Pastor's Blog

Drowning

Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got back in the boat, the wind ceased. – Matthew 13:29–32

It rained intensely for three days. Rivers in St. Louis County overwhelmed their banks and the flood water soon reached historical levels. Close by, the crossing of I-44 and Rte. 141 turned to a lake. The Starbucks on the corner became a hangout for sightseeing. Sipping up lattes, crowds of people gathered by the flood’s edge using the closed highway as a platform for selfies.

Our culture excels in turning tragedy into amusement. Parents bring children up close to see the flood saying, “Isn’t this really cool?” Strolling couples comment on the romantic water view now available on their backyard. An artist inspired by the flood hopes the water will stay up for a few days so he can finish his painting. Teenagers rejoice over the thrilling opportunity to take out the jet skis….

The world is drowning! The real flood zone, however, is human self-centeredness. Our society is consumed with entertainment and distracted from realizing what’s really going on. While the natural flood waters will recede, the need for deliverance from drowning remains. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the only hope for the world that’s sinking ever deeper into the sea of the self-focused life.

Consider Peter, the outspoken disciple. He had courage and strength, and was willing to take a risk. What he lacked at times was focus on a greater source of power than himself. At the command of Christ, he got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. Yet, when he got distracted, he lost focus and began sinking.

Now consider the work of Christ. Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” In this true story, faith is parallel to keeping our eyes on Christ. A person of little faith gets easily sidetracked from focusing on God as the source of real help. Ironically, distraction is not always an unpleasant or life threatening experience. On the contrary, pleasure, entertainment, or self-focus can be used effectively by the enemy to divert attention away from Christ.

Perhaps the most decisive part of the story is captured in these words: Jesus… took hold of him. Here is an interesting fact every trained life guard will affirm: Saving a drowning person is actually much easier if they just give up their own panicky effort, keep calm, obey instructions, and allow the saving person to do their job. Christ did His part unmistakably as the Savior and Deliverer. He always does! But Peter also played his part by not interfering, not trying to help Jesus to help him—it almost sounds like an oxymoron. He simply let Christ take hold of him and guide him back to the safety of the boat.

May be you feel like you’re drowning right now. Faith is hard to find and distractions seem to be mounting. Some of the distractions may even be entertaining, but you know they will only divert your focus away from Christ. If that’s the case, do what Peter did. Cry out, “Lord, save me” and then allow the strong saving arm of the Lord to pull you back up and guide you back to safety. Do not resist. In fact, the more you kick and scream in panic, the harder it will be to get solid footing—and that’s what we need: a solid footing through an undivided focus on Christ as we submit to His power and guidance.

You are loved,
Pastor Michael

A Religion of Peace?

“Can wicked rulers be allied with you, those who frame injustice by statute? They band together against the life of the righteous and condemn the innocent to death.” – Psalm 94:20–21

Since the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, the idea has resurfaced that Islam is a religion of peace and therefore not responsible. What kind of a god could be an ally to religious rulers waging war on the rest of the world? Some of our leading politicians categorically deny that this war is a product of the Muslim faith. They say that the Paris attacks (which left more than a hundred unarmed civilians dead and over a thousand wounded) had nothing to do with Islam. After all, they say, Islam is a religion of peace. Some even compare the core values of Islam to Christianity. They argue that the deadly practices of Muslims stem from faulty interpretation practiced by a negligible minority.

Is Islam really a religion of peace misinterpreted by a few extremists? Or is the reality of its teachings and philosophy much more dangerous than we realize? Let the teachings speak for themselves as we examine their substance through a series of questions.

Is peace really the core value?

The Islamic scriptures command all the followers to fight and kill those who don’t believe in Allah or won’t assimilate. In no uncertain terms, it calls for the so-called “holy war” (Jihad) on non-Muslims over a hundred times in the Quran alone, not to mention other interpretive books (Hadiths) containing the alleged quotes from the prophet Mohammed. For the orthodox follower of Mohammed, the killing of “infidels” is a high merit in pursuing good works of salvation. "Surely Allah loves those who fight in His way" (Quran 61:4). "He it is who has sent His Messenger [Mohammed] with guidance and the religion of truth [Islam] to make it victorious over all religions even though the infidels may resist” (Quran 61:9).

Jesus never commanded His followers to kill people who did not believe in Him. In the Old Testament, there are certain instances when the people of Israel as a nation were at war with other nations, but never with the purpose of forcibly converting them to their God. Most of the time, the Israelites were the oppressed minority, many times subdued or enslaved and therefore in no position to fight, longing for a Messiah who would deliver them by way of military might. When Christ came, however, He announced that His kingdom is NOT attainable by earthly power. He said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36).

