Should We Pray for ISIS?

The following post from Russell Moore can be read in full at The Gospel Coalition. These are some great thoughts about the juxtaposition of justice and justification.

“Over the weekend many of us watched with horror and heartbreak as reports of terrorism came from Paris. At least 120 people were killed in what appears to be a coordinated operation by the Islamic State (ISIS), a terror organization that has murdered thousands of innocent people over the last year, including many Christians.

ISIS is one of the clearest embodiments of persecution and evil that we in the West have seen in many years. Their very existence is a commitment to wiping out political and cultural opposition through violence. They prey relentlessly on the innocent, including children. There’s no question that ISIS is a menace that must be engaged through just war.

But is justice the only thing that Christians should pray for when it comes to ISIS? Should we pray that our military, in the words of singer Toby Keith, “light up their world like the Fourth of July”? Or should we pray that, as a friend of mine posted on social media, there would be a Saul among those ISIS militants, whose salvation might turn the Arab world upside down with the gospel?

These are not contradictory prayers, and to each of them I say, “Amen.”

Continue reading here

The Disconnect of Evangelicalism

While we alluded to this briefly in a previous post, I believe it is beneficial to give further consideration to an epidemic of massive proportions that is prevalent within evangelical churches throughout the west. The epidemic has caused much heartache but few seem to see it for what it actually is. The reason for this is at least two-fold. First, the epidemic is not considered a danger because living with it has become normal within many circles. Second, some would stand forth and while they would proclaim the dangers, many ignore them or consider them to be religious fanatics.

Psalm 133:1 reminds us that it is good for brothers to dwell together in unity. Yet, this is rare. Dwelling together in unity seems to be either a bygone relic or conjures up the idea of living in a commune with other Christians.

we-gather-togetherLet’s consider a far too common scenario in the average evangelical church that goes something like this. People get up on Sunday morning, rush around, and show up late for one service. Many mouth the songs projected on the wall while their minds wander to the events that will need to transpire during the coming week. The pastor/teacher stands with a prepared word of exhortation and edification while a few more either doze off to sleep or make further plans for the next week. Finally the service is over and many bolt for the back door before somebody catches them, especially the pastor!

Jumping in their vehicles, the majority leave almost before the strains of the benediction have died away. The rest of the day there is no further thought of those with whom they were just “worshiping.” The entire week is filled with various activities that are designed and orchestrated by the world to keep us from interacting with one another. So, the week rolls quickly by and we fall exhausted into bed late on Saturday evening only to get up and run through the same routine again on another Sunday morning. Patting themselves on the back, they justify what they have just done because everybody else does it.

For those who fail to submit to the normal protocol, we might even loudly proclaim in a self-righteous tone and/or demeanor, “Well, Hebrews 10:25 says, ‘not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.'” (ESV)

However, is one rushed service on a Sunday really assembling ourselves together? Is such behavior among the people of God truly permit us to proclaim to the world that we are not neglecting one another? To ask further, how is little to no interaction throughout the week and certainly none on Sunday actually “encouraging” one another?

Surely, this cannot be all that the writer of Hebrews was exhorting and encouraging the believers to do was a small one hour window on a Sunday morning. Is this all that is required? At what point did we fellowship.

The teaching elder may have even stood and reminded us that worship is not just something we do on a Sunday morning between 10:30 and 11:30. Our corporate interaction is to be a direct reflection of our own personal, private, and family worship throughout the week being manifested before the world and our brethren of the wonders of the triune God.

But, was our corporate worship truly a reflection of the worship in which we were engaged throughout the week? Or, is our Sunday one hour offering all that we can manage to give because it conflicts with our overwhelming pursuit of the Great American Dream?

This is compounded by the fact that in our coming together, we give little time for prayer which should be another uniting factor. The requests normally mean nothing to everybody but the person giving it because we actually know little of those with whom we are worshiping. Prayer time can often be lifeless or another ritual that we go through because the Bible commands we pray without ceasing.

