The Critical Qur’an: Explained from Key Islamic Commentaries and Contemporary Historical Research

I want to recommend a key book in understanding the Qur’an (or Koran, the Islamic Holy Book):

Robert Spencer’s The Critical Qur’an: Explained from Key Islamic Commentaries and Contemporary Historical Research.

As of my writing this, it is #1 Best Seller in Quran for Amazon. A Christian expert in Islam said this book will really help people see how destructive the Koran is and Islamic core teachings. And thus why this is the best time in the world for a Muslim to read the Bible and turn to Christ!

Luke 12:13-21, Social Justice, and The Coming Judgment

I’ve been really meditating on Luke 12:13-21. I think it has a lot to say to our current culture regarding what many call “social justice”. May we consider it together:

First, we have a man who is upset because his brother won’t share his inheritance with him. That’s all we know. But I think we may be able to fill in some details based on other Scriptures and thinking further on this. Namely:

  • his brother was probably the oldest, and therefore got a double portion of inheritance that is meant for the eldest son
  • this man thought it was unfair, so maybe found himself in some hard times–or maybe his brother was having lavish times he wasn’t having. In any case, he knows his brother got more than him, and he is protesting the injustice of this.

Jesus responds first by saying “Who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” (12:14). There is some irony here in the fact that Jesus will be the ultimate Judge for this man and his brother (which speaks to the rest of the passage). But, in essence, I think He’s saying here, “Your not having more money than someone else isn’t a concern of mine.”

PAUSE there. Have we or others made income disparity a concern where Jesus hasn’t?

CONTINUE..

Instead, Jesus looks into the man’s heart and sees a bigger concern than perceived injustice: coveting. He says to the man, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (12:15). In other words, “Be way more concerned about the state of your heart than the state of your bank account compared to someone else’s.”

Next, in 12:16-21, he furthers his point by showing that getting more wealth just for yourself will lead you to God’s judgment that you don’t want to receive. Thus the irony of his first statement of not being a judge. In essence, if your concern is with having more money just for yourself, and you want to take from your wealthier brother to do that, you’ve missed the whole point. God wants your soul to be fully given over to Him.

Thus this is really an indictment to more than just this man. It is also an indictment to his brother if his brother is gaining wealth only for self-serving purposes. The whole point is that making wealth (and even wealth inequalities) a big issue could be setting yourself up for a scary judgment to come. Get your soul right with God. If He gives you more wealth, use it for His glory. If someone else gets wealth, their soul will also be judged just as ours is judged. Keep eyes on God and the Final judgment to come, not money and temporary things of this life.

2 Chronicles Reflections

These are notes collected from studying with Matt Lantz, Matt Roefer, Chris Maybury, and Brad Holda. Anything good comes from the Lord. Everything else is from us!

2 Chron. 5 – God Changes Everything

I’ve been thinking about 2 Chron 5:13-14…

All of their ministry stopped when God showed up. Then they were only falling on their face in God’s presence. I think of it like hoisting a sailboat. You may do a lot of work to get the sailboat in a position to catch the wind, but when the wind comes you are holding on for the ride (never sailed before, so maybe there’s more to it than that LOL). But I think how futile our ministry is without God. And then when God shows up, even then He is looking for us to worship Him fully (more than do all these things for Him).

2 Chron. 11 – God Divides

I’ve really been struck by 2 Chron 11 – how God says that the division within Israel is from Him, and not to fight it. Wow – this seems eerily similar to what I fear may be going on around us in the church these days. That is, a God-sent division.

Something along the lines of 1 Cor. 11:19 – “there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.” A sobering and humbling thought…if it is indeed so, I pray so earnestly that we would choose the Lord’s side in the midst of it all, and by His complete grace

2 Chron. 11 (with 7:14) – Rehoboam

I was really moved by this account of King Rehoboam and thinks it speaks to a message that has been woven throughout Israel’s history and is true today. When we humble ourselves before God and confess our sin he turns from His wrath and welcomes us in (every time)! When we are stubborn, set up idols, and turn from Him, He will also turn His face. We no longer have His peace or protection or provision. However, he keeps welcoming us back if we will just humble ourselves and fall on our faces and let Him be first in our lives.
Israel’s story is very much our story… so much to be learned.

