Tuesday, August 28, 2007
For those of us who know God's plan and grasp that His kingdom vision is perfect, the reality often falls short. It may be when a co-worker we respect compromises to obtain a raise. It might occur when we see a bribe given where the giver only wishes to do someone good. It occurs in the US every four years when we elect a president - a periodic reminder that even in the best of circumstances, no one person outside Jesus will hold the keys to a perfect government.
Today's announcement that the Taliban will release the Korean hostages on condition of Korea's pullout from Afghanistan and promise of cessation of all work by Christians hit many as a bittersweet blessing - the hope of release, mingled with the loss of wonderful development works that show Christ's love in practical ways. It's important to note that this was not a decision by the Korean church but the Korean government. It's an imperfect solution by a world power, for an imperfect world.
At times like this we must rely on God's sovereignty. Only He knows why this solution and not another was ultimately put forward. He sometimes uses things like this to mobilize national believers. We can pray for that, and also for the Korean church to redouble its commitment to the Great Commission-wherever it takes them. Like Philadelphia in the book of Revelation, the Korean church has "a little strength" after this ordeal - yet God has placed before her an open door no one can shut. They need our prayer support and our understanding as they seek to be obedient to God in an imperfect world where all man-made solutions are imperfect.
Pray also for the hostages in their last hours/days/weeks (we don't know yet) of captivity. God still has a purpose for them there!
Sunday, August 26, 2007
The amazing scope of "Operation Overlord" - the D-Day attack on Normandy - was successful because of a tremendous number of small assignments successfully completed. The 101st Infantry and the 82nd Airborne each has specific assignments. Unique roles were assigned to the Scottish Brigade and the Royal Air Force. The paratroopers who overshot, landed in town, and were killed, were no less significant than the men who captured the town and ran the German soldiers into the woods.
Yet each team had to maintain its own focus. The commander responsible for leading a group of men to capture and hold a key bridge until relieved kept repeating that task to himself ... and it kept him from distractions. John Wayne refused to consider turning back from Omaha Beach - even though it meant going up for the 4th time.
It's like that in this spiritual battle as well. We each have unique roles to play - and the task is so big that it takes all of us. We must focus on the tasks God gives us, recognizing that each is integral to the overall battle. Most importantly, we must maintain the primary focus where God placed it: on Jesus Christ. Looking to Him, as Hebrews 12:1-2 tells us, the "author and finisher of our faith", we will play a significant role in the ultimate victory.
Rest assured, victory will come. For now, the wartime mentality requires an intense focus. May God grant that to you today!
Saturday, August 25, 2007
2 Thess. 1:2 is a perfect example: "Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." If we slow down, we see that Paul and his team (Silas and Timothy) are writing them, and they greet them with this incredible phrase. The grace and peace aren't from Paul, Silas, and Timothy - they are from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The Father and Son, through Paul's inspired words, personally extend grace and peace to the Thessalonians - a church in need of both!
The Thesslonians had been persecuted, we learn in 1 Thess., and now were troubled because some were claiming that the "day of the Lord" had come. Imagine thinking that Jesus came and you missed it! But Paul's first sentences - a phrase we take for granted - would be reassuring to them. "Grace and peace to you - from God!" Yes, the Father and Son are intimately involved in what concerns the churches.
Most people in the world live under legalism. Even many Christians fall into that trap. Grace is amazing because it is rare, and it is supernatural. Grace is inextricably bound with love, and reflects that love carried out in some unexpected, undeserved ways. Grace saves us, teaches us, and sustains us - and grace poured into someone else's life can result in transformation and a life of hope instead of despair.
Peace is also a rare commodity in today's world. Not merely the absence of conflict, but wholeness and health of all parts of one's life, is a goal many reach for their entire lives. It's that stillness and quiet in the eye of the hurricane while all around the storms of the world rage.
In your own struggles, have you forgotten the simplicity of the grace and peace of God? Remember for a moment how incredible it is to realize that God personally gives us grace and peace. No matter how you feel today, that hasn't stopped. Don't rush over Paul's words here - let them be the balm of Gilead to your soul.
