How Could This Happen?

By now the whole world knows about the terrorist attack in Paris- how teams from ISIS carried out three simultaneous attacks, resulting in over 120 deaths.  Over 350 more were wounded, nearly 100 of them critically.

Almost everyone began asking the same question- “How could this happen?”  Extolling the virtues of French national intelligence, pundits were aghast, unable to explain how such a plot escaped their notice.

The truth is that there are political and spiritual explanations for what happened.  And this is important for us to understand- because America is heading down this same wrong road.

 The first issue is one of open borders.  The European Union has borders that are open.  Anyone can go anywhere for any reason with little scrutiny.  This makes it easy for terrorists to infiltrate European societies.

We essentially have open borders in America as well, and it puts our lives at risk.  Our problem is not Mexicans looking for work- we would do the same in their shoes.  Our problem is that, in their quest for inclusiveness, politicians have resisted limiting the openness of our borders- putting us at risk from Muslim extremists.  Even our northern borders are not secured like they should be. 

Similar issues are addressed in scripture.  When outsiders posed a risk to their way of life, Nehemiah protected the borders of Jerusalem:

And I said to them, “Let not the gates of Jerusalem be opened until the sun is hot. And while they are still standing guard, let them shut and bar the doors. Appoint guards from among the inhabitants of Jerusalem, some at their guard posts and some in front of their own homes.” (Nehemiah 7:3, ESV)

To keep our nation safe, we must protect our borders.  Yes, we ought to show kindness to the stranger and foreigner.  But we must also insist on border control and support those who will make our nation secure.

 The second issue is an unarmed citizenry.  France has very limited gun ownership- few own guns, and only with very special exemptions.  This has not made them safe.  It has made them targets.

In our country, politicians and special interests have diligently tried to eliminate second amendment rights.  They have created “gun free zones,” which are almost exclusively the sites of mass shootings in the US.  They seek to limit gun ownership and regulate ammunition.

Those that dare stand in defense of our rights, like the NRA, are demonized and vilified.  They have even tried telling us that it is un-Christian to take a stance that supports self-defense and the second amendment, misapplying scripture:

If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. (Luke 6:29, NIV)

We are not to be vengeful, seeking eye for an eye.  We must be willing to endure abuse and dishonor for the sake of Christ.  But it is our God given right and responsibility to stand in defense of our families and of one another.

We again see this principle demonstrated in scripture.  Nehemiah armed the people of Israel for self-defense:

15 When our enemies heard that it was known to us and that God had frustrated their plan, we all returned to the wall, each to his work. 16 From that day on, half of my servants worked on construction, and half held the spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail. And the leaders stood behind the whole house of Judah, 17 who were building on the wall. Those who carried burdens were loaded in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and held his weapon with the other. 18 And each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built.  (Nehemiah 4:15-18, ESV)

Jesus’ disciples carried swords with them for self-defense, with Christ’s knowledge and without His correction or rebuke:

36 He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. 37 For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” 38 And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.” (Luke 22:36-38, ESV)

In our country, we are guaranteed the right to bear arms by the second amendment to the Constitution.  This amendment reads:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

When bad things happen, we are the first line of defense.  We ought to own guns and ammunition.  We must arm ourselves. Train ourselves.  Carry and conceal.  Defend our homes.  Our communities.   Our churches.  And we must stand against those who would limit or eliminate our right to do so.

 The third issue is one of political correctness.  France can be hostile to religion, to be sure, but they are equally hostile to all religion.  They cannot and do not target any specific belief set for national security.

We face this same problem in America.  Politicians and pundits alike are unwilling to recognize who this fight is against: Islam.  I do not say this because I am a Christian- or else I would say they same about Buddhism,  Hinduism, Judaism, and other belief sets.  While I believe their belief sets are flawed, I don’t believe them to be dangerous.  Islam, on the other hand, is inherently dangerous.

While in times past Christianity was used as an excuse for conquest, it is a religion of peace if you know the scriptures.  The revealing of the scripture to the common man during the reformation has consistently drawn the Christian faith away from violence.

Islam, on the other hand, is a religion of peace if you don’t know or explain away the Koran.  Its adherents are drawn to violence the more they understand Muhammad’s teachings.  Central to Islam is world conquest and death to the infidel.  Islam is a threat to the world.  But no one wishes to recognize it.

They refuse to profile Muslims, instead searching little old ladies, children, and all-American men at the airport, confiscating shampoo and water bottles.  Daring to call out Islam as the problem results in being labeled as an intolerant bigot and dismissed.