Much like His Kingdom, the peace Christ offers is also not of this world and cannot be achieved by worldly means. Jesus declared, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). Peace with God through Christ and peace toward others is clearly one of the core values of the Christian faith.

Who is the real fight against?

The fight commanded by the Lord Jesus is against sin, the forces of evil, and the devil, not by way of systematic killing of those who disagree or disbelieve. This fight likewise takes place in a different realm than this world. The Bible says, “Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:11–12).

The Muslims, however, are commanded: "O you who believe! Fight those of the unbelievers who are near to you and let them find in you a harshness, and know that Allah is with the god-fearing" (Quran 9:123). Some argue that these verses carry only a spiritual meaning. Don’t believe it for a second. I had the opportunity to hear from a number of former Muslims (now brothers in Christ) who say otherwise. They were told over and over by their Muslim church leaders (Imams), even here on American soil, that these commands are to be understood literally—as a bodily fight, a physical war, inflicting harm and death on unbelievers through Jihad!

Not only that, the Islamic god also tells his followers HOW to fight, as exemplified by the prophet Mohammed, who said, "I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them" (Quran 8:12). No reasonable person would interpret this as referring to a spiritual battle. Additionally, loyal Muslims are also commanded to target specific nations and ethnicities and are promised supernatural help doing so. As “Allah's Apostle said, ‘The Hour will not be established until you fight with the Jews, and the stone behind which a Jew will be hiding will say. “O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, so kill”’” (Bukhari 52:177).

Do only the “radicals” inflict harm?

When confronted by the evidence of evil committed every day by Muslims around the world, certain politicians object that only the “radicals,” not the regular peaceful Muslims, believe that bringing harm to non-Muslims is justified. Let’s not be fooled, however! If it were so, the “radicals” would only be a small group that would likely soon run out of funding and resources for their expensive and elaborate international acts of destruction. As it is, their efforts are well-funded and continue to expand. Have you ever noticed how every time they strike, crowds of “peaceful Muslims” rejoice all around the world in celebration of victory? Seldom there is any voice of disapproval or condemnation of violence coming from the peaceful Muslim crowd.

Perhaps it will help if we first define the term “radical.” We are told by our own liberal media that this word identifies only those willing to kill or die for the cause of Allah. But what about those who approve and support such evil practices? Available statistics show various numbers, all of which show an alarming rate of support and approval for taking the lives of non-Muslims or non-conformists according to “Sharia” law. This Arabic term means "the way" or "the path." It provides the legal framework for regulating all aspects of human life within the theocratic system of Islam.

Religion researchers such as Pew Forum Center (and others) point out that in countries with the largest Muslim population, like Indonesia, Nigeria or Iran, close to 90% of citizens approve of Sharia law as the revealed Word of God, including honor killings of children or women, as well as killing infidels. In countries with a smaller Muslim population, such as in France, Germany, or the United States, statistics show that over 45% of Muslims living there approve of honor killings under Sharia law and feel that terror attacks against the non-Muslim population are justified. Is that not radical? Exactly what would it take for the next step—from approval to active participation?

Why don’t we call evil what it is?

Good question! I am convinced that in the name of democracy our society has departed so far from its original biblical foundation that it is no longer able to distinguish evil from good. Our country is so morally corrupt that evil on many other fronts is now regularly called good and good called evil. Let’s not forget that, historically, many thriving cultures did not fall through an outside military aggression, but through moral corruption within. In the words of the eighteenth century Irish statesman Edmund Burke, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Failing to call evil what it is (and not taking a clear stand against it) is a sign of a moral decay that can only result in a gradual collapse of the society that tolerates it.

How do we identify what is evil, you may ask? Evil is evil when God’s Word calls it evil. Murder is evil and murder in the name of Allah is evil; that’s a part of the Islamic faith, regardless of what we are told on TV. When a society becomes so corrupt that they tolerate, explain, or defend those who generate evil or approve of it, God tends to withdraw His protective hand, turning them over to their wicked ways. For example, the Romans of the first century became the world’s dominant culture, yet their rule ended in self-destruction because of moral decay. “Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. … Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:28–29, 32).

This evil will not just go away; it will only grow stronger. It stems from a deadly philosophy of spiritual elitism taught in Islam. While this is not the only thing the Muslim faith teaches, Islam’s position of desiring to achieve worldwide religious exclusivity by force is clear. "The Messenger of Allah said: I have been commanded to fight against people so long as they do not declare that there is no god but Allah" (Muslim 1:30).

