As the horrific violence and brutality of the latest religious monster called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria plays out daily before our eyes in the media, the need to think Christianly rather than instinctively is crucial. To think and then to respond as a Christian takes careful and continuous meditation on the teaching of Christ and the Scriptures. Often, our initial impulses are less than godly and are driven more by fear, anger (that may be justifiable), weariness with the widespread brokenness of the world, or hopelessness as we witness the propensity for human depravity to return each generation in its vilest forms when our longing is to see wickedness vanquished forever.
The call of Christ upon our lives is to go out into the world but our impulse can be to pull back and become increasingly isolated from the peoples of the world. The methodology and example of Jesus is to love sacrificially in the power of the Holy Spirit but the temptation is to allow suspicion and hostility to slowly sink its roots down into our hearts and minds. We are intended to be the bearers of good news for all peoples but our message can begin to be reactive rather than proactive. For example, a great Christian comfort is that God is our great Protector. However, that truth is not meant to comfort us as we withdraw from society but rather as an impetus to go out into the world. Isolation, suspicion, and reaction are just a few dangers that debilitate the call of Jesus upon our lives.
We cannot be so naive as to not realize that the primary danger of this stomach-turning wickedness in the world is not physical. As the apostle Paul once wrote to the Christians at Ephesus "Our battle is not against flesh and blood...". Just consider for a moment to what extent Satan is willing to go in order to thwart the advancement of the kingdom of righteousness and peace. His brutality is part of a propaganda machine. The executions displayed on YouTube and the crucifixions and decapitations in soccer stadiums and public squares are psychological warfare. "Psyche" means "soul". His goal is to violate your soul. This vile evil is meant to vandalize and tear down the work of God in your hearts. Therefore, we must equip ourselves to go to war not against people but against the destructive effects of evil upon our own hearts and minds. The great virtues of faith, hope, and love are always the targets of wickedness. Kill these and darkness wins the day. Thank God that these are the very virtues that the Holy Spirit has determined to fan into flame no matter how unrelenting evil may be. The light will not be vanquished and the darkness will not win the day.
So, let me for a moment, share with you a few truths from the Scriptures that I am using to keep the flame of Christ ablaze in my heart with love for all peoples and to fuel my passion to see His kingdom come and will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Since the Scriptures are full of such virtue strengthening truths, I hope that we as Christians can spur one another on to love and good deeds.
- Jesus' command: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy. But I say to you, 'Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,' so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust. For is you love those who love you, what reward do you have?"
- God's Example: "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and loves God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us, and his love is perfected in us." 1 John 4:7-12 (As an aside, I recognize that this is a call for love to exist between Christians but I encourage you to consider verse 10 for a bit and ask what it took for us to become God's family. Certainly, God loved us before we were loving Him.)
- The story of Jonah: (God sent Jonah to the I.S.I.S. of his day, the Assyrians - see my picture above with them carrying the heads of their enemies - and Jonah didn't want to go because He knew that if they turned from their wickedness, God would show mercy and forgive.)
"When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he said he would do to them and they did not do it. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry and said "O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee... for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster." (Jonah 3:10-4:2)
- The faith of Habakkuk: (Habakkuk was disturbed by the corruption of his own day and asked God to do something about it. He became even more distressed when he found out that God was allowing the brutal Chaldeans who were "mercilessly killing the nations" to come to humble and to discipline his people for their evils. After realizing that God was not biased in support of any people who did evil and would judge all the nations with equity, Habakkuk trusted that God would eventually fill the earth with "the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." Therefore, Habakkuk trusted God even if in his lifetime, there would be painful times.)
"Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the oil fail and the fields yield no food, and the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God the Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer's; he makes me tread on high places." Habakkuk 3:17-19
Yesterday, after our Sunday worship, we went to a Lebanese restaurant for lunch. I think we were some of the few people (maybe the only) eating there who had been born in North America. Quite a few of the people enjoying the delicious food were Muslim. As the women and girls lined up in their hijabs in front and behind me, I thought to myself how difficult that it is to cross the ethnic and religious barriers that exist between us even without what we hear and see in the news everyday. The evil one wants us to think it is impossible. He aims to drown out all hope. The enemy desires to make us suspicious rather than for us to feel empathy and affection. He is anti-love to the core. He wants us to doubt the greatness of God's mercy and the certainty of God's promises. He aims to alienate us from Godward dependence and confidence. He knows that it is by faith that we overcome the world.
Let's help each other combat the powerful lie of the one who Jesus said was a "liar and a murderer from the beginning." Let us fuel faith in God, love for our neighbours, and hope for the future with the good news of the gospel of a Saviour who died, was raised, who reigns at God's right hand today, and will one day return to make all things new. Then, let us pray for I.S.I.S. that they would join us in turning from evil and find forgiveness, justice, and mercy from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.