Ben Carson, for example, was attacked for his comments about not wanting a Muslim president- mostly by people who don’t want a born-again Christian to be president.  These same people use terms like “extremist” so they can focus less on Muslims- and turn the focus against Christianity!  For those who think this is an exaggeration, take a look at their perspective:

“Radical Christianity is just as threatening as radical Islam in a country like America.”  (Rosie O’Donnell)

In fact, CNN aired a six hour mini-series in 2007 called “God’s Warriors.”  This documentary portrayed Christians who pray or demonstrate in front of abortion clinics and Jews who settle in Israel as posing as much of a threat to America as Muslims who preach hatred  and recruit their own children as suicide bombers.

We need to stand up and speak the truth, even when it is considered bigoted or intolerant.  The world loves a lie, but only the truth brings freedom:

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32, NIV)

 The fourth issue is the rejection of national morality.  The French, like us, have grown to tolerate immorality.  We have drifted from God’s standards, and in doing so invite disaster upon our nation.

Looking to scripture, Israel- the people of God- were punished for their moral standards as a nation.  Their nation was conquered and dismantled because of their sinfulness:

“And they abandoned all the commandments of the LORD their God… Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel and removed them out of His sight.” (2 Kings 17:16-18, ESV)

Our morality has wandered so far that it would be no wonder if God allowed judgment to come on America: Gay marriage.  Co-habitation.  Abortion.  Drugs.  Drunkenness.   “Tolerance”… for everything except righteousness.  We have become an amoral country, but the moral atmosphere of our nation is essential to its survival:

We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion . . . Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other. (John Adams)

God will, as he has in the past, raise up one ungodly nation to punish another.  This is what the Lord did with Cyrus, king of Persia, on behalf of the people of God:

“I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other.” (Isaiah 45:6-7, ESV)

We must warn others of the reality of sin, righteousness, and judgment.  We must stand for what is right and oppose what is contrary to the Word of God.

17 “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. 18 If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. 19 But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul. 20 Again, if a righteous person turns from his righteousness and commits injustice, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die. Because you have not warned him, he shall die for his sin, and his righteous deeds that he has done shall not be remembered, but his blood I will require at your hand. 21 But if you warn the righteous person not to sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live, because he took warning, and you will have delivered your soul.”  (Ezekiel 3:17-21, ESV)

 The final issue that we face is the rejecting of God by a nation.  Nations rise or fall on their faithfulness to God:

Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin condemns any people. (Proverbs 14:34, NIV)

France is proud of its status as a secular nation.  This sets a spiritual landscape where their country no longer enjoys His divine providence.  Unfortunately, our nation is drifting away from God as well.  Politicians are racing to renounce our status as a Christian nation:

“Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation – at least not just; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation and a Buddhist nation and a Hindu nation and a nation of non-believers.” (Barak Obama, 2006)

The truth that few acknowledge is that our nation was established on Christian principles and has so enjoyed God’s favor.  Many of the founding fathers expressed the importance of faith in Christ to the health of the nation:

The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity. I will avow that I then believed, and now believe, that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God. (John Adams)

 

As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the system of morals and His religion as He left them to us, the best the world ever saw or is likely to see. (Benjamin Franklin)

 

Sensible of the importance of Christian piety and virtue to the order and happiness of a state, I cannot but earnestly commend to you every measure for their support and encouragement. (John Hancock)

 

Righteousness alone can exalt [America] as a nation…Whoever thou art, remember this; and in thy sphere practice virtue thyself, and encourage it in others. (Patrick Henry)

 

[T]he Christian religion – its general principles – must ever be regarded among us as the foundation of civil society. (Daniel Webster)

 

[T]he religion which has introduced civil liberty is the religion of Christ and His apostles… This is genuine Christianity and to this we owe our free constitutions of government. (Noah Webster)

 

The blessing and protection of Heaven are at all times necessary but especially so in times of public distress and danger. The General hopes and trusts that every officer and man will endeavor to live and act as becomes a Christian soldier, defending the dearest rights and liberties of his country. (George Washington)

 

In the chain of human events, the birthday of the nation is indissolubly linked with the birthday of the Savior. The Declaration of Independence laid the cornerstone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity. (John Quincy Adams)

 

Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation, to select and prefer Christians for their rulers. (John Jay)

When Israel faced trouble, Nehemiah recognized that it was because his nation had sinned against God:

6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. 7 We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. (Nehemiah 1:6-7, ESV)

When our nation rejects God, we refuse his favor and protection.  The blessings of heaven and the divine providence we have enjoyed will not endure if we do not remain faithful to Him.  The success of a nation is not found in their own might or wealth, but the power and provision of their God.  We must get on our knees and pray for our nation.

if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14, ESV)

Renewing Your Mind

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2, NIV)

In the heart of born-again believers is the desire to please God.  We want to shake off the chains of sin and the influence of the world and live a victorious life that honors Him.  Unfortunately, the reality is that this can be very difficult to accomplish.  We are still drawn to sin by our corrupt flesh.   We are very flawed people who, despite our desire to do what is right, can and will fall and fail.

