ISIS Could Not Stop Christians

When the Islamic State drove Christians from their homes in northern Iraq in 2014, Mathi Habib Khodor and his wife Nazik took their six children and fled.

Now, six years later they have been able to seek refuge from Covid-19 back in their house, rebuilt after it was destroyed.

“We decorated the house so that it looks exactly like we left it five years ago,” said Mathi, 55.

“The children asked us to leave the house the same, it has such good memories for them.

“They want to come here and relive those times, especially now that so much has changed.”

When Mathi returned to Qaraqosh only hours after liberation in 2017, he never expected to see his home city come back to life again.

“I was just crying and crying,” he said. “I couldn’t believe how such a beautiful city changed into this devastated area.

“The houses were destroyed or burned down, there was rubbish in the street – it was abandoned, not fit to live in.”

But walking through Qaraqosh, a sense of resolve came over Mathi.

“I became determined to return and rebuild my home here,” he said. “I didn’t know how, but I knew I would find a way.”

As part of rebuilding efforts, charity Open Doors helped restore almost 2,000 houses of Iraqi Christian families.

“Islamic State tried to erase us as Christians, but we have returned,” said Mathi. “My city was dead but now it is alive again.

“When I found out my house was going to be built it created a kind of joy in me that I cannot describe.

“I could rebuild my house and live there again, even though ISIS tried to wipe us out.”

Father George, head of the reconstruction committee of Qaraqosh said: “In May 2017 we started with the reconstruction of Qaraqosh.

“We divided the houses into three categories: We started working on houses which had small damage, then worked on houses that were partially destroyed or burned.

“And now we have started our work on the houses that were totally destroyed.

“We had to start again from zero, but we did it because we had hope.”

Rebuilding efforts have been a much-needed encouragement to the minority Christian community who would otherwise flee overseas following the deadly conflict.

Father George says “We have been able to restore 558 houses with small damage and restored 256 burned houses in this city alone.

“We have got a lot of hope to stay and we have encouraged families to come back to the city and make a new start here.”

God’s Systems Engineer

Before I had children, I worked as a systems engineer at NASA at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL. Through my career, I met a lot of brilliant scientists and engineers who were committed Christians. But I also encountered a lot of intellectual skepticism to Christianity, especially on the question of God’s existence.

The question of God’s existence is one of the most consistent challenges Christians face. How can we adequately answer that question, especially when the questioner is scientifically minded? One way is through the evidence of design, something known as the “teleological argument.” It simply means where there is design, planning, and order there must be a Designer, Planner, and Organizer behind it. Something designed cannot be explained by just a natural process or material cause; design requires intelligence.

So if there is design in the universe, then there must be a designer. But is there design in the universe?

Atheists say there is not. Before we can adequately answer that, we have to determine what would constitute something being “designed.” It isn’t just that a system looks complicated or has lots of parts. For something to be designed, it requires several well-matched, collocated, and integrated components in order to work, where it would not work if any one of those parts were removed. Something like that would need a designer with intelligence and forethought to select the right components, size them accordingly, and integrate them together so it could function – and ultimately survive and reproduce.

From my background, I like to refer to this as systems engineering in nature. Part of my job at NASA was reviewing the Ares I Upper Stage design to make sure each system would integrate correctly so the vehicle could actually get off the ground. I would be checking for things like if propulsion lines were placed too close to an electronics box because of the extreme cold temperatures of the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. Or I would make sure the battery boxes were located near a human access point so they could be changed out at the launch pad. I would verify that a valve needing power from the launch tower had a connector on the umbilical plate. One of my favorite projects was making sure the vehicle could be shipped without being damaged. It needs covers, environmental controls, and other ground support equipment, especially since it ships horizontally but sits vertically on the launch pad.

As you can see, a NASA launch vehicle requires lots of systems engineering – and lots of intelligent design! Each system must be designed alongside the other systems so they will function together. If one system changes something, it may have devastating effects on the other systems. It must be a collaborative design effort. A launch vehicle won’t function if only one system is in place while the other systems are being built. The propulsion system must work with the design of the structure, the avionics and software, the thrust vector control system, and the engine. Remove any one component and the vehicle won’t get off the ground – or worse, will have a catastrophic failure.

So the launch vehicle needs all of these systems and their components to be functional and integrated all at the same time in order to work. A successful launch vehicle requires planning, order, and design; it requires intelligence – and many Designers.

Granted, a launch vehicle is obviously man-made. But is there something comparable in nature? If we can show a biological feature that requires systems engineering, then, like that launch vehicle, it could not have been formed by natural or material causes. It must be explained by some intelligent power behind it.

