Monthly Archives: November 2011

The First Suicide Bomber

Back when I worked for Group Publishing, we received a customer complaint stating that our Hands on Bible, a children’s Bible in the New Living Translation, contained too much sex. Unfortunately, for this particular customer, we weren’t in the habit of removing inspired words from God’s Holy Scriptures just because we (or our customers) found certain words, phrases, paragraphs, or even books of the Bible risqué. The Bible is full of content that is morally offensive and dangerous to our children if taught incorrectly—it is up to the teacher to use proper discernment when teaching from God’s Word.

Yesterday, as I wandered through the children’s library at my church, I noticed several videos and books that featured the biblical Hercules, Samson. Samson is habitually taught in Sunday schools throughout the world because our children, who are often intrinsically drawn to the “superhero,” are impressed by Samson’s prowess. Samson is the Hebrew Superman, all the way down to his Kryptonite…his long flowing locks. Technically speaking, Samson had more than one Kryptonite. Samson’s mother promised to raise him as a Nazirite. A Nazirite was required to not only follow the basic Levitical Codes, which included touching animal carcasses and deceiving one’s neighbor,  but to also refrain from cutting his hair, eating grapes or raisins, drinking wine or other fermented drinks, and staying clear of any dead bodies. According to the Nazirite precepts, if a Nazirite even came near a dead body, he must shave his head and make a sacrifice in order to be cleansed.

It is disturbing to read about Samson, but even more troubling in this light. Samson’s encounter with Delilah was not the first time he violated his Nazirite vows. Samson continuously deceived his Hebrew brothers, he ate honey from a lion’s carcass, he maimed and killed, and he never shaved his head or went through the necessary cleansing rituals after encountering dead bodies. If he had, Samson would have been perpetually bald. Samson fornicated with prostitutes, married the daughters of his enemy, and disposed of them regularly. One time, he caught 300 foxes, tied them tail-to-tail in pairs, fastened a torch to every pair of tails, lit the torch on fire, and set them loose in the grain fields. Who does that? Can anyone say, “serial killer?” Samson’s life ends tragically, when he commits suicide by toppling over the load-bearing pillars of the Philistine temple in order to kill his enemy as they reveled in victory.

Why do we teach this story to our kids?

Samson’s presence in Scripture demonstrates God’s outrage against ungodliness. Like Joshua and the walls of Jericho or Saul and the Amalekites, God commanded His people to rid themselves of anything and everything that could potentially cause them to stumble. Reflecting on Scripture in this manner, can possibly provide one with a certain level of understanding as to    1) Why Islamic extremists detest Western civilization in the manner in which they do and 2) Why they do whatever it takes, including suicide bombings, in order to cleanse their world of depravity. The best way to understand and eventually touch the lives of these extremists is not to tell the story of Samson in the way in which we normally do. But instead, discover the redeemable shadow in Samson, and lead them to Jesus.

There are redeemable elements to the Samson saga, but they’re not the elements we teach our kids. Samson is the antithesis of Jesus Christ.  Like Christ, Samson was announced by an angel and miraculously born of a womb that was incapable of bearing children. Like Christ, Samson was to pursue a life of holiness and save his people from tyranny. Where Samson committed suicide in a vengeful manner in order destroy his Gentile enemy, Jesus died and rose again to save the very people who nailed him to the cross. Samson’s death is tragic; Jesus’ death and resurrection is victorious.

Samson illustrates human frailty…our inability to be holy based on our own merit. Samson illuminates our desperate need for God’s grace and intervention. Samson—with all his strength, flowing hair, and bulging muscles—failed to deliver his people, and all the nations his people were called to reach. Without a true Savior—without the Son of God—we are vengeful, angry, lustful creatures with no hope whatsoever.  Samson sent his people back down into the cycle of sin and redemption that is SO evident in the book of Judges—rebellion, retribution, repentance, and rescue. Samson exemplifies everything we are NOT to be, and Jesus IS everything we are to emulate. The redeemable lesson found with Samson is that he sheds light on our need for a Savior—for someone to rescue us from the cycle of sin…to never enter into that cycle again. Jesus is the true Superhero.

He was announced by an angel.

He was born of a virgin; a miraculous birth.

He taught us to love our enemy.

He never failed to uphold His call to be holy.