When the rule of Rehoboam was established and he was strong, he abandoned the law of the LORD, and all Israel with him. In the fifth year of King Rehoboam, because they had been unfaithful to the LORD

Same message here! This is powerful! If my people pray…

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 Chron. 7:14

2 Chron. 14-16 – Keep Trusting God: A Sober Warning

I really think we need to take this to heart. Asa began trusting the Lord alone for victory (even over a large army), and gained victory.

But then…later in his life…he began to do this thing where he trusted in others (the Syrians…then later the physicians). Maybe he even trusted God PLUS others. But he didn’t trust God alone for victory. So he died in this faith-less state, while beginning in a faith-full place. I keep thinking about how we can’t bank on how we trusted God YESTERDAY to see great victories. We may have decades of trusting God under our belt, but now what are we going to do today? Do we still believe this is the best strategy for life and ministry? Or have we “matured” from such simple faith. God forgive us and God help us…may TODAY be a faith-filled day, by the mercies of Christ the Lord!

He must have all of us fully surrendered and as we know He sees the heart.

2 Chron. 20 – Faith and Fast, Not Fear

Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah.

2 Chron. 20:3

I love this response to fear—what a good challenge!

2 Chron. 20 – Pulling Together the Old Testament

I think it’s cool how the editors had all these documents of recordings to help them flesh out the timeline. Like the chronicles of Jehu helped fill out the book of the kings of Israel. It gives me a better picture of how the OT came together. I bet there were a bunch of documents that people pulled from for both the old and new to come up with what we have today. Just imagine the authors of Kings saying, hey can you grab that parchment of Jehu etc…I wonder how much of Jehu’s chronicles made it into the book of the kings and how much the original book of the kings is in our first and second kings etc….

2 Chron. 21 – Jehoshaphat’s Decisions

See 2 Chron. 21:3-4.

Why the heck didn’t Jehoshaphat vet his kids before just casually handing the throne to the first born? I know it’s custom to give it to the first born but David didn’t do that. Surely he had to have known his first born would at best be a bad pick, let alone a threat to his brothers. Human intelligence (or lack thereof) is not missed by the Bible.

Nehemiah Reflections

Neh 4: A Tool and Weapon

Neh 4:17 – those rebuilding the wall had a tool and weapon…I know what that is like. When you are doing the work of the Lord there are days like this. You are building His Kingdom and fending off enemies or naysayers.

I’d add that those who are truly doing the Lord’s work become enemy #1 for Satan…so I’d be more nervous if you don’t get satanic attacks, honestly.

This is probably the primary thing hitting me in reading through Nehemiah is the amount of resistance and adversity he faced. When we follow Christ this is what we can expect (not as the exception but the rule because Satan wants none of it to succeed). I think all too often we expect ease and comfort and others to go along with us as we follow God’s plans. Let’s remember it will always be the exact opposite and follow Nehemiah’s example. I have really found this book to be amazing so far as well as his example of faithfulness under fire!

I also liked the image about a tool in one hand and a weapon the other. It takes strong conviction to live out our faith like that.

Neh 1: Do We Weep?

I’m so struck and challenged by the visceral response Nehemiah shows over God’s temple being undone. He shakes, cries, repents, fasts, prays, risks his life with the king–all over the agony of knowing God’s temple isn’t built. Now I think about the church as God’s temple today. I look at so much room for God’s people to be built up in Him, and so many areas we’ve missed the mark. Surely there is room for us to weep, pray, fast, risk our lives, like Nehemiah did over the temple needing repair: Do We Weep?

In chapter 9 it talks about how as part of their corporate time of confession they read/listened to the law for 3 hours followed by 3 hours of confession. Seems maybe our churches should look more like this ie anguish vs. entertainment. This is what really resonated to me about the video coupled with what we are reading.

Pray Against Enemies?

I’ve been thinking about Nehemiah praying that God would look upon his enemies and judge them for their blocking God’s ways. At first, my thought was that this all changes post-cross. Jesus himself teaches us to pray for our enemies and forgive, of course (Matt. 5-6). But then I thought about Paul saying something kind of similar in 2 Tim. 4:14, and also see Paul rebuking and calling down blindness on Elymas the Sorcerer (Acts 13:9-12). Both of these are post-cross.