Jesus, on the other hand, counters this false philosophy by saying, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:43–45).

Whom do we believe?

In the midst of confusion, many are asking this question. Should we believe the politicians or the so-called “moderate” Muslim speakers? Or should we believe those who are committed to their cause to the point of willingness to harm others? Who are the real hypocrites of their faith—or any faith? Those who twist the principles found in their scriptures or those who practice obedience?

Even Jesus made it clear that religious hypocrites are those who know what the Scripture says, but don’t obey it because, fundamentally, their hearts are not in sync with their precepts. “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me’” (Mark 7:6).

Likewise, the Islamic faith consistently teaches that the hypocrites are those who do not obey the principles taught by Mohammed. “The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said: ‘One who died but did not fight in the way of Allah nor did he express any desire for Jihad died the death of a hypocrite’” (Muslim 20:4696).

This brings us back to the notion that Islam is a religion of peace. One commentator stated, “Where Islam is dominant religious minorities suffer brutal persecution with little resistance. Where Islam is in the minority there is the threat of violence if Muslim demands are not met. Either situation seems to provide a justification for religious terrorism, which is persistent to Islamic fundamentalism. The reasons are obvious and begin with the Quran. … The example of Muhammad is that Islam is a religion of peace when Muslims do not have the power and numbers on their side. Once they do, things change…the problem starts not with bad people, but bad ideology” (www.thereligionofpeace.com/violence).

Does truth matter?

We believe that the Bible is the Word of God and, as such, it is the truth and the foundation for all matters of life and death. To make it more specific (and personal), Jesus declared, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). While Jesus claims to be the exclusive way to the Father, what makes one a sincere follower of Jesus (as imperfect as we are) is not killing those who disagree, but believing in Him and reciprocating God’s love by voluntary submission to the moral principles of His Word. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Likewise, loving and desiring the best for God’s people is linked to obedience—“By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey His commandments” (1 John 5:2).

The words of Mohammed, on the other hand, don’t insist on the unequivocal application of the truth. Islam recognizes the practice of “Taqiyyah,” which is a legal dispensation under the Sharia law by which a Muslim is allowed to even deny his faith or commit otherwise illegal or blasphemous acts. Most people in the western civilization don’t have a clue about this convenient provision of the Islamic law, but it is alive and well as a part of the Islamic teachings today! The Muslim scholar Yarden Mariuma wrote an article in 2014 in which he explained that "Taqiyya is an Islamic juridical term whose shifting meaning relates to when a Muslim is allowed, under Sharia law, to lie” (The Muslim World,” Magazine, Volume 104, Issue 1–2, pages 89–108, January/April 2014). Muslims might tell you that this provision is only for strenuous circumstances, such as war. They’ve made their point. Jihad is a war!

This begs the question: Can we really trust what the Muslim world is telling us? I am not talking about the world in general, but the growing Muslim world, specifically the so-called Islamic State (or Caliphate). Can we really trust those who call themselves our allies, even though their own scripture commands them to kill us? Moreover, "The believers never ally themselves with the disbelievers, instead of the believers. Whoever does this is exiled from Allah. Exempted are only those who are forced to do this to avoid persecution" (Quran 3:28). Is the Muslim alliance with the West a true alliance or a war strategy under the Sharia law? The Islamic movement will not stop until a worldwide Caliphate is established, subjecting all nations under the rule of Islam. At that point we, the tolerant, will no longer be tolerated.

How do we respond?

Regardless of any earthly alliance, the Psalmist asks the Lord the more important question, “Can wicked rulers be allied with you, those who frame injustice by statute? They band together against the life of the righteous and condemn the innocent to death.” God’s answer is not surprising: the One who is our rock, stronghold and refuge “will bring back on them their iniquity and wipe them out for their wickedness; the Lord our God will wipe them out” (Psalm 94:20–23).

The task assigned to us in the mean time—and the only solution—is found in the gospel. Christ died that all evil may be defeated, including the evil of Islamic elitism that serves the spiritual forces of darkness. Their murderous record speaks for itself, but Christ has already “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them on the cross” (Colossians 2:15).

Islam is not a religion of peace. Every day hopeless young people around the world are turning to Islam because someone offered them false hope of pleasures in heaven earned through acts of violence and terror.

Our mission as Christians is not to attack the people who believe a lie, but the lie they believe. We do so by proclaiming the truth we have in Jesus Christ, His Word, His love, and His power! Won’t you join us in the fight for the lost and deceived? Tell someone today what God in Christ has done for you!

You are loved,
Pastor Michael