Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Coming Down from the Mountain

It came about that He took along Peter and John and James, and went up to the mountain to pray…when they had come down from the mountain, a great multitude met Him…” (Luke 9:28, 37).

Coming down from the mountain we find Jesus armed and ready to do battle for whatever opportunity, challenge, or test came His way. He rebuked His disciples, took compassion on a distraught father, released a little boy from demonic possession and then taught a lesson on humility. Not bad for a day's work!

So how did He do it? The same way you and I get prepared to deal with every-day life in the valley as it comes unrelentingly and mercilessly at us - go to the mountain. But note: Jesus didn't go to the mountain to get away from it all--He went to be with someone - His Father!

Nothing is more obvious in Jesus' life than His deep hunger to commune with God. But unlike Jesus, we make our mistake when we think the path to strength and renewal is found in getting away on vacation. As wonderful and refreshing as that can be (and at times needed), we must realize that the energy we seek to replenish and restore is found only in contact with the Life-giver Himself.

But that's not all - Jesus took His friends-close personal friends who were defined by the word "love." Rejuvenation was never meant to be a private endeavor, even the Son of God wanted and needed His "buddies" to help him, strengthen Him and watch over Him (Lk. 9:28; Mk. 14:34).

So, to the mountain we go. But as we do, remember that the strength we need comes only through divine contact and human camaraderie, just like it did for Jesus.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Place and Power of Prayer

Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.” (Dan.6:10). Here we find the real secret of this man’s greatness. Daniel was a captive in Babylon and yet in this instance he was not subject to the laws of the king. He was not subject to the directions that were imposed upon him. He was really concerned about doing the will of God. He knew God's will, and whatever the circumstance or occasion, he was governed by that will in spite of the danger and opposition that this aroused. He was a true and faithful man. Daniel’s example validates the place and power of prayer.

A Newsweek poll indicates that most Americans seem to agree concerning the power of prayer:

54% report praying on a daily basis
29% say they pray more than once a day
75% pray for strength to overcome personal weakness
73% think prayers for help in finding a job are answered
79% say God answers prayers for healing someone with an incurable disease
87% say that God answers prayers

We should note that how many people believe in something is not a guarantee of its existence, or that even people regularly practice it. There is much about prayer that we don’t understand. Yet this we know: the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. (James 5:16). What a source of blessing and encouragement to the Christian! How hopeless life must be for the skeptic who knows nothing of prayer.

Before his death from myelodysplasia(preleukemia), the famous scientist Carl Sagan wrote his final book entitled, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, in which he included prayer along with astrology, spoon-bending, witches, ESP, spiritualism and repressed memories as examples of the persistence of irrationality. Sagan persisted in his agnosticism until his death, with no appeals to God, and no hope for an after-life. How lonely and how sad to face eternity with no assurances.

A great song that many of us have grown up singing in the church says, “Oh, how praying rests the weary! Prayer can change the night to day: so, when life seems dark and dreary, don’t forget to pray.”

Daniel gives us a wonderful example of how powerful a weapon prayer is in the spiritual battle that is raging. About just how much prayer can bring us closer to God. (James 4:8)

In a sin-racked world, we have no other hope. Thanks be to God for the avenue of prayer!


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Should We Burn or Criticize the Quran?

Don't know if you have seen on the news recently about members of a church in Gainesville, Florida who are planning to commemorate the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on September 11 by hosting an "International Burn a Quran Day." The Dove World Outreach Center says it is hosting the event to remember 9/11 victims and take a stand against Islam. With promotions on its website and Facebook page, it invites Christians to burn the Muslim holy book at the church from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

"We believe that Islam is of the devil, that it's causing billions of people to go to hell, it is a deceptive religion, it is a violent religion and that is proven many, many times," Pastor Terry Jones told CNN's Rick Sanchez earlier this week.

First of all, I want to join my voice with those who have condemned this initiative as a manifestation of ignorance, hatred and intolerance. I mean, what good would burning a Quran do to the world? Will it stop Muslims from believing in their holy book? I don’t think so. Will burning a Quran dissuade Muslims from fanaticism and terrorism?. Far from it. Instead it might even make more Muslims to embrace extremism and fundamentalism.