He died to save His people…including us Gentiles.

He rose again to rescue us once and for all from the cycle of sin.

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The Calming Power of Prayer

Today’s post is a tribute to all the veterans out there who fought for the freedom that I enjoy every day. I specifically want to thank those veterans who are near and dear to my heart. To my father Les Vander Lugt, my uncle Marv Kempema, my cousin Russ Vander Lugt, and my good friend Eric Silbaugh…THANK YOU!

“Out of the worst comes the best. Our most cherished values are forged in the fines of trouble times. Like the seriously ill man who comes to appreciate everyday things, the prisoner who comes to prize freedom, and the soldier under fire who comes to know the calming power of prayer, I was about to make a terrible experience worthwhile.”

—H.W. Weldon, Jr. in Coming Home

After Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist, He “was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1). It’s interesting that in this situation, the Spirit of God is leading Jesus into the wilderness and is obviously allowing the devil to tempt Jesus. The Spirit isn’t tempting Jesus, but it should be noted that the Spirit is definitely leading Jesus into a situation where temptation and testing is going to occur.

When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to protect us from the evil one…to not lead us into situations where we’re tested and tempted. When we stand on the fringe of a wilderness experience…when we acknowledge that upon entering that wilderness, all that we are as men and women of God will be tested to the nth degree, it is only natural for us to ask God to lead us elsewhere. This petition in the Lord ’s Prayer, is asking God to protect us…to lead us anywhere else. Of course, we’re going to pray for God’s protection, however, sometimes God says “No” to this petition. In a somewhat paradoxical way, God’s “No” to this request—His leading us into situations where temptation occurs—is complimentary.

Before God tested Jesus and refined him with the fires of temptation, God pronounced his utmost approval with his only Son:

“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

—Matthew 3:17

God loves us as His beloved children, and knows that occasional testing and refinement make us stronger and causes us to rely upon Him more fully. Jesus quoted passages from Deuteronomy three times to stave off the tempting advances from Satan while He sojourned through the wilderness. One of these passages in context is fascinating:

“Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you.”

—Deuteronomy 8:2-5

Jesus obviously recognized the value in being tempted by the devil. Jesus knew that discipline, humility, and reliability on God are essential to Spiritual maturity. James writes, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).

I’m not a veteran…and I can in NO WAY understand the trials, suffering, and fear these men and women experienced while they fought night and day for my freedom. I do know, however, that the trials they endure have the potential to send the strongest soldier to his or her knees. By asking God to not lead us into temptation, we are asking God to stand beside us and protect us through the trials we will inevitably face. If anything—through testing and temptation—we discover the calming power of prayer, a complete reliance on God as our Father, and His capacity to provide for our every need.  If God will not keep us from these temptations, at least He will empower us to endure them and will be on the other end of the desert to welcome us home as His mature, able, and beloved children.


Forsaken

Last night on Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update,” Seth Meyers reported, “The House on Tuesday passed a resolution that reaffirms ‘In God We Trust’ as the official motto of the United States, though it just barely edged out, ‘God, Why Have You Forsaken Us?’”

Many Americans, myself included, frequently ask God this question. Obviously, the fact that I can now only afford a large pizza with a side of wings from Pizza Hut once a week instead of twice a week is solid evidence that God has turned His back on me and the rest of His American children. Since Americans are able to find the time and resources to occupy Wall Street and several other “streets” across the country, I’m convinced that God has most definitely forsaken us…and we truly are in dire straits.

Last night, I watched the Iowa Hawkeyes beat the Michigan Wolverines with some good friends. My buddy DVR’d the game, so we could watch it later than when it originally aired. I spent the day avoiding Facebook, network television, and espn.com in order to prevent seeing the scores and thereby ruining my evening. During a break in the game, my friend—not considering the peril into which he was venturing—changed the channel to watch some highlights on a live broadcast. Suddenly, the outcome of the game we were currently watching on DVR flashed across the screen. We both realized how detrimental seeing that score would be to the enjoyment of the evening, so we both simultaneously closed our eyes and yelled. His wife, amused by the absurdity of our antics, laughed and rolled her eyes. Thankfully, we avoided a First-World disaster—discovering the outcome of a college football game before we could see it occurring in live-action. Can you imagine the suffering…the outrage? It was a pure example of Americans being forsaken by God!