Paul offers this solution to our situation: be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  This is sound advice.  The question, then, is how do we accomplish this?  How do we renew our minds?  What do we need to do to make this change in our lives?

The answers are simple- even cliche- in Christian circles.  This is the very reason we often overlook the basics of faith- we are looking for something new or exciting or super-spiritual or easy.  But the answers aren’t always glamorous and results aren’t always instantaneous.  We need to commit ourselves to the basic principles of faith in Christ if we want to have a walk that is pleasing to God.

First, we must READ the Word of God.  As the Psalmist proclaims:

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105, ESV)

How can our walk please God if we don’t examine His directions for life?  We must read God’s Word so we have the answers before we have the questions!  The Bible is full of profound wisdom for daily living, and we will have a better, godlier life by taking time to read and re-read God’s guidance to us.

Not only should we read His Word, but God calls us to STUDY it so we have a clear understanding of what He is speaking to us:

Study to show yourself approved to God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15, AKJV)

The more we look intently into the Word of God, the more it will permeate our hearts and minds.  Don’t just read scripture- study, examine, search, evaluate, learn all you can about what it says and how it impacts your life.  But God calls us to do even more than that.  We ought also to MEDITATE on His Word:

I will meditate on Your precepts and think about Your ways. (Psalm 119:15, HCSB)

When we hear the word meditate, we often think of it in terms of eastern religion, clearing our minds or repetitively chanting.  Biblically, though, meditation simply means giving thoughtful consideration to God’s directives, principles, and commands, contemplating what they mean and how they apply to your life.  We can read and study God’s Word, but if we don’t take time to ponder how it should shape us, we are performing a religious ritual rather than walking with God.

We must also take God’s Word with us wherever we go.  It must be committed to our minds and hearts.  We should MEMORIZE God’s Word:

I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. (Psalm 119:11, NIV)

When we memorize God’s Word, it gives another voice in our spirit that combats the influence of the world, the enemy, and our own sinful natures.  When we hide God’s Word in our hearts and minds, it helps keep us from sin.

God’s Word is essential if we want to have the mind of Christ.  But it is not the only tool that draws us near to God and helps us to be more like Him.  There are other spiritual exercises that will help us to become more and more of what He has called us to be.  The act of REPENTANCE is powerful and transformative in the life of the believer:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9, NIV)

We don’t just gain forgiveness through the act of repentance.  We are actually promised that our state of unrighteousness will be purified as we engage in this practice.  In other words, He won’t just forgive us of sin- He will help us become less sinful.  When you mess up, don’t neglect this practice.  Don’t just tell yourself that you are blessed to have the forgiveness of Christ.  Repent.  In this way honor God, acknowledging your flaws and His righteousness, and He will make you more like Him.

Another often neglected aspect of repentance is ACCOUNTABILITY.  When we make ourselves responsible to a trusted brother or sister in Christ, encouraging and praying for each other, God uses that relationship to mold us into a more faithful and mature follower of Christ:

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.  (James 5:16, HCSB)

As we seek to renew our minds and become who God has called us to be, do not neglect the spiritual act of WORSHIP:

Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth! (Psalm 96:9, ESV)

When we worship God, it gives us the proper prospective of who He is and who we are.  It is no mistake that the Psalmist attaches the thought of trembling before Almighty God with worshiping Him.  When we exalt the Lord, we are reminded of the greatness of who He is and all He has done for us.  This changes our outlook on life.  In other words, it renews our minds.

Finally, the body of Christ helps us to be all that God has called us to be.  We cannot function as lone ranger Christians.  To live out a godly and effective life of faith, we need the encouragement of the body to keep us on the right track.  This is the admonishment we receive in the book of Hebrews:

And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.  (Hebrews 10:25, NLT)

God calls us to be holy and righteous, to renew our minds and become the image of Christ to a lost and dying world.  It is a challenge to live the victorious life to which we are called, but we can be overcoming children of God through His glorious grace.  He has not forsaken us or forgotten us.  He has given us the spiritual tools we need to fulfill His purpose and plans for our lives.  His promise is this:  He has given us everything we need.

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (2 Peter 1:3, NIV)

I Shall Behold Your Face

As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness;  when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.  (Psalm 117:15, ESV)

The outlook of the servant of God is utterly different than the outlook of worldly man.  It is the nature of mankind to seek fulfillment in this life- by pleasure, by power, by prestige, by prosperity.  Not so with the Christian.

The Christ-follower differs from carnal man in that his outlook is eternal.  Where worldly man looks to this life for purpose and fulfillment, we look to God- for we will stand before Him in eternity.

