen to Christian music in the hope that we will grow through some sort of ‘spiritual osmosis’ – and we will, to an extent. However, we will grow the most when we actively contribute to the growth process. When Peter admonishes believers to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior,” we must understand he is encouraging us to actively participate in the process.

Do you want to know the secret to avoiding pitfalls in your spiritual walk? Take responsibility for your own spiritual growth. In the power of the Holy Spirit, commit yourself to growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. When your feet hit the floor in the morning make it your daily goal to study God’s Word and put it into practice in your life. Don’t wait for Sunday morning to soak up some spirituality, rather, make spiritual growth a priority in your life every day of the week! Peter has warned us there are people who will lead us astray … we can avoid their traps if we know what we know what we know! Scripture equates this process with a baby who gets off of milk and begins to eat solid food (Hebrews 5:12, 1 Cor 3:2).

Take command of your spiritual life and take responsibility for it. Never be satisfied with just milk. It is time we all begin eating solid food!

Obedience is Not Optional

“To God’s elect … who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with His blood…” (1 Peter 1:1-2 NIV emphasis mine).

mo9vkbg5csg-ben-whiteThe above passage is rich with theological implications. It contains trigger words that light the Bible student’s heart on fire such as ‘elect’ and ‘foreknowledge’. It also mentions each member of the Trinity; Father, Son, and Spirit. However, when I read it this morning three other words grabbed my attention …

“… to be obedient …”

Why were God’s elect chosen according to the foreknowledge of God? To be obedient. Too often, Christians see obedience to God’s Word as optional. We tend to pick and choose the passages we’ll respond to. I’m not talking about the things we rule out after careful study and exegesis. It’s a truth of Scripture that not all commands within its pages apply to Christians today (hint: think shellfish!). What I’m talking about are the no-brainers — commands to worship God with all our heart, soul, and strength; to love others, worship together, and to be holy in all our conduct. We tend to pay attention to commands such as this when it’s convenient to do so, but the moment things get rough or difficult we abandon them.

When reading 1 Peter this morning I wrote the following words in the margins of my Bible:

Obedience is not optional. 

That phrase — obedience is not optional, is my new mantra. I will repeat it when things get rough. I will repeat it on the days I don’t feel God’s presence in my life. I will repeat it on those days I’m not feeling particularly Godly. Obedience is not optional!

It’s hard to justify disobedience when God’s Word says we were chosen to be obedient!

 

 

Do You Reciprocate​ God’s Love?

sunset-hands-love-womanIn his post “A Key Ingredient for Friendship“, blogger and pastor Lyn Perry identifies reciprocity as a key ingredient for friendship. He does so after reading about William Shatner’s damaged friendship with Leonard Nimoy in the book Leonard. Perry writes, “Without reciprocity, friendships fail.” And he’s right … it’s hard to love someone that doesn’t love you back.

It’s so hard, in fact, that I suspect even the best of us would eventually tire of an unreciprocated friendship. Heck, I’m only going to care for so long. Eventually, I’m going to write you off if you fail to love me back. I say that even though God role-models something much different.

The oft-quoted verse John 3:16 begins with the words “For God so loved the world …” God loved the world that would crucify His Son. God loved the world that would, by and large, reject Him. Yet God doesn’t write us off. In response to His unrequited love for the world, God displays patience and desires the best for us (2 Peter 3:9).

God’s unrequited love for the world is the most remarkable kind of love ever displayed. The Apostle Paul put it this way, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God didn’t just love sinners, He put His Son on the cross for sinners.

That is remarkable!

I write all of this to arrive at a point. It’s not just an unbelieving world that fails to respond to God’s love. There are many of us Christians who are still failing to reciprocate God’s love for us. We give lip-service to our faith in Christ yet continue to live in a way that doesn’t reflect our profession of faith. This is what James was saying when he wrote, “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26).

In the cross, Christ displayed the most remarkable kind of love for the world and Christians, of all people, should be responding to and reciprocating that love. If I’m being honest, I go through periods where my life doesn’t reflect God’s love. I am prone to selfishness. I sometimes allow my mountains to take my eyes off My Rock. My prayer is for that to change dramatically in 2017. I want to love people more. I want to serve myself less than I serve God. Mainly, I want to reciprocate the love God has shown me. Because His love is truly remarkable.

