Friday, August 17, 2012
Friday, March 2, 2012
When Abram parted with Lot having allowed him pick the choicest land to avoid conflict, and having not yet received the fulfilment of God's promise to give him an heir, Abram was feeling pretty dejected.
"Then God led Abram outside and said, “Look at the sky. There are so many stars you cannot count them. Your descendants also will be too many to count.”" (Genesis 15:5 NCV)
All too often, we become so insular that we lose sight of the real purpose of the Church, preferring instead to gather together under the safety and familiarity of our church "roof," and sing songs that promise a brighter tomorrow.
The reality is though, that in order to remind ourselves of God's purpose and promises we must "go outside." We must be willing to follow God outside of the boundaries of our comfortable church "roof" because only then can we "see" what He's trying to get us to see.
So go outside, 'cos the roof is in the way!
Thursday, March 1, 2012
The Biblical story of the three Hebrew Boys appeals to our religious sensibilities primarily because the story ends in their deliverance from the perils of the fiery furnace. Sadly, we fail to see the actual point of that story: their willingness to admit the unknown.
They affirmed that God was able to deliver them from the fiery furnace, but also affirmed that they didn't know for a fact that He would, but that that unknown would not affect their decision or commitment to their cause and to their God.
One of the true measures of our maturity in the journey of faith is our willingness to admit to doubts and the unknown, and not feel the need to state the certainty or guarantee that things will always turn out the way we want or expect them to.
On the cross, Jesus didn't doubt God's existence (My God, my God), but He questioned--and by extension doubted--God's unwavering presence around him (why have You forsaken me?) to Identify honestly with "The suffering of the cross," we must be willing to step over the edge of an approach to religion that suggests that everything will turn out okay if we just have enough faith.
We must be willing to abandon the security blanket that masquerades as trust in God, while it really is a trust in a religious system that promises things the Scriptures don't. We must be willing to embrace doubt and the unknown as part of our journey of faith, especially because, if we're being honest with ourselves, we wrestle with those feelings often but simply refuse to own up to them in a bid to fit the expectations of the religious system.
Sunday, February 26, 2012
In "Tea With Hezbollah," in direct response to Ted Dekker's question: "Having lived in both the Middle East and in America, what does being a Christian mean to you?" Sami Awad--the Palestinian Christian who espouses and lives out the Biblical mandate to love your enemies--responded;
"The term "Christian" has lost much of its meaning worlwide; it is mostly a designation of political or social affiliation rather than a confession of faith. As such, to call yourself a Christian carries very little positive connotation and comes with some ugly baggage that is in direct contradiction to the teachings of Christ."
On behalf of American Christianity I say, "Ouch! But...if the coat fit's we've got to wear it. Sami's observations, while Painful, are sadly true."
I'm learning more and more each day that the conflicts in the Middle East run deeper and more complex than rhetoric around a table at the United Nations can resolve. Ted Dekker's "Tea With Hezbollah" may be this popular fiction writer's best work yet...and it' not a work of fiction.
In the chapter, "living Among the Enemy" Dekker intoduces us to Sami Awad, a Palestinian Christian who is a strong proponent for non-violence and the Biblical mandate to, "love your enemies." Seized, handcuffed, and thrown down by the side of a dusty road for almost an entire day for peacefully protesting the destruction of Palestinian homes simply to build vacation condos for the wealthy, Sami Awad declared;
"The sun began to set behind Bethlehem and the beams were breaking through some white and gray clouds. There was a slight and beautiful chill from the autumn air. I gave thanks for that beautiful day and for the fact that the sun does not know Palestinian from Israeli, Christian from Muslim or Jew, and Asian from American or African, and I asked myself: if the sun shines on all of us as one, how much more does the sun's creator see and love us all as one?
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Jesus, Ghandi, and Martin Luther King all have something in common. They died preaching the same message--albeit with differering significance, a message they believed in: Love your neighbor even if he's your enemy!
You say you believe in Jesus and His message? How are your relationships with your enemies? More specifically, are you loving the people you'd probably consider your enemies? It's so easy to pay lip service to this command because it's so much easier in the saying than in the doing.
The truth is though, as much as we'd like to, we can't rationalize our way out of this one. Jesus didn't tell us to do this because it was easy. Nevertheless, He calls us to this "scandalous" adventure of fighting our natural propensities and embracing a higher calling. We can't change our world through rhetoric or religion, but like these three men demonstrated, we can change it through love.
Thursday, February 16, 2012
God commanded Israel to establish Feast Days and Altars as memorials to His rescuing them from seasons of suffering. This was not to glorify suffering but to memorialize it as a reminder of both being rescued and what they were rescued from. To deny the "dark shadow" of those perilous seasons in their lives, would make the truth of their suffering and subsequent deliverance, useful to no one.
We live in a world in which the greater majority of people have not lived "black and white" lives, but lives filled with the "greys" of pain, deceit, death, dishonesty, and every other ill known to man. This means that a message of hope dressed in the falsely promised attire of "perfect people" and "always victorious" Christians is at best untenable and at worst impossible to achieve.
