Guest post

Children-at-risk as Co-agents

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By Michelle Sheba Tolentino and Susan Hayes Greener.

After the worship service ended on a recent Sunday, Erika spontaneously came up to me (Susan) and asked with a smile, ‘Can I pray for you?’

I replied, ‘Yes, you can.’ I told her about the Second Lausanne Forum on Children-at-risk and mentioned that all the people coming would be working on issues important to children-at-risk.

She said, ‘Let’s pray,’ and then proceeded to pray for me and for all of the participants. She asked for God’s blessings upon us and that we would do good work for children.

Mission with children like Erika

Erika is not one of the adult women from our congregation. Erika is nine years old. She is slim and olive-skinned, with long dark wavy hair that reveals her Middle Eastern heritage. I have watched her pray aloud through every room as a group of us gathered for the blessing of a church family’s home. I have witnessed her rush to the front of the church to lay hands on and pray for people we are sending out for ministry. I have warmed to her smile as she greets me at the door to the sanctuary, offering a bulletin and a cheerful ‘good morning!’ I have rejoiced in her concentration as she passes the offering basket, taking her role as an usher seriously and fulfilling it with dedication and child-like grace. I have also watched with joy as she plays outside, while keeping a watchful eye on the younger children, gently correcting their misbehavior and herding them away from danger.

As a pastoral couple, my spouse and I have received blessing from her prayers. Our church family does mission ‘with’ Erika, as much as we advocate ‘for’ her and ensure that she is ministered ‘to’ through children’s education and discipleship opportunities. Our church family wholeheartedly embraces and listens to Erika.

She is a fortunate child. She is healthy; she goes to school; she lives in a community that has clean water, transportation, medical care, a public library, low crime, and many other systemic supports. She has two stable parents and a loving Christian home. Although her family is experiencing financial stress while her father is in seminary, entering into that place of hardship is an intentional decision and a temporary situation. Erika offers us an image of a thriving child, fully welcomed into the family of faith, co-laboring with all generations in the mission of God.

Children-at-Risk and their place in the Kingdom of God

Yet, not all children are so blessed. Children face great risk in every region of the world:

children live in extreme poverty; children are affected by conflict, violence, and abuse; children are swept up in the refugee crisis; children are trafficked and prostituted; and others face combinations of these and other daunting risks.

Although hundreds of millions of children face risks, each one is much more than a victim or a tragic label. Each child in our broken and messy world is a multi-faceted human being, created in God’s image, endowed with spiritual gifts—a child who can meaningfully participate as a co-laborer in church and mission. The global church is taking notice and rising up to address seriously the importance of children, particularly children-at-risk.

Lausanne Forum

Risks that negatively impact children and their place in the kingdom of God were among the issues addressed at the Second Lausanne Forum on Children-at-risk (CAR) held at Lancaster Bible Institute in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, May 14-17, 2017. The CAR Issue Group gathered 74 specially invited academics, church leaders, theologians, missiologists, practitioners, and representatives from child-focused non-governmental organizations to craft action plans for mobilizing the global church to address issues facing children-at-risk around the world.

We recognize that the move toward action is challenging. It is much easier to talk and write about issues than to mobilize the global church; yet, the CAR Issue Group is dedicated to fulfilment of two of the mandates of the 2010 Lausanne Cape Town Commitment regarding children:[1]

to train people and provide resources to meet the needs of children worldwide; and to expose, resist and take action against all abuse of children.

To prepare for the gathering in Lancaster and to ensure that our work was theologically grounded, participants responded to two major documents: The Quito Call to Action for Children-at-Risk,[2] and Lausanne Occasional Paper 66: Mission with Children-at-Risk.[3] Both documents, produced out of the 2014 Lausanne Consultation on Children-at-Risk, call for the global church to develop collaborative plans emphasizing and acting on mission to, for, and with children-at-risk.

In keeping with the CAR Issue Group’s commitment to child participation in discourse that impacts their lives, we wanted to hear from children-at-risk about what it means for children-at-risk to thrive. Because we could not bring children into our midst during the forum due to ethical constraints, each participant was asked to conduct a listening exercise with children in their ministry contexts so that we could hear their reflections and view their artwork depicting what human flourishing looks like for them. This was a deeply significant and moving experience for those who eagerly shared children’s drawings and writings for analysis and display at the conference venue. Participants were constantly reminded of children’s capabilities and insights, as well as the importance of including their perspectives in action planning.

Each day a time of heartfelt worship and intentional prayer for children-at-risk was followed by meaningful biblical engagement with particular focus on mission with children-at-risk, an area where participants believe the global church to be less proficient. Plenary presentations during the first day reflected upon the Lausanne Occasional Paper from the perspectives of practitioners, theologians, and organizations. Several speakers, who were former children-at-risk, recounted powerful stories of transformed lives as families, churches, and ministries gave greater attention to mission to, for, and with children-at-risk.

The second and third days of the forum focused on working together in the five designated action groups, where each participant committed to taking on personally the tasks necessary for enacting plans. Children-at-risk were at the forefront of all discussions, as groups demonstrated a high value for their input and acknowledged their God-given creativity and wisdom as they developed concrete action steps to address the pressing issues that affect children.

Outcomes

Group 1—Advocacy to the church for children in refugee communities (children on the move): The group plans strategically to educate the church about the perspectives of refugee children by collecting the first-person stories of children through art and interviews. They intend to focus particularly on children with refugee status, and include others ‘on the move’ as well, producing a prayer guide and book for church use.

 Group 2—Amplifying children’s voices: The group is developing a toolkit to be used to help adults in any local church setting to learn to listen to children’s input more effectively. The kit will be coupled with a plan for enhanced intergenerational models for being the church.

Group 3 – Multiplying training programs: The team proposed three important initiatives—creating a platform to share resources between schools and other training organizations; improving communication between seminaries and practitioners; and, finding fruitful materials to translate into local languages.

Group 4 – Regional Lausanne forums: The group will convene conversations regarding best practices for mission with children-at-risk with the goals of educating and inspiring churches in every part of the world for mobilization and collaborative action, starting in the Philippines and East Africa.

Group 5 – Reimagining the children-at-risk paradigm: The group started by sharing life and ministry experiences that caused them to question whether thriving should better be conceived as helping children discover meaning and purpose in their lives. They also recognized the importance of further theological reflection on mission limitations, humility, and failure as ways to better acknowledge how sometimes even our best efforts do not result in the transformation of children’s lives. The group plans to publish theological reflections about these concerns as one part of their action plan.

The forum has achieved an important milestone for the Lausanne Children-at-risk Issue Network in moving from talk to action. Las Newman, Lausanne Global Associate Director for Regions, noted the unusually high level of camaraderie, collaborative spirit, and passion of the forum attendees. We are blessed to gather some of the most influential and committed servant leaders in God’s kingdom working in collaborative partnership with one another, from different parts of the world and across generations, to see God’s heart and purpose unfold in the lives of his precious children in difficult circumstances. We look forward to seeing what each action group accomplishes in the coming year.

The call to minister to, for and with children-at-risk

The church is uniquely positioned to minister to, for, and with children-at-risk because it is present almost everywhere in the world. What changes would need to take place for the church to take seriously the call to minister to, for, and with children-at-risk?

Leadership, from the local church level up through institutional structures, can embrace a high view of children and Scripture so that policies and documents reflect the whole of Scripture, regarding children as fully included in the church. Pastors and church leaders can be offered tools that value children-at-risk, not simply as recipients of service, but as co-agents of mission. Formal and non-formal education are necessary to train pastors to transform thinking about children-at-risk in churches. Churches can examine ways in which they value or de-value children within their own church practices. For example, are children participating in worship, or are they sent away to a separate space for the entire service? Are children participating only in the pews, or are they helping to lead singing, take offerings, say prayers, share testimonies, or in other ways? We can examine how the church intentionally engages in ministry to, for, and with children-at-risk within its community, city, and beyond. How might we be a prophetic voice speaking out on behalf of these children and their families? Are there ways that they might participate with us in ministry? Ministry budgets can be analyzed to determine how much money is allotted to ministry with children and youth, and specifically, children-at-risk. What does your budget say about what you value? Theologies that have sustained and justified violence against children or an attitude that they are somehow ‘lesser than’ adults must be reconsidered. How might church-sanctioned harsh punishment, extreme shaming for ‘sinful’ behaviors, or unrealistic expectations for maturity or perfection perpetuate violence and injustice toward children? We must learn how to identify ‘appropriate participation’ of children, especially in evangelism and social action ministries. We must avoid anything that manipulates, exploits, or coerces children to participate based on adult agendas. Clear child protection and participation policies will help the church minimize risks of exploitation or spiritual abuse.

Now is the time to act! We call the global church to pray for us as we continue to seek God’s wisdom in our work together on behalf of the children-at-risk among us. In addition, we ask others to join us on mission to, for, and with children-at-risk, empowering them to flourish and express their God-given gifts and co-participation in the Missio Dei.

 

Michelle Sheba Tolentino is Catalyst for the Lausanne Children-at-Risk Issue Network. In 2011, she co-founded Made In Hope, a non-profit organization that provides educational and work opportunities to women who have been exploited in modern slavery (human trafficking and prostitution) and prevention of child sex-trafficking in the Philippines. Michelle also serves as Broadcaster and Producer for ‘Okiddo: The 4/14 Kids Show,’ a weekly radio broadcast for children and youth (Far Eastern Broadcasting Company, Philippines) that reaches 500,000 listeners. It was awarded a Golden Dove Award in 2015 by the Broadcasters Association of the Philippines. She also travels internationally to speak as an advocate for women and children-at-risk.

Susan Hayes Greener, PhD, is Catalyst for the Lausanne Children-at-Risk Issue Network and currently serves as Associate Professor of Intercultural Studies at Wheaton College Graduate School. She has worked in human development for over two decades in universities and NGOs, including Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, One Child Matters, Compassion International, Early Head Start, and Yale University. Susan has trained Christian workers from over 50 countries and authored works on children-at-risk and global human development topics, including co-authoring Effective Intercultural Communication: A Christian Perspective (Baker Academic, 2014) and co-editing a special issue on children-at-risk for Transformation (Summer, 2016).

 

This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of the Lausanne Global Analysis and is published here with permission as part of the LGA Media Partnership. Learn more about this flagship publication from the Lausanne Movement at www.lausanne.org/lga

 

Endnotes

[1] The Cape Town Commitment, Lausanne Movement (2011), II.D.5, https://www.lausanne.org/content/ctc/ctcommitment.

[2] Quito Call to Action on Children at Risk, Lausanne Movement (2014), https://www.lausanne.org/content/statement/quito-call-to-action-on-children-at-risk.

[3] Mission with Children at Risk (LOP 66), Lausanne Movement (2014), https://www.lausanne.org/content/lop/mission-children-risk-lop-66.

 

Rethinking Community

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By Cheryl McGrath (CMS Australia).

The following article picks up on the themes from Intermission 30, ‘We’re all called to belong.’ Re-blogged from www.christiantoday.com.au.

Have you seen any articles that have titles like this: “How to Create Authentic Community in Church”, “Designing Churches for Better Community”, “3 Ways We Can Be Better at Doing Life Together”?

‘Community’ has become a buzzword in Christian circles. You’ll hear it in church vision statements, in sermon applications and in Bible study covenants. There are plenty of articles about how pastors can facilitate this kind of community – for instance, encouraging churchgoers to ask each other about deeper questions than just “how are you”, such as sharing a struggle or life event.

This is all coming from a good place. After all, we know that community is essential to our Christian walk (Hebrews chapter 10, verses 24-25). We see it modelled in the early churches of the New Testament, where we see a group of people who operated through diversity (Galatians chapter 3, verse 28), by sharing things in kind (Acts chapter 2, verses 42-47) and by acts of love and faith (2 Thessalonians chapter1, verse 3).

But if we’re trying to ‘create’ authentic community, how authentic is it? And is building community meant to be our goal?

Incidental community

When I think of the best experiences I’ve had of community, I can think of plenty of examples in my life where community was created almost without me noticing. Things like camps, Bible study groups and beach mission are springing to mind, where we bonded because we went through a common journey and all the ordeals along the way. Basically, our community grew because we got together not to build community per se, but to do something else.

On the flip side, I’ve seen well-meaning people in the church grow frustrated that community isn’t working – that their church isn’t mixing together enough, growing annoyed at ‘that person’ who always leaves before the events start, or feeling as though we’re not being vulnerable together.

But real community tends not to happen when it’s our aim. Missiologist Michael Frost writes in his bookExiles:

“… I have come to realize that aiming for community is a bit like aiming for happiness. It’s not a goal in itself. We find happiness as an incidental by-product of pursuing love, justice, hospitality and generosity. When you aim at happiness, you are bound to miss it. Likewise with community. It’s not our goal. It emerges as a by-product of pursuing something else” (p 108)

The suggestion here is that community happens along the journey to something else, rather than being the focus.

So what does this mean for the church?

Community through a common goal

The anthropologist Victor Turner suggested that real community grows out of a shared mission or ordeal (he called this type of community ‘communitas’). This type of relationship is only experienced by stepping out on a common journey together – something outside the community.

By focusing on something beyond ourselves, our differences are less important because we’re focused on something beyond them. Michael Frost writes in Exiles of the early disciples:

“Men who otherwise would have nothing to do with each other are thrown together by their shared devotion to Jesus, and as they journey together, they develop a depth of relationship that literally turned the world upside down.”

A community that’s dependent on our relationships will probably turn into a clique. A community that’s centred on a mission for Christ is a community that anyone can be part of, whether they’ve just joined or have been part of it for years.

I wonder if this could be reflected in our churches? Maybe we should change the question from “Why isn’t community stronger in our church?” to “What can we do together to share what we believe?” This can be anything from local mission, running Bible study groups, supporting a non-profit cause, or starting a new church service.

We should be sure we’re not building community for its own sake. Sharing a mission is what builds community.

Cheryl McGrath is a communications professional and has a background in editing. She works as the Communications Coordinator at CMS Victoria, and lives in Melbourne.

Cheryl McGrath’s previous articles may be viewed athttp://www.pressserviceinternational.org/cheryl-mcgrath.html

 

NOTES:

I’ve quoted from Michael Frost’s book Exiles, which you can find on Amazon for purchase.

Victor Turner writes about communitas here:https://books.google.com.au/books/about/From_ritual_to_theatre.html?id=zNoOAQAAMAAJ

I’m indebted to this article for giving me the inspiration for this topic: http://www.nzcms.org.nz/community-is-not-the-goal-issue-30/

Tethered to Christ, Tethered to Each Other (Issue 30)

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By Scottie Reeves

In Jesus we see this most powerful picture of inclusion. This man of immense integrity, character and holiness is always inviting those to the table we would never expect. The prostitutes, the thieves, the loan sharks and the violent extremists. At Christ’s table there’s room for Trump, room for refugees, room for beneficiaries and room for billionaires. There is room for you and room for me.

This is the reckless hospitality of Christ that whips up some more wine for a room full of wedding guests who were likely already inebriated. It’s the outrageousness that kneels down and washes the dusty feet of his disciples. It’s the controversy of a saviour who looks over the crowd immediately in front of him to call the short swindler down from a sycamore tree to eat with him.

In my experience of leading Blueprint, a church community of Millennials in the liberal heartland of Wellington City, I can tell you that my generation loves this radically welcoming Christ. He sits well alongside our near-religious fervour for tolerance at all costs. Our Jesus is shaped by a culture which says daily, ‘how dare you judge me!’ Yet we also follow a Christ who said in Matthew 16 that people weren’t really his disciples unless they left behind their families and began to carry their own instruments of death too. To sit at a table with Jesus was one thing, but to truly follow him meant abandoning family, reputation, career and security. Christ is consistently welcoming, but there is something quite exclusive about the way of Jesus too.

BELONGING AND COMMITMENT

When we talk about what it is to belong we must remember that our sense of belonging will always be equal to our commitment to one another. We belong truly with those who are tethered to us and whom we have tethered ourselves to. So while inclusive hospitality is deeply important, this alone will not build belonging or a dedicated community of disciples. Faith communities that provide constant encouragement and inclusion without a call to look beyond themselves will inevitably create consumers instead of disciples.

Alongside Blueprint’s usual Sunday services we run several community homes of hospitality filled with young adults. My wife Anna and I live in one of these houses on upper Cuba Street with five other young change-makers. Every Tuesday we hold a meal for anyone in Central Wellington who wants to join us. This is an experience of inclusive hospitality where anyone and everyone is welcome, from university students to those in the grip of addictions, from young professionals to those sleeping on the streets. Our guests describe this as a place of love, care, warmth and manaakitanga. There’s something special and profoundly Kingdom-of-God that happens around that enormous table each Tuesday night.

Yet what our guests don’t know is that the power of that hospitality comes from the fact that the seven hosts belong deeply together.

We’ve made unbreakable commitments such as daily prayer, proactive conflict resolution, mission to our neighbourhood and honesty with one another. Everyone is committed to being in our house for at least a year, and some of us are entering our third. When you know you’re still going to be living with someone in a few years it starts to seem silly to avoid the hard conversations.

KNOWN BY OUR LOVE

Jesus said that the world would know we belonged with him “by the love we have for one another” (John 13:35). Love doesn’t just grow in church services or life groups. It grows when we’re committed to one another, when we resolve to belong together even when we’re not sure we necessarily like each other anymore. The power of our dinner table is formed the other six days of the week in a community of people who have done the hard work to love one another sacrificially.

Sadly, if the commitments of our faith communities to one another aren’t deep then our inclusive hospitality is normally severely lacking too. We’re drawn in by the hospitality of God, but we’re formed by commitment to the community of faith we now belong in. As Christians we’re called to become a ‘set apart’ people (1 Peter 2:9), an exclusive people with exclusive commitments to one another and ways of living that stand as stark alternatives to the mindless consumption of the world around us. We are exclusively Christ’s, in order that we may be formed into a radically inclusive people whose dinner tables are always bulging, whose spare rooms are always full and who live out costly empathy, compassion, care and hospitality for all people.

And here’s the really interesting thing. As we’ve begun to pursue this deeper and ‘more exclusive’ way together over the past few years, we’ve seen more people come to know Christ for the first time than ever before. Maybe it is as Margaret Mead famously said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Scottie and his wife head up Blueprint Church in Wellington. He’s an ordained Deacon in the Anglican Church, a Social Entrepreneur, and has previously worked with a nationwide creative arts trust.

For discussion

In what ways does Scottie’s example of the Blueprint house encourage and challenge you?

What would holding together high commitment and high belonging look like in your context?

 

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of the Intermission magazine will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. To signup to receive the Intermission in the post, email office@nzcms.org.nz. Intermission articles can also be found online at nzcms.org.nz/intermission.

Short-Term Mission Impossible? (Issue 28)

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By Mark Barnard.

Not many 14 year olds spend their summer holidays in the interior jungles of West New Britain. But in 1992, that’s exactly what I did, living in a thatched hut for a month with a crew of fellow Kiwis and Aussies. We were there with New Tribes Missions building a house for some missionaries. It was off the grid: wild, primal and dangerous and included scorpions, malaria and crocodiles. OK so there were no crocodiles, but it was still a full-on experience, one I’ll never forget… nor contemplate letting my own 14-year children go on.

It was the first of many short-term mission trips I’ve been on over the last 25 years. Each one has been unique and wild in its own way. My short-term mission itinerary has since included: Indonesia, the Philippines, Turkey and Fiji (and some of these a number of times). As I’ve learned and changed over the years, so too has my understanding and approach to these trips.