Luckily, you don’t have to be rocket scientist to find design in nature. We can find systems engineering in the interrelationships of the human body organ systems. For example, the circulatory system pumps oxygenated blood from the heart to the other parts of your body so they can do work. The blood stream then returns the oxygen-depleted blood back to the heart. But the circulatory system cannot distribute oxygenated blood by itself. It needs the respiratory system to get the oxygen. Tiny air sacs in the lungs, called alveoli, transfer oxygen from the lungs to the blood vessels. When the deoxygenated blood is returned, the blood cells transfer carbon dioxide and water, the waste products from the cell, back to the alveoli so it can be breathed out. The circulatory system, therefore, is quite useless without the respiratory system.

However, both of these systems are dependent on the nervous system. The hypothalamus section of the brain controls the body’s autonomic functions, life critical functions our body continually does without us thinking about them, like breathing and pumping your heart. Without this part of the brain and the network of nerves running from it through the spinal cord to the organs themselves, our circulatory and respiratory systems could not work.

The circulatory system also depends on the muscular system. The heart is a specific type of muscle made up of a specific cell type that allows it to contract and pump blood around the body. And it even depends on the skeletal system. The bone marrow produces the red and white blood cells and platelets that the heart is busy pumping around our bodies. Without the skeletal system, there would be no blood to pump.

Even the urinary system is necessary for the circulatory system to function. All of the body’s blood is circulated through the kidneys, where waste chemicals and excess water are filtered out. The kidneys then return clean blood back to the bloodstream. And there is even an interrelationship between the circulatory system and the endocrine system. Hormones from the adrenal gland can speed up your heart rate when it senses danger so you can run away quickly. Hormones from the pancreas are used to control blood sugar levels, which can be deadly if not maintained properly.

We know that everything in our body is dependent on blood flow, but it becomes clear that our blood flow is also dependent on everything else in the body! The human body is the epitome of systems engineering design. What does the body sound like? It sounds like that launch vehicle where the propulsion system needs the structural system, the avionics & software system, and the engine before it can ever get off the ground!

Now if the launch vehicle is missing a system, it fails to launch; we are delayed from resupplying astronauts or sending new missions to space until the design can be completed. But if a system is missing from the body, the body cannot live. All these body systems must show up at the same time, in the same place, fully functional and integrated for life to exist. And like the Ares I launch vehicle, its existence cannot be explained by a random, natural process. The human body has been uniquely and perfectly designed. And design requires a Designer.

Cathryn Buse

Body Building

When’s the last time you paused to ponder the wonder of feet? Not just their oddness and elegance, but the fact that humans have them at all. Unlike plants and trees, we are not tethered in place by roots. We are not left to wait for the world to come to us. Rather, we can go into the world — indeed we have been commissioned to do so — to step, to walk, to run, to dance, to move.

What about the wonder of human hands? Not only do we move about the world, but as we do, we can reach, extend, grasp, touch. We put our hands to work, lifting, tearing, cutting, building, pushing, pulling.

No material entity in God’s created world is more complex, more fascinating, more marvelous, more valuable than human life — which God designed to specially image himself in his world. And alongside breathing and eating and thinking and feeling and speaking, one of the great basics of human life is movement. Bodily activity is so basic, so obvious, often so assumed, that we easily overlook what a superpower it is.

And yet, movement is one vital aspect of our enduring human nature that our present age threatens to undermine.

Our Sedentary World
Few today would disagree that we are living in a sedentary age — and perhaps shockingly so when compared to generations and centuries before. One great downside of the exponential burst of modern technologies is that our bodies, and their movement and activity, seem to matter less and less.

Citing Andy Crouch, Steven Wedgeworth notes,

Much of what we call “technology” does not actually help us to become more productive at our work but rather does our work for us. While claiming to help us become more efficient, this sort of technology actually trains us to do little or nothing at all.

We have cars, and walk much less. We have machines and other “labor-saving” devices, and use our hands far less. We have screens, and move less. And added to that, in our prosperity and decadence, food and (sugar) drinks are available to us like never before. Unless we break the cycle, we consume more and more, work our hands and feet less and less, and then find it harder and harder to lift our own weight off the couch when some physical activity beckons. Walking up a stairway becomes a mental barrier. Taking out the trash can feel difficult.

We still move, of course — we must. But many of us have been conditioned by society and our own lazy impulses to move as little as possible. Economy of bodily movement has become a trend of modern life, and (excepting the fitness-as-god industry) many of us have bought in without giving it much thought. And to the degree that our default has become to move as little as possible (previous generations would have called us lazy), rather than move freely, we are undermining or eroding several essential dynamics in the Christian life. Our sedentary age is of not just human concern, but Christian concern.