I think the point is thinking about people who are truly being enemies to God’s work…to people receiving the gospel. We should pray they are thwarted. Ultimately, pray that they repent. But if they won’t repent, sometimes God has to use other (harsh) means to get them out of there. Hear me out…we don’t jump to this. I think of it like police officers trained to de-escalate. They are only supposed to use as much force as the situation warrants based on what the person is doing to them and how compliant they are, etc. (and no more). So using their gun is a last resort. Similarly, praying for a sort of judgment to thwart God’s enemies seems like a last resort, and should be Spirit-led. But it shouldn’t be off the table.

I agree that praying for judgement is not something that is off the table. Jesus is a perfect balance of love and justice, equal parts grace and truth. He taught us to pray that his kingdom would come here on earth as it is in heaven, so I think that would mean we would long for the wrong things in this world to be made right.
I think when the balance is altered is where we run into problems (all grace with no truth is soft, all justice with no love is harsh).

Neh 8: Teaching the Bible

I’ve been touched by Neh 8 – there they read the Bible and then “they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading” (Neh. 8:8). The result? “All the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, BECAUSE they had understood the words that were declared to them.” (Neh. 8:12)

So simple, yet so under-appreciated: read the Bible, explain what it means. That should be our teaching strategy.

Nehemiah 6:16

When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God.

I am encouraged in these stories of how pagan people recognize the power of the LORD, even though they don’t follow him.

God’s power is evident when his people fear him and obey. “The fear of the LORD” is something that seems to be mentioned a lot.

Neh 7: Hanani’s Promotion

7:2- Hanani is put in charge “because he was a man of integrity and feared God more than most men do.”

It is interesting to think about how different the business world would be if the fear of the LORD was the most sought after quality when hiring someone for an upper management position.

This reminds me of Aristotle’s directions for a midwife:

A MIDWIFE ought to be of middle age…A lady’s hand, a hawk’s eye, and a lion’s heart…But above all, she ought to be qualified with the fear of God, which is the principal thing in every state and condition, and will furnish her on all occasions both with knowledge and discretion.

See https://www.exclassics.com/arist/arist13.htm

Nehemiah 8

This story is in the children’s bible I read to my kids after dinner, and to be honest I wasn’t familiar with it before reading it to them. It is a powerful story. Understanding scripture allows us to repent, and this is cause for celebration!

Neh 13: Rough Dealings

I’ve been thinking a lot about Neh 13:25 ~

I confronted them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair…

At first blush, this might seem a bit extreme for him to do.

BUT:

  • we live in a very sanitized and “polished” society compared to a lot of places…in some places, this kind of rough behavior is almost like the “language of the land” you need to use to get their attention (certainly better than killing them or dying under God’s hand for the compromise and idolatry).
  • along these lines, I think Nehemiah may have been acting in a sort of “official” capacity. So you can think of police officers with batons, or Herod with his soldiers who would routinely beat people as a discipline for what they did (we are a society WAY more devoid of corporal punishment than a lot of places…but even in our land, we still allow for a certain level of corporal punishment…I wonder if we could actually curb some really negative things if we used a little more corporal punishment than we do, honestly)
  • You can’t say the Bible doesn’t show the gritty, real-ness of humanity!

1 Kings 5: We Need the Nations!

In 1 Kings 5, we read about Solomon working with Tyre and Sidon (non-Jewish cities) to build the temple of the Living God. Solomon says of these people, “there is no one among us [Israelites] who knows how to cut timber like the Sidonians.” (1 K 5:6).

Consider that for a moment. God so arranged that outsiders of Israel are uniquely qualified to make the best temple for God. Ask yourself, Why wouldn’t God want to use his own people to make his temple?

The temple of the Old Testament translates to God’s church in the New Testament (Ephesians 2; 1 Peter 2; etc.). It was the place where God resided, and now God resides within the souls of his people–and especially when there is a corporate expression united under His Name and Lordship (Matt. 18:20).

So if we put these 2 concepts together–that God’s temple is his church AND the temple was built with the help of outsiders–I wonder if this doesn’t give a unique perspective on God’s desire to evangelize and bring in the nations to work on building up his church.

What skills and ministries and callings does He have prepared to help his church that will be found by those who aren’t yet joined to Christ? Think of the opportunity and extra value this gives within your neighbor, friend, family member who doesn’t yet know Christ. There is yet time. There is yet room. For God’s church to be even more glorious!

