Wednesday, February 18, 2015

How Should A Christian Respond To Terrorism?

How should Christians respond to the incomprehensibly hateful actions of ISIS and other terrorist groups? In this extreme and genocidal brand of religio-political extremism, we find an ideology so reprehensible as to appear outside the bounds of reality. Yet, this threat to the well-being of peace-seeking humanity is indeed real.   All Christians must ask themselves in what ways they are called to fight against the evil empire seeking not just to exist independently, but to rule and dominate the world scene now and forever more?
Jesus calls us to extremes of a different kind that might appear as illogical and as difficult to understand as the actions which now have such a grip on the attention of the world.  Upon closer examination, to those who have faith in a righteous and loving God, Jesus’ words make all the sense in the world.  In His revolutionary thesis on living in sync with the heart of God, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says the following about dealing with enemies:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor 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” Matthew 5:43-45.

Whatever action one takes must begin with love. “Love your enemies.”  One may be inclined to hate someone or an entire group of people who is set on your destruction, but hate is not an option for one who desires to follow Jesus.  Love must envelope the heart and drive the response. This is not an emotional, feel good, wishing and hoping reaction born of naivetĂ©, but an intentional, powerful choice that declares that a focused, righteous foundation will guide my thoughts and actions, not hot-headed venting and ill-thought out revenge.  Love your enemies.
Jesus next calls His followers to prayer.  “…pray for those who persecute you.”  Have you honestly prayed for the terrorist agencies that have been at war with the rest of humanity?  I know my own struggles with prayer as someone who believes in prayer and engages in it aggressively. It is hard enough to pray for people I love and who stay on my mind.  It takes intentionality, purpose, commitment and devotion – every day!  Yet it can still be a struggle.  How much more praying for someone who desires evil for me and is committed to carrying out evil in the most hideous ways imaginable?  How does one pray for one’s enemy?  I’d like to make a few suggestions:

1.       Pray that the enemy will repent of their evil.  Most of us forget, that the Apostle Paul was a religious zealot in the cloth of Al Queda or ISIS.  He was committed to a brand of religion that called for the extermination of everyone who thought differently than himself, especially Christians!  Then he had an encounter with Jesus!  Directly. Mysteriously. Effectively.  He became as committed to the way of love (he authored 1 Corinthians 13) as he had been to violence.  Pray for the supernatural transformation of individuals who think their cemented in stone in their convictions, but whose hearts may yet have the hope of redemption.

2.       Pray that their plans will fail.  This means praying for the agencies, governments and leaders who must do the hard work of opposing them in real life real time. Pray for the exposure of their plans. Pray for the failure of their schemes. Pray that every evil deed will collapse in its execution. Pray that if they do not stop, those who have been commissioned to oppose them will stop them.

3.       Pray for the courage to call out the evil they are perpetrating.  Even the Nazis his their evil behind walls. The terror we are facing is brazen and bold, smirking and snarling with every manifestation of wickedness. This is the holocaust of our generation.  It is evil. It is wrong. It must be stopped.  To make no mention of it or to go about our daily lives only entertaining ourselves is tantamount to giving our stamp of approval to their heinous, evil crimes.

4.       Pray for the courage to stand and resist should we find ourselves face to face with the perpetrators of this wickedness.  Some first responders have already faced these enemies and continue to do so, face to face, hand to hand.  Pray for them.  The global nature of this threat opens significant possibilities that any of us could find ourselves in a situation that calls for us to stand for good in the face of undeniable evil.  We must pray for strength, courage and dignity to reign in our hearts and wills if we should ever encounter such a tragic situation. Pray for your enemies!

Love and prayer.  Formidable weapons that Jesus has issued to those who follow Him. Let us not love in word only, but in deed and let us not see prayer as a substitute for action, but rather as a propellant for proper direction, solid wisdom and energetic involvement in the challenge of our time.  How do we respond to the terrorists who target us? Love your them and pray for them!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

How To Receive News You Don't Want To Hear - And Why It's Good For You!

 How do you respond when someone approaches you and dares to let you know that something you're doing requires adjustment? Do you possess humility enough to graciously hear when you're heading in the wrong direction and to energetically respond by making the necessary changes? I was privileged to take part in a leadership study today that discussed the dangers of falling victim to one's own success because of pride. The example we discussed was King Uzziah, whose life is presented in 2 Chronicles 26 of the Bible. Immensely successful, King Uzziah's ego grew beyond his achievements. He began to shun the faithful advisors who had helped him attain his powerful position and shunned the hallmarks of the character that made him a standout. Full of himself, he wound up out of power and position - pitied and alone. Somewhere along his journey, he unhitched the precious cargo of humility and gracious leadership and replaced it with the baggage of pride and heavy-handed authoritarianism. He did this to his own destruction. Have you reached the top of the mountain in your career? Perhaps you enjoy incredible success in your work? Beautiful! But, do those around you feel comfortable bringing you truth or advice, even when it's hard, or do they fear your wrath if they were to share less than welcome information. Learn from Uzziah! Don't spoil a great legacy of leadership and faitful service by being too proud to listen to the input of others. Consider these words from Bill Gates: “Sometimes, I think my most important job as a CEO is to listen for bad news. If you don’t act on it, your people will eventually stop bringing bad news to your attention and that is the beginning of the end.” Keep your ears open to the truth, and your heart tender enough to receive it. Lives may depend on it, including your own!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Americans Love to Fight - Especially Each Other - But NOT NOW!

