ISIS and Boko Haram

Every day it seems as if I hear more bad news coming from Iraq and Syria regarding the terror of ISIS. Today I am hearing reports of ISIS burning 8,000 rare books and manuscripts. A few days prior it was reported that they burned 45 people alive. Before that, they executed 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya simply because they were Christian. I reflected on persecution, specifically those at the hands of ISIS, in August here.

The following are some recent, relevant and resourceful articles and ideas regarding the pressing issues of ISIS and Boko Haram.

  • As I was getting ready to post last week about how should Christians pray in these times for situations like these, I came across a post written that day by Russell Moore, president of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, on this very topic called, Should We Pray for the Defeat of ISIS, Or Their Conversion. He said everything that I was going to say and said it better, so instead of posting what I had written I want to direct you to his post here. I highly recommend it to you. In short, his answer (and mine!) to this question is to pray for both and leave it up to God to decide.
  • In this season of Lent, fast and pray specifically for those in harms way, both Christians and non-Christians.

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  • Last week on Ash Wednesday I drew a red cross on my hand with the number 21 (see above picture). This served as a visual reminder to pray for the family members of those martyred as well as for those who are at risk of death and persecution. It also served as a reminder to pray for justice and salvation in regards to ISIS members as well as for the Church in that area. Perhaps you can too find a visual way to remind you to pray for what’s going on in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Nigeria and to encourage others to pray as well.
  • I also want to direct your attention to another excellent article. With all the attention on ISIS, we forget about the terror of a group called Boko Haram in Nigeria. Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School, in his piece called, When Africa Bleeds, reminds us not to forget what is happening in Nigeria, which has the most Christians out of all the countries on the continent! This is a very important read and you can find it here.

This morning in my Scripture reading I reflected on Isaiah 25:8-9 and 26:19.

He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation. … Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead.

The good news is that in Christ the reality of these verses has begun to be realized, but until the second coming of Jesus we will have to wait for it to be fully and completely realized. So we wait in eager expectation and hope of that day and together along with the rest of the saints will pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, Come.”

 

Broken, Aware of Sin, and Repentant

Have mercy

A few days ago I celebrated Ash Wednesday, the day that marks the beginning of the season of Lent. Lent is a time when Christians historically have prepared themselves for the celebration of Easter by repenting, fasting and reflecting on their humanity and deep need of a Savior. The Ash Wednesday service is meant to remind each person of his or her mortality.

In thinking about the Grace for the Sinner series in light of Ash Wednesday and Lent, I am reminded that we cannot fully understand the grace Jesus Christ offers without first understanding our great need of it. It is when we are aware of our own mortality and sinfulness that the grace of Christ can become a transformative reality in our lives. We cannot be pardoned of our sins without first acknowledging that we have sin that needs pardoning. It is in this broken, aware-of-sin, repentant state that Jesus meets us and pardons us.

This is where we find David in Psalm 51. Unlike his predecessor Saul, when David was confronted with his sin (the one where he killed a man and committed adultery) David acknowledged it and repented (cf. 1 Sam. 12:13ff). It is sometime after the prophet Nathan’s confrontation with David that David composed Psalm 51.

David begins the psalm with a plea for God’s mercy. “Have mercy on me, O God.” This is a cry that probably many of us know well. I am a sinner! Have mercy on me, O God!

Recently I, too, pleaded before God, “Have mercy on me.” I have an inclination to want to control my life. This desire to control materialized in two ways recently. For one, my husband and I have been trying to conceive. For several weeks I was obsessed with wanting to control the circumstances surrounding conception as well as obsessing with signs and tests that would tell me if I were pregnant. I became anxious and tried to exert “control” by talking and thinking about it obsessively. Secondly, I hate flying. I am scared of the idea of falling, but most of all I don’t like the feeling of being completely out of control of the situation. I don’t know how to fly an airplane if a pilot got sick and they needed an extra one. I can’t control the weather to make it so that we have perfect flying conditions. As we were to fly home a few days ago, I tried to control the uncontrollable by again obsessively worrying about the flight. I dreamt about it. I talked about it. I looked at the weather app non-stop. I was physically sick to my stomach as my nerves only increased with each day that grew closer to the day of our flight.

It was in the midst of trying to control two uncontrollable situations that my husband, like Nathan, spoke truth into my life. He said, “Kristen, you trying to control these situations is idolatrous.” His words were like a sharp arrow to my soul. Conviction spread across my body. And as I left that conversation in prayer the rest of the day, God began speaking to me about this area of sin. In my frail attempt at trying to exert some control over these situations I had made for myself an idol. I was trying to sit in God’s rightful place as sovereign Lord of my life. Instead of trusting God, I was trying to manipulate God or rather manipulate the situations as if God had no role and was nonexistent. This is a serious sin and one that I am ashamed to admit to you today.

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.”

God’s mercy is dependent on and a natural causation of God’s great and abounding love for us. If we get what we deserve according to our sins God is just and blameless (Ps. 51:4)! But mercy gives us what we do not deserve as it acts not according to our sin but according to God’s steadfast love.

David recognizes his sin and his deep, deep need for forgiveness. “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.”

Over and over again in Scripture God pleads with his children to recognize their sin for what it is so that they might repent and so that he might show mercy (cf. Psalm 103:8-19).