Move = Live
The very first chapter of the Bible notes how basic movement is to life: living creatures move (Genesis 1:21, 28; 7:21; 8:19; Leviticus 11:46; Ecclesiastes 4:15), and moving creatures live (Genesis 9:3). So also in the Psalms, movement and life go together (Psalm 50:11; 69:34; 80:13). For King David, it was a burden, not a blessing, that “he could not move about freely” as he hid from Saul (1 Chronicles 12:1). And across Israel’s history, it was a mark of the emptiness and vanity of idols that they “will not move” (Isaiah 40:20; 41:7; 46:7; Jeremiah 10:4).

At Mars Hill, the apostle Paul approvingly quotes Epimenides of Crete, who said, “In him we live and move” — and we should take live and move here as synonyms rather than as two distinct verbs. There is a telling third verb in the sequence: “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). For humans, in typical circumstances, to live and have our being is to move.

God made us to move. Even an act so basic as breathing requires movement, as does eating. But beyond that, as we’ve seen, God gave us hands to work and feet to move, in order that we might do far more than breathe and eat.

Consider, then, three reasons why bodily movement is critical for Christians who have been spared the tragedy of disability, and find themselves able to move and live less sedentary lives.

To Image God
First, God made us to move for his glory. He created us “in his own image” (Genesis 1:27). We were made to be monuments to God’s strength and beauty, but not stationary statues. Instead, we are living, breathing, speaking, working, moving images of God himself, representing him, going out in his created world to display his glory here and there, and there, and there. He thought it best that his images not be fixed to the ground, but to move around.

Even apart from the obvious — no cars, no trains, no planes, no screens, no phones, no clocks, along with no modern medicine or processed foods — Jesus walked everywhere he went. He moved around a lot, as did all able, working-class humans in the ancient world. When traveling, a day’s journey would have been 20–25 miles (essentially walking a marathon), and when not traveling, he would have easily walked 5 miles (10,000 steps) or more doing his daily work, on his feet most of the day.

And he didn’t just move his feet but his hands. Jesus worked construction for decades as a common tradesman. And even when he came to suffer and die, after almost being whipped to death, he carried his own crossbeam some distance before collapsing. And yet, though he was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, we get the impression again and again that he was deeply happy and emotionally stable — happy enough to show compassion, and control his sorrow and anger. At least such normal, daily movement meant his emotional health wasn’t encumbered by a sedentary lifestyle. Which leads to a second reason.

To Jumpstart Joy
God made our bodies to be healthier and happier when they move. Moving limbs increases heart rate and helps to circulate blood, moving hormones and nutrients through the body to where they need to be — including the brain — for optimal physical, mental, and emotional health.

Even in the nineteenth century, prior to the great explosion of sedentary inventions in the twentieth, the famous English preacher Charles Spurgeon commented on the power of movement to help human spirits: “A mouthful of sea air, or a stiff walk in the wind’s face would not give grace to the soul, but it would yield oxygen to the body, which is next best” (Lectures to My Students, 160). Movement alone will not create spiritual joy, but many Christians have found that it can help. In the mysterious connection between body and spirit, food and sleep and exercise (or lack thereof) have the ability to buoy or drag down our spiritual affections. Rightly does pastor Mark Jones write for fellow pastors, and for all of us,

Physical exertion is an important part of normal human life. . . . Overeating, as the fruit of a generally indulgent lifestyle, has become a tragically acceptable sin among many Christians in North America. I’m also equally persuaded that a lot of pastors should jump on a bike, go for a run, walk, or build some modest muscle, and they’d likely get more work done. A lack of discipline in areas such as food, exercise, and drink typically reflects a lack of discipline in other areas of the Christian life. . . . Exercise is a friend of the Christian, and one that, unless prohibited by health reasons, should be part of the ordinary Christian life.

And getting “more work done” leads, for now, to a third and final reason.

To Do Others Good
Christians can appreciate the modern term fitness. To call an active, able, healthy human body fit implies that the body is not an end in itself. The goal of fitness is not to look good in the mirror or on Instagram. True fitness means our bodily ability serves other purposes. The body is fit to do something. The question is, Fit for what?

In Christ, in the service of love, we want to get (and keep) our bodies, in their various seasons of life, in good enough shape that they serve God’s callings on our lives to love others. We want to be the kind of people that want to do good for others, knowing that such good often requires exerting our bodies in ways that are uncomfortable to lazy people. Which leads to a final question and challenge.

In a world of sin and tragedy, it is a wonder to have able hands and feet and bodies. Let’s steward what God has given us — the most remarkable material object in all of creation.

Dave Mathis

Let’s Not Pretend

It feels like the start of a new season – holidays are over, schools are open and we go again.

This season, though, feels a bit ill-fitting. We had a holiday, which we were very grateful for, but not as much time off as we’d normally have as part of the many who’ve been doing more work over the last few months and not less. Schools are open but we hold our breath to see which year bubble of which school will be sent home next.

