1/24/12

I'm Eager for My New Name

On October 22, more than 200 young girls in India lined up in their best clothes for a ceremony in that gave them new dignity ~ a new identity. The 285 girls received a certificate bearing a new name. Many of these girls had names like "Nakusa" or "Nakushi", which mean "unwanted" in Hindi, but now they have chosen names with much happier meanings.

The ceremony was also designed to help fight the widespread gender discrimination in India. The plight of little girls in this country came to light after the 2011 census showed the ratio of females to males (under the age of six) had dropped over the last decade as a result of abortions of female fetuses or neglect leading to a higher death rate among girls. According to an Associated Press article, "The problem is so serious in India that hospitals are legally banned from revealing the gender of an unborn fetus in order to prevent sex-selective abortions, though evidence suggests the information gets out."

Part of the reason for girls being "unwanted" is the enormous expense in India of marrying them off ~ elaborate dowries and debt incurred from weddings ~ versus the hope that sons will bring home a bride and dowry. "Hindu custom also dictates that only sons can light their parents' funeral pyres," the article said.

All of the financial explanations aside, imagine the emotions a young girl deals with in India at being unwanted. Although some of them chose names like a "Bollywood" star, "Aishwarya," or Hindu goddesses, some simply wanted names with happier meanings, like "Vaishali," which means "prosperous, beautiful, and good." One 15-year-old, perhaps reflecting the strength she'd found in fighting the stigma of being unwanted, chose the name "Ashmita," meaning "very tough" or "rock hard" in Hindi.

I cannot help but think about a scripture in Revelation. John said those who overcome will be given "... a white stone, and a new name inscribed by Jesus on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it" (Revelation 2:17).

Jesus gave his followers new names. Think of Saul who became Paul, and Simon who became Cephas (Peter). It seems that believers ~ overcomers of the value system of this world, in this passage ~ will receive new names that fit or describe their lifestyle while on earth. One commentary says this stone and name indicates God's acceptance of us at salvation, and the new intimacy we have with the Lord because sin is overcome.

There were many instances of stones used for various purposes in ancient times. Stones were often used as tickets to public functions in ancient times, allowing acceptance to an event.

According to John Gill's Exposition of the Bible, the stone in this passage may refer to the Latin phrase, "to add a white stone." Gill explained that a white stone was used to give one's approbation of anything. In judgment, the Romans used black stones cast into an urn, but white stones absolved those who were condemned. The Greeks used white stones to mark good days; and white stones were also given to the conquerors in Olympic games, with their names upon them plus the value of the prize given to them.

But I take this passage in context of a Jewish book. In the Old Testament, names conveyed the character of the one bearing the name. God declared His own character when he engraved the 10 Commandments in stone the second time (see Exodus 34:6-7). As for the whiteness of the stone, remember that Joshua whitewashed stones with lime when he built an altar (Deuteronomy 27:2-8; Joshua 8:32).

God's Spirit today writes the law of God on our tablets of flesh (2 Corinthians 2:2), and we are being conformed to the image of Christ. (Romans 8:29; 1 Corinthians 15:49; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians. 3:21; Colossians 3:10).) Perhaps our new name will reflect this new Christ-like character within us, all the same name for each of us (just as God gave His people a new name in the Old Testament (see Isaiah 56:5; 65:15); and God said He would give new names to the foreigners who joined themselves to the Lord (Isaiah 56:5-8). Or perhaps it will be an individual name, reflecting the believer's faithful works of service or some highlighted aspect of his or her character. Perhaps the new name is an "adoption" name.

Believers are neither "unwanted" nor condemned, but rewarded for their loving service. It is a name reserved for intimacy ~ for the ones who meet face to face with God like Moses, or are greatly loved like David, Daniel, and John. When we are more than conquerors through Christ, our names in heaven will likely reflect that.

Revelation 2:17 says the name is unknown except to God ~ just as Jesus' new name will only be revealed in heaven (see Revelation 3:12; 19:12).