The Bible and Slavery

Bible2I continually see Scripture being attacked on the basis that it either endorses the practice of slavery or that it fails to explicitly denounce the practice of slavery. I’ve seen skeptics, atheists, and even self-proclaimed liberal Christians use this argument as a means to charge the Bible with immorality, irrelevance, and atrocities. A few years ago, I offered a response to such claims in an online discussion forum and thought I would share them here.

Does the Bible Endorse or Fail to Denounce Slavery? 
It is a mistake to assume the Bible doesn’t condemn slavery and if such an assertion is to be made, it deserves careful and critical examination.

First off, the word “slavery” as it occurs throughout the Bible refers to a wide spectrum of servitude from “leasing” ones service where both parties enter into the agreement willingly to situations that far more resembled slavery as we know it in this country. Biblically, the word “slavery” refers to a wide range of stuff from servitude to outright slavery.

I believe there is sufficient evidence that the Bible condemns the latter forms of atrocious slavery. First, consider the plagues that fell upon the Egyptians for refusing to free God’s people from forced, atrocious slavery. Of all the slavery portrayed in the Bible, the Egyptians rule over the Hebrews can certainly be compared to the racial slavery we experienced in our country. In this situation, I think God made it evident He condemned such a heinous act. Extracting the Hebrew people, as lowly as they were seen in the eyes of the Egyptian people, establishing them as God’s chosen ones, and pouring curses out on the Egyptians was as definitive a statement as God could have made. Certainly, any sane person can deduce that God is not in favor of such forms of slavery.

Couple this situation with the following verses:

  • “Anyone who kidnaps another and either sells him or still has him when he is caught must be put to death” (Exodus 21:16).
  • “But we know that the law is good, provided one uses it legitimately. We know that the law is not meant for a righteous person, but for the lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinful, for the unholy and irreverent, for those who kill their fathers and mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral and homosexuals, for kidnappers, liars, perjurers, and for whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching” (1 Timothy 1:8-10).

The word “kidnappers” in the above passage is alternately translated as “man-stealers” or “enslavers” depending on the translation you are using. These verses when juxtaposed with the Hebrew slavery in Egypt clearly reveals that God does not condone or endorse the heinous, forced, and atrocious forms of slavery. Period. In fact, suggesting God endorses such acts does Him and His Word an injustice and reveals a poor working knowledge of Scripture.

Now this brings us to the more mild forms of slavery (where both parties entered into the agreement willingly). In these situations God’s Word speaks into the hearts of both slave and slave-owner. The method God’s Word uses to initiate social reform in this case is to speak into the hearts of individuals. Social change occurs one conversion at a time in the heart of believers. With this is mind, examine the following verses:

  • For the slave master: Ephesians 6:9, “And masters, treat your slaves the same way, without threatening them, because you know that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with Him.”
  • For the slave: 1 Peter 2:19-20, “For it brings favor if, mindful of God’s will, someone endures grief from suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if you sin and are punished, and you endure it? But when you do what is good and suffer, if you endure it, this brings favor with God.”

In the culture of the New Testament, slavery was engrained. So the writers of the New Testament encouraged social reform one heart at a time. When this is taken into account, no form of “Christian slavery” would resemble what comes to our mind when we hear the word slavery. Consider Paul’s interaction with the slave Onesimus.

In the first chapter of Philemon, Paul writes that Onesimus is “no longer a slave, but more than a slave” (v.16). He refers to Onesimus as his “son” (v. 10). In verse 17, Paul encourages Philemon (the master) to receive Onesimus as a partner in Christ just as he would Paul himself. Paul even goes as far as to assume any debts or charges that Onesimus may have built up against Philemon (v. 18)!

Does any of Paul’s words resemble the heinous, atrocious images that we associate as Americans with slavery? Paul is encouraging social reform by appealing to the hearts of both Onesimus and Philemon. In no way is he “endorsing slavery” as skeptics suggest.