Yes, there is the rare church fellowship where most seem to sit in preassigned seating and everybody walks out full but with no greater knowledge of their brothers and sisters than when they came that morning.

Oh yes, we also have the time of a bereavement when everybody shows up with the never-ending green bean casseroles. We sit around awkwardly wondering what to say either to the family that is suffering and then with a quick whispered, “We’ll be praying for you,” we fade back into the twilight until the next event that “pulls” us all together again.

While their doctrine is wrong and damning, we could learn much from groups like the Mormons, the Muslims, the Amish and others. They spend a great deal of time together. They laugh together. They mourn together. They build their homes together and they see each other throughout the week. Weddings, funerals, or normal every day activities are not the cause for their fellowship. These are simply products of who and what they are. Their connections are strong.

But along comes the evangelical seeking to share the gospel with a person from one of these groups. The invitation is extended to pay the local church a visit and every now and then, the invitation may be accepted. Walking out of a cult that shows preferential treatment to every person within their midst, the cult or religious person walks in and observes – well, nothing extraordinary. People sitting off to themselves and most do not seem to know one another.

The prayer time is a perfunctory measure that sounds lifeless, there is no fellowship, and there seems to be no encouragement to interact with others throughout the week. But wait, yes, there is a house group that meets during the week. Maybe that will be different from what was seen on Sunday.

Accepting the extended invitation, the person shows up and listens to talk about everything from the weather to the latest job news. The conversation covers the scores from the professional ball games since last Sunday, and again, sadly, all of the communication seems so lifeless. There are little to no connections between those who have gathered together. A quick prayer and short Bible study later, everybody departs still not really having a clue as to who the brother or sister sitting next to them may be struggling with or whether they might have something in which they may rejoice together.

fellowshipcrossThe beloved apostle recorded the words of the Lord Jesus Christ in John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” He writes again in the epistles of 1 & 2 John that it is not a new commandment, but an old one that we are to love one another.

How can we say we have love for one another when we cannot stand to be with one another for more than one hour per week? How can we say we love our brethren when we very little about them? How can we attest of our love for each other to the world when visiting with each other throughout the week only works if we live within a 10 minute drive from each other, and everybody outside the 10 minute drive is too much of a chore to visit because anything more is an inconvenience?

Whatever happened to the older men and women teaching the younger? I venture to say that so many churches are either catering to the young people or a small group of old people sit week after week wishing and hoping that some young families will come and visit. When the young families visit though, all they receive is a quick handshake and a “Hope to see you again” and we are all off on our merry way again. The young families never come back again and we proclaim that they obviously wanted the latest and greatest programs for their children.

Is it possible that what the young family really wanted was an opportunity to be connected with somebody who would love them, welcome them, and make them feel like they were truly part of a family? Maybe they want a church where the older gray-haired couples will assume the role of surrogate grandparents and help encourage their children in the ways of the Lord. I guess we can never know when we never extend the offer of help, love, friendship and fellowship that extends beyond a one hour window on a Sunday.

I welcome your thoughts and comments. How can we (or even how do you) bridge the widening gulf of no fellowship that is so prevalent in evangelical churches? Instead of placing the blame on the pastor, elders, deacons, or anybody else, what should each of us be doing to exhibit the love of Christ that has been shed abroad in our own hearts to a world that is lost and dying with the Savior?

Scam Into Blessing – Part 7

Ruined vehicles, burned out buildings pockmarked with bullet and rocket holes, and destroyed bridges marked the highway as long-lasting evidences of the recent war. However, what kept the images alive were the road blocks every so often manned by UN troops sitting in their sandbagged positions carefully watching every person going by and maintaining a presence that was deemed necessary for the fragile peace.

Pastor Togba shared that much of the fighting was the result of Muslim incursions seeking to take more control for the sake of Islam. Ironically, while the Muslims did not win, Liberia is today surrounded by countries that are predominantly of the Islamic faith. With the advent of the UN troops though, Islam has gained an addition through attrition as the vast majority of the troops allocated to Liberia (supposedly for its protection) are from Muslim countries.

Having never seen UN troops previous to my trip to Liberia, I was appalled at what I saw. While there is much that could be debated in regards to their roles, one thing was clear – the UN was a synonymous term with greed. Everywhere I went during my trip, the troops always held themselves aloof from the local population as a whole while driving around in their very expensive vehicles. I learned from the pastors that the UN came into the country with a blank check and 15,000 troops making it the largest peacekeeping force anywhere in the world at that time.

As we passed through another of the endless parade of roadblocks, I was reminded again that only when the Prince of Peace returns will peace ever be able to reign. Men, kings, and governments can plan and scheme, but they would do well to hearken to the words of a wise pagan king found in Daniel 4:34-35, “And at the end of the time I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my understanding returned to me; and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever: For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom is from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven And among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand Or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’”

Shortly before arriving in Gbarnga, I was trying to stay cool with a fan in the back seat when my thoughts were interrupted by Pastor Togba swerving near a huge black branch in the middle of the road. I was surprised as it looked to me like he had deliberately tried to hit it – until I saw the branch move! It was a huge snake that had been sunning itself in a most convenient spot and almost paid for its poor choice of location. Outside the safety of thick glass in a zoo, I had never seen such a large snake. Fortunately, Pastor Togba decided not to stop so we could make its acquaintance! LOL

Moving through thick forests and patches of rice paddies, we entered Gbarnga and drove directly to the AFBM mission clinic. AFBM stands for African Fundamental Baptist Mission and is a group of about 20-30 churches scattered throughout Liberia. They operate a medical clinic in conjunction with medical missionaries who are serving with ABWE (Association of Baptists for World Evangelization). Coming up the driveway, a hand painted sign on the side of the green building greets each visitor with, “We treat patients, but only God heals.”

It was a privilege to meet the staff of this clinic as they struggled to daily meet the needs of dozens of patients every day. Their goal was not just to meet the medical need, but also to provide spiritual guidance and assistance. These individuals fully understood the need of not providing just a social gospel for a person who goes to bed with a full stomach and a healthy body will still die and go straight to hell if he or she does not place their faith in Christ alone for their salvation.

Liberia is an interesting study in syncretism, which is the mixing of religions with the end result being that which only serves to satisfy the worshipper that he is doing what is necessary to protect himself from the evil spirits. Roman Catholicism allowed this to be perfected (and still does today) in many countries where natives were permitted to worship their own gods of wood and stone provided they showed lip allegiance to the religion of Rome. Liberia is no different in that many of the tribes still practice secret rituals mired in paganism while statistics claim that over 50% of the population are “Christian.”

Before retiring for the evening, we were invited over to visit one of the ABWE missionaries and were treated to a real American style meal: real mashed potatoes, Swedish meatballs, and a host of other foods that was a welcome treat. While they have since moved to serve the Lord in another very needy part of West Africa, I still remember the Lippys with fondness for their hospitality. Her parents were visiting from the USA, and it was a wonderful time of fellowship as we spoke about the need for more missionaries and the joys that came in serving the Lord Jesus Christ.

Pondering what we had seen, we stayed the night in the clinic. Gbarnga is in a more hilly region and quite some distance from the Atlantic Ocean than Monrovia and it made the nights quite a bit cooler which was nice. However, it had to be one of the most uncomfortable nights I had as my bed was similar to a hospital gurney. The mattress was less than one inch of foam on top of the metal tray. While I might have slept better on the floor, I was happier with my uncomfortable bed than I was in getting acquainted with the critters that came out at night looking for fresh victims!

