Terrorism


GospelVMoralismPick a news story from this week. A strange and unprecedented presidential campaign? Disagreement over a possible Clinton indictment? The murder of policemen in Dallas? Police shootings in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis? The threat of terrorism here and overseas? Twisted analysis of our problems by our leaders – those who should know how to fix problems?  These issues and a hundred more vie for our attention each day, uniting most Americans to agree on this: we need change.

For some reason, we think the problems of this summer are the worst in history. But our current state just continues the path men have followed for millennia with the same core problem that we’ve always had. But lately, people are talking about change more than before. There seems to be a lot of us thinking that we could do better. We can. But we have to know what kind of change is really needed.

If the apostle Paul could speak to America and America’s leaders today, his message would be the same as the one he had for King Agrippa in Acts 26. And since Paul can’t speak to Americans today, those who follow Christ have to be the ones to speak. So, what did he say?

  1. He told his story – Quoting Jesus, Paul related, “But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you,” (Acts 26:16). Paul had a great testimony of coming to faith in Christ and if you have been changed by the power of Jesus, then you have a story you can tell, too. Nobody can refute your story, so tell it and give glory to God.
  2. He made the gospel clear – Again remembering Christ’s words calling him to minister, “to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:18). This should be the heart of our message to the world – the gospel of Christ is the only power that can truly change hearts through forgiveness and sanctification. No other plan or shortcut will work.
  3. When he was commanded, he obeyed“Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision…” (Acts 26:19). None of this matters if the Church won’t obey.
  4. He presented true change – Obeying God’s call he “declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.” (Acts 26:20) Here’s where lives head in the right direction, families and communities heal, then nations are strengthened. Deeds that flow from repentance. Hearts, then behavior, changed by the gospel.

If the Church prays only for better behavior in our world, if we are content merely with better laws and less immorality, we have missed Paul’s message from Christ. Moralism never solves what the gospel does. As we pray for our broken nation and increasingly godless society led by many blind guides, a prayer for the spread and reception of the gospel is our only true hope. And the only way that hope becomes a reality is if individual Christians share it with individuals who don’t follow Christ yet.

Agrippa thought Paul was crazy, by the way, and didn’t believe the message. But the root of our world’s problems (and the solution) remains unchanged 2100 years later.

It’s always so enlightening when people who have totally rejected God feel the need to tell people of faith how to act. The latest advice came from The New York Daily News after the shootings nydn
and murder in San Bernardino, California. Apparently, according to Rich Shapiro and any who agrees with him, prayer doesn’t work and God refuses to do what they want Him to do. Any one who says they are praying for the victims of a tragedy are wasting their time and should get off their couch and actually DO something.

What’s funny is, any of the candidates cited for praying for the victims actually HAVE ideas for combating violence in America. I guarantee it. Guess what, Mr. Shapiro and any one who agrees with him – you can do both. You can pray, believing God works in our society and still create laws to protect ourselves, which is the main purpose of government.

for he (civil government) is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Romans 13:4  

Our unbelieving world needs to understand that Christians feel deep heartbreak when calamity strikes. Like David, we weep at the violence and injustice around us. And, like David, our faith and dependence on God is questioned.

My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?”  Psalm 42:3

Here are a few thoughts for you, Mr. Shapiro and any one who agrees with him – you have no idea what tragedies have been withheld from us because of the righteous prayers of faithful people. Prayer is not passive – it is a first-resort activity for those whose faith tells them God is intimately involved with His creation and hears the prayers of those who desire Him. He may not choose to stop all bullets, even though we want that. But that’s where trust takes over, a trust in His wisdom that is far beyond ours. So get over your delusion that you understand who is actually in ultimate control of our world’s circumstances. Hint: it’s not you or any other human.

Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. Psalm 115:2, 3

Second, the problem is not guns or our policies about them. The problem is not waiting periods. The problem is not automatic versus semi-automatic. The problem is the heart of people, many of whom have been told their whole lives that God should be marginalized or removed from the public square altogether. We have made policies that discourage prayer. We punish a coach because he prays with his team. For Mr. Shapiro and any one who agrees with him, it may seem like too many people pray during times of hardship, but they can not deny that our nation has systematically shut down the idea of prayer for years. If there has been an escalation of violence recently, what does that tell you?

America has rejected God for decades and the consequences we are reaping are not due to an indifferent or absent God. The consequences we reap, that we weep over, that we tire of hearing about day after day are solely due to our country’s rejection of God and devaluing of life. You simply cannot sanction killing millions of innocent babies, mainly for convenience and sexual freedom, and float along happily without paying the consequences. You cannot limit the freedom of people to worship and express their faith without paying the consequences. You cannot enslave the poor in a failing system and not pay the consequences.

And what about the day when some in America realize maybe they got this whole thing wrong about prayer and try to turn to God? It may be too late at that point.

If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. Psalm 66:1

So, Mr. Shapiro and any one who agrees with him, beg for God’s mercy. He will hear you and forgive if you truly repent of unbelief. Be glad there are people left who acknowledge Him and believe in the power of prayer. Realize the heart of people is the problem and no human or political action can change that. Exchange your puny, pathetic, anti-God, anti-faith, anti-prayer, anti-life worldview, which by the way, hasn’t produced any earth-shattering solutions to our problems, for the freeing gospel of Christ before it’s too late.