And when you seek to minister to other who are hurting, remember that we have something rare - grace and peace, not of our own effort but from God Himself.
May you experience His grace and peace in a new way today.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
When you are overwhelmed with life, when you are tempted by the enemy, it is important to know God. Daniel 11:32 teaches us, "He shall seduce with flattery those who violate the covenant, but the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action." Do you know Him? I know you do, but it's nice to be reminded who He is.
I had read this sermon before, but only when I heard it read in a dramatic way did I really experience it. I have been very blessed by this and hope you are too. Be sure to have your speakers on!
Thanks to YouTube for allowing the posting to Blogger.
Blessings today as you are reminded again who your God really is.
Monday, August 20, 2007
Oh, we don't do it blatantly. Those of us in the church know enough to give religious-sounding reasons for our human-centered answer. But we have trouble envisioning a God who is capable of more than we can envision ... so we limit Him in our minds. Of course, we can't truly limit an omnipotent God ... but we miss so much of Him because we live in the zone of safety instead of the danger and delight of letting go of the reins.
I guess I've been thinking about it today because of a couple of awe-inspiring things going on right now. First, the space shuttle Endeavour started back for earth yesterday (Sunday). It will land on Tuesday, God willing. Now, I don't know how fast the shuttle travels but think of it - that high speed flight and it will still take two days to fly back from space. And the "outer space" it was in is just our little corner of one galaxy ... we haven't even talked about the reaches outside of this galaxy and the "far corners" of the universe where we talk in light-years rather than days.
Second, Hurricane Dean, a Category 5 storm, is the size of Texas. Texas. I'm from Texas. It takes a whole day to drive across the state! And yet, God controls the wind - even the wind from Dean - and upholds the earth it passes over by the word of His power.
No wonder Job said "Behold, these are the fringes of His ways; And how faint a word we hear of Him!" (Job 26:14). The incredible awesome things we see in creation, the wonder of it all - that is only the fringes of God's ways.
And to think we make Him so small. He is bigger than we ever dreamed. What situation has you overwhelmed tonight? Ask God to come in and be BIG.
Sunday, August 19, 2007
I awoke desperately wanting to pray for them, but needing a word from God before I could even proceed. I know you've been there ... overwhelmed by a need. How precious that whatever our role in the kingdom we are, first and foremost, His children, and the one thing that is needful will always be to sit at His feet first.
So, I did, and He answered dramatically. In the course of my regular Bible reading, He had me in Matthew 16:18 -
"...upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it."
Excitement and encouragement swept over me. The gates of Hades - that's right! I recalled that the "gates of Hades" was a reference that the church was the one doing the advancing; the gates were defensive.
I remembered all over again the truth that Satan is really a defeated foe and always strikes from a defensive posture. The picture I had was that of a cornered wild animal -- angry and able to inflict damage, but definitely on the defensive.
Regardless of how it looks over there, it's not the gates of hell that are advancing. It's the church of Jesus Christ ... the kingdom of God coming on earth as it is in heaven. It is in the context of the church's advance that Jesus says "Whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (v. 19). This echoes the Lord's Prayer: "Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." That's how the church advances and the enemy is defeated!
Sure, suffering and persecution are part of the process. Jesus immediately teaches about the suffering He will endure and the denial that the cross requires. But we have an assurance while that is happening that the church IS advancing! God's kingdom IS coming on earth, and the enemy IS being defeated.
Sometimes the darkest hour is just before dawn. Press on to victory.
Saturday, August 18, 2007
Now is a time for intense prayer, but also a reminder of the sovereignty of God. Only He knows whether these are numbered among those who will be martyrs. We can pray, however, for their boldness, perseverance, and peace in the midst of this storm. And, based on Paul's request to the Thessalonians (2 Thess. 3:1-3), we can pray God would deliver them from evil and perverse men. But if that doesn't happen, please don't lose heart. Continue to pray for God to use even their deaths for His glory and kingdom purposes.
