House of Islam

Before Ramadan our church distributed a booklet called “30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World” by WorldChristian.com calling Christians to pray. The booklet contained extracts from A Wind in the House of Islam by David Garrison, which I found very informative. The House of Islam consists of those countries where Muslims are dominant and which practice Islamic laws. I have summed the data on the nine geo-cultural regions or “Rooms” in the House of Islam, as follows:

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Together, these 9 Rooms comprised of almost 2,000 unreached people groups with a population of 3.2 billion, of which 1.5 billion or 49% are Muslims. How do you reach them? The booklet lists 10 bridges that God used to draw Muslims to Him, abstracted as follows:

1. Faith of the early missionaries, who only saw movements to Christ and “welcomed them from a distance” (Heb 11:13), becoming “a cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1) surrounding later missionaries.
2. Prayer – 69 of the 82 documented Muslim movements to Christ in the last 14 centuries took place within the past two decades, coinciding with the 22 years since the 30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World started.
3. ScriptureIs 55:11 So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it. More Bible translation into Muslim languages for the people to hear and believe over the past decades than in the preceding 13 centuries.
4. Holy Spirit activityJn 16:8 And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment. How? Through dreams, visions, answered prayers, and divine encounters.
5. Faithful Christian Witness from all who share the gospel with Muslims.
6. Learning from the Body of Christ – where successful approaches in one region are applied to other regions.
7. Communication via contextualized gospel translations, so that Muslims can hear the gospel without having to overcome cultural barriers.
8. Discovery – when Muslims discover Christ for themselves, instead of being told they need the gospel and react by resisting.
9. Islam itself – through reading the Qur’an in their own language instead of in Arabic and realizing they need Christ.
10. Indigenization – when evangelization from external means becomes internalized and spread by itself.

It takes many bridges to reach Muslims. What ways have your church tried to do her share?

Kosher Foods? (2 of 2)

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(Continued from yesterday)

The Lord’s Teaching. Jesus chided the Pharisees and the scribes on their neglecting the commandment of God to hold on their tradition, in this particular instance ceremonial washing, but in passing pronounced a principle on food:

Mk 7:19 because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?” (Thus He declared all foods clean.) See also Mt 15:11, 17-18

What’s external does not make a person unclean. It’s the internal evil that defiles a person. So why insist on following OT laws re what’s ceremonially clean or unclean?

Peter’s Vision. When God wanted to break down Peter’s prejudice against Gentiles and evangelize them, He gave him a vision of four-footed animals, crawling creatures, and birds, and asked him to kill and eat. Critics claimed that the objective was only to teach Peter not to call any man unholy or unclean (Acts 10:28), and has nothing to do with setting aside food laws.

Acts 10:15 Again a voice came to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.”

Of course the object was v 28, which Peter realized on his own after three times (v 16). My question is, “Would God have told Peter v 15 if it were not true? Would He have used this as an object lesson if it weren’t relevant?” Even biased Peter caught on, but apparently not the critics.

Paul’s Teaching. Paul used food as an illustration to teach principles of conscience in Rom 14, in particular vegetables (v 2) versus meat (v 21). In 1 Tim 4 he touched on food again, but in the context of apostasy in the last days, when liars seared in their own conscience forbid certain foods:

Romans 14:14, 20 I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. … Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense.
• 1 Tim 4:3-5 men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.

The issue is not whether the food is ceremonially clean or unclean, as all are intrinsically clean, but whether we are causing our brother to stumble (Rom 14:13, 21) and hurting him (v 15). What’s important is love, not food laws. This is reinforced in 1 Tim 4.

So my conclusion after looking at who the laws are addressed to in the OT and NT, the Lord’s, Peter’s and Paul’s teachings, is that I do not have to eat kosher foods. I understand the opposing view’s arguments as to why they think the dietary laws are still binding, but I disagreed that we should put ourselves under the yoke of the law when God had delivered us to live under grace. I can legitimately eat the seafood that I like, only not to excess. After all, all things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable or edify (1 Co 6:12; 10:23).

Kosher Foods? (1 of 2)

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Q. I like seafood – lobster, crab legs, mussels, clams, scallops etc. But Lev 11:9-10 says, ‘These you may eat, whatever is in the water: all that have fins and scales, those in the water, in the seas or in the rivers, you may eat. But whatever is in the seas and in the rivers that does not have fins and scales among all the teeming life of the water, and among all the living creatures that are in the water, they are detestable things to you’. Some told me these laws still apply today. So can we eat lobster?

A. Your subject is about the dietary laws in the Bible. You can find a lot of debates on the internet arguing for or against whether God had abolished such laws for today, with both sides quoting the same passages I cited below, saying how the opposing view had misinterpreted the verses. Many of the papers on either side are authored by people with PhD. I can only give you my opinion. You have to decide whether my reasoning is correct for yourself.

