My purpose for writing this article is to help American Christians think through their approach to recent and ongoing events in the Middle East involving the nations of the entire region. Most recently I have been watching as western Christians post all kinds of comments, some balanced and some misguided, on social media like they are watching the world cup. What is occurring in the Middle East today is not a game. As one man, privileged to walk the streets of Israel, Egypt, Lebanon, and Jordan from time to time, I thought I might share some of the insight I have gained along the way. I am by no means an expert on the situation. I am a Christian, espousing a Biblical world view, who is beginning to understand the thoughts of the people at the street level in the Middle East. Here are some important lessons I have learned.
Americans, and Westerners in general, do not understand the Middle East. We think like Westerners, not like Easterners. As Americans in recent generations, we have no idea what it means to live in the constant threat of enemy attack. We don’t typically have stories of times when zealous warlords launched rockets into our village or when ensuing tanks destroyed our neighborhood. We don’t know what it is like to be constantly pestered by a growing arsenal controlled by neighbors who want to annihilate us. We don’t know what it is like to be a father in the cross hairs of a massive response to such pestering, trying to keep his wife and children safe. We just don’t have a grid for it. If we could just admit we don’t get it, this would be a good step 1. I am sure that this is true generally of most Americans, unless they immigrated from the Middle East, not excluding those in the highest positions of influence.
In the Middle East, your enemy is whoever is dropping bombs or launching rockets into your city, neighborhood. or village. I think this cannot be overemphasized because as Americans we just don’t get it. It does not matter who it is. If a nation, organization, or faction is threatening the livelihood of your family you will fear them, try to protect yourself, and likely learn to hate… and that’s just if you are a normal guy. Evil men feed on this sense of fear to create organizations of zealots to make sure these “injustices” do not repeat. In a sense, they become freedom fighters to all who feel they have experienced such injustices.
In the Middle East your core values are hospitality, family, loyalty, religion, and revenge stemming from a desire for justice. These are ancient values as old as Abraham himself, deeply ingrained from generation to generation. It is impossible to compartmentalize these values. Americans easily compartmentalize. Easterners rarely compartmentalize. Easterners are the most hospitable people in the world. Their sense of family is very different than ours. The Middle East has a relational world view similar to the world view of the Bible. Their community is based on religion, family, and shared suffering and victory. Westerners are individualistic. It’s easy for us to say, “I am so sorry that is happening to you” while simply going about our day unchanged emotionally. This is not the case in the Middle East. An offense or an attack on the community is an offense to everyone associated with the community.
What should Western Christians do in light of the constant conflict in the Middle East?
- Allow the gospel to influence, yeah trump, your politics.
- Carry out the Great Commission among all the peoples of the Middle East.
- Take no joy in the trauma and atrocities of war “over there.”
- Pray for the peace of Jerusalem and the salvation of people of the nations that compose the Middle East. Pray for peace among all the nations of the Middle East.
- Jesus said it this way, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love your Jewish neighbor and love your Palestinian neighbor by exercising relentless and authentic love and by serving them with the gospel of Jesus Christ. At the street level, the mission of Jesus Christ does not give us the option to hate one side or the other but only to love. Even if you identify an enemy, Jesus, said “love your enemies.”
The resurrection of Jesus brings hope to the entire world. Discover how the resurrection of Jesus means new life and eternal life for all that would believe in Him. If you need a new life now and wonder about life after death, explore Jesus as the First Fruits of a much greater harvest of people moving from death to life. (Part 3 of 3 in the Passed Over Series)
Even a little sin requires the death penalty in God’s economy. Discover how Jesus, who knew know sin, became sin (leaven) and took the penalty of sin for you. If you are worried about how God will judge your sin, discover the good news that Jesus paid the ultimate price to remove the sin from your life and set you free. (Part 2 of 3 in the Passed Over Series)
For several years now I have been wanting to preach a series called “Passed Over” at Easter. The series describes the fulfillment of the Hebrew Spring Festivals of Passover, Unleavened Bread, and First Fruits in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. If you need hope, take some time to learn about God’s plan for you to experience new life. (Part 1 of 3)
Yesterday World Vision announced their decision to hire gay Christians in legal same-sex marriages citing that change is a symbol of Christian unity, not compromise. See the Christianity Today article here.