The next morning was an early rise as we spent more time visiting with Stefan, who is a missionary pilot seconded to ABWE. He oversees the helicopter flights throughout the region making life so much easier for other missionaries in the area. At that time I visited, he was building a house at the edge of the AFBM medical clinic and it was a privilege to see the quick progress aided by so many of the local believers. Some were cutting mud into brick form and laying them out to bake in the sun. Some were clearing more of the land from the huge trees and shrubs. Others were laying bricks that had long been curing, while others were being an encouragement to the others.

‘ABC’ was one of those who provided encouragement along with doing smaller odd jobs. ‘ABC’ rode a special tricycle that he was able to pedal with his powerful arms. His legs did not function and his head barely made it to my waist. He was smiling from ear to ear as he shared with me how much the Lord had blessed him through his life. Shuffling around the work site, he shared with me how one prayer is that the Lord would allow him to eventually get a small motor to help him get up the hills around Gbarnga as it would enable him to get more things done.

My curiosity eventually got the better of me when some of his friends egged me on to ask him about his name. Although not wanting to break any cultural taboos about such an odd name, I must admit that I was curious. Another huge grin accompanied the response. “My friends see me pedaling all around and everywhere I go, from the time I was little, they would always say, ‘Always Be Careful!’ After awhile, it just got shortened to ‘ABC’ and that has been my name ever since.

Leaving ‘ABC’ behind, I could not help but be keenly aware that the West has been blessed with abundant mercies when it comes to wealth. In fact, the majority of the world’s wealth is controlled by the West. Yet when it comes to sharing with other countries, it normally finds its way over in the form of loans or as a means to gain something from the exchange.

Sadly, the Church at large is rarely the exception to this rule. The Church in the West controls vast amounts of finances and yet seems more interested in bigger and better building programs instead of laying up treasures in heaven. Churches spend millions every year for the next fad while congregations in 3rd world countries struggle to even offer a teaching pastor/elder a living wage of $100 per month.

The humility I found throughout Liberia was embarrassing to me as I was reminded of times that I had been less than generous with what God had given so freely to me. These people gave out of the abundance of their poverty. It was not done with the intention of earning any extra credit or kudos with the American/British missionary, but was simply loving a foreigner the way Christ loves us. They gave above and beyond and I am certain that at times it was at the expense of things they could use or need.

Willingly sharing of what they owned was another reminder of what true Christianity is all about. Loving others more than you love yourself is supposed to be a characteristic of a servant of Christ. I would be seeing more examples of love in action over the next few days that would remain with me for a long time.

Driving back down towards Monrovia, we saw an accident which is a common occurrence in Liberia. The roads are terrible and many drivers have little to no regard for the rules governing automobile usage. The accident we saw involved one of the conspicuous yellow taxis that had been traveling at a high rate of speed and hit a bridge. Sadly, there was nothing to be done for several of the passengers who had entered into eternity.

It was certainly a sobering sight and one that reminded each of us of our roles as ministers of the gospel. We never know who will be listening and it is vital that we approach each message as though it were either our last or the last for the hearer. I could not help but wonder whether the people who had been crowded into the car on their way up to Gbarnga had ever heard the missionaries speak or whether they had heard and remained in the depravity of their lost condition while loving all that was diametrically opposed to the holiness of our Great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.

The rest of the trip was uneventful and we arrived safely back at Pastor Togba’s home. Walking outside of the home, I saw Pastor Femi who served at Maranatha Baptist speaking with a friend. I sat down with them and learned that the friend had been a rebel soldier during the civil war. This young man struggled with many concerns in his heart and life, especially the things he had been involved in for about 14 years. It was a wonderful opportunity to share the gospel but it seemed to fall on deaf ears. He had too many questions that he was demanding an answer of God and felt that God owed something to him before he could place his faith in Christ alone. We spoke for about 3 hours eventually continuing on conversation in the darkness of the African night.

I called my wife that night and shared with her the conversation concerning the young man. I relayed to her how this former child soldier told me he had not even been to a church service since he had first been coerced to become a soldier. Our prayer began that night for P__________, but little did we realize that the Lord was going to perform another miracle in very short order.

(…to be continued…)