OT Audience. The food laws are given in Lev 11, which distinguished the clean (fit for food) versus the unclean (ceremonially unfit for food) land and water animals, birds and insects. An important note is who is God addressing. Vs 1-2 tells us:

Lev 11:1-2 The LORD spoke again to Moses and to Aaron, saying to them, “Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘These are the creatures which you may eat from all the animals that are on the earth.

God was addressing the sons of Israel i.e. Jews, and the laws do not apply to Christians in the first place.

NT Audience. When Gentile Christians appeared in the NT, some Jewish Christians (former Pharisees) insisted that they must be circumcised to be saved (Acts 15:2), and that they must observe the Law of Moses (v 5). The Council at Jerusalem was called to decide on this issue. The conclusion was that Gentiles are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus (v 11), in the same way as Jews. The essential requirements in terms of conduct are recorded in v 23-29:

Acts 15:20, 29 but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. … that you abstain from (1) things sacrificed to idols and from (2) blood and from (3) things strangled and from (4) fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well.

The Jerusalem Council determined that Gentile Christians do not have to observe Moses Law to be saved. The only behavior requirements were moral, not ceremonial. It re-affirmed that dietary laws do not apply to Gentile Christians.

(To be continued)

Anything In My Name?

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Q. Jesus said in Jn 14:14 If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it. I know He did not mean tagging “in Jesus’ name” to everything I ask, e.g. to win the lottery, but is it really anything? What about the salvation of family and friends? Surely that is according to His will, but not everyone is saved.

A. First, Jn 14:14 is a conditional “if” statement, the condition being to ask “in My (Jesus) name”. If the condition is fulfilled, the petitioner can ask anything and Jesus will do it. So the key turns on “in My name”. What does that mean? The phrase “in My name” appears 17 times in the NT, 16 times of which are in the gospels referring to Jesus, and once in 1 Co 1:15 referring to Paul, which we can ignore since our focus is on “in Jesus name”.

To these we might add the phrase “in His name”, which appear 6 times in the NT, all referring to Jesus. The complete list is as follows, with the verse in italics and my comment in regular font:

“In My name”
Mt 18:5 And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; (also Mk 9:37; Lk 9:48) Here “In My name” = Me, as if the person was receiving Jesus
Mt 18:20 For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” Jesus is in the midst of those who gather in His name. “In My name” represents Jesus personally.
Mt 24:5 For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many. (also Mk 13:6; Lk 21:8) Those who come “In My name” present themselves as if they were Christ. Again “In My name” = Me
Mk 9:39 But Jesus said, “Do not hinder him, for there is no one who will perform a miracle in My name, and be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me. “In My name” = in My authority
Mk 16:17 These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; Again “In My name” = in My authority
Jn 14:13-14 Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it. “In My name” = as if I was asking it, according to My will
Jn 14:26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. “In My name” = to replace Me, as My substitute
Jn 15:16 You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you. “in My name” = as if I was asking
Jn 16:23-24 Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you. Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full. Again, “in My name” = as if I was asking
Jn 16:26 In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request of the Father on your behalf; “in My name” = as if I was asking

“In His name”
Mt 12:21 “AND IN HIS NAME THE GENTILES WILL HOPE.” “in His name” = in Him
Lk 24:47 and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. “in His name” = in His authority
Jn 1:12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, “in His name” = in Him
Jn 2:23 Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. “in His name” = in Him
Jn 20:31 but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. “in His name” = in Him
Acts 3:16 And on the basis of faith in His name, it is the name of Jesus which has strengthened this man whom you see and know; “in His name” = in Him

On the basis of all the passages, “in My name” means as Jesus Himself would have asked, personally, according to His will and, in His authority. Now if you ask like that, of course you could ask anything and He will do it, since it is His will. You would not be asking anything selfishly, in your own interest, not for the Father’s glory.

Concerning the salvation of your family and friends, I believe not only your wish and the Lord’s desire are involved:

1 Tim 2:4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
• 2 Pet 3:9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

but also that of your family and friends:

Mt 23:37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.

So notwithstanding your and our Lord’s desire to save them, if they are unwilling to repent, the Lord will not force them. Each of us is responsible before God to follow Him or reject His offer of salvation.

Lobster Supper Spiritual Lessons

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The last time we visited Prince Edward Island (PEI) was at least 25 years ago, but one thing that stuck in our minds, besides the red sand beaches, was the traditional lobster suppers held in church basements. Teams of patrons wore plastic bibs, sat in rows of tables in the fellowship hall, chatting and joking as they enjoyed their five course meal – mussels, clam chowder with fresh rolls, potato salad, lobster and dessert, with hot coffee. The atmosphere was jovial, which helped to build up an appetite as you watched other diners’ eyes lit up while they devoured their delicious meal.