When Scripture is examined, the Christian can take confidence that neither God, nor His Word, “endorses” the heinous and atrocious act of slavery or human trafficking. We can stand on God’s Word when we oppose such practices and when we do, we will glorify God in the process.

 

Look At The Book Labs with John Piper

I use the Logos Bible Software in my daily study time and for the last several days I’ve been using a course of study from John Piper called the “Look at the Book Labs”. Each day, Piper examines a passage of Scripture and you get to follow along as he studies the Word. The cool feature, however, is that each study has a video. Viewers get to see the passage of Scripture in question (in other words, they get to look at the book) while Piper annotates and marks up the passage during his study. All the while, Piper is commentating and guiding viewers through the study. The end results are great.

In my studies, I try to follow a particular pattern:

  • Observation: here is where I ask questions of the text. Who, what, when, why, and where type of questions.
  • Interpretation: In this step, I bring in multiple translations, commentaries, dictionaries and other extra-biblical sources to help me understand words or phrases that aren’t immediately understood.
  • Application: In this step, I ask myself how the passage I am studying applies to my life. Is there a call to action? Is there a change being asked of me? This is where I determine my response to what I’ve read.

I say all of this because Piper’s studies offer wonderful examples of the first two steps. I really enjoy watching as he guides me through his observation and interpretation. It is very insightful to see what mental processes Piper goes through as he approaches the text. Too often, Christians are tempted to skip observation and interpretation in favor of application, however, Piper’s studies certainly demonstrate how important it is to ask the right questions and take the time to observe and interpret. I am learning from his example.

At the end of each study, Piper also offers additional resources and sermons from his library that apply to the passage in question. I’ve been using his study as a launching point (each one takes 10 to 15 minutes) for my own studies and have tried going deeper into the text. Using these studies, a person can go as deep as they want. Piper’s goal is to teach people how to feed themselves … and I think these labs work wonderfully.

I checked today and these labs are all available on Piper’s website for free at http://www.desiringgod.org/labs. I highly recommend them.

Book Review of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity by Nabeel Qureshi

seekingNabeel Qureshi’s story is incredible. The first several chapters of Qureshi’s testimony details his life growing up in a devout Muslim family. The reader will learn about the Muslim faith, but perhaps more importantly, he will grow to genuinely like Qureshi’s Muslim family. Too often, we fail to see people of other faiths as individuals – or even as human, but Qureshi’s family is filled with good people. His parents were loving, responsible, and interesting. Amid this backdrop, Qureshi, an honor student, grew into an outspoken apologist for Islam.

What follows is essentially the story of Qureshi leaving his Muslim faith in favor of Christianity. It is a gripping account of a young man engaging the Quran and Muslim literature in a search for truth. There are two aspects of his story that really impacted me. First, was his Christian friend David. Despite their different faiths, the two forged a fast friendship. In that relationship, is a lesson for all wanna be Christian evangelists and apologists. David didn’t just share his faith with Nebeel, he befriended him. His evangelism came packaged in the form of a true and lasting friendship. The two men’s lives became intertwined with one another. For years, they debated and engaged one another’s faith. There’s a lesson in that for all of us when engaging others for the sake of the gospel.

Secondly, it was incredible to see the Bible through the eyes of Qureshi whose journey from Islam to Christianity wasn’t an easy one. It came at great cost:

“These are the costs Muslims must calculate when considering the gospel: losing the relationships they have built in this life, potentially losing this life it- self, and if they are wrong, losing their afterlife in paradise. It is no under- statement to say that Muslims often risk everything to embrace the cross.”

Qureshi stood to lose everything he loved for the sake of the gospel; his family, reputation, friends … yet the beauty Jesus trumped everything:

“I could not put the Bible down. I literally could not. It felt as if my heart would stop beating, perhaps implode, if I put it down. I ended up skipping the whole day of school, but I really had no choice in the matter. The Bible was my lifeline.”

To hear the words of someone encountering the truth of God’s Word for the first time touched me and reminded me why Scripture is so precious. It changes lives. Certainly, it changed Nabeel Qureshi’s life. His story is one you should read.