Jesus declared, "In this world, you will have troubles." that isn't pessimism or a "negative confession," but an admission of the fallibility and brokeness of humanity. After all, to be rescued from something, you must first be bound by it. Our stories of pain, suffering, and deliverance are not blights on our testimonies but rather, they are the "spiritual tatoos" that signpost the divine encounters along the course of our journey.
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
I recently read an article with a refreshingly different perspective regarding the preemptive approach we should be taking as Christ-followers –specifically Nigerian Christ-followers—to the sustained barrage of spiritual and physical assaults from a group known as Boko Haram.
The writer of the article, rather than focus on the notion that Boko Haram is God’s instrument of judgment against a rebellious Nigeria—a point which I’ve heard made in many quarters—sounds a clarion call to “prayer and fasting” against the “Spirit of Sudan.”
The writer goes on to describe this spirit as the “Satanic principality that ha(s) sponsored Sudan’s very oppressive anti-Christ Islamic regime, and sustained twenty cruel years of a most ravaging civil war between the Christian south and the Islamized north.” This spirit, the writer opines, having lost that territory (presumably southern Sudan), was seeking another abode…in Nigeria no less!
Now, as a backdrop to what I have to say, let me explain why this writer’s approach speaks to me so much more than many others. After the Haitian earthquake of 2010, many self-styled leaders in the global prophetic movement declared the earthquake to be God’s judgment on an already impoverished nation because of its spiritual ties with voodoo and witchcraft.
Never mind the fact that there is a thriving, praying Church in Haiti that is constantly crying out to God for mercy upon their nation. Similarly, Japan’s 2011 earthquake and subsequent tsunami drew similar “words of judgment from the Lord.” None of this is new as divine judgment prophecies have been both issued and challenged since the days of Noah.
The problem is that, as Christians we’re continually challenged by our extremely limited understanding of how God’s mercy and judgment work in tandem, and what that looks like in a world facing the consequences of its own sinful nature. We further muddy the waters by invariably equating disaster with judgment.
Is disaster always a consequence of disobedience and the result of God’s judgment on the disobedient? Well, you be the judge. In Luke 13 we read an interesting encounter of some Jew’s in a conversation with Jesus:
“At that time some people were there who told Jesus that Pilate had killed some people from Galilee while they were worshipping. He mixed their blood with the blood of the animals they were sacrificing to God. Jesus answered, “Do you think this happened to them because they were more sinful than all others from Galilee? No, I tell you. But unless you change your hearts and lives, you will be destroyed as they were! What about those eighteen people who died when the tower of Siloam fell on them? Do you think they were more sinful than all the others who live in Jerusalem? No, I tell you. But unless you change your hearts and lives, you will all be destroyed too!”” (NCV)
The problem with the hidebound approach many Nigerian Christians take to our faith is that we forget that God is a loving God and that He sent His son, Jesus, to die for all people not just Christians. I’ve often heard people say that they prayed and “diverted” disaster so that it hit another area instead of where they live. What? How does this fit in with the Scriptures? Is the whole idea of prayer simply to protect ourselves from danger at the expense of other people’s lives?
Contrary to what many Christians might have us believe, God is not an angry God chomping at the bit while waiting to destroy a pagan, unrepentant world. The world was dark and ugly before He sent Jesus. That’s why He sent Him! The deviance and darkness of our world doesn’t take God by surprise. If He’d wanted to simply destroy it He wouldn’t have sent Jesus.
The real issue for us to be concerned about isn’t judgment but repentance. That’s what I love about the article. It calls “Watchmen” to man the ramparts of prayer and be alert. It reminds us of a very real enemy—Satan—who is masquerading through entities like Boko Haram as simply an organization looking to legitimize their own world view. This is not the case!
The call to prayer AND repentance must be drenched in love and not indictment and judgment. There are too many Nigerian Christian leaders living less than authentic lives, yet they point the finger of judgment at others and claim that the hardship and suffering our nation is facing is as a result of their lack of faith or spiritual integrity. Really?
If anyone is called to live as an example for others to follow, it’s the Christian leader. If the “Spirit of Sudan” is to be prevented from gaining a foothold in Nigeria, it won’t simply be because people prayed. It will also be because the Church repented and reoriented our focus on the things that are important to the heart of God.
Don’t misunderstand me to be saying that prayer isn’t efficacious, because it is. But if prayer alone changed circumstances and people, Nigeria would more than likely be the best place on earth to live since, arguably no other nation offers more prayers than Nigerians. Clearly repentance and living a life of integrity and character are also key components of a nation’s fortune.
Remember that 2 Chronicles 7:14 sounds a timeless reminder;
“Then if my people, who are called by my name, are sorry for what they have done, if they pray and obey me and stop their evil ways, I will hear them from heaven. I will forgive their sin, and I will heal their land. (NCV)
Again, contrary to what many self-styled “Intercessors” and prophets might say, the healing of the land isn’t contingent on prayer alone. There is a call to repentance as well as a call to obedience that go hand-in-hand with prayer.
So, risking the redundancy of repeating myself, let me again state that the call to preemptive prayer is a refreshing call which, for a change doesn’t focus on judgment. However, to stop there would be an exercise in futility since the Church is called to live by example.