Surely it is no mere coincidence that I am writing a paper on persecution at the very time I'm praying for persecuted believers halfway around the world. But this applies to you too - even though you may be in a "safe" country. Because Scripture makes it clear that we are in a spiritual battle ... a spiritual battle with a predetermined outcome. We know the contours of the battle, but God fills in the colors according to His plan. We don't always know how we fit into that. We just know that He is in control...He is sovereign. Yes, we pray and give and work because He ordains that certain things happen because of our prayer and gifts and work. But there is always an element of sovereignty about this war that we are in.
Josef Tson said it better than anything I've read outside Scripture:
"For many years...I was groaning and saying ‘Lord, why?’...Now I have as the main pillar of my theology the sovereignty of God. The sovereignty of God means Satan at the end always finds out that he just promoted God's cause. All God’s enemies combine to destroy His work, and they always discover at the end that they just promoted it. That’s the sovereignty of God." (emphasis mine)
Commenting on this, Herbert Schlossberg writes in A Fragrance of Oppression: “That is why a Biblical philosophy of history has to recognize that God’s victories often come disguised as defeats: persecutions, death, destruction of churches and so on. A theology of disaster that is true to a Biblical worldview recognizes the victory lurking behind every external setback to faithful followers of Christ.”
Victory in death and setback? The unfathomable ways of our God.
You are on the frontlines of this spiritual battle. You may not be persecuted today, but you are a target. Keep a prayer circle around you - I'd love to be part of it - but know that anything God allows against you has a victorious purpose. I like to put it this way: Satan always attacks from a defensive posture. The gates of hell will not prevail against the offensive onslaught of the church in spiritual battle.
Even if it looks like we just lost.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
It's the hottest day of the year, the busiest week of the year on the University campus where we work. We only have one vehicle and our budget is extremely tight. We live about 5 miles from campus - a long walk without sidewalks most of the way, difficult even in ideal weather. When I rode home in the wrecker at 5 p.m., we didn't know how we would get to work tomorrow.
I rounded up the usual suspects ... called a couple of friends who often have extra cars, talked to a co-worker. The Lord whispered to me (as He does) to call a neighbor, but I was unsure whose voice I was hearing. When my efforts dead-ended, the voice became more urgent and I thought of the Scripture: "Better a neighbor nearby than a brother far away." Apt words since none of our siblings live here!
About an hour after the first prompting I called my neighbor. I had hesitated to contact this sweet elderly couple, her nursing him through his stroke. They're the grandparent-ly type, the ones who have trouble saying no if they love you. I didn't want them to feel obliged. I guess I was waiting for God to miraculously have them call me or something. I don't know what I thought - I just know that I was hesitant.
But what an unexpected blessing I received. When she answered the phone and discovered it was me, she asked how things were. I told her it had been a rough week. She had seen the wrecker and so asked about that. "That's why I'm calling", I confessed reluctantly, hesitantly, almost sheepishly. I'm sure I sounded 3 years old. Her next words touched me to the core, bringing tears to my eyes:
"How can I help?"
It wasn't the words as much as the eagerness. There was no hesitation, no hint of compulsion. I expressed our transportation situation and she put the phone down to talk to her husband. She came back and told me his words:
"Do they want the car or the truck?"
The tears flowed again, more liberally this time. When I walked over to pick up the vehicle, I hugged her and thanked her profusely. She pulled back and genuinely said, "No, thank YOU for asking."
What an unexpected blessing on a trying day. To see these people, in trials of their own, being so eager to help, actually glad I asked ... I was convicted but so honored and blessed as well.
"You have not because you ask not", God tells us about prayer. Sometimes that's true of our brothers and sisters in Christ as well.
I thought of each of you, out there doing the thing, hating to let people know how hard it is. Please know that God has put love in different peoples' hearts for you, and those individuals long to know how they can help. So much of the time that is in prayer, but there are tangible needs as well. Don't hesitate to ask God on whose heart He has placed you. And don't hesitate to let them know your needs. They'll be glad you did - and you'll be blessed in the process.
Sunday, August 12, 2007
Our dog, George, is an 11-year-old mixed large breed dog. He came into our hearts and lives when he was only 2 1/2 weeks old...we literally had to wake him up from falling asleep in his milk. He's always been more comfortable with people than other animals, and as he has aged we've seen an increased dependence on us, an increase dissatisfaction when we are away.