Just the other day, the Wall Street Journal reported that General David Petraeus said that Dove World Outreach Center’s planned Koran burning will endanger our Armed Forces in Afghanistan. I would say so! We have soldiers on the ground in two Muslim countries.

So what should we do to honor victims of September 11 attacks?

The Dove World Outreach Center or anyone concerned about the spread of Islamic terrorism should not bother burning a Quran. We should devote the day to a critical dialogue with Muslims. One of the undercurrents of Islamic terrorism is lack of mutual dialogue, understanding and appreciation of religions and beliefs between Muslims and non Muslims. September 11 should be used to break that age long darkening taboo that Quran cannot be criticized; that Quran contain eternal truths that cannot be challenged or questioned.

The day should be used to debate, discuss and highlight those passages and injunctions which encourage Muslims to embrace fanaticism and terrorism. September 11 should be a day to critically examine Quranic passages. The day should be devoted to posing and attempting to answer those questions that shed more light on the history and teachings of the Quran and Islam like -who wrote the Quran- when? where? how? And for how long?

Who called the Islamic holy book the Quran? Which provisions of the Quran were original to the authors and which were copied or borrowed from other and older sacred texts? Is Allah a myth or a reality? Is Allah’s dictation of the Quran to Muhammad a historical fact or fiction? Was Muhammad sent by Allah or was he a self acclaimed messenger of Allah? Will Allah truly reward Muslims in the hereafter? Or is the Islamic paradise a transcendental illusion? Is there a paradise packed with virgins kept by Allah for those who die fighting his cause? Has Allah any hand in the jihads of this world?

Those who carried out the September 11 attacks and other terrorist attacks around the world were 'inspired' mainly by the teachings and interpretations of the teachings in the Quran. They were inspired by fake promises contained in this 'holy book'.

And of course, not to mention the most fundamental issue of all: the Divine nature of Jesus. If Jesus was truly an inspired prophet of God (but He was not God), as the Qur’an teaches, how could Jesus have made such claims to be indeed the Son of God? (cf. John 10:30; John 1:1-14).

How should Christians respond?

It seems to me that the best road for a gospel-saturated Christian to take is not standing on the one side of the road with all-exclusive hate or on the other side with all-inclusive love. Both are ultimately extremes that do not address the heart of the issue. The middle road seems to be the only-exclusive love that Christ offers through the Cross, which rejects hating enemies (Matt. 5:43-44) and loving the world (1 John 2:15-17) while embracing love of enemies and hating sin. The response we must have as Christians is to reject the utter hatred of people like Pastor Jones and the Dove World Outreach Center, while at the same time not making the mistake of being purely reactionary by standing on the other side of the road, united only in protest, not in love and truth.

It seems like I have read somewhere in the Bible where it says, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect..” (1 Peter 3:15) We must make sure that we are both honest and sincere in seeking God’s will, and always that we are doing our best to, “speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15)!”

The problem is that far too many Christians have no or little convictions about their own faith. Not to the point of being willing to present those ideas without apology to non-believers. Too many Christians are timid in their declaration and life witnesses that Jesus Christ as the way, the truth and the life. (John 14:6)

You see, proclaiming that Christ is Lord is all fine and dandy behind closed doors on a Sunday…but try that in a park or public area and almost all Christians within hearing will wince and turn away rather than offer an “amen”.

Also, as Christians, we not only need to get the logs out of our eyes, but we also need to speak truth and not bear false witness. This means that we must be accurate and fair when we describe another religion.

Islam is currently the fastest growing religion in the world, and for the past several years it has been making tremendous inroads in American society. And maybe one reason why that is the case is because you have to believe in something in order to offer it so another. And you have to at least try to live your faith in order to be in any way credible as a witness. These are not the sort of people a doubter will listen to.

I’m afraid that we are first going to have to re-convert ourselves. Then we’re going to have to convert our surrounding culture. Only then will we have a good alternative to offer the Islamist rank-and-file.

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:2-6)