Sunday, August 08, 2010

Afghanistan: The "gates of hell" have NOT prevailed!

I will put together my church, a church so expansive with energy that not even the gates of hell will be able to keep it out. Matthew 16:18b (The Message)

Like many of you, I was shocked and saddened to hear of the news of 10 aid workers killed in Afghanistan. These weren't newcomers to the area; if anyone knew how to safely reach a remote mountain village to provide medical assistance, it was this team, some with decades of on-the-ground experience there. As I learned of their faith, a faith which motivated them simply to practical acts of servant love, I knew this was no mere political exercise. This was a fiery dart from the enemy of our souls thrown at those on the frontlines - a fiery dart that must be countered with the shield of faith (Ephesians 6:16). 

This is spiritual warfare, and we must battle it not only within our souls but as the church of Jesus Christ, determining to continue to advance in faith, trusting that God's purpose in allowing these deaths has kingdom significance. When the evidence before us seems to say that the gates of hell are winning, we need to run to the word of God and be reminded that no, the gates of hell will not prevail. 

That's why I chose The Message translation above. It captures the active tense of the Greek -- as the church moves forward, pushing back the darkness and bringing the light of God's kingdom into dark places of the world, the gates of hell won't keep it out. They won't prevail. The church as Jesus describes it here is not on the defensive, but on the offensive. Just like those 10 who died, the church is actively seeking ways to bring light into darkness. The enemy might use the flames of hell to ignite some fiery darts, but the success is limited; we have the power of the resurrection on our side. Our part is to continue to advance in faith.

My pastor told a story today which gripped me for the image it provided of this very truth. A wanted criminal was holed up in a house. All efforts at peaceful resolution came to nothing. The SWAT team discussed options and decided that a battering ram to knock through the door and barricades was their best option. The one caveat: On the other side of the door was a criminal with a machine gun. The SWAT team had their own weapons and one defense: their bullet-proof vests. Picking up a battering ram - a task that took 6 men due to the weight of the device - the team moved forward into certain battle. Sure enough, the criminal got off a few rounds. Some of the SWAT team members were injured by the flying bullets - but no wounds were mortal. The bullet-proof vests had proven trustworthy. 

These 10 believers were taking a battering ram to an area of darkness in an already-dark country. They took some fire - they were injured. From an earthly perspective, absent from the body. From an eternal perspective, present with the Lord. The challenge for those of us left behind is to continue to use the shield of faith to fight those fiery darts. We can't let it shake our faith. 

Fact: No one is more concerned than God with pushing back darkness and advancing light, taking the Gospel of the kingdom of God to places too long controlled by evil. 

Fact: God is FOR us as His children, no matter what happens. 

Fact: God is the One who knows what is best in every situation, and how He intends to use death to bring forth life. Truly, "the blood of the martyrs is the seedbed of the church" (Tertullian). 

Fact: In dying to themselves and now in dying in the flesh, the believers who were killed have allowed God's resurrection power to shine through. We can only imagine what fruit will come. They were struck down, but God's purposes in Afghanistan have not been destroyed.

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 
For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you. But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, "I BELIEVED, THEREFORE I SPOKE," we also believe, therefore we also speak, knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you. 
For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. - (2 Corinthians 4:7-18 NASB)