Wineskins Archive

February 12, 2014

Jesus’ Words in the Winter of War (Jan-Feb 2002)

Filed under: — @ 12:42 am and

by Lynn Anderson
January – February, 2002

The day began beautifully in Paris. I tagged along with my photo journalist son Chris through the narrow streets to his agency as he delivered some photos for New York Times. He was upbeat and I was eager to meet his colleagues. But, when we walked in they told us something terrible had happened in New York. But they had little information, so we hurried across the street to a TV where those terrible world-changing September 11 images were just breaking in the French media. Chris fired up his cell phone, and talked in real-time with editors from New York, as they stood in Manhattan watching the holocaust. Seemed the whole world was coming apart.

Now months later, ash still coats buildings and the ruins. Global fallout continues. Passersby shout at Arab-Americans, “why don’t you go home?” Gunshots shatter windows of American Mosques. Bullies hassle Muslim school children. Drunken thugs savagely beat two American citizens because “they looked middle-eastern.” A woman is assaulted in a supermarket checkout line, because she is wearing traditional Muslim clothing. And—of course, bombs are falling on Afghanistan.

Not the least troubling fallout, however, is the rhetoric from some Christian pulpits. Some claim that the Bible says God gave Jerusalem to the Jews. And some even blast Arabs and Muslims as if all of them were Taliban.

No question we all feel a soul-deep, world-wide outrage at what has happened, and at the perpetrators. It would be both dishonest and unhealthy to pretend differently. Yes, terrorists must be stopped, tracked down and brought to justice. But, scripture is clear, “in our anger, we must not give way to sin.” We greatly dishonor our Lord and add fuel to the flames of misunderstanding and hatred, when we unleash our outrage in destructive ways at the wrong targets?

Of course, we are not suggesting that Christians should join those excessively conciliatory voices who imply that Islam is merely like “another Christian denomination.” True, Allah and Jehovah may be the same God. But Mohammad is not a Savior. Only Jesus Christ is! He is the only begotten Son of God, crucified for our sins and raised from the dead. He is the way, the truth and the life, and “no one comes to father except by Him.” That is non-negotiable!

And as Jesus broods over the post September 11 ruins, surely he must have a clear word for the twenty-first century church. One word might be, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” We flinch at some of the inflammatory and polarizing rhetoric from some. When Christian leaders beat the drums of pro-Israel/anti-Arabic prophecy they feed the fires of distrust and misunderstanding. “God promised the land to Abraham and his descendents,” some pulpits say. “But we are descendents of Abraham too,” the Palestinians are quick to reply! The idea that Biblical prophecy gives the city of Jerusalem to Jews is flimsy exegesis, at best. (In fact Galatians 4 seems to say that physical Jerusalem belongs to the descendents of Ishmael [Arabs]! While “the Jerusalem from above” belongs to the descendents of Isaac.) At worst, the idea is globally polarizing, especially if Arabs perceive it to be entangled with American foreign policy.

Some pulpits quote violent passages from the Qur’an and point out that across “the bloody history” of Islam, Muslims “evangelized by the sword.” True, there are violent passages in the Qur’an and Muslims have led some bloody Jihads. But let’s be fair. After all, the Bible contains many violent passages, too. For example, God charged King Saul to “utterly destroy the Amalekites.” And the book of Joshua describes a violent conquest of Canaan. Some bloody footprints stain the path of Christian history as well: the Crusades; the Spanish slaughter of Incas and Mayas in the name of Christ; Luther “reforming” by the sword; the German church backing the Nazis; the extermination of North American Indians under Manifest Destiny.

However, violent passages wrested from context and ancient bloody holy wars do not represent present day mainstream Muslims, Christians, or Jews. Even though bin Laden, al-Qa’ida, the Taliban, quote the Qur’an to justify their acts of terrorism, they do not represent the majority of modern day mainstream Muslims any more than the Ku Klux Klan and the David Koresh represent modern day mainstream Christians when they’ve quoted Bible to justify their actions. The overwhelming majority of Arabs and Muslims, thousands of whom are peace loving American citizens, abhor terrorism!

The blood of Jesus was shed for all people. Thus Christ-followers must not only extend tolerance and respect, to people with whom we differ, but we must pro-actively preach the Prince of Peace. What this crazy world needs first and above all from Christians is the Gospel of Christ. Where the love and gospel of Christ do not go, minds and hearts become prey for the bin Laden’s of the world.