But times have changed. Restaurants had taken over much of the business, so fundraising via lobster suppers by churches for their parish is no longer profitable. One of the oldest, St. Ann’s, which had been catering daily for over 50 years, closed this summer. Some had switched to an annual event during the Island’s fisheries or lobster festivals. We attended one at Murray Harbor-Murray River, which, though on a smaller scale compared to what we recalled, afforded some spiritual lessons.

First, the beneficiary was for the community arena, used by many local residents. When was the last time your church did something to support the community, not just for yourself?

Secondly, it was a joint effort of all the churches in the area – Baptist, Church of Christ, Church of Scotland, Pentecostal, and United. It was inter-denominational for the benefit of the community, with no doctrinal issues. I’m not saying doctrine is not important, but there are times when doctrine is not involved and we can cooperate.

Third, it was an every member involvement. The churches did not just donate funds, the whole congregation from staff to members participated. Some donated dessert, some served as kitchen helpers or waiters, a local company donated lobsters. Everyone contributed something. Did your church have projects like this that pulled everybody together?

Fourth, it was like a family reunion. We noticed that while there were tourists like us, many of the patrons knew each other on a first name basis. It was a big community event that drew everyone out for a “family” gathering. They talked, they laughed, and all had a good time. It’s so refreshing to see many people working together for the common good, and having fun at the same time.

Sure I’m all for evangelism and discipleship, but unless you have unity and love for one another, how can you draw people? Seems we can learn a lesson or two from a simple community event. You might say that works only in rural areas where everyone knows everybody else. Perhaps, but what’s your strategy for reaching your community?

Hopewell Rocks Spiritual Lessons

One of the most remarkable attractions we visited was the Hopewell Rocks, with the highest tides in the world. At low tide we walked on the ocean floor, but at high tide the water rose 50′ to cover the entire rocky beach such that you can only paddle a kayak under the un-submerged upper part of the arches.

Hopewell Rocks:

How did the Hopewell Rocks become that way? I have embedded a video from Brainstuff that explains how tides work.

How Do Tides Work?

But the gravitational pull of the moon and the sun work on the whole earth, and the average tide worldwide is only about 3′ high. How did the Hopewell Rocks become #1 with 50′ tides? That is the contribution of the way the seabed of the Bay of Fundy, where the Hopewell Rocks are located, is shaped. At the entrance to the bay in the SW, the bay is deeper and wider. Towards the NE, the bay gets shallower and narrower. As the moon’s gravitation pulled and the earth’s rotation swung the water towards Cape Hopewell in the NE, the same volume of water occupying a lesser area would pile higher, thus magnifying the height of the tides.

Bay of Fundy tides 2

And how did the Hopewell Rocks become such a tourist attraction? Not just because of the tides, but also because of the way the flower-pot rocks look. The rocks became that way due to the tides slowly eroding the softer rock at the base, exposing the harder rock as the “neck”, and leaving the un-submerged rocks in tact as the “head”. The rocks became a big “draw” by giving itself away. Eventually the erosion may be so severe that the “head” will collapse, as some rocks already have.

There is a spiritual lesson here. I know the bay and the rocks are inanimate and can’t actively contribute anything, but here’s my rough analogy. The tides are like the sun and the rain that work on everybody:

Mt 5:45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

But the topography of the sea basin is like the gifts, passions, abilities, personality and experiences He had uniquely given to each of us. If we cooperate with what God had planned for us, we will be successful, just as the Hopewell Rocks became #1 when the tides and the shape reinforce each other. The way God had shaped us is our competitive advantage.

But there is a second parallel. Just as the rocks were eroded to become a tourist attraction, and John the Baptist was burning away so that people gather to watch:

Jn 5:35 He was the lamp that was burning and was shining and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light.

we shine for Christ by giving our life away. The question is are you willing? Am I willing? Something for you and I to ponder.

Separation of Church and State

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Q. One key doctrine of the Baptists is the Separation of Church and State, but I don’t know why this is so. Some said it’s to avoid repeating the corruption of the Catholics in power in the early centuries, others said it’s to avoid serving two Lords as political power will definitely involve financial benefits. What’s your view?

A. God’s original design for government was theocracy, with God ruling His people through judges. However, Israel rejected God and demanded a human king like all the nations:
1 Sam 8:7 The LORD said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them.

When theocracy changed to monarchy, God retained prophets to represent Him to His people, and priests to represent His people to Him, which is the beginning of separation of His congregation, the OT counterpart to the NT church, and state.