For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!

Romans 10:12-15

Faithful Men (Song)

Composer: Unknown. Shared in a Mennonite community in Pennsylvania 6 years back (or so).

Faithful Men: Audio

“Faithful Men” sung by Neal Karsten

Faithful Men: Lyrics

There are many today who have wandered away,
They are out in the fields of sin.
Once they walked in the light, now they grope through the night,
Oh Lord, give us faithful men.

CHORUS
Faithful Men, Faithful Men,
To recapture the vision again.
Give us men who are true, and loyal through and through,
O Lord, give us faithful men.

Give us men who are strong, when the battle is long.
Give us men with the will to win,
Men courageous and true, though their number be few,
O Lord, give us faithful men.

There's no time for delay, men are needed today,
Men persistent unto the end.
Men whose feet are secure on the rock that is sure,
O Lord, give us faithful men.

Samson From 2 Angles

I wanted to use this space to highlight 2 recent takes I’ve heard on the story of Samson (Judges 13-16). Both focus on different elements, and I thought could glorify the Lord for us to consider together.

Samson, Angle 1

Author: Neal Karsten

I was really encouraged by the word of Samson killing more through his death than in his life, so I spent a little bit looking at that. I’m sure books have been written on this, but here were a few things that stood out to me.

Samson was far from perfect.  He made huge mistakes and was not deserving of being used!

May we never think that we can’t be used because we have not been good enough!

Do we believe we can only be used if we are good enough?

His head had been shaved, but it was just beginning to grow back (Judges 16:22)

This hair growth was a work of the Lord (Samson had no control of this) and though it was small, it could be used powerfully.  

Do we believe the Lord is at work even when we are not active in it and that even his small beginnings can be extremely powerful?

Samson knew he was dead (16:30).

He was not fighting for his survival, he was longing for the greatest impact through his death.

Are we fighting for our survival, or for the greatest impact as we are dying?

Though he was blind, Samson was intentional about being placed next to the structural pillars. (16:26)

Though we are blind, are we being wise, intentionally striving to be placed to make the biggest impact against the enemy?

Samson called out to God (16:28)

Without the strength of the Lord, no pushing will make the structure fall.

Are we trying to push in our own strength? Are we calling out to the Lord?

Samson pushed with all his might (16:30)

Even though the Lord was his strength, Samson still had to push. 

Are we pushing? Are we joining our prayer with action?

Samson’s intentions were not perfect (“…for my two eyes” 16:28)

It even looks as though his intentions for this were not for the sake of the people of God, or to righteously destroy the enemy, it looked more like revenge / pride.  But God still honored it for God’s glory.

Do we believe that our intentions need to be perfect before God can use us for his cause?  

Samson’s death killed more than his life. (16:30)

Do we believe that the persevering of our lives will have the greatest impact, or the giving up of our lives will have the greatest impact?


Samson, Angle 2 (“Integrity Matters: Judges 13-16”)

Presenter: Peter Williams

“Integrity Matters: Judges 13-16” by Peter Williams (30 min)

Are you Qualified For Ministry?

Something that strikes me in Matthew…and really in all of the gospels, is how hopeless the disciples are on their own. They misunderstand Jesus the whole way through. They try to correct him because they know the better way. They aren’t able to cast out the demons that Jesus seemed to expect them to. They leave Jesus at his hardest hour, even though they all claim they’d never deny Him. They chastise Mary for pouring out the alabaster flask on Jesus. And I could go on.

Anyone else read this and think, “Wait, these are the ones Jesus wants to use to turn the world upside down?” Haha!! I hope it’s actually empowering for all of us to consider this. Jesus is looking to use people who don’t have it together…NOT at all. Anyone who studies church history will see the same thing. It’s always stunning to me to do a deep dive study of heroes of the faith. I can’t think of one I’ve looked at who didn’t have his/her own issues.

Why? So He gets all the glory!

26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

1 Cor. 1:26-31

By the power of the Holy Spirit–Christ in you…

Rise up fellow non-influential–non-noble–weak-lowly-despised-fools. We’re just the people God is looking to use, as His Spirit carries us fumbling and bumbling along :slightly_smiling_face: