Should we want justice for groups like ISIS and others who persecute and kill Christians?

It has probably made you angry if you have seen, read, or heard about any of the recent beheadings of Christians in the Middle East. When we see some form of injustice, unfairness, or mistreatment, most of us want justice. We want justice to be served to the perpetrator(s). If someone harms a child, traffics and enslaves people, or beheads people who chose not to convert to a religion, we want justice to be served swiftly.

We should want justice. The need for justice is buried deep in our psyche. It is part of being created in the image of God. A world without justice would mean that the guilty go free. If you have ever been wronged or harmed by someone you personally understand the desire for the guilty to be punished for their crime.

So when we see a group like ISIS behead Christians again in the Middle East, it is normal and natural for us to want our world leaders to act. It is normal for us to want those men hiding behind masks to stop being cowards and to pay for their crimes. This is where Jesus’ commands to his followers may be difficult to understand.

Jesus taught, “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.” (Matthew 5:43-44)

Jesus not only taught this truth, he experienced it. He was executed unjustly at the hands of the Roman soldiers and Jewish religious leaders. He died at the hands of an unmerciful system and unjust group of people. And he is the only person to do so who could say he was 100% innocent.

Even his followers didn’t want to go down without a fight. The night before Jesus was executed, Peter drew a sword and cut off the ear of one the men who came to arrest Jesus. But Jesus told Peter, “Put away your sword,”… “Those who use the sword will die by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52 NLT) Unlike ISIS and other Islamist groups, Jesus was reminding his that we should not seek to advance or impose God’s will on others through violent means. Rather we should use weapons like prayer and love.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them.” (Romans 12:14 NLT) And he wrote, “Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord. Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.” (Romans 12:19-21 NLT)

So our part is to love them. Bless them. Pray for them. Show kindness to them. That is how we respond on a personal level. We can and should want justice but instead of taking revenge on people we need to trust God to execute it in his own time and his own way. We can then trust God to be the judge. After all God gets angry. And we should know that it is much worse to fall into the hands of a righteous and angry God than it is to fall into the hands of an angry human judge on earth.

If people need to be paid back, God is completely able to administer justice rightly. And we have the promise that God will make all things right one day. He will judge all people. So even when we don’t see the justice of God in the immediate moment we can trust that one day He will judge every single person who has ever lived with complete righteousness.

Sometime overcoming evil with good will involve nations and governments stopping evil through the use of superior force. Much like the world stopped Nazi Germany in World War II. The Apostle Paul said, “The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong.” (Romans 13:4 NLT)

But to follow Jesus’s commands to pray, bless, and love our enemies on a personal level takes a great deal of faith. It goes against what our gut level instinct is. The teachings of Jesus are often like that. His teachings often turn the world’s way of doing things upside down.

The Apostle Peter who was also executed at the hands of his enemies also reminded us why we should respond with such patience. He said, “The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.” (2 Peter 3:9 NLT)

God perspective on time is different from ours. It is not that God is slow in fulfilling his promise, but rather that he is patient. He is patient on all of us. He wants every single person to have the opportunity to turn to him in faith and receive eternal life. Even those who do evil.

Can God be trusted in the midst of so much trouble and suffering in the world?

The book of Job is one of the most profound books in the bible. It focuses on questions like – “Can God be trusted?” and “Is God good and just in his rule of the world?”

It was written to those of us who might struggle with the justice of a sovereign, loving, and all powerful God in a world filled with trouble and suffering.

Job, one of the main characters, falls upon incredibly difficult times. All nine of his children are killed. He loses his wealth. He loses his health. It gets so bad that even his own wife tells him to curse God and die.

Three religious friends come to comfort him. But they tell him that his troubles are the result of his own doing. They assume bad things don’t happen to good people. They tell him all of this is happening because of his sin. Job calls them miserable comforters. Listen to some of the things they say to him.

After all nine of his children are dead. One of his so called friends has the audacity to tell him, “When your children sinned against him, he gave them over to the penalty of their sin.”

Maggots are under Job’s skin from his disease and another one of his so called friends tells him, “how much less a mortal, who is but a maggot— a human being, who is only a worm!” Not the things you want to receive on a Hallmark card while you are sick and grieving.

As they continue to bring more misery to Job, it is a stark reminder to us not to do similar things to people in distress. The reasons for human suffering often remain a secret to us. There is much that we are unaware of when it comes to understanding other people’s problems. It reminds us to be compassionate and humble with trying to help others going through difficult times.

Job cursed the day of his birth. Then he began to ask God a series of questions.

“Why did I not die at birth?”

“Why is light given to those in misery, and life to the bitter of soul?”

“Why is life given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in?”

Why are you allowing these bad things to happen to me?

After a long period of silence, God answers Job.

He doesn’t answer Job’s questions however. Rather he responds by asking him many questions. This is a reminder to all of us that while God loves us dearly, he doesn’t always answer our most agonizing questions. Rather he may ask us some questions prompting us to trust him more.

God responds to Job’s questions. “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.”

God’s questions start with words like “Who? Where? When? Have you? Can you? Do you know?” He asks Job if he knows how creation and its creatures are governed. He asks Job particularly about power in relation to himself and other creatures he has made.  He ask Job who controls the weather. He asks him to explain the mysteries of our universe. “Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades? Can you loosen Orion’s belt? Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead out the Bear with its cubs?”

God does not ask questions because He doesn’t know the answers. He asks Job and us penetrating questions because He wants us to think about our place in the universe and how much power we really have. He invites us to ponder his wisdom, his greatness, and his power.

Adam and Eve’s original sin involved them wanting to be like God. As their descendants we still struggle with the same God complex. We want to rule. We want the world to be about us. We think we can rule and manage the world better than God.

God has to remind us often, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways”. Many of our afflictions and losses are hidden in the knowledge and purposes of God alone. God is God and we are not. We are not the main point. We are dependent on God. God is not dependent on us.

Job responds to God’s questions. “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’  Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

Thankfully, God is a good God who has our best interests in mind.  We are reminded from the story of Job to continue to trust and obey God in the midst of life’s perplexities and uncertainties. Jesus told us that we would have trouble in this world. The Apostle Paul tells us that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

The truth is we may go through tough times in which God doesn’t answer many of our questions. Especially the question of “Why?” In these times we need to trust him. We can trust his character and his promise that, “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

God restored what was lost to Job. As Job’s fortunes turned around, we have the same promise. We have the promise that God has a future and a plan for us. He has an eternal plan that goes beyond our current momentary problems. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Finding your hiding place

“You are a hiding place for me.” (Psalm 32:7)

That may sound cowardly but those words were penned by King David. A warrior who demonstrated courage when others shrank back. David was no coward. David defeated Goliath, a great warrior over 9 ft tall when no one else in the Israelite army would go out to fight him. David slayed Goliath and then cut off his head for all to see.

David was a great warrior and also a great leader and king. He was a man’s man. Yet, he felt the need to hide. He felt the need to retreat from the trouble he experienced in life.

But he didn’t just retreat to any place. He retreated to God. He found his solace by hiding and finding protection in the arms of God.

David wrote that when his heart was faint, when he was feeling needy and exposed, that he found God to be a “refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.” (Psalm 61:3) God was his hiding place, his strong tower, and his refuge.

I think the life of David reminds us that we too, no matter how strong or powerful we think we are, need to take time to find our hiding place to God. We need to retreat. We need to find our refuge in God. If you heart is faint, you need to take time to find your refuge in God.