Second, Jesus calls us to “love your enemies and pray for those who despitefully use you.” Recently a Christian brother confided, “This morning I found myself praying for bin Laden. No, not for his success, or escape but that the love of Jesus might touch his heart. He is as precious in the sight of God as I am.”

Shortly after WW II an American student missionary in Berlin was trying to “convert” her Muslim classmate. She led the Muslim girl through long discussions on Bible vs. the Qur’an, Christian values vs. Muslim values, etc., but was getting nowhere. When she sought council from missionary Otis Gatewood he advised her, “why don’t you just be her friend and tell her about Jesus.” So the American girl spent months building an authentic friendship with the Muslim girl. At the same time the Christian student plunged into her own intense personal study of the Gospels – filling her heart and head with the spirit and story line of Jesus. When the right time finally came around, she said to the Muslim girl over dinner, “I want to tell you a story.” The Muslim girl listened intently for a couple of hours while the Christian girl unfolded the story of Jesus, clearly, personally and passionately. So intent was the storyteller that she did not notice the tears welling up in the Muslim girl’s eyes, until the Muslim girl interrupted, “Why did you never tell me this before. We have no one like this in Islam. I think I want to follow your Jesus.” The American girl had simply built a bridge from her heart to the heart of the Muslim girl, and Jesus walked over.

Third, I think Jesus might say to his church in these post-September 11 days, “Please, build bridges and tell my story. And let me walk into an Arab heart near you.” Our “warfare” is not “against flesh and blood” but against “spiritual hosts of wickedness.” The weapons of this battle are relationships and reason, service and supplication, pen and pulpit—not inflammatory rhetoric. And definitely not violent retaliation.

Fourth, Jesus most oft spoken words were “Don’t be afraid.” Now is the time, if ever there was one, for Christians to step up and live out these words of Jesus. We must not wring our hands and spread panic. Rather, let each of us move through his or her world with smiling face and confident stride and peace-flooded hearts. We must be the first to take the elevators, the first to ride the airplanes, the first to embrace our Arab neighbors, the most eager to respect the sincerity of peace loving Muslims, as fellow citizens. Who (dare I say it) will be the first to take Christ’s truth to the Taliban?

Of course trouble and danger will plague the globe till Jesus comes. It was He who said, “In this world you will have tribulation.” But Jesus also said, “be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” Our ultimate well-being is not tied up in safety, security and comfort—not even in the survival and triumph of America If we make safety, security and comfort our highest values we will lead profoundly boring and meaningless lives. What is more we will become only more anxious, insecure and uncomfortable. “Whoever would save his life will lose it.” Worst of all, we will be utterly useless to Jesus Christ.

Our ultimate well-being rests in a sense of God’s living presence. “I will never leave you or forsake you,” he promised, “I will be with you to the end of the age.”

How can we respond to Jesus message to us in these post-September 11 days? Even small initiatives can go a long way. For example:

In Nashville, backlash toward Muslims prompted the administrators of the Nashville School of Islam to take down their sign and post guards to protect the children. Greg Anderson, minister of the nearby Western Hills church of Christ, called the Muslim School to express regrets for the ugly treatment the Muslims were receiving, adding, “We are praying for you, and want to be of help to you any way we can.” This deeply touched the head master who thanked Greg profusely and said that Greg’s call was “very different from most calls we have received.”

Christian women in another city fanned out through their community and personally escorted Muslim women on grocery shopping trips.

Several Christian men have challenged each other to reach out to persons of middle-eastern origin and strike up genuinely warm and friendly conversation at every opportunity.

Several Christians have told me they recently re-read the Qur’an so they can honestly understand their Muslims neighbors.

Some Christians firmly confront any joke or conversation that stereotypes Muslims as terrorists.

Some churches have called special prayer meetings on behalf of those who need Jesus, but have been steeped in the violent rhetoric of terrorism.

Possibly, you and your prayer group or Bible class could brain storm dozens of ways to personally do “random acts of peacemaking” in these troubled times.

When the guns fall silent, the dust settles and the smoke clears, only one thing really matters. The Psalmist put it this way, “One thing I ask of the Lord. This is what I seek. That I may dwell in the house of the Lord, all the days of my life. To gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in His dwelling. Then my head will be exalted above my enemies who surround me. And in His tabernacle I will sacrifice with shouts joy. I will sing and make music to the Lord.”New Wineskins

Lynn AndersonLynn Anderson is an author, well-known speaker, and founder of the San Antonio-based Hope Network Ministries, a ministry dedicated to coaching, mentoring and equipping church leaders. [Lynn]

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