What of the President’s remarks on Christianity, the U.S. and past atrocities?  I don’t enjoy political discussions, but the events that are coming to light in our generation and the level of inhumanity which is being applied with no remorse or regret by those who perpetrate it, demand public, unequivocal declarations regarding what is right and what is wrong.  There is a time for historic comparisons, but not now – at least not in such settings. If we occupy ourselves by making these types of comparisons rather than dealing with the global peril that has already touched us several times at home [and thousands of times with every life lost in combat and continued acts of terror globally], we make ourselves more vulnerable yet again. We must focus on the present and direct danger that is taunting us with its evil now. We can discuss our domestic shortcomings in other settings on other days." Addressing our own historic wrongdoings when we have a desperate need to unite against a common determined evil is a distraction. A big one. A dangerous one.  While race is our ongoing national issue, there is an immediate threat against which we must rally and unite. There is a strong possibility of us being so right, that we'll wind up dead right. Let's have some forums, let's continue the conversation in other contexts.  The Greatest generation showed us how. The Tuskegee airmen beat the devil out of the Nazis in their performance of their duties, and by doing so created the opportunities we now enjoy.  They addressed our own national issues but understood the task at hand as they dealt with it.  The The President is a masterful communicator with a staff to assist him. There was more focus on making a historical point than rallying the nation in a point in history, which is the urgent need of the day!  We are NOT perfect and we have certainly in our present generation demonstrated some of our uglier sides in discussions of great import to us as a nation.  Nevertheless, this is a situation much like our founders faced who said, and I quote, “If we do not all hang together, we will certainly all hang separately”…or burn.  We all have sinned in various ways because we are all sinners. It is always appropriate to inspect ourselves, examine our hearts, and apply accountability for our actions as we seek to execute justice.  In keeping an account of ourselves, however, let us not add to our common moral culpability by engaging in philosophical arguments in a distracting way, while faced with one of the most dangerous physical and moral threats in human history that demands of us, a physical, moral response.  Let's make sure that we aren't so engaged in fighting amongst ourselves, that we fail to focus on an enemy who has no intention of losing its focus on us.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Why Do I Always Write About Luz?

I write about many concerns and subjects on my blog and in my postings, yet I’m sure that many have noticed that a dominating theme in the thoughts I express in writing is the way I feel about my wife, Luz Bautista Jackson.  Why is it that my fingers seem to take a particular delight in dancing on the keyboard to share yet another story or another thought about My Number One Girl?

The answer is straightforward.  I love her.  I like her.  She’s fun. She’s funny.  She’s compassionate.  She’s a woman of honor.  She’s courageous.  She knows when to be a peacemaker and when to be a warrior.  She is extremely loyal.  She is Determined – always with a capital “D”!  I have so much fun being around her I want all of my friends to know her too because you can’t help but smile when you hear her share her heart and her way of seeing the world! 

I don’t know how I gained such mercy, for God to bless me in such great measure by placing Luz in my life. I don’t take this blessing for granted.  Having been in ministry for more than 2 decades now, I am well aware of how hearts wander.  I see couples who were giddy with affection grow cold towards each other.  I see married friends who would die for each other, become embittered enemies.  I listen to husbands who were once fiancĂ©es full of praise for their betrothed spew vile insults about someone who sounds like an adversary, until one realizes they are speaking about the bride of their youth.  I hear and I look deep within myself, realizing that left to myself and failing to cultivate the love within me, I too can grow cold, and turn against this wonderful woman who has touched the deepest parts of my soul – a woman who gently yet resolutely transformed the last vestiges of boyhood within me into real, beneficial manhood and has partnered with me for some of the most meaningful life accomplishments of which it has been my privilege to be a part.  

I cannot leave myself to the lesser angels of my own nature.  Therefore, I seek to cultivate the better angels within me. A great part of that cultivation comes through giving thanks for all God’s goodness to me and the recognition that I am not self-made.  The beginning of that recognition is sharing on every possible occasion, how good God has been to me through Luz – in ways both great and small.  I want to celebrate the milestones and the bumps in the road.   I want to express my love right now, while I can.  

I know that the day will come when she and I are no longer sojourners on this planet and my ability to share my heart will be no more.  For that reason, I want the record to show in my actions and words, for her sake, my sake and the sake of our children, that there were two people on this planet named Luz and Sam, who though not perfect, loved each other with every fiber of their existence, and left a legacy in their wake that glorifies God, honors their family and encourages their friends and others who may stumble across their story. 

With those thoughts, I wish my beloved a very Happy Birthday 2015, blessed beyond measure by her presence in my life and thrilled at the opportunities I have to share my feelings for her with others…and now you know why!