That means we have to withdraw from the crowds and busyness of life. We need to take quiet moments with just God and seek him. Cry out to him. Ask for his help. When we do, we can hear the voice of God whisper to us as he did David, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. (Psalm 32:8)

Why Israel will continue to be at the center of the news until the end of history

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, delivers a speech to the U.S. Congress today despite opposition from the White House. He comes to the U.S. seeking to make his case to the Congress and the American people against an emerging nuclear deal with Iran. He believes that the deal that President Obama is about to finalize with Iran is a bad one and a dangerous one for Israel.

While the President is opposing Netanyahu, opposition is not new to Israel.

Ever since their birth as a nation, this tiny country and group of people have faced opposition. Whether it was the Egyptians, Amalekites, Midianites, Moabites, Ammonites, Amorites, Philistines, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Romans, Assyrians, Persians, Nazis in Germany, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, or the Iranians, the nation of Israel and the Jewish people have always been persecuted.

The story of the underdog David (a young Jewish boy) and a giant – Goliath (a 9 foot tall Philistine warrior) have echoed throughout history. This story plays out time and time again. The persecutors of Israel will come and go, but unfortunately the persecution of Israel will remain until the second coming of Christ.

I believe It is fair to say that no country or group of people have ever been more persecuted. But why?

Why is there such hatred and opposition to Israel and the Jewish people? I believe the root is found in the Bible. According to the Bible, this nation and group of people were chosen by God to represent himself to the earth. God has a special plan for the nation of Israel. Satan (who opposes all of God’s work in the world) wants to defeat that plan.

Part of God’s plan includes a mass return of Jews to the land of Israel. “For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search and find my sheep. I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day. I will bring them back home to their own land of Israel from among the peoples and nations. I will feed them on the mountains of Israel and by the rivers and in all the places where people live.” (Ezekiel 37:11-13)

Many believe that this promise began when Israel was reconstituted as a nation in 1948. But I think it is important to first understand that this was written to the Jewish people in exile at that time. This promise looked forward to the restoration of Israel for those exiles. Additionally this prophecy also is a promise to the nation of Israel in the future. And ultimately it is a promise to our bodily resurrection at the gathering of all of God’s people when he restores his kingdom on earth.

Before God restores his kingdom on earth, the book of Revelation reveals that a “beast” or “Antichrist”, a world leader possessed by Satan himself, will come onto the world stage. This leader will have experienced a remarkable healing from a deadly wound. A deceptive attempt to parallel Christ’s resurrection. He will have unlimited authority for a short time to do as he pleases in the world. He will utter blasphemies against God and make war against God’s people.

The temple will have been rebuilt in Jerusalem by this time. The Antichrist will set up an image/object of himself in that temple.  Jesus predicted this time, “The day is coming when you will see what Daniel the prophet spoke about—the sacrilegious object that causes desecration standing in the Holy Place.” (Reader, pay attention!) (Matthew 24:15)

A worldwide persecution of Israel will follow. God describes how the world and its armies will descend on Israel. “In the distant future you will swoop down on the land of Israel, which will be enjoying peace after recovering from war and after its people have returned from many lands to the mountains of Israel. You and all your allies—a vast and awesome army—will roll down on them like a storm and cover the land like a cloud.” (Ezekiel 38:9) On this day Israel will stand alone with their God against the nations of the world brought together by the Antichrist.

The current persecution of Israel we see now are hints of this time to come. This future time to come is known as the time of Jacob’s trouble. “In all history there has never been such a time of terror. It will be a time of trouble for my people Israel. Yet in the end they will be saved!” (Jeremiah 30:7)

Jesus spoke about this day as well.“And when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then you will know that the time of its destruction has arrived.”  (Luke 21:20 – 20)  The destruction that happened to Jerusalem in a.d. 70 was used by Jesus as a pattern or a “type” to point to the ultimate destruction that will come at the end of the age before he would return.

Israel as a nation and group of ethnic people will recognize Jesus as their Messiah then at the end of history. The promise of God has always been that Israel will be regenerated, restored, and regathered in a future time.