When describing the evil men who pursued him, David noted of them that their “portion is in this life.” (v.14)  When life is lived for self and sin rather than the Savior, your portion is here in the temporal.  You may not always see God’s wrath realized here on earth.  You may very well live a life filled with the things after which you vainly run.  But your portion is in this life alone.

These things that seem so worthwhile will not last.  The will rot, they will rust, they will turn to rubble.  The preoccupations that now consume you will disappear as if they never had been.  Only what is done for Christ shall remain.

The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.  (Isaiah 40:8, NLT)

This world will pass away, but the word of God stands forever.  We have been bought with a price.  We are something new in Christ, and we no longer live for what this world has to offer.  On the contrary:

Our citizenship, however, is in heaven, and it is from there that we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus, the Messiah.  (Philippians 3:20, ISV)

As we look again at Psalm 117:15, we notice the difference the presence of God makes in the life of the believer.  First David says “as for me”- he knew his result would be different from his wicked oppressors.  Our fate is something different from the rest of the world because we have been set apart to God.

Therefore come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.  (2 Corinthians 6:17, ESV)

We who follow Christ have stepped out from the world and separated ourselves to God.  So now, by His promise, He receives us.  Our portion is with Him.

Next David says “I shall behold your face in righteousness.”  Friend, there is no question.  If “Christ dwells in our hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3:17), our eyes will one day rest on His lovely face.  We shall see Him, and not as sinners facing wrath.  We shall see him “in righteousness” because we have clothed ourselves with Christ (Romans 13:14).

Next he says “when I awake.”  Death is not an end for us but a beginning.  We are not sleeping to rise no more.  Instead, we are waking up.  We are moving on from the shadows, from the reflection, from the dream to the reality.  Death is not a tragedy for us, but a triumph.

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? (1 Corinthians 15:55, KJV)

David finished with this thought: “I shall be satisfied with your likeness.”  In the here and now, you may feel frustrated and overwhelmed.  You may be crying out to God right now, “What are you doing?  Why have you forsaken me?  Where are you?”  You may be troubled by the injustice of this fallen world and your heart may be pricked by the pain and suffering endured by the righteous and the innocent.  But one glimpse of His face and everything will change.  You will no longer suffer.  You will be satisfied.  You will find rest.  No matter how difficult your journey has been, it will all be worth it when your eyes rest on His beautiful face.  And there, at perfect peace and in complete fulfillment, with satisfied soul, you shall find joy and rest for all eternity.

They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.  And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22:4-5, ESV)

No Good Apart From You

I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” (Psalm 16:2, ESV)

In this sixteenth Psalm, David acknowledges the goodness of God, and what was true for him is true of us.  We have no good apart from God.  In a world stained by sin, He is the pearl of great price.  The goodness of God is a necessity for a full and fulfilled life.  Our hearts too ought to cry “You are my Lord;  I have no good apart from you.”

We have no good apart from Him because he is the giver of every good thing.  “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17a, ESV)  Whatever good thing we have in this life, it is a blessing from God.  Be thankful and full of praise for those you love, for the earthly goods with which He has blessed you, for health.  Even if you have none of these remaining, be thankful that you yet have breath.  If you count anything good in your life, know that this good thing has come from God.

We have no good apart from Him because, for the Christian, He is the source of our righteousness.  Isaiah 64:6 tells us that “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” (NIV)  But we do have righteousness, goodness before God, because we have been clothed with Christ: “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ like a garment.” (Galatians 3:27, HCSB)  We have put on Christ, and when God looks at us He sees the goodness of His Son.    We have been “found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ–the righteousness from God based on faith.” (Philippians 3:9, HCSB)

We have no good apart from God because this life would be without meaning and purpose if we did not have Him.  We are not cosmic mistakes, nor has God forgotten us.  On the contrary:

  • He sees us. “The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry.” (Psalm 34:15, ESV)
  • He has good plans for us.  “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV)
  • He has a purpose for us.   “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10, NIV)

We have no good apart from God because there are only two paths we can take in life, and only His path is good.  It may not seem so to us, but the spiritual landscape is quite simple:

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.  (Matthew 7:13-14, NIV)

If we choose our own path, we reap destruction.  “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” (Proverbs 14:12, ESV)  The good path is walked in the steps prescribed by God; not lived by what we think is right for us, but by what He knows is best.  Realize that there is a spiritual battlefield, a war being waged for your soul.  His plans are to “prosper you and not to harm you,” but know also that “your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Peter 5:8, KJV)  We have no good apart from God because, if we are not committed to Him, we instead fulfill the plans of the enemy of our souls.  Choose this day whom you will serve, and choose wisely.  The temporary pleasures of sin cannot compare to the good things Christ has in store for us:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10, ESV)