Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Bullet of Peace: The Vision and Courage of the Peacemakers

In the Eighth Century B.C. Isaiah, the prince of the prophets, spoke of the death of Israel’s great leader, King Uzziah (Isaiah 6). Two thousand eight-hundred years later another great leader died not many miles away in Egypt, Anwar Sadat.

One leader died from natural causes and the other by assassination. All leaders die one way or another. Losing our great ones especially increases the pain to those who recognize our desperate need for principled leadership. President Sadat had risen to be a truly great leader and statesman. His assassination by the fools of hate and war grieved the world.

This Memorial Weekend just past is a reminder to remember this man as one of our outstanding examples of courage and vision. There have been too few like him. He stood against millions of Islamic Arabs when he personally went to Jerusalem to embrace the “enemy” called Israel! His winsome ways, his moderation, his humor and compassion, his frequent references to God’s will, all this and more endeared him to millions.

On his tombstone he said we could write the words, “He has lived for peace. He has died for principle.” So he did. Anwar Sadat was a military general who knew war but his higher vision led him to be one of the finest and most superb peacemakers of the Middle East.

King David’s words could summarize the life of this splendid leader. “I am for peace, but when I seek peace, they are for war” (Psalm 120:7). To look for peace alone is not enough. We must also be peacemakers! According to our Lord those are the ones who will be blessed (Mt. 5:9).

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Memorial Day 2009: Heroes Carry the Stain

King David was a man after God’s Own heart; the Lord Himself selected him to rule Israel. The Lord approved of David and sustained him. But the King was a man of war. That left the stain of blood and combat on David’s hands, a necessity for anyone who is called to fight for his country and his people. When the day arrived that his throne was securely established, his palace erected and his nation prospering, David began to imagine a great dwelling place for his God, a Temple! It was to be a tribute to the Lord of all the earth Who had granted Israel their success.

Through Nathan the prophet, God stopped David from building this temple of his dreams! The Lord assured His warrior-king that a time would come when David’s son would build the House of God. The King obeyed. He began laying by supplies. He instructed his son, Solomon, in his vision of the Temple and gave him his plans. In I Chronicles 22:8 the old King tells his successor son why he was denied the pleasure of building the Temple: "But the word of the LORD came to me, saying, ‘You have shed much blood and have waged great wars; you shall not build a house to My name, because you have shed so much blood on the earth before Me.’”

Yet David is still one of the great “Christ figures” of Biblical history … even though he paid a sacrificial price to play his part in his own generation. We all have our individual roles to play and we must seek to play them. David’s role was partial and temporary but necessary. He was a man of war and of bloody hands. It was too late for his reputation to be redeemed enough to make the Lord’s point of peace with His people Israel. Hence, David’s son of peace, Solomon, was chosen to build a Dwelling Place for his God. There is a great and continual price to be paid for keeping a nation free. It is wise to count the depth of that cost for those who will risk the most! It is good to ask questions about the goals, methods and strategies we use to fight a war, lest we forget that building the House of God requires clean hands. As we honor our fallen and living heroes this Memorial Day, let us keep in mind the cost to the spirit, soul and body every warrior must pay! These are men and women who served us by waging war and having to endure bloody hands! They have paid a price that their own generation is slow to appreciate and may never appreciate. Yet those who have paid the price of battle experience a wisdom, camaraderie, vision and glory that others “behind the lines” can never understand. True warriors find their own satisfaction and contentment in knowing they have done their proper duty and will be vindicated by earth and heaven’s highest truth.

Remember, even when the Lord denied David the privilege of building the Temple, He told him, “You do well to have the building of it in your heart!” (I Kings 8:18; II Chronicles 6:8). The Scriptures tell us David wanted peace but those who surrounded him wanted war (Psalm 28:3). The true God warriors may have to fight bloody battles but in their hearts, while they fight them, is a passion for peace. So it was for Israel’s greatest King, David, a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). So let it be with us!

Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever.” The Lord to David in II Samuel 7:16

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Memorial Day 2009: The Price We Pay

With the election of Barrak Obama as President of the United States, the CIA, FBI and other agencies found they were under scrutiny over the issue of torture as a means of extracting information from the “bad guys.” One of the key discussions in this debate is the degree to which torture can be “morally” extended and is effective in eliciting information. Even within the intelligence community, opinions differ. A case in point:
Consider … the interrogation of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. He was waterboarded six times a day for a month. He provided information, but he certainly didn't do so quickly.

"What I get most out of the waterboarding of Khalid Shaikh Mohamed is that any approach — I don't care what it is — if you have to do it 183 times, it is not working," says Matthew Alexander. He was the military interrogator in charge of the team that ended up finding al-Qaida's No. 1 man in Iraq, without resorting to torture.

Another side of the question would concern “regular,” “light” or “enhanced’ torture that brings only temporary pain verses long range brokenness for life. Are “lasting” effects mental or physical or both?