So what have I picked up along the way (other than malaria and travellers trots)? What are some of the dilemmas that I’ve faced?

SHORT-TERM GAINS? LONG TERM PAINS?

The bottom line for me is that these trips come out of an immense place of privilege in the world. As a white, middle-class Christian male, the fact that I’ve boarded a plane more times than I care to remember means I’m part of a small percentage of people in the world whose circumstances enable such a luxury.

That’s what these trips are: a luxury, and I have to think about this every time I contemplate such a journey. Much of the world lives in grinding poverty, and I get to hop on a plane and go have a look. Each plane ticket I purchase costs more than most people live off each year. The trip had better be well thought through.

And each time I board the plane I also must remember the environmental impact. Air travel contributes to climate change. I can’t get around this. So again I need to ask honestly: should I be on this plane? I don’t like asking this but when I do, I enter a space that calls me to be real about the impact of my choices. They matter.

Along with these impacts, I think about what it means for wealthy Christians to go to poor countries and share Jesus with the locals. There are so many power dynamics and ethical dilemmas at play! Are we doing things that people can do for themselves? Are we creating dependency? Jealousy? Local rivalry? Are we culturally sensitive? Have we thought enough about what the Gospel should look and sound like in this context? By going are we creating more problems than we solve?

As I ask these challenging questions, the inevitable big one arises… Should we actually go?

MUTUALITY AND MISSION

When I think back over the many trips I’ve been privileged to embark upon, a number of things stand out as gifts that I’m deeply grateful to have received. The global perspective I’ve been exposed to has been life changing. Sitting with the poor in some of Asia’s slums has rocked me to the core. I can’t begin to recount the many stories that have cut so deep, and without these experiences I don’t think I would have made the intentional choices to live in the way I do. Poverty asks me to live with its ever present reality lingering in my mind. I simply have to respond.

The poor aren’t just statistics for me. They’ve been my hosts; they’ve become my friends. I’ve sat at dinner with rubbish picking families, laughed with them and held their children. The gift of friendship is something which stands out as the most enduring contribution of these trips. Friendship creates a sense of mutuality, that in this encounter we both have something to give and to receive.

No matter the country, this has been my experience; there is something sacred in the space created in friendship that transcends cultural barriers. We discover God in our midst. There is something about mutual encounter that creates the space for us to share the stories that mean the most to us: who we are, where we’ve been and where we’re going. The Good News is something we discover together, as we find we don’t have all the answers. There’s much to learn from the experience and understanding of others.

The power dynamics that are inherent when Westerners place themselves for short periods amongst the poor can be somewhat mitigated if we go as ‘guests.’ Being hosted by the poor, eating with them, staying in their homes, when done respectfully and thoughtfully can be a deeply mutual experience which empowers the host with a profound sense of dignity. It’s so important for Westerners to experience powerlessness, where we don’t have all the answers, solutions and suggestions to fix the world’s problems. Sometimes it’s best to sit and cry.

So the million dollar question: to go or not to go?

Perhaps, if:

I’m prepared to be honest about the privilege and impact of such a trip and think about some ways to ‘off set’ (such as giving a ‘trip tithe’ to an environmental justice organisation) I can outline how this could potentially improve the situation of the world’s poor I’m committed to building mutually beneficial and reciprocal relationships with my hosts I’m prepared to place myself in situations of powerless that I simply can’t solve

Then maybe.

I’m pretty sure I’ll board a plane to the developing world in the future. But before I do, I’ll take some time to prayerfully consider my own list of questions. If I can answer them honestly, then I can share more honestly with my overseas friends. Treating others with dignity, kindness and respect are signs of the Jesus journey. Such journeys are well worth taking.

Mark is part of a missional clan called Urban Vision. He’s currently based in Mt Roskill with his wife Bridget and three kids.

 

For discussion Identify differences between a trip only benefiting the ‘goers’ and one that will mutually benefit everyone involved.

If you’re going, take time to talk through Mark’s bullet points. Prayerfully ask the question: should you be going on this trip?

 

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of the Intermission magazine will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. To signup to receive the Intermission in the post, email office@nzcms.org.nz. Intermission articles can also be found online at nzcms.org.nz/intermission.

Inviting People to Cross the Line

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In our Evangelism edition of Intermission last year, Sam Harvey talked about the importance of offering people an invitation to ‘cross the line’ and come to faith. We may not be aware of how many people in our churches and in our communities are actually ready to make a commitment to follow Jesus; they may just be waiting to be invited over the line.

We found the following article from Sermon Central provocative so thought we’d offer an excerpt. Read the full article by clicking here and if you’re a church leader, why not consider taking up the ‘Weekly Gospel Challenge’?.

By Hal Seed.

For a long time I’ve wondered if there is a relationship between the number of salvations a church experiences, and the number of times it offers salvation invitations. We’ll never know for sure, but I’m conducting an experiment this year.

My friend Ron Forseth (long-time overseer of SermonCentral.com) recently challenged me to offer an invitation every Sunday for an entire year. For the past 25 years, my habit has been to present a salvation invitation about once a month in our church services, but I’ve often wondered, “If we offered salvation more often, would more people come to Jesus?” So I’m taking The Weekly Gospel Challenge.

Results So Far

I started my experiment on the July 3 weekend. One lady raised her hand in the Saturday night service. So cool! The next we hosted a high-profile guest for what we call a Wow Weekend. Lots of visitors were present. 32 raised their hands for salvation. The next weekend (July 17), 12 hands went up. Last weekend (July 24), 5 more indicated they had prayed to receive Christ with me. There’s no way to know for sure how many of these decisions will bear out as “seed that fell on good soil” (Matthew 13:8). But some God-honoring intention motivated each one of those people to raise their hands.

Without Ron’s challenge, I probably would have given invitations 2 out of those 4 weekends. God is sovereign, so He certainly could have saved all those people without my invitation. Yet I believe that my faithfulness to proclaim the gospel made a difference, so I’m going to continue this every-Sunday habit for the next 52 weeks and see what happens. Would you like to take the challenge with me?

 

The article then unpacks five arguments against offering an invitation every week. Here’s number 4.

Why present an invitation if there are no lost people in the room?

This is a good point. But what if there are no lost people in the room because your members think they have no reason to invite their lost friends? What if presenting the gospel 4 or 5 weeks in a row causes a mind shift in your members, so they begin thinking, “If I invite my friend to come this weekend, he will hear the gospel, and his eternity might be changed?” It’s possible that sharing the gospel will breed more lost people being invited to church.

 

Read the full article by clicking here. If you’re a church leader, why not consider taking up the ‘Weekly Gospel Challenge’?.

Reaching the Nations through Migrant Workers

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By Tan Kang San & Loun Ling.

The following is from a recent update by our sister organisation, AsiaCMS.

More people than ever are living abroad. In 2013, 232 million people, or 3.2 per cent of the world’s population, were international migrants, compared to 175 million in 2000 and 154 million in 1990. In 2013, South Asians were the largest group of international migrants living outside of their home region. Of the 36 million international migrants from South Asia, 13.5 million resided in the oil-producing countries in Western Asia. In the UAE, 8 million out of its population of 9 million are migrants.

In the Book of Ruth, Elimelech and his wife Naomi were economic migrants seeking food and better living in the land of Moab. However, similar to the stories of contemporary migrants, Naomi suffered the loss of family and future hope. “Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.” (1:5).

While some migrants are skilled professionals, the majority of migrant labourers are hired to do the 3-D jobs (dirty, difficult and dangerous!). Like Elimelech and Naomi, many left their homes and countries to seek better life, but very few nations instituted legal and social frameworks which ensure just structures in welcoming migrant labourers who are cheated and oppressed in foreign countries.

The Book of Ruth holds out the practice of ḥeseḏ (loving kindness) as the ideal lifestyle for Israel. Christians often ignore their responsibilities toward the growing migrant population in global cities. When addressing the issue of migrant communities, churches often reduce their responsibilities to conducting migrant discipleship classes or worship services.

The Old Testament principle of hesed may be an important and rich biblical ideal that integrates Christian responsibility toward migrant communities as doing good, as addressing issues of injustices and oppression faced by migrants, and to love kindness. “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness (hesed), and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).

Reaching the nations through migrant workers in our midst is a biblical mandate as well as an effective mission strategy. The testimony of Maria below is one of many that bear out this truth.

There are tens of thousands of Asian migrant workers from the Philippines, Nepal, Bangladesh and Indonesia in countries such as Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong. One of them could be in our home, our workplace, our church.

Maria writes:

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”

Thank and praise God, about 26 years ago while working in Singapore as domestic helper, I was drawn by the heavenly Father to His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to His saving grace. My employers brought me to Grace (S.C.C) Church and I attended English Congregation, Bible studies and later I decided to join the Foundation of Faith class. I received much encouragement from my employers.

Indeed, God’s truth has set me free from wrong ways/practices of worshipping Him. Truly, God is just and righteous that He delivered me from idolatry. Although He allowed me to experience trials (anticipation of persecution from family members, clan and friends), He gave me victory through His words and encouragement from brothers and sisters in Church. I was baptised in 1989. After baptism I was asked a prayer request and my reply was about the need for evangelism back in my home town. From then I was more eager to study His word in order to prepare myself spiritually to defend my faith in Jesus Christ and be ready to go home.

Every day, I had my devotion before work and while doing my work I memorised Scriptures (written in small pieces of paper stuck near to me) until I decided to take a course at the Singapore Bible College inspite of the language barrier. I attended class once a week at night, with the support of my employers. Finally, God confirmed His call for me to go for full-time theological studies. I left to work in Canada knowing that the work there was only 8 hours a day which would give me time to study. When my church in Singapore knew about my calling and desire to study, they decided to support me.

Eventually I returned to the Philippines. By God’s grace, I was bold to share my faith and gave Bibles to my family and relatives. The Lord opened the door for me to study at Doane Baptist Seminary and I graduated after 2 years with Bachelor of Religious Education.

I volunteered to serve in the church in my home town, Cabatuan Fundamental Baptist Church, during the 2 years of seminary training. After a year I was called to work as Bible woman while staying at home with my parents, brother and sisters. My parents have now gone to be with the Lord together with my eldest brother. Almost all the children and grandchildren of my family members attended our Church Kindergarten.

As a Bible woman of the church, I am also the Sunday School superintendent, teacher, and full-time worker in charge of the various church ministries. These include visiting Elementary Schools and Secondary Schools, hospital, prison, prisoners on parole, pawnshop employees, home Bible studies. The Lord has given me a burden to reach many lost souls. Every summer our house is one of the venues for Children’s Vacation Bible School. Sometimes we even have 15 children attending. With all these ministries, the Lord granted me a desire and opportunity to be further equipped through attending a Master’s class. He enabled me to graduate in December 2010.

In my journey of serving Him, God allowed me to go through many trials and challenges. In May 2012, I was hospitalised and had an operation. For 3 months I was unable to work. Grace Church in Singapore again responded in helping me financially and comforting me. After recovery I was more eager to serve Him. I now have less responsibility at the church but am involved with a government programme to help the poorest of the poor by conducting their Family Development Session. Every month I have the opportunity to minister to more than a thousand people from different barangays or villages. My desire to witness for Christ in the 68 barangays of our town is almost fulfilled. All glory and honour to God!

Why Care About Climate Change? (with reading list) (Issue 27)

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By Dick Tripp. 

Creation care. Climate change. There’s two reasons I believe this is the most important issue the human race has ever faced, particularly at this present time.

It’s about justice.

It may come as a surprise, but I see climate change as an issue of human justice. Millions of people worldwide have suffered and are suffering as the direct result of climate change. Hundreds of thousands have already lost their lives. Yet the topic of climate change has sometimes been controversial, particularly within Christian circles. While some groups have no problem accepting it as scientifically certain, for one reason or another some others have denied that human-caused climate change is a reality. Yes, there are a few scientists who deny climate change… but it’s equally important to recognise that the overwhelming majority of experts – Christian or not – affirm its reality. What’s more, this is also the growing consensus among biblical scholars, theologians and missiologists. It’s no longer valid to hide behind beliefs that are unable to reconcile with the clear reality we now face!

James Lovelock, one of the world’s most influential scientists, has spelled out clearly how all earth’s ecosystems are interconnected. If you affect one, you affect all the rest. Today we are seeing this everywhere. We’re putting 110 million tons of heat trapping global warming pollution into the lower atmosphere every twenty-four hours. That is the equivalent of 400 000 Hiroshima atomic bombs! One consequence is that extreme warmer days are 150 times more common than 30 years ago. 14 of the hottest recorded years have been in the first fifteen of this century. The world is now hotter than it has been for many, many millennia and it is warming 10 times faster than ever in the earth’s history.

The obvious consequence of this is extreme weather conditions. 93% of heat is absorbed by the oceans, resulting in more water vapour being sent into the atmosphere which is then dumped back on the earth. As an example of this, the equivalent of two days water from Niagara Falls down poured in central Houston in two days last July shutting down everything. Then on December 29, the storm that caused massive flooding in Mid-West US raised the temperature of the North Pole 30˚C, causing thawing of the North Pole in the middle of its long, dark winter night.

And warming draws water from the soil. The three-year record breaking drought in the Middle East that began in 2006 destroyed 60% of farms and 80% of livestock in Syria and sent one-and-a-half million people into the cities where they collided with a similar number of refugees from the Iraq war. This was likely one contributing factor to the turmoil that exists today. Even in New Zealand extreme weather is causing significant trouble, with around 200 farmers have had to pay about $100 000 each for flood damage. Others are paying $5000 a week for extra stock food which is unsustainable.

We’re likely to see half our plant and animal species gone this century. For example, coral, which has been called the building architect of the marine ecosystem, will probably be gone this century. 1000 species of fish spend at least part of their life-cycle on coral, so if coral goes these fish will go too. This will be devastating for many places such as the Pacific islands where people depend on fish to survive. On top of that, rising sea levels results in salt getting into groundwater, which in turn prevents the growing of traditional crops. At present there are two million people in an area of Papua New Guinea that are facing hunger, disease and poverty. Their crops have been destroyed and they have only polluted water. Most are living on one meal a day.

Many positive steps are being taken worldwide at an ever-increasing rate. More countries are now getting half their energy supplies from renewable sources. But is it fast enough? The warming pollutants we put in the atmosphere will all be there for 1700 to 3000 years. The International Energy Agency has said we will have put enough carbon into the atmosphere by next year to raise the temperature two degrees. If other countries follow our government’s example, it will likely be four degrees or more. In fact, reputable organisations such as the World Bank and PriceWaterhouseCooper have warned that we’re heading for a change of six degrees.

But are we acting fast enough? That’s today’s pressing question – not just for the planet but for its people, particularly the poor and vulnerable.

God cares for his creation.

The second reason caring for the planet matters is because God cares for his creation, not just us. This is spelled out in Scripture. One of his purposes in putting us here was to “care for” or “serve” his creation (Genesis 2:15). His covenant with Noah included “all living creatures of every kind” (Genesis 9). The laws of Moses include numerous passages about how the land was to be cared for and the produce from it was to be available for all to share, even if circumstances had driven them to poverty. The Psalms contain passages stressing God’s ownership of his creation, his delight in it and the way in which it brings glory and praise to him. Isaiah has some has some magnificent passages regarding God’s future plans for his creation. Paul tells us that creation reveals God’s “eternal power and divine nature” (Romans 1:20) and it will share in the blessings that he has prepared for us (Romans 8). Creation is God’s gift to his Son. All things were created “for” him (Colossians 1:16). These passages and more are spelled out in some detail in my book The Biblical Mandate for Caring for Creation, which can be read and downloaded as a pdf file on www.exploringchristianity.co.nz.

So why should we care about creation? Because God does!

 

Further reading.

 

For those who are serious about exploring these issues further, I would suggest the following books. I also highly recommend watching a recent video from Al Gore at youtu.be/u7E1v24Dllk

 

The End Game: Tipping Point for Planet Earth by Anthony D. Barnosky and Elisabeth A. Hardy. The best I know on how climate change, food shortages, decreasing water availability, pollution, population growth, sea rise and acidification, and dwindling resources all interact with one another and result in increasing violence and cross-boundary migration etc., on a world-wide scale. It highlights the need for immediate action to mitigate future disastrous effects. They know their stuff, offering considerable, hand-on global research.

This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein. Award winning journalist. Great research over 5 years. She has attended the significant conferences and interviewed the significant leaders on climate change and also significant sceptics and fossil fuel CEOs, who she often quotes. She deals with all significant issues. Devastating critique of fossil fuel industry and climate sceptics. Naomi was co-leader of Pope Francis’ Climate Change Conference when multi-church leaders, leading scientists, activists, economists and climate change experts were brought together for the first time.

The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change by Al Gore. New York Times Best Seller. Significant information on virtually every page concerning what is happening in the real world in areas such as monetary transactions (making the rich richer and increasing inequality), power (shifting from West to East and governments to corporations), politics (why USA is no longer a democracy), business (globalisation and robotics and how these increase unemployment), communication, climate change, etc., and how all these are related. They affect how governments respond to climate change.

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert. Winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize. Very good on-the-ground global research. I expect this is the best read on the subject.

Atmospheric: The Burning Story of Climate Change. Written specifically for older teens but a good starter for adults. Well researched, very clear including useful charts, and deals with all the main issues. Great for youth and grandchildren who will have to live through it. I have sent a copy to my three son’s families who all have teenagers.

The Vanishing Face of Gaia and A Rough Ride to the Future by James Lovelock. He is one the world’s most influential scientists. He must be in his 90s now. He is responsible for the Gaia theory, how all the earth’s ecosystems operate as one, which is now an accepted scientific theory. In the latter book, written recently, he envisions a time when all humans will live and grow their food in air-conditioned cities far enough away from the ocean.

Storms of my Grandchildren by James Hansen. An NASA scientist, widely regarded as the world’s leading climate expert and one of the first to warn people fifty years ago of the probable effects of the warming world. Once an advisor to the US Government.

By far the best thing I have read on the justice and moral issues involved in climate change is Pope Francis’ Encyclical Laudato Si’, which can be downloaded from the internet. Thoroughly biblical. He has had a great impact in this area and is one of my heroes.

The Biblical Mandate for Caring for Creation by Dick Tripp. After five chapters giving the history of the environmental movements from both secular and Christian perspectives, I trace the relevant passages through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation that relate to God’s attitude to his creation. Printed copies are available but it can be read on www.exploringchristianity.com and downloaded as a pdf file.

Two of the best websites for keeping up with information on climate change are www.350.org and www.theguardian.com/series/keep-it-in-the-ground .

For those interested in the politics of climate change I recommend the blogs put out by Kennedy Graham of the Green Party who has been involved internationally in the climate change issue from the beginning. For a very significant up-to-date article “February breaks temperature records by ’shocking’ amount,” click here.

 

Dick is a ‘retired’ Anglican minister (though failing to find the word in Scripture, he has yet to ‘retire’ from Christian ministry). He takes any opportunity to speak about climate change – we owe it to future generations.

 

For discussion

Christians have sometimes struggled with the concept of climate change. Why do you think that is?

Do you know of other examples of how creation care is actually an issue of justice?

Is Islam Inherently Violent?

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Since it’s Ramadan, it’s worth taking the time to think about our perceptions of Islam. When talking about other religions, it’s important that we Christians get into the habit of ‘truth-telling.’ Is it fair that we compare the best of Christianity with the worst of other religions? The following are some reflections by Grey Boyd about Islam. Re-blogged from here.