It is true that World Vision is not a church but a para-church organization. Its mission, however, is unashamedly Christian. The recent statement is not too surprising actually but it does have ramifications beyond the harsh criticism and passionate support that will be dolled out by many “Christians” embracing extremely different perspectives on the issue for a plethora of reasons. There are gospel ramifications, which brings me to an important issue that homosexuality in the Christian community only highlights.
The gospel is a grace enabled call to repentance followed by a cleansing of grace, giving us a right standing before God because of the imputed righteousness of Christ. This call to repentance can be received with all its promises or ignored with dire consequence. Receiving the gospel by God’s grace leads to heart change and a lifestyle of worship. This is birthed in part in an understanding of sin and God’s judgment of sin. Redefining sin does not make sin any less sinful. World Vision, as a Christian organization has at least in action declared that, as long as a same-sex marriage is legal, it is an acceptable lifestyle with no need of repentance. This action of acceptance and love is actually very unloving. It presents a false gospel, further confusing people worldwide about eternally significant issues according to the Bible. The gospel of Jesus Christ is for everyone, no matter the sin, who would repent and confess Christ as Lord. However, if we as Christians re-write the biblical definition of sin whether directly or indirectly, we send people who have a more politically correct way of sinning, straight to judgment without knowledge of Christ as their propitiation for and Deliverer from the righteous wrath of God. This is tragic.
Satan uses really good people, churches, organizations, etc. to reduce the clarity of the gospel. In our day he is playing this trick around the issue of homosexuality. As Christians, we are to love our neighbors and our brothers and sisters in Christ. To love our unbelieving neighbor is to love them and accept them just as they are, no strings attached with a compelling gospel. Inside biblical Christianity, to love our brothers and sisters is to bear their burdens and to disciple them in the way of Jesus. When we refuse to address sin in the Christian community by applying the grace of the gospel in the midst of repentance we sell the world a false gospel. Unfortunately World Vision, with the best of intentions, is pragmatically adding to the secular argument that homosexuality is not a sin. For homosexuals, this confuses their need for propitiation and reduces their fear of the wrath of God, which in turn falsifies the gospel and muddies their understanding of the love of God for them.
As we think about this, understand that the issue at hand is not homosexuality per se but instead it is precision gospel clarity for all people who sin (which the Bible says is all of us – Romans 3:23). Consider the words of Scripture as you think about this issue.
2 Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. 2 We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. 3 Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance
9 As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.
24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. 
9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Ro 2:1–4). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (2 Co 7:9–10). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (2 Ti 2:24–26). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (2 Pe 3:9). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society
“Hear O Israel the LORD our God the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children…” (Deut. 6:4-9)
I have been thinking about this passage of Scripture for a long time as a husband, a dad, a pastor, and as a part of the larger faith community. I find it interesting that before we impress the truth of God’s word on the hearts of our children, we are to love God and have His Word on our hearts. The most important factor in building biblical legacy is to authentically live out our faith both in front of and with our children. Modern education calls this “modeling.” Early Rabbi’s like Jesus called this discipleship. It is in the “showing” or in the demonstration of the Christian life that our children see faith with their own eyes. We train them up by living it now. How do we do that? There are many ways but here are 3 that I believe are crucial.
1) Marriage – Ephesians 5:31-32 teaches us that the Christian marriage is a picture of Christ’s love for the church. No one sees that picture demonstrated more clearly than our own children. Arguably, developing a loving, Christ-centered marriage relationship with your spouse is the best way we can train our children in the love of Christ. Is your marriage really characterized by love for each other, grace and forgiveness, respect and compassion? Live a great marriage now, right in front of them. Mysteriously this will train them in the love of Christ and the grace of his gospel.
2) Repentance and forgiveness – There is no perfect family. In your family life you will have argument. Inevitably you will hurt one another. When this happens, your response is a fallow training ground for your children. When you sin, quickly repent. On more than one occasion I have knelt down in front of my wife or holding the hand of one of my daughters and asked for forgiveness in order to seek reconciliation. Live a life of repentance in front of them so that they learn to quickly repent before God and others. Also, when a family member comes to you with a repentant heart, quickly forgive. In this way you are training your children about how God loves them and how they can show a Christ-like love to others.