We are collectively weary and more than anything, uncertain.

A good friend recently said to me that she is by nature an optimist who expects things to get back to normal soon, but with coronavirus, she is struggling to see how this will play out and how long it will all take.

Last week, as we started a new season of online church, our leader Tom spoke about acknowledging our sense of loss during these recent times.

It’s important that I am clear and thankful about what I have kept during this season. I haven’t lost anyone close to me to Covid. I haven’t lost my ability to live a healthy life – we did get that holiday. More than anything, unlike many others, I haven’t lost my job – although I have no sense what it will look like the other side of all this.

Rather than those fundamental losses, I feel my world, again like many others, has shrunk. For some, this is because of things they can’t do or people they can’t see. While this is true for me, what has shrunk and what I have lost, is more a sense of hope and vision for the future.

The barometer for me is what I am writing. Writing is my outlet, so what I am writing shows where my head is.

Early on in Covid, I wrote some blogs about the virus but after a while, it didn’t feel there was much new to say. At the same time, there was nothing else going on! I didn’t feel I had the headspace for the novel I was tinkering about with and upon reflection, I realised it was a project with very weak foundations. Instead, I indulged myself by writing a very silly sitcom pilot as a way of letting off some creative steam. Next, I am going to revisit some ideas I started earlier this year about my habit of building imagined versions of the future, which tend to take over my head and disappoint me when they don’t come true.

Now I may have a particularly overactive imagination but as conscious beings we all spend our lives trying to make sense of what’s going on around us and thinking about what might come next. And right now we are all going to struggle to get too far with that.

So as always, re-treading ground I’ve written about many times before, we have a choice how we respond. And as a Christian, I find once again that the point where my understanding and ideas are in ashes is (like it or not) the place where God can come in and do something new.

I wrote months back about the parable of the yeast (Matthew 13:33). Jesus says his Kingdom, the place he is, is like yeast. Yeast is not big or spectacular. Yeast is not exciting (unless you’re a baker). Yeast quietly gets on with its job. It transforms, stodgy dough into risen bread. God says add me to the mix and I will transform your life.

Another thing about yeast, as well as being small and unspectacular is that it doesn’t work immediately, it takes time, it’s a process.

In the Gospels, we read Jesus’ frustration that people always wanted another sign. Signs are exciting and spectacular but Jesus wanted them to realise the signs were there to point to him. At a time where life is uncertain, God offers to be the key ingredient in the ongoing process of life – our choice is whether we reach for him, whether we include him.

God is still around. God is still at work. He still wants to harness my creativity and temper my frustration. He still wants to strengthen the key workers, guide the scientists and give wisdom to the decision-makers.

Let’s not pretend this season isn’t tough and that we don’t get tired and disappointed. What is not needed here is stiff upper lips. Rather, God promises he is still present and faithful, and he calls us back to him: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15)

Dave Luck

Pastor Will Go to Jail Rather Than Not Have Church

“I’m open for a jail ministry – bring it on.” These were the fighting words from California pastor John MacArthur, who is happy to risk prison time by keeping his church open.

MacArthur, the senior pastor of Grace Community Church in Greater Los Angeles, is putting The First Amendment to the test in the modern era by keeping his church doors open.

He believes the church is an essential part of the community and does not fall into the non-essential category, which authorities believe it is. For example, in Nevada, churches have been forced to stay closed while casinos are open.

In an op-ed with Daily Wire, the high profile pastor stated, “One nation under God.

“That phrase, recently and conspicuously omitted from the flag salute at some events during the Democratic National Convention, reflects the intentions of America’s founding fathers. They understood the necessity of acknowledging and submitting to divine authority — and not just any god, but the God revealed in the Bible. That same understanding informs our Constitution, which itself does not grant us rights, but rather recognizes, identifies, and defends those rights granted to us by God alone.

“Truth be told, the notion of a secular state is a lie; all government is ordained by God. The Bible makes that very point when it commands Christians to submit to governing authorities: “There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1). And even when the government opposes, abuses, and persecutes the church, Christians can take comfort in the fact that such cruelty is not outside of God’s sovereign control or His divine plan.

“But what happens when those governing authorities refuse to acknowledge God and ignore His law?”

The Los Angeles Superior Court issued a preliminary injunction on September 10, 2020, against Grace Community Church and Pastor John MacArthur, refusing to follow the U.S. and California State constitutional protections for churches. The ruling fails to apply the appropriate constitutional standard of review.

