Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Sifted Like Wheat

Jesus was concerned about Satan’s efforts to destroy His own apostles. “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32, NLT).
Satan asked for Peter. I wonder if Peter though of this event later on when he wrote about that “roaring lion seeking to devour God’s people. (cf. 1 Peter 5:8) Peter knew what it was like to be stalked by the lion.

This attack from Satan must be diligently considered. Satan desired to “sift you as wheat”. When wheat is sifted it is filtered through a sieve and the wheat was separated from the chaff (or worthless kernels of the wheat). This process makes the wheat purer than it was before the sifting. Of course, without sifting the real wheat could not be identified and used.

Now each of us would probably have responded to Jesus' warning the same way Peter did. Peter said, “Lord, I am ready to go to prison with you, and even to die with you.” (v. 33) Our faith in God is unwavering, until it is tested. This was to be the ultimate test for Peter, and Jesus knew that his friend would fail by denying Him three times before men. (Luke 22:34)

Yet Jesus prayed for Peter. But notice what he prayed for. He prayed that his faith would not fail. A faith that fails is not one that never sins, but one that refuses to repent (return to Christ). Even though Peter would fail his test by denying Jesus, he fulfilled Jesus’ request – that he repent and strengthen his brethren. (cf. John 22:15-19; Acts 2)

Back to this business of “sifting.” Notice again that Jesus DID NOT pray that there would be NO sifting. God allows us to be sifted. Only in the sifting can that which is useless be separated from that which can be used. And one way for us to realize what we are made of is to be tested. You see, testing is not so much that God is trying to find out something, but that He is trying to show us something about us and Himself.

God teaches His children through problems just as school students are given problems as part of their learning experience. Yet, most Christians fail to count trials as joy (James 1:2). They see them as some strange thing that has happened to them (1 Peter 4:12). Rather than growing from the trial, Christians complain and seek relief rather than spiritual growth.

Peter allowed his sifting to become his greatest moment of recovery and faith building: “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:6-7 NIV)

What about you? Do you see trials as an opportunity to grow spiritually or as an unwelcome intrusion that you can do without? Think about it.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Christian Response to the Mosque at Ground Zero

There have been many headlines the past week or so regarding the construction of a mosque near the site of the 9/11 attacks in New York City. It’s kicked up quite a dust storm of controversy. And it’s caused me to reflect quite a bit.

The past few days I’ve wondered what a wise response might be to the situation. I’ve tried to listen well, read up on all the information and think critically – and Christianly – regarding the issue at hand. I’ve wondered what a proper response would be – not as an American, not as a American Christian, not as a Republican or Democrat, not as a liberal or a conservative, but as a follower of Jesus and who seeks to honor Christ in the way I live and think and act and speak.

The issue is such an emotional issue that if we’re not careful we can allow our passion to get the most of us.

What has caused the most controversy are the comments of President Obama recently at a White House Ramadan dinner, where he said:

“As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances.”

First of all, let me strongly and clearly state that I do believe we need to all make sure that we are not lumping all hateful Islamic terrorists in the same category with all Muslims And if Muslim/American relations are to be improved (as I think they must be) it would be best if we befriended Muslims first. This doesn’t happen through policy in Washington, but by action in your – in my – local community.

Let me further say to answer what seems to be the key critical question and issue of: Is building a mosque at Ground Zero the wisest thing to do?

I think clearly most Americians (as the polls indicate) think no it is not!

Yes,many on the political left have argued that Americans and particular Christians, we should be more “tolerant” on this issue. But that knife cuts both ways.

I also wish that the Islamic community in New York City would also be “tolerant” of the situation, realizing how volatile, symbolic and emotional this area of the U.S. is and what it means to Americans. It’s a lightning rod of American ideology. Our lives changed forever on that fateful day. And quite frankly, not enough time has gone by for the American people to truly heal from such a horrendous experience of September 11, 2001.

For more on this point and other related thoughts, check out this link:


Pamela Taylor is a moderate Muslim and her editoiral I believe is worth reading on this point.

Now the more important question practically speaking needs to be: Could a compromise be struck? This is my hope and prayer. Could the mosque be built in Manhattan 20 or 25 blocks away from Ground Zero, rather than just two? Wouldn’t it be an act of tolerance by the Islamic community to voluntarily choose to back away from this situation with some perspective and be willing to move it a further distance away?

However, as a Christian, I have to take seriously Jesus’ teaching of peace and love. Christianity is about making peace. Jesus Christ said: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God" Christians should be more eager to work towards peace with the religion of Islam, and not placing the responsibility of being "first peacemakers" upon the Muslims. That is wrong.