An increasing number of people, especially in conservative Christian circles, are claiming that Islam is an inherently violent religion. They point to all the violence in the history of Islam and all of the violence being carried out by Muslims today as proof of this. I believe this claim is as misguided as it is dangerous.

Two considerations demonstrate the erroneous and prejudicial nature of this claim. First, the percentage of Muslims engaging in violence today is a minute fraction of the total Muslim population, which is now around 1.6 billion (23% of the world’s population). If you add together even the highest estimates of participants in all the Islamic extremist groups (e.g., ISIS, Al Queda, the Taliban, Boko Haram), the total is a fraction of 1% of this population. Claiming Islam is inherently violent on the basis of the behavior of a tiny minority of professing Muslims is like claiming Christianity is inherently racist because groups like the Aryan Nation and Ku Klux Klan profess to be Christian.

Second, if the violence of professing Muslims proves Islam is inherently violent, then consistency demands that we conclude that the Christian religion also is inherently violent, for up until three and half centuries ago, professing Christians routinely engaged in violence that was every bit as barbaric as what Islam extremists are doing today. Beyond the horrific Crusades and Inquisition, there was a century and a half (1524-1648) of almost uninterrupted Christian-on-Christian violence that wiped out a significant percentage of the population of large sections of Europe.

It wasn’t radical extremist groups that claimed to be Christian that carried out this violence. All the violence of this period and throughout Church history was sanctioned by all the major ecclesial denominations and carried out by mainstream professing Christians. To their credit, the only Christians that abstained from this bloodletting were Anabaptists, and they were almost completely exterminated by the other groups. So if, in spite of all this violence, Christians today do not want to accept that the Christian religion is inherently violent, then Christians must stop claiming that the violence of professing Muslims implies that Islam is inherently violent.

Now, some will object that religiously motivated violence on the part of Christians is a thing of the past, proving that the Christian religion is not inherently violent.   Thankfully, it is for the most part true that we no longer see Christian organizations carrying out violence. But this is not because Christians suddenly matured three hundred years ago and realized their violence was inconsistent with their religious convictions. Christians only stopped killing their religious and political adversaries because secular authorities decided this relentless warfare was politically and economically disadvantageous, so they agreed to make religious violence illegal (the “Peace of Westphalia,” 1648).

It was at this time that the West thankfully began to finally embrace the idea of a neutral secular state that had been proposed by Thomas Hobbs (1588-1679) and others. While some have tried to argue that the concept of a neutral state protecting the freedom and rights of people of different faiths was birthed out of Christianity, it was actually birthed out of a secular reaction to a century and a half of “Christian” states that were violently trampling on this freedom and these rights. (A good book on this is The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West, by Mark Lilla).

So you see, the reason why a minority of Muslims continue to engage in religiously motivated violence while Christians do not is not because Islam is inherently violent while Christianity is not. It’s rather because Islamic countries have not, on the whole, embraced the concept of a secular neutral state, outlawing religious violence. In fact, while the secular concept of tolerance has now become deeply ingrained in westerners, I am convinced that, if there were no laws preventing religiously motivated violence, masses of western Christians would still be carrying it out, and I, for one, would likely have years ago gone the way of Michael Servetus!

To close, while I’ve argued that Islam is no more inherently violent than the Christian religion, one could easily turn the tables and argue that both religions, and even all religions, are to some degree inclined toward violence. For as long as people place their ultimate allegiance to a belief above loving other people at all costs, they will feel justified, whenever they deem it necessary, to kill people in the name of their belief.

The only ultimate allegiance that cannot ever lead to violence is the allegiance to the one who commanded his disciples to sacrificially love and do good to all people, including life-threatening enemies (Mt 5:38-47; Lk 6:27-36). Those who share this ultimate allegiance do not adhere to a religion; they rather manifest the Father’s kingdom. And they are grateful for secular authorities that protect them from those who embrace religion, whether it be the religion of Islam or of Christianity.

 

Thanks ReKnew for letting us share this. Re-blogged from here.

Observing Ramadan as a Christian

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We are now in the middle of the month of Ramadan, an important month of fasting and religious observance for Muslims. A billion Muslims across the world are presently fasting and seeking God. This is therefore a time for us to pray that God will, indeed, reveal himself to them.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, meaning it’s precise dates change each year. During the month, Muslims all over the world abstain from food, drink, and other physical needs during the daylight hours. It is seen as a time to purify the soul, refocus attention on God, and practice self-sacrifice, meaning Ramadan is much more than just not eating and drinking. (Click here to read a brief explanation of the month from a Muslim perspective.)

At Christianity Today, Jerry Rankin, who used to serve in a large Muslim nation, has offered some thoughts about how Christians should respond to Ramadan. Here are some highlights, though it is worth reading the original article here.

During Ramadan, we found our Muslim friends were more open to talking about spiritual things. We would ask them about their practice, why they were fasting, and what they hoped to gain by it. It was surprising to them when we shared our own practice of fasting from time to time to seek God. We do not fast to get something from God but out of a desire for God himself that exceeds our desire for food. Wonderfully, God does meet our needs and answer our prayers, but we should not fast presuming by our piety we are obligating God to do something for us.

 

While most Muslims observe the fast because they are commanded to and believe there is merit to be gained, many do it as a perfunctory obligation. Some want to avoid the condemnation from more pious family members. However, for the devout, the Muslim month of fasting is actually for the same purpose that we as Christians may occasionally fast: the desire to know God in a deeper more intimate relationship.

 

Fasting during Ramadan is intended to be a time to seek God, and many sincerely do. While recognizing the futility of seeking to please God by one’s own piety and works, we avoided expressing disrespect in conversation with Muslim friends. We shared our common desire to know God. It was an opportunity to bear witness to the futility of our own efforts and how we discovered the unmerited grace of God through Jesus Christ.

 

What if Christians fervently prayed during the month of Ramadan that God would reveal himself to Muslims in this time of seeking? What if we covered millions of fasting Muslims with 30 days of intense intercession that something would happen in their spiritual search? Believing in the power of prayer, could we not expect God to respond to our heartfelt burden for the lost millions of the world?

 

It is tragic that we should be so wrapped up in our self-interests and worldview that we would be indifferent to more than a billion followers of Islam in the world that are dying without Christ, but this month are seeking what only he can provide. We are repulsed by a religion that seems to justify terrorism and suicide bombers committed to the destruction of life, but don’t we realize that Jesus is the answer? Rather than hardening our hearts and dismissing their lostness to the judgment of God as something they deserve, we should plead for their hearts to be open to God revealing himself.

 

Join me this month in praying for Muslims in our own communities as well as those around the world. Pray that they would truly seek God and be open to revelation that would lead them to the truth. In seeking Allah, an impersonal deity that is aloof and cannot be known, may they find a loving, compassionate God who revealed himself through Jesus Christ and died for their sins.