“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God? (Joel 2:12-14)

The first step in receiving the grace and mercy of our great God is acknowledging sin and turning from it. And when God pardons you and me from sin it is not a pardoning with strings attached or pardoning that lasts only for a night. No. Grace, like its giver, doesn’t wear out with time or change like the moods of humans but rather is steady and sure. Grace does the work for which God intends it.

David in his prayer says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me (v. 10).” The goal of the believer when he or she leaves that place of repentance and pardoning is a clean heart. God cleans up the sin and mess we make and sets our hearts back on him and on truth. He restores the joy of our salvation and places his praise on our lips (Ps. 51:12, 15).

I was still a little nervous when I flew home earlier this week, but I did not want to sin against God in the way that I had before. So I prayed that He would help me to trust in his sovereignty and his perfect will for my life. For those two flights home he placed an off-duty pilot going home across the aisle, a woman next to me whose hand I needed to hold because she was nervous, and a senator from Tennessee who loves the Lord. He surrounded me with people that brought calm and comfort to me. God is so, so good to us even when our terrible sin against him deserves the worst for us. He showed goodness and mercy and kindness to me by not only pardoning my sin but placing people to comfort me in the midst of something difficult. That, my friends, is great, amazing grace.

What areas of your life need cleansing? Is there sin in your life that you are refusing to recognize as sin? Or, are you aware of your sin but afraid to turn to God? Like me, do you sin against God by trying to take control of your life through worry or manipulation? Are you guilty of idolatry? Slander? Failure to trust God? Hate? Greed? Lust? Lies?

Spend a few moments confessing to God knowing that He is ready to meet you with grace and mercy and that He is ready to make your heart clean, your spirit right so that you might walk in truth and righteousness.

Most merciful Lord, your love compels us to come in. Our hands were unclean, our hearts were unprepared; we were not fit even to eat the crumbs from under your table. But you, Lord, are the God of our salvation, and share your bread with sinners. So cleanse and feed us with the precious body and blood of your Son, that he may live in us and we in him; and that we, with the whole company of Christ, may sit and eat in your kingdom. Amen. (The prayer of humble access; The Book of Common Prayer)

The God Who Covers Our Shame

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When we sin as Christians, we immediately (should) feel shame.

When I lose my temper with my spouse or child, when I hurt a friend with my words, when I break the rules, or when I lie, what inevitably results is shame. I feel so ashamed I don’t know how to face myself let alone God. What will God think of me? Will he still love me? Will he be able to forgive me again or for such a sin as this?

These are thoughts and questions many of us experience in the heat of our shame. How do I approach God? How will God respond? Many times in my shame I want to run away or hide from God. Have you been to that place?

I think a good place to turn in our Bibles to address these questions is to the very beginning. Prior to the Fall, the author of Genesis describes the condition of the first man and woman in the garden as that of innocence and purity. They “were both naked and were not ashamed” (Gen. 2:25) as a result of being in a right relationship with God.

Then some time later the serpent enticed the first couple with his lies and the woman and man fell for it and sinned against God. Because of their sin, they went from being in a state of honor to a state of shame. “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.”

They tried covering up their nakedness, their shame, with some fig leaves, but when God came “walking in the garden in the cool of the day” they still hid themselves even though they were “clothed.”

“But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ And he said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.'”

Why was Adam still afraid of being naked if the text just told us he and Eve had made clothes for themselves? There are several possible reasons. Possibly “because I was naked” meant he was now conscious that he was naked. Possibly because his attempt at clothing was poorly done and he still felt ashamed to be naked. Possibly because it signified that he ate the fruit and sinned. I think all three possibilities are very plausible. The point is that when Adam and Eve sinned it caused distrust in their relationship with God that was once full of trust.

But God, after issuing the punishment that was justly deserved, looked upon this first couple whom He had made with compassion and mercy. He saw them in their misery and shame and before sending them away performed an act of mercy. He clothed them. “And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them” (3:21).

God takes their shame and covers it with grace. He replaces their poor attempt at clothes with something better that will cover them, protect them and keep them warm. To be sure, though, the garments — this act of mercy — came at a cost; it costed the lives of animals.

The beauty of this account is that it is both historical and universal. The Genesis account tells us the story of our ancestors as well as the story of our own humanity. This story, in addition to being about a particular time in history, is a dramatization of what happens every time we sin.

How often have you hid from the Lord because you were afraid and ashamed over your sin? Our sin breaks a trust that we have with our God and causes us to doubt and fear Him. But what I witness about the character of God from the very beginning proves to be true over and over in Scripture. That is that in our misery and shame God looks down on us with compassion and acts mercifully toward us.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 2:4-7)

When you sin, instead of running away or hiding from God, turn to God in repentance knowing that He is rich in mercy and will look upon you with compassion.

Here is the cool thing. When Adam and Eve left the garden they left with clothes stained with the blood of animals. When we as the people of God reenter the garden we, too, will be clothed with garments made by God. But these garments will be white, and they will have come at a different cost. This time it will not be the cost of an animal, but rather it will have come at a greater cost — the blood of God, the incarnate Son.

“‘…For the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure’ — for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.”

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law … the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”

God’s mercy which was evident from the beginning continues throughout time, even to today, until the kingdom of God is fulfilled. So when you sin, when you experience great shame, turn to a God full of compassion and mercy who wants to meet you and cover your shame.