Abiding in Joy

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Reflections on the Paris Terrorist Attacks

Many of us have been watching the events unfold in Paris over the past week.  In many ways we are reminded of the feelings and emotions we experienced after 9/11 fourteen years ago.  Though not nearly as many died this past week as did on that fateful day in 2001, the signs that the war on terrorism is taking an even more dangerous turn has the world troubled.  Today I want to share some reflections on what has happened, and what is happening in the world.  For those who might not know, I am in Paris about three times a year connecting with various Christian workers.  So, for me, these events have been especially disturbing.

First, I want to share with those who live in Paris, and throughout France, my heartfelt sense of support to all of you.  France has responded in a very brave, noble, and compassionate way to this crisis.  France is a very diverse nation, yet you have unified as a country in a very remarkable way.  I hope and pray that you as a nation can now move forward to face the challenges ahead.  Most important, I encourage the saints around the world to pray for the Christians in France that they would be given the discernment and the boldness to respond with true wisdom to the challenges and the opportunities that are in front of them.

The free world today needs much wisdom to respond to this growing threat of radical Islamism that is growing stronger and more violent all the time.  As Christians we must pray for the leaders of all these governments.  There are no easy solutions.  Governments are ordained by God to respond to evil and injustice, and to protect the basic rights of mankind.  I pray that the leaders of France, the United States, and other free nations will have great insight to respond correctly.  Looking back, I have doubts about how we responded to 9/11, especially in the aftermath of toppling the corrupt governments of Afghanistan and Iraq.  I’m not sure if we did everything right…..not that I can suggest what could have been done differently.  The issues involved are very complex.  For this reason, we must pray for our leaders.

While I do not pretend to know how best for governments to respond, I do see more clearly how we as Christians should be responding, and how the Church must respond.  If there has ever been a day when the harvest is ripe, and there are endless opportunities to share the message of hope and love that is only found in our Lord Jesus Christ, it is today.  Our focus must be on what we as Christians can and should be doing.  The reality most of us don’t want to hear is that governments, with all their human wisdom, are limited in what they can do.  At best, their efforts will be too little, and they will never be able to address the root causes of our world’s problems.  While I concur that the role of government is to confront evil and injustice, I realize that they will never bring about the results we are really looking for.  Too often our focus as Christians is on what “they” should be doing, rather than what “we” must be doing.  Are we are deceiving ourselves?

Let me explain.  I often find myself reading about the lives of those drawn into such evil terrorism.  I ask God to help me to see their stories from His perspective.  For example, let’s talk about the life of Amedy Coulibaly.  He is one of the terrorists involved in last week’s tragedy in Paris, being killed after he had killed four innocent Jews in a local kosher grocery story.  He was 32 years old.  He had his first encounter with the police at age 15.  He was a smart kid but always drawn into the wrong crowd.  People who knew him say he was always looking for friends.  He had one friend, but this friend was killed when Amedy was still a teen. He later remarked he never had any true friends after that. While serving time in prison, he looked for a mentor or father figure, but could only find a radical Islamist.  That didn’t last long either.  Eight years ago, after being released from prison, he struck up a romance with a young woman, now known to the world as the female accomplice to last week’s attacks.  They were not practicing Muslims at that time.  They both were looking for something but couldn’t seem to find what they were looking for.  They began to drift toward Islam.  It was about this time that Amedy finally found the mentor and spiritual guide he was looking for.  The only problem was that this man was a recruiter for Al Qaeda.  Sadly, such recruiters look for young men and women who are disillusioned with life and are looking for something meaningful to give some purpose to their existence.  The couple later traveled to Mecca for a spiritual pilgrimage.  Those who knew the couple said that while she seemed to be touched while there, he was not.  We know, of course, that only Jesus can satisfy their spiritual longing.  Some reports suggest that Amedy wrestled with suicidal thoughts toward the end of his life.  Obviously, I have left out parts of this story, and certainly I am not blaming his horrible actions on others.  But I do believe his story, like those of most troubled youths, should serve as exhortation to Christians to reach out to the lost and hopeless of this world.  There are millions of young adults around the world looking for mentors, purpose in life, and spiritual reality!  Are we who are Christians too consumed with our own lives that we do not see what is happening around us?