 

If you are interested in joining Christians across the world who are praying for Muslims during Ramadan, visit 30daysprayer.com. There you will find a prayer guide for each day of Ramadan, giving you ideas of what you can be praying for.

How Are We To Love the Soldiers of ISIS?

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Here’s a blog post from Greg Boyd asking the all important question: how are we supposed to love the Soldiers of ISIS? Not everyone will agree with the angle Greg takes, but this is certainly a question we all need to wrestle with.

Over the last several weeks I’ve received some form of this question almost every day. In some cases the question is asked rhetorically, as though the very question exposes the absurdity of suggesting we are to love this terroristic group. Other times the question is asked with a pragmatic twist. One person recently said to me: “If everyone just laid down their arms and loved ISIS, America would before long be under their barbaric rule. Is that what you really want?” I assured him that it was not.

To begin, it’s first important to remember that the teaching of Jesus, Paul and the rest of the New Testament about never retaliating and about instead choosing to love, bless, pray for, and do good to our enemies is emphatic, unambiguous, and never once qualified (e.g. Mt 5:21-6, 38-48; Lk 6:27-36; Rom 12:14-21). Indeed, Jesus goes so far as to make our willingness to unconditionally love enemies the pre-condition for being considered a “child of your Father in heaven” (Mt 5:44-5; Lk 6:35-6). While this radical mandate may violate our core intuitions about justified violence, and while it certainly flies in the face of many people’s pragmatic concerns, if we confess Jesus as Lord, I submit that this simply means there must be something amiss with our intuitions and pragmatic concerns. If Jesus is in fact Lord, faithfulness to his teaching and example must trump all other considerations. Otherwise we must face Jesus’ pointed question: “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say” (Lk 6:46)?

Second, it’s important to note that the pragmatic concern about what would happen if everyone obeyed Jesus and therefore loved ISIS is a Christendom-type concern, for it presupposes that part of the job of Christians is to run the world. While it may sound irresponsible to the world’s pragmatists, the sole concern for Jesus followers is to be faithful citizens and ambassadors of the kingdom of God. It was precisely when the church of the fourth century embraced the pragmatic concern that it compromised the concern for faithfulness by setting down the cross and picking up the sword.

Not only this, but kingdom people need to notice that most of the world’s violence—including violence carried out “in Jesus name” throughout history—has been the result of people trying to more effectively run the world. Believing they had superior ideas about how best to rule, nations and religions have felt justified killing any who oppose them. To my mind, this simply bears witness to the fact that humans were created to be under the Lordship of their Creator, not under the lordship of other humans. When people place their trust in human rulers, it is tantamount to rejecting God (see I Sam 8) and things invariably go bad. Kingdom people are called to bear witness to God’s original design by pledging our sole allegiance to Jesus Christ and to trust him to oversee the world. This singular devotion to Christ is what empowers us to “leave all vengeance to God” and instead love and serve our enemies (Rom. 12:19-21).

It’s also relevant to people’s pragmatic concerns that, immediately after telling Jesus’ followers to “leave all vengeance to God,” Paul goes on to specify that one of the ways God exacts “vengeance” and punishes wrongdoers is by using sword-wielding governments (Rom. 13:1-6). In other words, Paul forbade kingdom people to do the very thing he assumes governments are willing to do: namely, wielding the sword. So too, Paul instructs kingdom people to leave to God the very thing that God uses governments to accomplish: namely, wielding the sword to exact vengeance on wrongdoers.

In this light, there is no need for Jesus followers to worry about what would happen if “everyone put down their weapons and loved ISIS.” The number of those willing to actually follow Jesus’ teachings and example has, unfortunately, always been relatively small, even among professing Christians. And, as Jacque Ellul so profoundly argued in is book, Violence: Reflections From A Christian Perspective, as long as there are nations and governments, there will be people who are more than willing to engage in violence, for no national government can rule its people and survive outside threats without being willing to engage in violence. Nations, governments and violence go hand-in-hand, in other words. The call of kingdom people is to opt out of this whole enterprise by pledging allegiance to Christ alone as we leave all vengeance to God and simply imitate Christ by loving our enemies (Eph 5:1-2).

With this background in place, we are in a position to notice something important about the question: How are we to love the soldiers of ISIS? The only reason this question is different from the question of how we are to love anybody else is that these people strike us as more evil than others and/or because we may be concerned about what would happen if everybody loved these soldiers. But as we’ve just seen, our call to love has nothing to do with how “good” or “evil” a person is. We’re to love “the righteous” and the “wicked,” just like the rain falls and the sun shines (Mt 5:44-45). And we’ve seen that the pragmatic concern is not part of kingdom call and is, in any case, completely unfounded. Hence, we can see that, if we’re thinking like kingdom people, the question of how we are to love the soldiers of ISIS is no different than the question of how we are to love anybody else. On that note, I’ll conclude by stating two aspects of how we are to love all people, including the soldiers of ISIS.

First, we are love the soldiers of ISIS, as we do all others, by agreeing with God that each of these soldiers has unsurpassable worth as evidenced by God’s willingness to pay an unsurpassable price for them. As God did for us and all people on Calvary, we are to ascribe unsurpassable worth to these soldiers at cost to ourselves. For most of us, the “cost to ourselves” will simply be whatever difficulty we confront as we push past our judgments, our intuitions about justified violence, and our pragmatic concerns in order to bring our hearts in line with God’s assessment of their worth on Calvary. However, for people who are directly affected by the barbarism of ISIS or who feel called to engage them as peacemakers, the cost of refusing violence and loving enemies may unfortunately be much greater. They may lose their lives, just as Jesus did. Yet, doing so does not signify defeat for the kingdom person, for if done in love, this is precisely how kingdom people overcome (see e.g. Rev. 12:11).

Second, we can love the soldiers of ISIS by praying for them and their families. Among our prayers should be prayers of blessing for their families as well as prayers for the soldiers’ deliverance. We understand that our real enemy, and their real enemy, is not “flesh and blood”: they are rather the “principalities and powers” that imprison humans in lies, hate, vengeance, the lust for power and, therefore, violence (Eph 6:12). As Origen told the pagan Celsus who accused second century Christians of being unpatriotic because of their unwillingness to fight, for all we know, the prayer we offer on behalf of our enemies does more to bring peace to our nation than killing ever could (Contra Celsus). And while killing enemies is inconsistent with expressing Calvary-like love toward them, praying for them both expresses and applies it.

 

What do you think of Greg’s perspective? And more importantly, what can we do to love these enemies of ours?

 

Thanks ReKnew for letting us share this. Re-blogged from here.