He's always had his own bed, but would sleep in our room (on the floor) if there were storms which frighten him, or if it was too cold outside, or any other excuse one of us could muster. A few weeks ago we made a momentous decision: George is old, hurting, and alone while we are at work, and so we will let him sleep in our room every night.
Now, George may be old, but believe me, you CAN teach an old dog new tricks! He has quickly picked up the pattern and knows at night when it's time to go to bed. Despite his pain from hip dysplasia, he wiggles around like a puppy when we tell him "okay" and allow him to go into our room and onto his spot right next to the bed.
Last night, his eagerness and expectation got me to thinking: isn't this how God wants me to be? George is eager to be with us - no matter what we're doing he is right there. Am I eager to be with God? George expects that we will call him into the room and he'll be in our presence - do I expect God to call me to Him during my quiet time?
Beyond that - am I growing more, or less, dependent on God as the years go by? Am I satisfied when He seems far away? Or do I anxiously anticipate that next time of intimacy, feeling something is wrong unless I'm at His side?
The simple things of the world - yet a deep truth for me.
Draw us close Lord - and let us never be more eager and expectant than when we get to be right next to Your side.
Friday, August 10, 2007
And I love you for it.
I love you because you don't have to be there, not a single one of you. I love you because I know how easy it is to rationalize: I'll go when the kids are grown, when I retire, when I marry, when I'm a widow. I'll go where it's safe, where it's more like home, where the language is normal, where they actually like people from my country. I love you because I know that what I call sacrifice is nothing compared to what you have given up to be there, and because I know that you wouldn't trade places with me for anything (well, not permanently anyway - though you might for a weekend especially when it's 120 degrees in the shade).
I've told you before that I know you have feet of clay, that you struggle and are learning the same lessons I'm learning. I know you don't idealize your country any more than I idealize mine. But as I come face to face with some of the harder truths in the New Testament, the truths about mission and compromise and suffering and persecution, I realize afresh how important it is that you are out there doing the thing. You are still my heroes.
As you look around and wonder if you are making a difference, please know that you are ... you are making a difference in the Body of Christ as I learn from every email and every newsletter you send, as that gets filtered into my life and my church. You are making a difference where you are as well, bringing light to the darkness. I leave you with the words from Isaiah 61 that became Jesus' own description of His ministry when He taught in the temple (Luke 4) - and my own reflection on the passage.
May God bless you today. I love you!
Beauty for ashes, hope for despair
What do you see, Lord, when you look over there?
The world calls it hopeless, or claims it's okay
That the darkness seems to hold such a sway.
Oil of gladness, garment of praise
When, oh, when, will their voices raise
In praise to You, Lord, to call you by name?
What will it sound like on that great day
When my voice and theirs, heart languages
Lifting up to Your throne in unity singing?
Let me see it Lord, Your eyes not mine
Oaks for Your glory, in Your perfect time.
Thursday, August 09, 2007
From Paul's admonition that it is those "who desire to live Godly lives in Christ Jesus" that are persecuted, to Peter and John's option of going free but just not speaking about Jesus, to the Galatians who were tempted to doctrinal compromise to avoid persecution, to the martyrs in Revelation who are paralled in the text both as those who are martyred and as those who "obey the gospel" ... we see the two paths laid out for us: Persecution or Compromise.
The compromise may be doctrinal ("Let's just throw in a little legalism here and there"), it may be lifestyle-oriented ("I have to joke like this to fit in and have a platform to share the gospel"), it may be intellectual ("Maybe Scripture against that sin doesn't apply today"). It may be more blatant ("Let's not evangelize"). But whatever the form it takes, compromise is the devil's way of tempting us to avoid persecution. And when we compromise, we don't advance the kingdom of God.