For now, I am glad to know that I am God's adopted child ... glad to know that I will live with Him for eternity ... glad to know that I have the opportunity to live, stand, and if necessary, die for Him in this life. For me, for now, it is enough to embrace the name "Christ-follower."

My new little puppy Roscoe brought a big white stone into our house. I don't know where he found such a large stone. I wrote on it, and I have it on my bookshelf to remind me to be faithful to the One who sees my works ~ the One who has reserved a special name for all His own who overcome.

1/17/12

Post-Abortion Syndrome Makes Sense

As I spoke with a woman about the consequences of sin, she acknowledged that she had been extremely promiscuous in her youth. As a young woman, when she discovered she was pregnant ~ and she didn't know who the father of her unborn child was ~ she decided to abort the baby. Then she told me about the years of pain and guilt that followed.

The guilt and consequences of sin can come knocking on our heart's door years later.

As we head toward the celebration of "Sanctity of Human Life Sunday" (January 22, 2012), and the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade (January 22, 1973), I'm thinking about the women over the years since this court decision who decided for abortion, only to deal with deep regret in the aftermath of their choice. In light of scriptures about sin and its consequences, the experience of Post-Abortion Syndrome (PAS), a form of post-traumatic stress disorder, makes perfect sense.

Post-Abortion Syndrome has a number of symptoms: guilt, anxiety, depression, etc. Revive Our Hearts, a ministry that cares about women and their relationship with God, spells out some of these symptoms in their article, "Post-Abortion Syndrome."

"The process of making an abortion choice, experiencing the procedure and living with the grief, pain, and regret is certainly, at its very core, traumatic," the article states. "As with any trauma, individuals often try to 'forget' the ordeal and deny or ignore any pain that may result. Many simply don't relate their distress to the abortion experience."

But somewhere along the line, "memories resurface and the truth of this loss can no longer be denied."

That is when the symptoms of PAS break through, and ~ while every symptom may not be experienced by every woman who has aborted ~ the pain and bondage can be as devastating as the initial trauma.

In the article, information is derived from a book by Dr. Paul and Teri Reisser, Help for the Post-Abortive Woman (now titled A Solitary Sorrow). The first PAS symptom on their list is guilt.

"Guilt is what an individual feels when she has violated her own moral code," they write. "For the woman who has come to believe, at some point either before or after the abortion, that she consented to the killing of her unborn child, the burden of guilt is relentless."

As I've reflected on this statement, I believe that some, if not all of the other symptoms arise from this main one. God gives us a "guilty conscience" when we violate His moral code, and the scriptures tell us that God's moral law is written on our hearts (Romans 2:14-15). The Old Testament's Ten Commandments are the foundation of God's moral law, encompassed by the New Testament commandments to love God and our neighbors (Matthew 22:37-40).

This moral law was written on our hearts to show us our sin and teach us how much we need a redeemer. "The first duty of the Gospel preacher," Martin Luther said, "is to declare God's law and show the nature of sin." The moral law of God shows us the holiness and perfection of God, and it is a "schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ" (Galatians 3:21-26).

Unlike the changing laws of man, God's moral law comes from His unchanging authority. God's standards do not change, regardless of the whims ~ or even legislation ~ of various cultures. Jesus kept this moral law ~ tempted in all points as we are to violate it, He chose to keep the law and remained sinless, making Him both our perfect Savior (Hebrews 4:15) and our model for righteous living.

Every person who has ever been born manifests an innate knowledge of good and evil. We see this even in babies; it does not take long for a child's selfishness to come through. God's moral law is sometimes seen as restrictive, yet it comes from His loving, protective heart. He desires to protect us and give us true freedom within His safe boundaries; and His commands are "holy and just and good" (Romans 7:12; 1 Timothy 1:7-9).