3) Cause – Train your child by living the cause. The primary cause of Jesus Christ and his disciples is recorded in Matthew 28:18-20. We are to go and make disciples of all nations. Live the cause now. Create a top 5 list for your family. Who are the five people in your circles of influence that need to experience the love of Christ and the message of the gospel? Pray for those five with your family. Plan to invite those five to do things with your family. Equip your family to share the gospel and involve them in the process. Train them up by living it now.
While much of this article likely pertains to most Bible believing churches especially in the South, Midwest, and Southwest, I am focused specifically on my tribe because I know “us” and understand our particular plight with its own quirks. I am less astute in regards to the particular nuances of other denominational and non-denominational churches and their ability to apply the gospel in our generation.
The culture of America is quickly changing and it has been for quite some time. Those of us who live in the South and Midwestern United States are late in realizing the grassroots effects of what I consider epic cultural shifts. Particularly, I think Southern Baptists at the local level are having difficulty processing the changes taking place in light of the gospel. Generally the resulting response is anger expressed in closed circles that has little impact on the world. I believe there are 4 issues most local SBC congregations will wrestle with in 2014. If we take our cues from Scripture in each of these categories we will bring glory to God in our culture. If we yield to unbridled, conservative emotion, we will break the greatest commands of the Christian faith: Love God and love people (Matthew 22:37-40).
Issue #1: Gospel and politics – Whereas the country is completely divided on fundamental issues such as individual rights and responsibilities, fiscal responsibility, and foreign policy to name a few, the arena of politics is cataclysmic and opportune for Christians. In particular, SBC churches will have to determine how they will respond on the street level as legislation and the general political momentum continues to trend away from a traditional biblical perspective. In 2014 Christians will have to reconcile the mission to carry the gospel to their neighbor with principled politics. Learning to have basic conversations without spewing a perception of hate will be an important skill for SBC congregants to learn and SBC pastors to model for the sake of the gospel.
Issue #2: Gospel and homosexuality – Whereas the United States is rapidly embracing homosexuality as an appropriate and applauded lifestyle and whereas same-sex marriage is protected at the Federal level, the local SBC church will be faced with opportunity to know and reach more homosexual neighbors, co-workers, and family members than ever before in our nation’s history with the gospel of Jesus Christ. SBC Congregants will need to learn how to develop authentic friendship relationships with homosexuals for the sake of the gospel. Pastoral leadership will have to learn how to lovingly extend the gospel to unbelieving people who live a homosexual lifestyle while at the same time lovingly disciplining Christians who practice homosexuality in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Timothy 1). Christian parents will have to equip their children with a biblical worldview in regards to sexuality. SBC churches will need to discover strategies to equip parents for such an important task. Learning to love God well and love people well in this category is crucial in 2014.
Issue #3: Increasing levels of persecution – Whereas the United States as a culture is currently rejecting the influence of the Bible and the gospel centered church in the mainstream, SBC congregants, and all Bible believing Christians, can expect increasing levels of persecution in the United States. While Christians in other parts of the world might chuckle in their prison cells at our levels of persecution, we can expect to see persecution in ways we have not seen it in America. SBC churches are going to have to learn how to face persecution in God honoring ways. Jesus said this would happen. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12) Jesus also taught us how to deal with persecution. “But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.’” (Matthew 5:44-45) This is an untested practice for most SBC churches and many Christians in America.
Issue #4: Increasing dependence on the power of the Holy Spirit - As the momentum of mainstream culture seems to reject the fundamental truths of Scripture, the land becomes darker, spiritually. This is not a surprise to our Sovereign God. His people have faced dark days before and they will again. In the darkness, the light of Jesus Christ burns brightly. With darkness eventually comes despair and despair breeds the need for hope. It is in this environment that the flicker of the gospel, empowered by the wind of the Holy Spirit spreads like a wild fire. We as people cannot manufacture this kind of gospel movement but the Holy Spirit can and will in God’s timing. SBC churches are generally uncomfortable with the work of the Holy Spirit in the world today. We would like to explain it away. However in 2014 we will need to depend on the person and the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I did not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:7-14) As John MacArthur touts cessation-ism and Mark Driscoll advocates a complete working of the Holy Spirit in our day, SBC pastors will have to discern the work of the Holy Spirit according to the Scriptures and lead their people to depend on the work of the person of the Holy Spirit.