The order prohibits the church from “conducting, participating in, or attending any indoor worship services” and also bans outdoor worship unless onerous restrictions are followed in a heavy-handed move against the internationally known preacher and his congregation. MacArthur and Grace Community Church’s attorneys from the Thomas More Society said the judge refused to consider their important separation of powers arguments “in any meaningful fashion” and essentially “ducked the issue.”

“Our nation is on fire, and many of our leaders are content to fiddle and watch it burn,” MacArthur continued. “Those of us who are believers urgently need to pray for them — that, like Nebuchadnezzar, their eyes will be opened to the futility of their ways and the clarity of God’s law. We need to flood this dark world with the light of God’s truth. We need to be the salt that preserves this rapidly rotting culture.

“We need to bring the truth of God’s Word and His law to bear on the hearts of men and women who cannot comprehend the confusion and corruption that dominate their lives.”

Christians are divided on their opinion of churches defying government orders. On one side is the argument that The First Amendment protects churches and authorities have no right to close them down. On the side is the argument that churches should obey authorities and that meeting together in confined spaces risks further spread of COVID.

Matthias Browning

How Do You Like Your Coffee

Café au lait. My grandmother crafted my first taste of the ambrosial drink that combines hot black coffee and hot milk, loading it for me with sugar.
And I wasn’t the only 7-year-old enjoying java. I was raised in south Louisiana, where children begin their love affair with coffee by starting with café au lait. Our palates mature as we grow, until we take our coffee dark and bold, but we begin sweet and light.

In a recent class at church, our teacher paused in his study through Hebrews to examine the biblical author’s frustration with the believers he was writing to:

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. (Heb 5:12–13 ESV)

Spiritually, we all start out with milk. My 8-year-old (who, for the record, is not yet addicted to any sort of coffee) has been reading the Action Bible for months. As he re-reads many of the stories, he excitedly asks “Did you know . . .?” Young believers—no matter what age we start—typically learn some Old Testament stories, prominent parables and miracles of Jesus, and the nativity story. We may learn basic doctrines such as the Trinity and salvation by grace through faith. We learn that praying and reading our Bibles is important.

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Such basic truths are essential to an accurate understanding of God and a fundamental method of communing with him. But like drinking café au lait, we aren’t meant to stay there. The Action Bible is appropriate for my 8-year-old—not my 18-year-old. We are called to grow into a mature faith that makes room for the harder stories, the complex doctrines, the challenging responsibilities of obedience to the One we profess to follow.

For exponentially increasing a believer’s faith, one of the most helpful tools I’ve discovered is a Bible overview. Context is critical for Bible study, and an overview can help readers see how the famous stories they learned as kids fit into the big picture. Where does Abraham belong in the Bible’s grand narrative—or David, or Isaiah? What was going on in the world when Paul went on those missionary trips? Who came first, Moses or Ruth? Knowing a story’s context not only increases your understanding of God’s Big Story—his plan for mankind—but also helps you recognize nuances and deeper meanings within each narrative.

Kelley Mathews (ThM, Dallas Theological Seminary) has written and edited for the Christian market for more than 20 years. She lives in North Texas with her husband and their four children. Find her books and blog at KelleyMathews.com.
Kelley Mathews (ThM, Dallas Theological Seminary) has written and edited for the Christian market for more than 20 years. She lives in North Texas with her husband and their four children. Find her books and blog at KelleyMathews.com.

Let’s not underestimate the ability of children to learn this, nor overestimate how many adults actually know it. Give them context, and immature believers (of any age) will understand their Bibles better—which, in turn, increases their ability to know God better and share his good news to the next generation.

Take your coffee any way you like it as you open up God’s word each day (I still enjoy an occasional café au lait). But keep moving to a bolder, deeper understanding of him. It’s what you were made for.

Kelley Matthews

Two Sides of the Same Coin

What is important in life? Who better to ponder such imponderables than Solomon, widely regarded as the wisest man in the world? Yet when read together, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs offer not an answer but a paradox: the emptiness of the world versus the fullness of love.
Paradoxes, like this one, are propositions that seem to contradict themselves but are nevertheless true. They are a compelling way to explore the inherent absurdities of human experience. On the surface, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs seem like polar opposites. On closer inspection, they turn out to be different ways to approach the same truths.

Genre, Form, and Expression
Ecclesiastes is either a philosophical essay, a manifesto, or a treatise. It’s almost an extended proverb, offering pithy aphorisms about the nature of existence accompanied by prose commentary. Whatever you call it, Ecclesiastes declares that everything “under the sun” (Eccl 1:3) is “vanity” or meaningless, then rigorously supports this proposal with reason. The result is part satire, part tragedy, and all instructive. The words of the Preacher “are like goads” meant to draw the reader to a right way of thinking (Eccl 12:11).