How grateful I am that His kingdom is bigger than my weaknesses! I know I've compromised, and God is teaching me through this study on persecution just how bad that is. Like it or not, His narrow path is the path of difficulty, of being misunderstood, and sometimes outright persecuted. Sometimes from other "religious" people, sometimes from the very people I try to reach. Even if I'm not "beating people over the head" with Scripture - something I definitely don't do -- I can still be a faithful, godly witness and find myself tempted to compromise to avoid persecution, to stay "popular".
Today, seek the Lord for the ways that He wants you to recognize your compromise, and recommit to the narrow way ... even if it leads to persecution.
Blessings to you!
Saturday, August 04, 2007
But I know that many of you are enduring trials right now. Trials of faith, suffering in a sacrificial sense, maybe even persecution or the fear of it. Surely many of the people you are ministering to face that reality.
Take heart! God's presence is strong when we suffer; His power is made perfect in our weakness.
Friday, August 03, 2007
With that in mind, I ask your prayer for the Korean hostages in Afghanistan. The latest update from Baptist Press (below) states many of my thoughts and exhorts us to pass this prayer request along and pray fervently for them! Please do that very thing.
Prayer urged for 21 Christian aid workers held hostage
Posted on Aug 3, 2007 by Staff
WASHINGTON (BP)--With two South Korean men having been executed, 21 young Koreans remained hostage by the Taliban in Afghanistan at the two-week point Aug. 2 following the Christian aid workers' kidnapping July 19.Two women hostages are critically ill and most of the others are sick, South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported Aug. 3, but it did not provide details.
In Washington, an official with the Institute on Religion and Democracy sounded a call Aug. 3 for the media and for Christians to speak up for the Korean captives."Why is it that the media finds the brief incarceration of Paris Hilton worthy of 'round-the-clock vigils but spares little ink and little air time to tell the world more about these two men who gave their lives while serving the people of Afghanistan?" Faith McDonnell, IRD director of religious liberty programs, asked."Even more disturbing than lack of media coverage, though, is the tepid response of the churches to the plight of their brothers and sisters from South Korea," McDonnell continued in the statement."
No matter what issues currently occupy Christians in the U.S., they should shift their focus to Afghanistan right now and join the churches in South Korea in vigilant prayer for the remaining hostages." McDonnell said the crisis is a chance "to witness to the world that the body of Christ is one worldwide body.""Christians in the West should always be praying for their persecuted brothers and sisters -- but particularly in this time of crisis, they should look beyond their own interests and pray for the hostages. I challenge Christians to pray daily for the South Koreans, and to include them as a prayer item on church Web sites, e-mail conferences and the blog sites of individuals."
The two men who have been killed by the Taliban thus far are:
-- Bae Hyung Kyu, 42, a minister with the Sammul Presbyterian Church near Seoul who was slain by 10 AK-47 shots July 25, his birthday. Bae worked with unmarried university graduates, helping prepare them for volunteer trips for aid work in developing countries, according to Compass, a persecution watchdog organization based in Santa Ana, Calif. Bae leaves behind a wife and 9-year-old daughter, Compass reported. (Some news reports have spelled the name of the church "Saemmul.")
-- Shim Sung Min, 29, who had left a job in information technology to seek a graduate degree in agriculture out of a concern for poor Korean farmers impacted by globalization, a church member told Compass. Shim had been teaching Sunday School classes for the handicapped, the church member also said.
While the South Korean volunteer team, 16 of whom are women, have been criticized in some quarters for venturing into Afghanistan's volatility, an Afghan convert to Christianity told Compass he admires the commitment they evidenced and hopes that a Christian presence can continue in the country."During the Taliban regime, the main expatriate group in Afghanistan was Christians," the Afghan told Compass. "They were here to help Afghanistan. … No one else had the guts to come and help this war-torn country." The convert said Christians are called to serve -– and sometimes at a very high cost.
"Thank you for coming to Afghanistan to serve my people," Compass quoted the Afghan as saying to the hostages and other Korean Christians who had served in Afghanistan. "Thank you for letting the world know, 'Don't forget Afghanistan.' Your Afghan brothers in faith are praying for you daily."
The corpses of Bae and Shim have been returned to South Korea, Compass reported.