That is why women who have had abortions cannot escape the consequence of their action. They have killed an innocent human being ~ violating the moral law of God in their hearts which says we are not to kill (meaning murder) according to Exodus 20:13. The law of God is written on the post-abortive woman's heart, and she cannot erase it, as Post-Abortion Syndrome clearly shows.

It is only through forgiveness in Christ that a woman can ever hope to come to a place of freedom and peace. It is not a matter of a woman forgiving herself, but of finding complete forgiveness in Jesus and His complete sacrifice for our sin. Only Christ can break the bonds that tie us up in guilt.

We can be thankful for the moral law of God that reveals our sin, and the power of the Gospel, God's answer to dealing with sin's guilt and pain.

Some resources that can help in dealing with the consequences of abortion are available at Revive Our Hearts, including a CD titled "From Abortion to Redemption" by Lisa Dudley. Also, a series titled "Finding True Life after Abortion" with Jennifer Smith is airing on Revive Our Hearts radio (running January 16-20).

For more information on Post-Abortion Syndrome, see Ramah International. For stories from women who regret their abortions, see the Silent No More awareness website.

1/11/12

'Chrislam' Makes No Sense

Leaders in Christianity and Islam have met together for months to try to create a new religion ~ an ecumenical merger of two opposing creeds. They call it "Chrislam."

A Christian Coalition's newsletter reported that 130 Christian leaders in 22 states have already joined the "Chrislam" bandwagon. Christians and Muslims worship the same God, they say, and both religions are essentially the same: peaceful and monotheistic with similar values.

This is a lie from the pit. Like oil and water, the two religions can never mix, and here's why:

They are different concerning their view of God.
Christians believe in one God who exists in three distinct persons (the Trinity): God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19)
Muslims believe in one God, also (named Allah in Arabic), but do not believe in the trinity. They believe in the absolute unity of God (Qur'an 112:1).

They have different holy books of authority.
Christians believe in the Bible, which God gave to man. Bible writers were inspired by God in their writings... it is the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16). The Bible was given to reveal man and show the way man could be redeemed, by believing in the work of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, on their behalf (Ephesians 1:7)
The Muslim Qur'an (or Koran), meaning "recitation," was revealed to the prophet Mohammed over a period of about 20 years... the final revelation of Allah. It is a book of guidance for this life.

They differ in their understanding of the identity, mission, and death of Jesus Christ.
Christian theology teaches that Jesus is the second person of the Trinity, born to the Virgin Mary, but of the Holy Spirit. "...true God from true God" (Nicene Creed). He claimed to be God (John 10:30;14:9-10); He is God in the flesh (John 1:1-3, 14), the final revelation of God to man (Hebrews 1:1-3). He came to reconcile man to God through His death, a sacrifice for the sins of the world (Colossians 1:14-17). He was crucified and buried, but He rose again and ascended to heaven (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
Islam teaches that Jesus was a prophet sent by Allah and born of the Virgin Mary, but not divine (Qur'an 5:17). Jesus' mission was to proclaim the Injil (gospel) which was corrupted over time by human additions and alterations. He was not crucified, but Allah raised him to heaven (Quran 4:157-158).

They differ in their understanding of the Holy Spirit.

In Christianity, He is the third person of the Trinity (He is Deity.)
In Islam, he is identical to the angel Gabriel, who appeared to Mohammed, giving him the Qur'an's text.

They differ in their understanding of sin and salvation.

The Christian Bible teaches that we inherit our sinful nature through Adam, but that Jesus atoned for our sins through his death on the cross (Romans 5:12-17). We are save by grace through faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Muslims do not believe in original sin, nor vicarious atonement. All humans are born sinless, and human weakness leads to sin. Adam and Eve repented and their sin did not pass to others. Salvation is achieved through good works. Personal righteousness must outweigh personal sin (Qur'an 23:101-103)

They are different in how they approach "unbelievers."
For example, in spite of aberrations in history like The Crusades, Christians are taught hold firmly to sound doctrine, but also to love their neighbors and seek peace, with the hope that the world will see the love of Christ through them. Non-believers are not to be forced into becoming believers, but rather prayed for and shown a godly example.
Muslims, however, are taught to make infidels (non-Muslims) submit to Allah and the Qur'an at the risk of death. Jihad, or holy war, is encouraged against unbelievers as a means of bringing them into submission. By definition, Christians and Jews are "infidels."