In contrast, Song of Songs is a love poem. It’s an episodic series of dream-like scenes, each resplendent with imagery. In place of the Teacher’s dry fulmination is a vision of a hazy and unusually moist world: anointing oils, kisses, wine, liquid myrrh, and sweet juices dribbling down the mouth. “Your lips drip nectar, my bride,” the young man says, “honey and milk are under your tongue” (Song 4:11).

Despite their differing genres, these books employ similar material and techniques. Like Proverbs, they have no identifiable characters or settings. Instead, they have tropes: A man, a king, a lover, a storehouse, a garden, a bedchamber—these are simultaneously everywhere and nowhere, everyone and no one.

Viewpoint & Authorial Stance
The viewpoint of Ecclesiastes is that of an omniscient observer who floats above it all, drawing back the curtain on universal truths.

Where the Teacher is bit of a know-it-all, the young lovers are stumbling around in the dark seeking one another, aware of little beyond their overwhelming need to be together. They are consumed by their present experience—they speak from the urgency and immediacy of their concerns.

Nevertheless, all of the narrators are propelled by a deep sense of longing. The Teacher longs for wisdom, riches, pleasure, justice, companionship—and in the end, for death. He says that God has placed “eternity into man’s heart” that no earthly pursuit can satisfy (Eccl 3:11). The longing in Song of Songs is more prosaic and profound: the longing of a lover for the immediate presence of their beloved.

Themes
Reading Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs “against” one another can expose the mystery that makes them paradoxical, rather than merely contradictory.

Both texts capture the innate hunger that all people have for something greater than themselves—and the solution in both cases is love. Ecclesiastes 9:9 counsels men to “enjoy life with the wife whom you love,” and Ecclesiastes 11:9 tells the young to rejoice in their youth. Song of Songs takes this advice heartily.

Yet as lusty as Song of Songs is, three times it recommends patient chastity: Don’t “stir up or awaken love until it pleases” (Song 2:7; 3:5; 8:4). Why? Because your beloved is worth waiting for: She is “a lily among brambles,” and he is “an apple tree among the trees of the forest” (Song 2:2–3); he is “distinguished among ten thousand” (Song 5:10) and she is “the only one” among a plethora of queens, concubines, and virgins (Song 6:9).

The Teacher concludes that the only satisfactory pursuit is to accept God and his plan for mankind. “When dreams increase and words grow many,” he declares, “there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear” (Eccl 5:7). He expresses frustration over the unknowability of God’s plan (Eccl 1:13; 3:10–15; 8:17; 9:1; 11:5), yet he clings to faith in the unshakable nature of that plan (Eccl 2:24; 5:1–7, 18; 7:13–14).

Both Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs have the sense that all is as it should be, even when that seems untrue. There is “a time to love, and a time to hate” (Eccl 3:8). Longing inevitably leads to seeking, to following, to pursuing, to consummating (Song 4:15; 7:2). All lovers who have been parted must eventually unite. All humans who have been born must ultimately meet their maker for judgment. Round and round the circle turns, and God controls it all: “All streams run to the sea but the sea is not full” (Eccl 1:7).

Everything happens according to a plan, in its due time. “For everything there is a season,” declares the Teacher (Eccl 3:1). Don’t “stir up or awaken love until it pleases,” declares the bride (Song 2:7; 3:5; 8:4). But once the time has come: “Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away, for behold, the winter is past” (Song 2:10–11).

What the Teacher and the lovers long for, though they don’t know it by name, is Jesus the Messiah, who reconciles humankind with God, who rights the wrongs, who brings both justice and mercy. He is the just judge the Teacher despairs of finding and the bridegroom for whom the bride desperately searches (Matt 9:15; Luke 5:34; John 3:29; Rev 19:7). Jesus is the object of human longing, the resolution of the “eternity” placed in our hearts, and the satisfaction of all hunger (Matt 5:6; John 6:35; Rev 7:16).

Eli Evans

Are We Facing a Totalitarian Threat

Reading Rod Dreher’s newest book, Live Not By Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents, brought to mind a song from Christian contemporary singer Carman in my early youth-group days: “America Again.” The song praises the founding fathers and the early American story before shifting to a litany of sins engulfing the nation in the mid-1990s (pornography, abortion, homosexuality, and so on). The problem, Carman says, is that America has set aside its faith in God, and the subsequent moral decline portends a disastrous future. “The only way this nation can even hope to last this decade,” he declares, “is to put God in America again.”

“America Again” sounded different when I heard it in the 2000s as a college student in Romania. Had America really been on the verge of collapse in the mid-1990s when the song was so popular? Do those who still sing the song just update the “decade” we can’t hope to last?

Dreher, senior editor at The American Conservative, is an insightful and interesting writer, one whom I’ve appreciated reading over the years.