My son constantly blurts out, “It’s not fair!” In response, I usually say, “Really? You know what’s not fair? Kids in Africa who lost their parents to disease. Kids in India who live on dirt floors and have no idea when they’ll have their next meal. That’s not fair!” It usually results in my son not complaining for a few hours…which is nice and refreshing. However, upon reflection, I definitely need to take my own response to his complaints to heart. I’m often saying the exact same thing to God. “It’s not fair! If you love me, why do you let me suffer?”

This question that I ask causes a more general question to surface. Charles Templeton writes, “How can a loving God bear all the suffering in this world?” Peter Kreeft, a philosophy professor at Boston College, answers Templeton’s question with two words, “He did!”

God, seeing the suffering of humanity, came down and jumped headfirst into it.  Jesus Christ on the cross is God meeting us where we are. Jesus Christ, His personal anguish, desperate alienation, and eventual death on the cross is a pure demonstration of God’s love and concern for his suffering children.  The story doesn’t end with the suffering. Often, we believe that it’s the end of the world while we struggle to endure suffering—or when we catch the outcome of a game were watching on the DVR.  When Jesus died on the cross, His disciples believed it was the end of the world as they knew it.  God seemed absent. God seemed powerless.  God seemed dead.  This is how we feel when we ourselves suffer.  “Where are you God?”  Even though it often isn’t comparable to the sufferings of those in the Third-World, our sufferings are still valid. It still isn’t fair.

Psalm 22 expresses this eloquently. So eloquently, Jesus yelled it from the top of his cross in a weakened condition.  “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?”  But as we know, Psalm 22 doesn’t stop with the suffering either.  Where is the hope?  Where is God?  When we suffer there is no way we can find the good in it, but there is good in it.  We may find it someday, or we may never discover it.

 “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

—Romans 8:28

If we we’re to encounter the Disciples on the Saturday after Jesus’ death, I’m sure they would be asking, “What good could possibly come of this? Philip Yancy states that many of us live our lives on Saturday, the day in between the horror, death, and pain of Good Friday, and the victory over that pain on Easter.  We live in Saturday asking: “Can we trust that Jesus can make something holy and beautiful and good out of a world that includes refugee camps, dishonest politicians, and inner-city ghettos. We seem to be constantly asking, “Will Sunday ever come?”

But it does! With Easter God showed that the very worst thing that has ever happened in the history of the world ended up resulting in the very best thing that has ever happened. God’s death on the cross made it possible for God’s defeat of the grave and the redemption of humanity.

Eventually, we might find some good out of suffering, or some reasons that make sense of it. However, we can’t just throw that out to someone who’s suffering.  It doesn’t work.  When were in the midst of suffering, there seems to be no explanation. Even though as C.S. Lewis states, “we hear God the loudest and grow closest to God during suffering,” we sure don’t feel close to God while its going on. It isn’t until afterward when we recognize His presence and His purpose.

Peter Kreeft tells a great story to illustrate this idea:

 “Imagine a bear in a trap and a hunter who, out of sympathy, wants to liberate him.  He tries to win the bear’s confidence, but he can’t do it, so he had to shoot the bear full of drugs.  The bear, however, thinks this is an attack and that the hunter is trying to kill him. He doesn’t realize that this is being done out of compassion. 

 Then in order to get the bear out of the trap, the hunter has to push him further into the trap to release the tension on the spring.  If the bear were semiconscious at that point, he would be even more convinced that the hunter was his enemy who was out to cause him suffering and pain.  But the bear would be wrong. He reaches this incorrect conclusion because he’s not a human being.”

There are some things we just cannot understand when it comes to the work and plan of God simply because we are not God. The problem of suffering is best expressed in the book of Job. Job is a righteous, God-fearing man, who has lost everything. His donkeys and oxen were stolen, servants stabbed and burned, his sheep were burned to a crisp, his camels were carried off, his sons and daughters were destroyed by a tornado, he was afflicted with painful sores all over his body, and sunk to the depths of despair. After trying to figure out why this was happening to him, after hearing idiotic advice from his friends, Job request an audience with God. He asks God, “Why are you allowing me, your servant Job, to suffer?” God simply responds with, “Who are you to question me? I’m God, and you’re not.”