The debate goes back and forth … does torture really work effectively to extract what we need to know from our enemies? Is it legal or, more importantly, is it right? Who should be allowed to decide? Yet one of the most important aspects of the issue of torture never seems to make it to the table … what does torture do to the person (and by extension, nation) that employs it? Given that military intelligence is vital to keeping America safe from her enemies and the brave and sacrificing warriors of our armed forces in the field deserve the best information available, what do we forfeit of our character when we employ torture to extract it? A question of equal importance is what do we forfeit if we don’t? What is the Mind of the Father Who would allow His anointed Son to be tortured on a cross?

Let us ask further what the difference is in torturing our enemy to defeat his cause or seriously wounding him in battle? A wounded enemy soldier crying in pain as the two units clash is far less of a threat to our people than a terrorist planning in secret to blow up a 1,000 of our citizens, including women and children. What is the moral difference between killing a man to protect our country or torturing him?

“I did not come to bring peace but a sword,” said Jesus (Matt. 10:34). Mary, the mother of our Lord, was promised by the prophet that because of Jesus’ destiny, “… a sword will pierce your own heart also” (Luke 2:34-35). And David praised God and said, “I love you, O Lord, my strength … you train my hands for battle … and I destroy my enemies … the Lord gives His king great victories … exalted be God, my Savior” (Psalm 18:1, 34,40,46,50).

“‘Put your sword back in its place,’ Jesus said to him, ‘for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.’” Matthew 26:52

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Bullet of Purpose: His Mission for Us All

The courage and determination of Seyi, the young Nigerian believer I recounted in my last post inspired me to think about all the kinds of purposes the Father has for His children. It makes no difference if you are a young Nigerian beaten and left for dead by persecutors of Christ or an American unseasoned by violence against Believers. The Lord has a special, unique purpose and task for each one of us. As we follow Him more exactly, we will live out that purpose more precisely and powerfully.

As a Pastor I must have heard at least a 1,000 people tell me that they knew God has a purpose for what happened to them … whether it was a blessing or a buffeting. The trouble with that response, however, is most of them did not know exactly what that purpose was! They knew in a vague way that it had to do with the future and that they were grateful. This kind of thinking is not wrong but it is only partial, fragmented and woefully immature! Of course God has a purpose for everything and we are called to find out what it is. We should think of not only long range purpose but also, and more importantly, of immediate, precise short range purpose. This latter purpose should be instantly pursued. There are three considerations for the short range will of God.

Let’s look more closely at these three great purposes:

Purpose 1: We are to learn the satisfaction and mystery of being alone with Christ, listening to His Word and focusing on the joy that produces praise! Praise is never independent of joy. It is not faith, or even love that authenticates one as a true follower of Jesus, but joy! “These things have I spoken unto you, that your joy may be full (not faith or love!)” (John 15:11). Joy in Jesus creates praise in the heart! Our first purpose is to be a person of unquenchable praise.

Purpose 2: We are to turn all of our experiences into light from Christ (revelation) and food from heaven (strength) so that our heart burns for more of Jesus (worship). This “obedience” “puts” us in the place of provision, perception and praise. “… All things work for good to those who keep on loving God …” (Rom. 8:28). Everything that happens is a window to more of Christ’s mind. Purpose two is to discern your next step to learn His path.

Purpose 3: We are to earn the authority by self-discipleship to communicate to others the message of truth and grace. As persons of Messiah Love, we are empowered to fulfill the great commission because we know and adore the Great Commissioner! Our third purpose is to demonstrate and testify to others what the Lord has done for us! “The Mighty One has done great things for me …” (Luke 1:49) … the Virgin Mary.

We should always move as quickly as possible from “some purpose” to “the immediate purpose!” Praise His worth! Do His will! Share His wonder! And do all three specifically … NOW!

He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him.” Ephesians 1:9

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Bullet of Purpose: Bravery to Suffer for Christ

Fear of a gang of thugs roaming our streets looking for Christians to beat up, maim, even kill is thoroughly foreign to Disciples in America. Not so in other parts of the world. A Voice of the Martyrs publication tells the story of Seyi, a 22 year-old Christian who lives in Jos, a city of northern Nigeria. In November of 2008, a riot broke out in his city. Ostensibly, the result of local elections, it soon became clear that Muslim insurgents were using the riot as a pretense to attack Believers in Christ.

“Groups of Muslim warriors roamed the city with machetes. More than 100 Christians were killed, and thousands more were beaten, shot or cut. The Muslims also burned the homes and cars of Christians. Many more were wounded, and about 25,000 people were displaced. Nigerian security officers used extreme force to quell the two-day uprising.”
One mob broke into Seyi’s family home. The rest of Seyi’s family, his parents and four siblings, fled but “… the mob grabbed Seyi before he could get out. They struck him with machetes, slicing a deep gash in his head. The mob set the house on fire and left him for dead. His family managed to drag his unconscious body from the house and saved his life.” This young Believer had been attacked for no other discernable reason than that he was a Christian.