Taliban spokesmen threatened more executions by midnight Aug. 2 if the Afghan government continued to refuse demands to Taliban prisoners, Compass reported, noting that Taliban leaders later stated that no one had been hurt.
A purported Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, told the Yonhap News Agency July 31, "If the negotiations do not go well, [the militants] will kill the male hostages, and then it will be the female hostages' turn."
Yonhap, in an Aug. 3 report, cited informed sources in reporting that South Korean officials are negotiating with the Taliban "for the venue for face-to-face talks" on the fate of 21 surviving hostages, "amid conflicting reports on imminent military operations to rescue the hostages."
South Korean officials would not officially confirm efforts to establish direct talks with the kidnappers, Yonhap reported, but said they are trying to maintain "direct or indirect contact" with the captors.Negotiations for medical treatment for the sick hostages at a Kabul hospital also have not yet been successful, Yonhap reported."
The hospital proposed to the Taliban specific conditions for the treatment of the Korean patients, but the militants refused them," a reporter with the Afghan Islamic Press told Yonhap on condition of anonymity.Cheon Ho-seon, a spokesman for South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, said a medical team from the South Korean military contingent stationed in Afghanistan is on standby near the southern Afghan province of Ghazni, where the Koreans were taken hostage. "The team has been on standby since the kidnapping took place," he said.
The 23-member Korean aid team was traveling on a charter bus from Kandahar to the capital, Kabul, when armed men stopped them July 19 in the Ghazni province's Qarabagh district. The volunteers had arrived in Afghanistan on July 13 and were scheduled to return home July 23.Compass, in a July 30 news report, recounted that the team had spent three days assisting three Korean women who were engaged in long-term aid work in northern Afghanistan. The volunteers were traveling back to Kabul but went on to Kandahar by bus when no flights were available. The group had planned to spend several days volunteering at a hospital and kindergarten in Kandahar where a husband-and-wife doctor team and a single Korean woman teacher are working. The two doctors treat up to 150 patients a day, Compass quoted a member of the Korean church as saying.
analyst for the Washington-based International Christian Concern persecution watchdog likened the incident to the 2001 kidnapping of American missionaries Heather Mercer and Dayna Curry, who were held by the Taliban for three months. "It was in the very same area of Afghanistan that these two kidnappings happened," Jeremy Sewell said in a July 20 news release. "While Mercer and Curry's story ended happily, it was only because anti-Taliban forces attacked the prison."
"Under the Taliban, it is absolutely illegal to preach Christianity. This courageous South Korean missions team is going to experience the ultimate test of their faith."
Thursday, August 02, 2007
Wilberforce was a rising young star in Parliament, the typical politician of his day, when God interrupted his plans. You know what that's like! In a poignant scene on his plush, extravagant lawn, Wilberforce revels in a newfound relationship with His Lord. Changed from a man who was self-centered and focused on selfish ambition into someone whose delight is in looking at the sky while reading Scripture, Wilberforce tries to come to grips with his calling. His butler queries him: "Did you find God, sir?" Wilberforce answers, in a phrase that caused knowing giggles in the audience when I watched it, "He found me. Do you know how terribly inconvenient that is?"
Inconvenient, yes. But after a struggle with whether to quit politics to join the ministry, Wilberforce determines his place is in Parliament for a purpose: to eradicate the slave trade. After a series of divinely-appointed relationships convinces him of this role, Wilberforce devotes the rest of his life to this task. Along with his friend William Pitt -- who becomes Prime Minister at an incredibly young age -- Wilberforce perseveres through failure after failure, trial after trial, humiliation and rejection. Early in their fight, when Pitt becomes Prime Minister and the two young men are heady with excitement, Pitt exclaims, "We're too young to know all the things that are impossible, so we'll do them anyway." Later, with the stress taking a physical toll on Wilberforce's body, when success finally comes it is so obviously the Lord's doing that you will want to worship Him for His creativity.
Perseverance is hard. We all need to be encouraged. Scripture tells us that we should study the lives of those who have gone before us, and imitate their faith. Wilberforce's story tells us much about a faith that never gives up - a faith that works.
And slavery was history in England before Wilberforce died. Praise to the God of justice.