From the birth of the Church at Pentecost to Constantine who tolerated Christianity with the Edict of Milan (313 AD), the Church was persecuted by the Roman Empire and the Jews, but flourished. When Theodosius made Christianity the state church of the Roman Empire (380 AD), the Church was in partnership with the state, which introduced all kinds of errors and abuses. Church history demonstrated that the union of Church and State has been a bad experience overall.

As a result of persecution, some fled England and Europe to America in search of religious freedom. As monarchy gave way to democracy, separation of church and state was promoted to safeguard the Church from the state’s interference. Baptists believe in a free church in a free state, and this became one of their distinctives:

Ideally, the State’s role is to keep law and order so that citizens can live safely and securely, enabling the Church to carry out its mission:
Rom 13:3-4 For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. … for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.
• 1 Pet 2:13-14 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.

The State should not interfere with the beliefs and practices of the Church.

In turn, the Church in evangelizing and discipling believers produce law-abiding citizens who support the State:
1 Tim 2:1-2 First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.
• 1 Pet 2:17 Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.

Unfortunately, human nature being what it is, such ideal is seldom realized. The State had made use of the Church to control people, and the Church used the State’s power to enforce religion, which had polluted and weakened the Church.

Allow me to do a little speculation. Currently democracy is eroding in both faith and state. Plurality of religion is trending towards ecumenism and ultimately one world religion, while democratic governments are trending towards a new world order of one world government. At that time democracy will revert back to monarchy, not under kings but under the Antichrist. Then the Lord will return to overthrow the dark empire and revert monarchy to theocracy, re-establishing God’s original plan. Dreaming? Perhaps, but so far the union of Church and State had not given us hope of a bright future.

Christians in Politics (2 of 2)

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(Continued from yesterday)

Does that mean we do nothing? Not at all. As a minimum, the Bible teaches that we are subject to government:

Rom 13:1-2 Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.
• 1 Pet 2:13-14 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.

We exercise our rights to vote, to elect good government, and we fulfill our responsibility to pay taxes and other civic duties:

Lk 20:22, 25 Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” … And He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
• Rom 13:6-7 For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.

What if the government is unjust and enact laws contrary to God’s Laws? Then we have the example of Peter and John:

Acts 4:18-20 And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
• Acts 5:28-29 saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.

But for those whom God had called to the public arena to shine as lights in the midst of a perverse generation, then govern with integrity and wisdom like Joseph, or Daniel and his three friends:

Dan 3:17-18 If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

Their faith is completely in God, trusting that He will see them through all difficulties, but willing to pay the price even if God does not deliver. Just as He called only certain servants to be His apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (Eph 4:11), He called others to be politicians, businessmen, professionals etc. to be His representatives in the respective fields. In short, it is God’s choice, not ours. Politicians are under tremendous pressure from diverse parties to compromise; to sink to the lowest common denominator. Only those whom God had called and equipped to stand against the tide should run for public office. That’s my humble opinion on this matter.

Christians in Politics (1 of 2)

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Q. Should Christians be actively involved in politics?If the real and devoted Christians are in control of both the Government, the Legislature and the Court, then such absurd decisions as same-sex marriage wouldn’t and shouldn’t be made. One key doctrine of the Baptists is the Separation of Church and State, but I don’t know why this is so. Some said it’s to avoid repeating the corruption of the Catholics in power in the early centuries, others said it’s to avoid serving two Lords as political power will definitely involve financial benefits. I consulted my Sunday school teacher using Joseph and Daniel as counterexamples, but he said they were rulers for the Lord over gentile nations, not the elect. I’m quite confused and hope you can give me some clear guidance.

A. Like it or not, Christians are involved in politics, either being governed, or as part of the governing body. For the former, they can passively submit, or actively engage to resist or reform that which is unjust. That’s what Christians are doing, but should they? Based on your question I assume you are pro-involvement, while your Sunday school teacher feels Joseph and Daniel are special cases not applicable to the elect. While I believe only certain Christians are called to politics, I also feel your teacher’s reasoning is wrong as Moses (lawgiver and spiritual leader), Joshua (military leader), the judges (military and judicial leaders), Nehemiah (governor) etc. were not kings, but called to govern the elect in one form or another. So to rule out the possibility for God’s people is biblically not defensible.

Having said that, I also believe that God’s primary task for Christians is to evangelize the world and make disciples of all nations. Even though the 1st century world was just as sinful and corrupt as the 21st century world we live in, neither Jesus, nor the Twelve, nor Paul called Christians to change the world through politics. They could have, but they didn’t, consistently. Was it because there were too few Christians to do the job? Or was it because the early Christians were not bright enough to pull it off? Hardly, with only a few committed, all-out Christians they managed to “turn the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). That’s why I believe contrary to what some have proposed, changing the world through political means is not the way to go. That’s the way of the Antichrist, not Christ.

(To be continued)