The Apostle Paul spoke of this day. “I want you to understand this mystery, dear brothers and sisters, so that you will not feel proud about yourselves. Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts, but this will last only until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ. And so all Israel will be saved. As the Scriptures say, “The one who rescues will come from Jerusalem, and he will turn Israel away from ungodliness. And this is my covenant with them, that I will take away their sins.” Many of the people of Israel are now enemies of the Good News, and this benefits you Gentiles. Yet they are still the people he loves because he chose their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For God’s gifts and his call can never be withdrawn.” (Romans 11:25-29)

As the nation of Israel unites behind their Messiah Jesus Christ in the final days, the world will unite against Israel. Satan, who has influenced the hatred of Israel throughout time and will continue to do so right up until the final conflict in the end, will gather the world against Israel. “And the demonic spirits gathered all the rulers and their armies to a place with the Hebrew name Armageddon.” (Revelation 21:16)

Armageddon means “Mount Megiddo” in Hebrew. It was in Megiddo in ancient Israel that many key battles were fought. The book of Revelation uses this symbolic geography of Megiddo to represent the final global combat zone. It is the place in which the final conflict between Christ and Satan will be fought.

“Then I saw the beast and the kings of the world and their armies gathered together to fight against the one sitting on the horse and his army.” (Revelation 19:19) “Together they will go to war against the Lamb”. But the best part is that, “the Lamb will defeat them because he is Lord of all lords and King of all kings. And his called and chosen and faithful ones will be with him.” (Revelation 17:14)

This passage shows the fulfillment of the single greatest promise of history: the return of Christ to reign on earth. The rebellion of mankind and Satan against Christ will come to a decisive end.

Jesus riding on a white horse (white symbolizing the color of victory)  will defeat the beast and the armies who war against him and his people.

“Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war. His eyes were like flames of fire, and on his head were many crowns. A name was written on him that no one understood except himself. He wore a robe dipped in blood, and his title was the Word of God. The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses. From his mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will release the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty, like juice flowing from a winepress. On his robe at his thigh was written this title: King of all kings and Lord of all lords.” (Revelation 19:11-16)

At this time the victory of Jesus on the cross will find its consummation in a new era of true peace on the earth.

Is there unity in the church today?

If you have placed your faith in Christ you are automatically united to other followers of Christ. You are a part of the body of Christ, the church. You have unity with every other believer regardless of the geographical or historical distance that separates you.

However the manifestation of that unity is not always apparent in our current reality. Christians can display ugly divisions between one another. You may think of this problem as a modern phenomenon. But that’s not the case.

In addition to sexual immorality and social snobbery, the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church to address the serious divisions they were experiencing. Some were choosing one church leader or preacher over another. Church members were suing one another. Even the Lord’s Supper was not sufficient to bring them together in love and unity.

In light of Jesus’ prayer for unity for his church why was this happening? Why was it happening then and why does it still happen today?

I think the answer lies in understanding two important tensions that exist with the Kingdom of God in it’s current state. The Kingdom of God has a “now” and “not yet” aspect to it. The “now” part means that positionally we do have full unity in Christ right now. The “not yet” part is the reality that the perfection of our faith doesn’t happen until we reach heaven. Complete and perfect unity won’t happen until we are glorified.

The truth is we will continue to live in this tension until God’s kingdom fully comes and is set up on earth. I believe this is one of the reasons Jesus taught us to pray, “You kingdom come”. We should pray and anticipate the coming of the Kingdom of God that will bring perfection to all things.

This doesn’t mean we should not work and strive for unity now. We should. We should encourage one another and continue to mature in our faith so that we can display to the world the beauty of the unity of those who claim to call Jesus their Lord. We want the world to know the beauty of the diversity in the church while being unified.

Hopefully understanding this tension will help keep us from becoming too discouraged when we don’t see that perfection in the church now. This way we don’t grow disenfranchised or disillusioned. And hopefully it will encourage us to continue to pursue unity and peace until Jesus returns to set up his kingdom on earth.