Times of hardship and tension have often been ideal opportunities for demonstrating the truths of our faith. Regardless of our personal political beliefs or the outcome of this scenario, Jesus did not come as a political revolutionary but as one bearing a message of transcendent spiritual truth. Part of his example, although unconventional and unpopular in the wider pop-culture, was a mandate to “love our neighbors,” to “love our enemies,” and to “pray for those who persecute us.”

For those of us who consider ourselves Christians, we’re called to love our neighbor as yourself. But it gets more specific than that. Our call is care for the Triad close to the heart of God: the alien, the orphan and the widow. What does it mean for us to care for those who are foreigners, immigrants, those non-citizens in the U.S and abroad? I believe this includes Muslims, yes even Muslims at Ground Zero in mosques.

I know some reading this will disagree. Some my object asking, “Does this mean I am abandoning my spiritual or moral positions in favor of religious pluralism?” Absolutely not. I do not pretend that I see the Muslim faith and Christian faith as compatible and I do not rescind that I believe the best hope for healing in our communities is found solely in the way, the truth and the life of Jesus Christ. Political correctness aside, I am not ashamed to say this.

But still importantly, and much related to this is to also kind of go along with what Pamela K. Taylor writes in the link above, one of the most important contributions her article makes is how this debate is shaping the perspectives that the rest of the Muslim world has on Christians in America. Christian missiologists should take heed.

No doubt, the situation is quite complex. I’ve not tried to over-simplify the issue at hand, but simply force us to look at the situation critically – as much with our heads as with our hearts.

May the Lord give us wisdom and sensitivity as we discuss these matters.

Robert Prater

Oh, on a more lighter note, but still an effective response to consider, check out the following article and post:


Thursday, August 19, 2010

A False Gospel

There is a time to tear down false teaching like Piper does so passionately and powerful. We also have of course Jesus’ teachings, Paul’s letters, Peter’s letters, and John’s letters are full of such activity. However, may we be more defined by preaching the correct Gospel of grace and forgiveness and righteous living than we are by being against the false gospel being preached today by many preacher (including prosperity preachers, which like Paul said, is no gospel at all, i.e., Gal. 1:7)

In our passion for the true Gospel we must be against any false gospel which undermines the uniqueness and glory of the true Gospel. But may our battle against the counterfeit flow primarily out of a passion and love for the glory of the true Gospel.

The true of the matter is that knowing God and Jesus is not about gaining happiness, wealth, community status, high positions and prosperity. Those who have earthly treasures are to use them generously to help the poor and to ensure that the Gospel is preached. Yes, we are all thankful for the material blessings God has given us. We need to use them wisely, laying up treasure in heaven. Otherwise, we may be surprised to find out that what we have been trusting in was not the Gospel at all, but rather a “God” and a Gospel of our own invention - one that has not saved us when we stand before God on that Day.

“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs………Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:10, 17-19 NIV)


Thursday, August 5, 2010

Living Water and Broken Cisterns

Notice these sobering words as God commissions Jeremiah to declare His people's guilt on two charges: "My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water." (Jeremiah 2:13) Water is the source of life.

It is absolutely essential to life! We can exist without food for a time, but we cannot live without water! Water has another function basic to our life. We use it for cleansing, for getting rid of dirt. The Bible uses water as a symbol in both those ways (and a host of others). God as the spring of living water is the source of life, and of cleansing.

In the Old Testament, Almighty God says only He is the source of living water. He tells those who are spiritually thirsty to come to him and drink. Jesus says, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him" (Jn 7:37).

Judah's twin sins were forsaking the true God and worshipping human gods. It's the same for us. Are we making up our own gods, or our own way of worshipping God? Are you looking for your own tailor-made source of spiritual truth?

This is the sin of humanity as a whole. It is true of those who build physical idols and worship them. But it also true of those who say, "well I like to think of God in my own way." Who think they can improve on the God they find in the Bible. That's a mental idol. Even as Christians we can do this. Jeremiah speaks to God's people, not the pagans. God says, "MY people have forsaken me..."

A mental idol is anything that springs from not trusting and obeying Jesus. As Os Guinness points out, "In today's convenient, climate-controlled spiritual world created by the managerial and therapeutic revolutions, nothing is easier than living apart from God . . . Modernity creates the illusion that, when God commanded us not to live by bread alone but by every word that comes from His mouth, He was not aware of the twentieth century. The very success of modernity may undercut the authority and driving power of faith until religion becomes merely religious rhetoric or organizational growth without spiritual reality" (Os Guinness, “Sounding Out the Idols of Church Growth,” http://gospel-culture.org.uk/guinness.htm [accessed 3 Jun 2010)

But Jesus was poured out like water (Ps 22, Jn 19) as an offering for our sins. It's not a matter of building better cisterns for ourselves, but of simply drinking of, and washing in, the spring that God provides. Revelation 22:17: "Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life." May we never forsake this spring of Living Water and turn to our own broken cisterns!