Soft Totalitarianism
Here is the concern that most animates Dreher in this book:

A progressive—and profoundly anti-Christian militancy—is steadily overtaking society; one described by Pope Benedict XVI as a “worldwide dictatorship of seemingly humanistic ideologies” that pushes dissenters to the margins. Benedict called this a manifestation of “the spiritual power of the Antichrist.” This spiritual power takes material form in government and private institutions, in corporations, in academia and media, and in the changing practices of everyday American life. It is empowered by unprecedented technological capabilities to surveil private life. There is virtually nowhere to hide.

This progressive militancy, Dreher writes, is most evident in the rise of identity politics, a worldview steeped in a Marxist understanding of oppressed/oppressor groups and the reduction of potential solutions to the redistribution of power.

Dreher believes we’re careening toward a totalitarian future in which “nothing can be permitted to exist that contradicts a society’s ruling ideology.” Already, the totalitarian spirit (expressed in the idea that “the personal is political”) seeks “to infuse all aspects of life with political consciousness. Indeed, the Left pushes its ideology ever deeper into the personal realm, leaving fewer and fewer areas of daily life uncontested.”

Live Not By Lies is Dreher’s attempt to show us the similarities between communist totalitarianism and our current situation. At times, he succeeds. At other times, he overplays his hand. For rhetorical purposes, his warnings depend on a situation in which contemporary life in the West bears startling resemblances to communism in the Soviet era. But in his exploration of these cultures, he’s forced to acknowledge the glaring differences.

Some of the similarities make sense. Dreher’s conversations with men and women who once lived under communism and now worry similar events could happen even in the United States ring true to me. I’ve heard stories and warnings like these for years—in books, from family members, and from evangelical church leaders in Romania. A few years ago, documents released from the Romanian Securitate showed how even some of the country’s evangelical and Orthodox religious leaders who had been known for their resistance to communism were, in some way or another, compromised by the system and had informed on others. Lest we be quick to judge, imagine life driven by a totalizing system where truth and falsehood are so interchangeable that even the most ardent defender of freedom can fall to the fog of propaganda. One can’t underestimate the long-term effects of living in a society where freedom has been lost.

I also recognize what I’ve always called the “go along to get along” mentality of ordinary citizens, described by Dreher with the illustration of the grocer who “posts a sign in his shop bearing the well-known slogan from the Communist manifesto, ‘Workers of the world, unite!’ He doesn’t believe it,” Dreher writes. “He hangs it in his shop as a signal of his own conformity. He just wants to be left alone.” One doesn’t have to squint in order to see similar pressures already at work in our country today, especially in regard to publicly affirming or signaling one’s support of causes or theories about which many citizens, deep down, entertain serious doubts. (Recent gender theories behind the transgender movement represent one example, but consider also the corporate pressure to demonstrate solidarity every Pride Month, where brands, social-media platforms, and even children’s games fly rainbow colors).

Manual for Christians
Dreher’s primary aim is to prepare Christians to endure a period of profound cultural pressure, social ostracism, and personal suffering. As he writes, “We cannot hope to resist the coming soft totalitarianism if we do not have our spiritual lives in order.”

Relying on Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s essay “Live Not By Lies,” Dreher wants to fortify Christians in the truth:

Everybody says that they have no choice but to conform, says Solzhenitsyn, and to accept powerlessness. But that is the lie that gives all the other lies their malign force. The ordinary man may not be able to overturn the kingdom of lies, but he can at least say that he is not going to be its loyal subject.

Trevin Wax

When You Just Can’t Stay

You know marriage is sacred. You committed before friends, family, and God to love your partner “for as long as you both shall live.” But the violence has gotten worse. What started as an occasional angry outburst has become pushing, hitting, and other scary encounters. 

You may feel ashamed, sad, angry, or a whole mix of emotions. Perhaps you feel overwhelmed and conflicted. You want to be faithful to your partner and to God, but you no longer feel safe at home. What should you do? 

God hates all forms of abuse. It is against his character. An abusive person seeks to gain power and dominate; Jesus emptied himself of his glory and became a servant (Phil. 2:5–11). An abuser makes you feel worthless, isolated, and ashamed; Jesus makes you feel loved, cherished, and safe. 

God sees your suffering and desires for it to end. 

Marriage and Adultery

God has made marriage a sacred union and, we should not take the idea of divorce lightly. When the Pharisees asked Jesus,

“Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matt. 19:3–6)

But the Pharisees knew that the law of Moses allowed for divorce (Deut. 24:1–4), so they asked Jesus:

“Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” (Matt. 19:7–9)

God intends for marriage to be a lifelong union, but because of human sinfulness—“hardness of heart”—there are situations where God permits divorce. 

There are situations where God permits divorce. 