We have been commissioned with the gospel of love.  May we be shaken out of our complacency and begin looking for ways to share the love of God with others.  Just last year, while in Paris in the home of Mouloud and Gerda, our dear friends, Mouloud and I had the opportunity to share for over an hour with a young troubled man.  Yes, he was Arab. Yes, he was Muslim.  Yes, his life was falling apart.  And, yes, he was very interested as we shared the gospel with him.  He did not make a commitment to follow Christ at that point, but he knows now about how Jesus can give him eternal life and freedom from sin. The sad reality is that there are tens of thousands of such young men just in the Paris area.  May the gospel be proclaimed to the lost of this world!

We have been entrusted with the Truth.  It is only the Truth that can set a person free.  We have been entrusted with the love of God that has filled our hearts.  The weapons needed in this “war against terrorism” are the Gospel, the love of Christ, and the name of Jesus in which we can do battle in prayer.  I am already hearing Christians speak or write things that sound more like hate and fear as a response to the increasing threats of radical Islam.  Rather, we must embrace love (God’s love) and boldness to proclaim the Gospel.  We are not to fear.  Our Lord told His followers to love their enemies.  He knew that love is stronger than hate.  We are told to “never pay back evil with evil to anyone” (Romans 12:17).  In this age of growing turmoil, we must see the growing opportunities for the Kingdom of God.  As followers of Jesus, we must not give in to fear, hate, or even complacency.

Finally, I want to encourage everyone to consider giving to the laborers working in Paris.  If you don’t know of any you can get behind with prayer and financial support,  I know of many strong Christian workers in the Paris area who are limited in what they can do because of a lack of finances.  We must pray diligently for these workers in this season of opportunity!

There is one man in Paris who is from North Africa whom I’ve known for some time.  He left Islam to become a follower of Jesus.  He now serves the Lord Jesus, and has a gift of evangelism.  He has a burden for young Muslim men.  He and his family have already bought airline tickets to spend almost two months with us in Frisco this summer.  May the Lord show us how to equip and encourage him, and others as well, to be bold in their witness for the Lord Jesus Christ!

“I Was a Stranger”

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This is the third post I have written on the subject of immigrants.  I want to encourage us all to take time and see what the Scriptures have to say.  Sadly, many Christians have little or no Biblical understanding on this topic.

The Evangelical Immigration Table is calling for churches and Christians all across the country to participate in the “I Was a Stranger” campaign over the next several months.  The Evangelical Immigration Table was established this past June by a number of national Christian leaders who believe that the Church needs to actively take up the Biblical mandate to care for and be an advocate for the immigrant populations in our country.

The Scriptures are numerous.  For example, just in the Old Testament, the Hebrew word (“Ger”) for immigrant is mentioned 92 times. This word is often translated as alien , foreigner, or stranger.  It literally means the foreigner that is living in your midst, that is, as an immigrant.  God’s people are instructed over and over to care for and love the immigrant, and to be sure that justice is not perverted for them.  God puts them alongside the widow and the orphan as those for whom He has a special heart……..because they are so often taken advantage of, or even mistreated.

The New Testament, as well, has plenty to say about the immigrant.  The Greek word for hospitality is “philoxenia” which literally means “love of strangers”.  We think of hospitality as having our family and friends over to our home.  Biblically, though, hospitality means reaching out to those not like us, especially the strangers in our midst.  Go back now and read some of those passages that speak of practicing hospitality (Romans 12:13, I Timothy 5:10, Hebrews 13:2).  They take on a different meaning, don’t they?

There is also the parable that Jesus gave His disciples in which Jesus describes the fruit of true believers, and contrasts them to those who nominally follow Him.  To the sheep, He tells them that when He was hungry, they fed Him.  When He was thirsty, they gave Him something to drink.  And when He was a stranger (literally, an immigrant), they welcomed Him (see Matthew 25:35).  Later, Jesus continues saying, “Truly, I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me”.  I wonder how many Christians have ever noticed that Jesus is talking about the stranger here.  This is, of course, the passage from which the “I Was a Stranger” campaign gets its name.

“I Was a Stranger” is a campaign encouraging us to take 40 days to read what God’s Word says about the stranger, and to pray that we would have a Biblical response to them.  You can download a bookmark that lists a different passage to be read each of the 40 days. You really need to visit the website: www.EvangelicalImmigrationTable.com   What is really amazing is how many evangelical leaders have signed on to this.  Almost every major evangelical denomination has joined in, as well as most of our country’s seminaries and Bible schools.  Pastors of many influential churches have given their support.  Many Christian organizations, spanning the political spectrum from Focus on the Family to the Sojourners, are participating.  I have not seen such unity over a specific issue since the Church took up the pro-life banner back in the early 80’s!  The website lists some of those who have signed.