You want the problems of our world fixed? As long as men reject God, it won’t and can’t be. But there is a time coming when all will be made right. Not because people fixed it, but because the God all nations should seek will do it. In His time, in His way, without our help. Until then, we mourn and pray. We enact laws that protect our innocent. We punish wrongdoers. But above all, we should humble ourselves before and obey the One who controls all things for His glory. The stakes aren’t just dealing with the next instance of terror – the stakes are eternal.

For the next month, our senses will be bombarded with all things Christmas. Among this barrage, carols will ring in our ears and from our voices – words we have heard and sung for decades of Christmases and immediately associate with the best of the season. Many of these were written centuries ago in other times and cultures, but I’m amazed how we are drawn together with these people over the distance of years and miles. It’s also interesting how old carol texts can still reflect our world today, along with the emotions that come with them.

H.  W. Longfellow  (1807-1882)

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
(1807-1882)

While Christmas is a celebration of the birth of the Prince of Peace, there is a dearth of global peace. Identifying with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s reflection on the violence of his day during the American Civil War, we can easily join him by saying: “And in despair I bowed my head;/ ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said:/ ‘For hate is strong,/ And mocks the song/ Of peace on earth, good-will to men!’ Why, if the message of Christmas (more accurately, the message of Jesus) is peace, do we have an entire world system that has so dramatically missed it?

Aren’t there carols that refer to Jesus as The Desire of Nations? The phrase is found in Haggai 2:6, 7 and found an iconic expression in Handel’s Messiah (where you can literally heard the earth shake). Why hasn’t that happened? Why can’t the nations see the virtue of peace and the superiority of kindness, respect, and love found in the Person of Christ? One carol that describes Jesus this way is “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”: “O come, Desire of Nations, bind/ All peoples in one heart and mind./ Bid envy, strife, and quarrels cease;/ Fill the whole with heaven’s peace.

If we look to the fulfillment of this carol stanza in our present time, we will get needlessly frustrated. The stories coming out of every continent on our planet scream the reality that the coming of Jesus to earth, the very thing we love and celebrate so joyfully each Christmas, has not resulted in the cessation of envy, strife, and quarrels. The whole earth isn’t filled with heaven’s peace. All people surely aren’t bound in one heart and mind. This is where we have to accept that in our hate-filled, violence-filled, terrorism-filled world, Jesus will not be the Desire of Nations until sometime in the future.  The reason is clear and found in John’s words:

We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. 1 John 5:19

The message of peace that believers see in the coming of Christ as a baby is only fulfilled partially today. The time of all nations desiring God will be in the future. Some people (and nations) are finding peace with others in this world now and we’re grateful for that. But more importantly, many are finding peace with God in this age.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 5:1

“Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” also refers to Christ with Haggai’s title: Israel’s strength and consolation,/ Hope of all the earth Thou art./ Dear Desire of every nation/ Joy of every longing heart.” The hope in this prayer is possible to experience now, is available to all, but can only be received by those who repent and follow Christ. The timing of the fulfillment of that hope is up to God Himself and is only known to Him. But we should not stop praying for more people in this world to seek and find the Desire of Nations.

Flag of France (1)This weekend has seen another outpouring of heart-wrenching sympathy for those who have been slammed by the hateful fist of terrorism. All the political disagreements have bubbled to the surface again, as they always do after senseless violence, with little headway toward true solutions. All it seems we can do is brace ourselves for the next attack, wondering when and where it will occur. Coping in this era of a globally-conscious, 24-hour stream of tragic information, uncertain of tomorrow’s headlines, proves to be a challenge. Yesterday it was France. We don’t know who will need peace and comfort when terror strikes next. Social media, though, has emerged as a way for many to respond to our violent world, and as I read posts from this weekend, I’m left wondering a few things.

  1. I wonder, when someone says something like, “My prayers are with ______ tonight”, exactly what that means. I am all for prayer. One of the main goals in the ministry I have is to encourage people to pray, so when I see so many offering their prayers for those in need, I know that’s a right response. It just seems possible that prayer can be a culturally acceptable activity (or claim of an activity) after senseless murder. It can make us feel better, but wouldn’t we want to make sure our prayers are actually effective when offered? The Scriptures make it plain that some prayers are effective and some are not.
  2. I wonder, for some of these responding to tragedy with prayer, where their desire for God is in the rest of their lives. God is the only right and true Judge of the heart and of the validity of these prayers, not me. But if one’s worldview and promotion of values is opposed to what is clearly revealed in the Bible, why pray at all (or say that you do?) I would hope that if we see the need to pray in times of loss and suffering, that the pressing need for prayer would be a regular soul-response. If God is worthy to be sought, He is worthy constantly, not only in time of need.

“pray without ceasing” 1 Thessalonians 5:17

 

Francois Hollande, President of France

Francois Hollande, President of France

3.  I wonder, as we pray for families who have suddenly lost loved ones to terrorism this week, if our prayers include the leaders of nations who must make crucial decisions to try to protect their people from future attacks? Since protecting citizens is a God-ordained purpose of government, do our prayers include wisdom for the right policies from our leaders?

“for he (the human authority) is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” Romans 13:4

Our prayers should be with the people of France right now. And Syria. And other places that have been touched by terrorist acts in recent days. We should be praying for repentance from those doing the killing. But prayer is never meant to be exclusively a knee-jerk reaction to disaster. It is meant to be communion between people and God, done His way with His guidelines. We don’t get to make those guidelines. And if we reject the true path of prayer (taught at length all through the Scriptures) we do it at great peril to ourselves. No matter how therapeutic it might make us feel.