With VOM’s financial help, Seyi spent 11 days in the hospital before being released to finish his recuperation. His family lost everything in the fire! Thank God their church stepped in to provide them with a place to stay. In the face of this tragedy, Seyi confessed that he “… sometimes feels afraid, but he trusts God to protect him and prevent other attacks. His favorite verse, Psalm 91:7, is about God’s protection.” This young man is convinced the Lord spared his life for a special mission. Great is his rejoicing that he has been counted worthy to share in the Lord’s suffering. Seyi “… plans to use his experiences as an opportunity to share Christ.” He commented that he knew the Lord had a higher purpose for all that happened to him.

A thousand may fall at your side; And ten thousand at your right hand, But it shall not approach you.” Psalm 91:7

Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Bullet of Forgiveness: ENOUGH

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!’

But the other criminal rebuked him. "Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong."

Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’

Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.’" Luke 23:39-43

Notice first that the prayer was offered by one who was hanging on a cross with Jesus! He knew what the Lord was having to endure as no other could conceive. Christians talk much of the cross but I have seen few who really want to hang on it! (At this point I confess my own lack of Cross Discipleship and ask His help!) This “crucified partner” with Jesus knew His agony and identified with His position more than anyone else on earth. It was “their” hour! The other criminal also suffered terribly, as all humans do, but he drew no redemptive conclusion from the experience. Most Christians refuse to invest the time and diligence it takes to plumb the great wealth of cross theology. They drift in the shallows of “Churchianity” and bring no redemption precision to their daily life. Hence, they are woefully deficient in “Cross Discipleship.” They are too dense to seek and/or lose appreciation for the radiant distinctions of the wonder of the gospel! Only by incarnating the truth of our Lord’s “good news” will we be set free from our blind pursuit of the insignificant! “If the Son makes you free you shall be free indeed!” (John 8:36).

This “confessor criminal on the cross” didn’t know the theology of Jesus like the disciples or the wonder of His miracles like the women, but he saw the power, the force, the authority of Christ’s life and words. This wise thief, even in his own excruciating pain, saw how the Lord hung there and knew that somehow … beyond all his ignorance and confusion, beyond all his panic, hopelessness, failures and regrets … that Jesus was God! That Jesus was his only hope! And that was “enough.”

The other thief, the one enslaved to the lie, could do nothing but shout his bitterness to the world and throw accusations at Jesus. Many people still choose that response to life!

The Master’s promises are always enough for us regardless of our circumstances. In fact we are usually driven to our most earnest prayers by our worst circumstances. We all have them … those agony hits … even right now! Yet even our most hopeless circumstances mixed with the reality of Father, Forgiveness and Fools can be solved, resolved and overcome. It makes no difference how torturing the crucifying situation might be.

Admit you are basically a fool! Create a relationship with the Father! Learn the magnificence of forgiveness! To the degree you do, you will be with Him in a spiritual paradise … today! It is only while you hang that you truly “hear” Jesus talk to the Father about you! It is then that you are truly and purely prepared to talk to Jesus about you! Experiencing those two realities will make you enough for anything!

And remember … “Nothing is enough unless you are enough.” (Author unknown)

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Bullet of Forgiveness: The Dying Thief

But Jesus was saying, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing’…" Luke 23:34

Let us all recognize with proper sobriety and humility that we, too, “don’t know what we are really doing”! We squander our resources, abuse our privileges, exalt the trivial, chase the easy, hurt others, diminish our communities, destroy our own self-worth and wound God’s heart. We are ALL fools! But in the horrible reality of our dense blindness, the Lord Jesus shows us the Father’s Heart! He promises to connect us to Himself by forgiving us!

These three words … Father, Forgive and Fools … contain the essence of all the issues that will ever concern each one of us while we walk the earth! To understand and respond to those three concepts with a full and eager heart will open the door to your highest possibilities as a human being. “Put” these three realities into your daily life God’s way and your discipleship will soar! It is then that only Christ will matter. Only then will His desires be your desires. Only then will you live among people as a reflector and agent of Messiah Love! Only then will you taste, drink and eat of the food that is from heaven … Jesus (John 6:26-40). Only when the Savior matters most to you will anything and everything else matter as it should.

To begin and continue this wondrous process is reserved for the one who lives with a passion and obsession to yield more of self to the Lord Jesus. To begin our journey we must say to Him … as did that wise criminal hanging with Him … “Lord, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.” The confessing thief comprehended that he and the other crucified criminal were fools. He comprehended Jesus could talk to God as His Father. He comprehended the possibility that he could be forgiven! This repentant, crucified man didn’t know much but he did know enough! Once we comprehend the “God meaning” of these three words … Father, Forgive and Fools … we begin to comprehend life in all of its complexities and mysteries.

“Lord, remember me” … is a prayer the wise Disciple has often in the heart and on the lips!

Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’” Luke 23:42