Like the bear, we can’t understand God because we’re not God.

We will never totally understand the workings of God. Are we forsaken? Not at all. However, in the midst of suffering, we definitely feel forsaken. Our motto says, “In God We Trust.” We trust in a God who witnessed our suffering and entered into it. Jesus knows our brokenness…He was broken. Jesus knows our suffering…He died the death of a criminal. Jesus knows our hell…He descended into it. Jesus does offer us victory and hope…He conquered death and suffering that one glorious Sunday morning. We will never be forsaken again…for Jesus lives in us and through us. As it is confirmed daily—and will continue to be confirmed whenever we spend our money…it is in Him we offer our trust.


Staying Alert!

One of the enemy’s most volatile weapons, for me personally, is resentment. Resentment, bitterness, and the inability to forgive was plaguing my soul and directly correlated with the reason why I succumbed to this study on the armor of God. Resentment had pushed me behind a closed-door, had brought tears to my eyes, and had filled me with fear. My only recourse to these feelings of bitter resentment was to stand up, be strong in the Lord, and put on the full armor of God. That night—the night I cowered in fear—was exactly one month from today…October 2nd. Over the course of this past month, I’ve found my way out. I’ve fought the enemy and I have staved off his advances—for the time being. He’ll be back, with greater numbers, and with more powerful weapons. Therefore, I need to be alert, focused, and prepared for his next move.

Just prior to His betrayal, Jesus endured brutal attacks from the enemy. Jesus knew how to fight back and how to resist the devil’s temptation. By staying alert and being in constant prayer, Jesus geared up for battle. Knowing the importance of having a brotherhood surrounding Him through this battle, Jesus asked His closest comrades to come with Him, to stay alert, and to pray. Jesus walked a few paces away from His friends, and prayed. Upon returning, Jesus found them sleeping. Waking up His closest friend, Jesus said to Peter, “Can’t you stick it out with me a single hour? Stay alert; be in prayer so you don’t wander into temptation without even knowing you’re in danger” (Matthew 26:40 — The Message).

Some Christians believe that the war was won when Christ died on the cross and conquered death in His resurrection. They conclude that a life filled with pain, suffering, and battles is self-inflicted. Lack of faith, wandering off the “narrow” path, or not being a “good” Christian, results in a cursed life—lacking blessings from God. These Christians conclude that if God is blessing them, then they’re obviously doing something right. If they’re lacking in blessings, than they’re doing something wrong. They apparently never read the book of Job.

I couldn’t disagree with this perspective any more than I currently do. If these Christians are correct, than there really isn’t a need for the armor of God. If the war is over, there’s no more spiritual warfare. One of my seminary professors put it this way, “Christ’s death and resurrection is similar to D-Day. When the Allies landed on the beach in Normandy, the end of the war in Europe was certain and an Allied victory was inevitable. However, the war wasn’t over. Many soldiers died between D-Day and V-Day, battles ensued, and the enemy had several victories. Nevertheless, the ultimate victory would definitely occur…and it did.” Jesus death and resurrection sealed the deal…we will win the war…that’s an affirmative fact. However, there will be many battles and several casualties between D-Day (Christ’s death and resurrection) and V-Day (The final battle).

I almost believe the complete opposite as those Christians who conclude that a stress-free, blessed life is a sign that they’re doing everything “right.” I believe that if you’re not under attack, then you’re not a threat…and I want to be a threat. Therefore, I’ll embrace this battle, and the battles to come. However, I prefer to be ready for the next onslaught, than to be caught with my pants down. Wearing the armor of God is about standing up, being prepared, humbling myself and accepting the righteous of God through faith, being content, standing together with the community of faith, remembering my salvation in Christ, protecting my mind from doubt and fear, and sharing the Gospel with everyone I encounter. As I stand in full armor, Paul encourages me with an echo from Jesus Himself. When the enemy looms on the horizon, when temptation is hiding right around the corner, I need to “stay alert; be in prayer so I don’t wander into temptation.”

“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”

—Ephesians 6:18

The enemy desires nothing more than to find us asleep on the job. Prayer protects us individually and collectively. Prayer is our two-way radio to the Commanding Officer. Prayer keeps us alert and connected to God…and when we’re connected to God, nothing can separate us from Him.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

—Romans 8:38-39