There are many other differences in understanding of hell, various rituals, and basic philosophy or worldview.

So ... how, exactly, can we justify a unified religion like "Chrislam"? What must be left behind or compromised by Christians in order for this new religion to work? It is beyond me how Christians can choose to tolerate such faulty thinking.

For more information about "Chrislam," see: "What is Chrislam?" "The Rise of Chrislam?" and "Chrislam and the Gospel of Islam."

1/4/12

Branding vs. Daily Obedience

Branding is a hot topic that sometimes leave me cold.

I read quite a few books and articles about branding last year ~ the best being Branding Faith by Phil Cooke, which explains why some churches and nonprofits impact the culture and others don't ~ and I see the benefit of branding to connect with our audience and communicate our message.

I love Cooke's closing words: "Don't give your audience what you think they want. Give them what they never dreamed possible." Those are challenging words, and I'm still considering how they might change how I do ministry. I want people to know that with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26); I want to encourage them to dream big, work hard, seek God, and live Truth. But how do I communicate that?

Branding is simply about perception. What do people think of when they think of you, or your organization, or your product, or your ministry?

As I enter a New Year, thinking about vision and goals, I'm thinking, again, about branding. I wonder whether I am short-circuiting the message God is trying to communicate through my life. Perhaps my brand isn't wide enough to envelope the message. Or perhaps God is asking me to rethink and rework the brand ~ and I may need others' help to see that clearly.

One thing I do know. Obedience is more important than any brand. Obedience may even take us in a different direction from our brand. That might mean a simple branding tweak, or a complete overhaul.

Sometimes I feel like I am pulling in two directions. On the one hand, I focus on the simple, lighthearted positives of the faith ~ on joy, on hope. Writing the devotional for women, LOL with God, with Pam Farrel was an expression of that, with lots of scripture included to cheer women's hearts and give them hope.

After spending too many years judging others, and intense introspection that went beyond all God ever asks of us (resulting in depression and spiritual paralysis), beginning to focus on enjoying God and who I am in Christ was a refreshing change. Part of my enjoyment is the understanding that I don't have to take myself too seriously, because God is still working on me, and He can redeem my brokenness for His glory. I rejoice that He continues to create sharable life messages within me.

Another part of enjoying God is my new perspective on Jesus. Totally human as well as totally God, Jesus no doubt dealt with all the human emotions. Along with righteous anger and compassionate tears, I imagine Him laughing with His disciples, and that makes me smile.

This lighthearted joy-hope message is a part of who I am.

But sometimes I feel that I'm not sufficiently expressing another message God embedded in my heart ~ the need for personal and corporate revival.
I cannot escape the truth that God wants me to help women seek Him, know theological truth, and live out the Christian faith in practical, encouraging relationships.

So where is the brand in all of that? Do I even need a brand for all of that? Does it matter?
Yes, branding is important for marketing ... but does it make a difference in how I minister? Does God care?

I keep coming back to Heart Choices Today. We learn the truth, and we have choices to make. We saturate our hearts with the timeless scriptures, and we apply them in our everyday circumstances.

In other words, my brand speaks to me ... but I'm wondering how my brand speaks to others.

I believe my branding issues will get settled in God's time, but in the meantime, I am thankful that I have been "branded" by God. His image is stamped on my heart (Genesis 1:27) and my Father is transforming me into the image of His Son (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18). I belong to Him and serve Him.

I'm praying that God will help me recognize the desperate needs in the culture ~ especially the needs in women's lives ~ and that He will give me opportunities to be a part of transforming this generation. So in this new year, I simply pray:

I'm ready and willing, Lord; and I promise to obey Your voice.