This is a very important issue for today.  John Perkins, who was a Christian civil rights leader, has recently said that this issue may be more important for the Church than even the civil rights movement.  Immigration is certainly a hot topic today.  I want to encourage Christians everywhere not to rely on political parties or talk show hosts to form your ideas.  Go to God’s Word!  It has plenty to say, and quite powerfully. And the passages we are encouraged to read through “I Was a Stranger” is a great place to start.

A Changing America

As always happens after an election, the pundits and analysts this week went straight to work trying to explain what happened. A lot of things have been said, and will continue to be said. The big surprise, however, was what some of us have been saying for a while: America is experiencing drastic demographic changes.

In the election of 2000, not too long ago, white Americans made up 87% of those voting. This past week, that number dropped to 72%! That is 15% in just twelve years. The difference is the growing immigrant populations. In Colorado, Nevada, Florida, and Virginia, it was the emerging immigrant populations that made the difference. For example, the second largest city in Colorado is Aurora. The city is now among a number of cities all across the U.S. whose population is over half non-white. In Aurora’s case, there are large populations of Asians, Latinos, eastern Europeans, Middle Easterners, and other people from around the world. Along the West Coast, it is the combination of Latino and Asian populations that have turned these states into Democratic strongholds. If we had the same demographics as we did twelve, or certainly twenty years ago, Governor Romney would have won by a landslide.

Whether we like it or not, we must realize that we are a changing America. And those changes will continue, perhaps at even a faster rate than these past twelve years. The United States has now become the second largest Spanish speaking country in the world. That’s right……we have passed up countries like Spain, Chile, and Argentina. Only Mexico is larger. This has profound implications for business, the media, commerce, politicians, and yes, the Church. We live in a changing America.

A question that has been repeatedly asked this past week is why did the immigrant communities vote so overwhelmingly for President Obama. (By the way, we are speaking of those immigrants who have become US citizens. There are still millions of others who are permanent residents or who are undocumented). It was not the economy. I even heard this week a Latino leader state that the Latino population was a better fit for the Republican Party. It was not the economy. It is what they have perceived as an anti-immigrant bias coming from the GOP. While it may be true that much of the political rhetoric stopped after the presidential primaries, and that Governor Romney shifted his stance somewhat on some issues, it was perceived as too little, too late. The big warning this week is that the GOP must embrace and welcome and listen to the immigrant communities. If not, we will cease to have two strong political parties here in the US. No matter where we stand politically, we should recognize that is not good for our country.

Believe it or not, this blog post is not intended to make some political statement or analysis. Rather, it is an appeal to the Church to recognize that we are a changing America. And like the business world, or the political world, we must make the appropriate changes to embrace and welcome and listen. What is so sad, and even grieving to the Lord, is that a large amount of the anti-immigrant rhetoric in the past five years or so has come from those who identify with the evangelical Church here in America. While I know that most of the Church would not endorse such things, the Church overall has been silent. That is exactly what happened to the GOP. Many chose to be silent rather than to stand up against the rhetoric. Let the Church not make the same mistake again.

Next week, I will be talking more specifically on the response the Church must have toward the changing demographics in America.

Rooted In Truth

(Be sure to read the blog entry before this one! This is really a continuation of those previous thoughts.)

What is truth?  That is the question Pilate asked Jesus (John 18:38).  It is also the question that many today ask.  Actually, just the night before, Jesus had been praying about truth.  He prays, “Sanctify them [His disciples] in the truth.  Your word is truth.” (John 17:17)  God’s Word is truth; nothing else is mentioned.  Only God’s Word is unchangeable, timeless, and applicable to every culture that has ever existed or ever will exist on this earth.

If we want to be truly sanctified, or made complete in Him, then we have to follow the path Jesus showed us.  There is no other way.  In John 15 we can see Jesus instructing His disciples: “If you continue [or abide] in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:31-32)  It is not by merely reading the Bible that we will be free and sanctified.  It is by abiding in His Word; it is by allowing it to saturate our lives;  it is by being rooted and established in His Word.  When we are rooted, that is, planted firmly, in His Word, then the truth and life of His Word will begin to fill and dominate our lives.  Our thinking and our desires will be dominated by this Truth.  Our choices and actions will be shaped by His Word.  The result is that we will be set free to be all God has destined us to be!  Without being rooted in His Word, we will never experience true freedom!  

I urge all those struggling, and those who are riding the emotional and spiritual roller coaster, to pursue the goal of being rooted and established in His Word.  This is not a one week or one month project.  It is a life-long commitment.

 

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