The first such situation is “sexual immorality.” Sex is meant to be shared only between a husband and a wife. When someone commits infidelity, they break the bond of their marriage. And that sin grieves God. 

If your spouse commits adultery, you can choose to forgive them and seek reconciliation. If you do, it would be wise to also seek the help of your pastor and a counselor. But if your spouse has broken the marriage bond, God also allows you to divorce. 

Marriage and Desertion

The apostle Paul tells us there’s one other situation where God permits divorce: “If the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases, the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace” (1 Cor. 7:15). 

Marriage is a union of two people. If your unbelieving partner leaves you with no intention of returning, he or she has broken that bond. And so, just like in the case of adultery, you are free to seek either reconciliation or divorce. 

Many pastors and theologians, myself included, believe that abuse can be a form of desertion. Your partner may impose upon you such intolerable conditions that you’re forced to leave the home. This forced abandonment has the same effect as if your partner had packed his or her bags and moved across the country, never to return. 

If you feel unsafe in your home, you may need to flee. Ask your pastor or an experienced counselor for advice. If your partner becomes violent, do not hesitate to call 911. God hears your cries and does not desire for you to suffer in this way. 

You never deserve abuse, no matter what you have or haven’t done. Your partner may try to make you think you’re to blame, but the Word of God insists otherwise.

It’s important to know that your partner’s behavior is never your fault. We’re all responsible for our own actions, and you never deserve abuse, no matter what you have or haven’t done. Your partner may try to make you think you’re to blame, but the Word of God insists otherwise. As Jesus said, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:21–23). Our sin doesn’t come from what other people do to us. Our sin comes from within. If your partner is abusive, it’s because of their own sin. 

While abuse can be grounds for divorce, the decision shouldn’t be made alone. Seek the counsel of your church’s elders or pastors. They can walk with you and help you discern if abuse is happening—and if so, what kind—as well as what path to take. (Unfortunately, some churches fail to protect victims of abuse, and it might be necessary to seek help elsewhere.)

As noted above, 1 Corinthians 7:15 says, “If the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so.” If your partner is abusive and considers himself a Christian, the church should exercise discipline—first admonishing your partner, and, if he remains unrepentant, eventually excommunicating him. Excommunication would effectively declare your partner an unbeliever, and you would be free to divorce.

David Schuman

Know Your Heretics

The Rise of the Judaizers

A problem arose in the early church when the apostles took the gospel of Jesus to Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles. When Gentiles responded to the gospel, a conflict arose that threatened to divide the church. A group called the Judaizers opposed Paul and Barnabas at the Council of Jerusalem (AD 50) in Acts 15. They were uncertain that the benefits of the covenant people of God were to be extended to the Gentiles, thus doubting their conversion by the gospel. Paul’s response assures them that the Gentiles had indeed been made partakers in the blessings of the covenant, namely, the Holy Spirit: “And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:8-9).

The Judaizers’ View of Salvation
The Judaizers were teaching that God still required everyone to observe certain rituals and statutes in order to be accepted by him as Father. Paul, in recounting his confrontation of Peter before the Judaizers, gives us an insight into the teaching of this group (Gal. 2:14). Apparently, the Judaizers were attempting to force Gentile Christians to live under the regulations of the Mosaic Law. They are also called the “circumcision party” (Gal. 2:12), because one of the specific elements of the Law that the Judaizers were forcing the Gentile Christians to live by was the practice of circumcision. Peter had withdrawn himself from eating with Gentile Christians, fearing the opposition that would come from the Judaizers who would never do such a thing out of fear of acidentally eating unclean food. However, Paul said Peter’s conduct was “not in step with the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:14).

The Orthodox Response
Paul’s response is given in Galatians 2:16: “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” Paul’s other response is found in Galatians 5:12: “I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!” He suggests self-castration for those who require circumcision for others. Paul made his point clearly. According to Paul and the response drafted at the Council of Jerusalem, the Gentiles were not obligated to follow the restrictions of the Law. They were free in Christ, who had fulfilled the demands of the Law. Paul exhorted the Gentiles to abstain from practices associated with pagan idol worship, not to earn their salvation, but as a response to the life-changing message of the gospel and in gratitude for God’s gift of salvation.

Why Does All This Matter?
While the heresy of the Judaizers was put to rest by the Apostle Paul, the idea behind their erroneous belief still permeates the church today. The issues are no longer circumcision or ceremonial uncleanness, but the question of how the law relates to salvation—or how works relate to righteousness—is still something that many Christians remain confused about today. Paul’s exhortation to the Judaizers remains as important as ever. It is not by works that we are saved, but solely by the grace of Christ. In fact, to add anything to the work of Christ for salvation actually negates God’s grace. Paul says, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Gal. 2:21).

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