Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Little Easters

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The resurrection of Christ is the central event of human history.

Because He lives, everything has changed for those who believe and follow Him. We have salvation and hope — and we share them with others. We celebrate His victory over sin and death. We look toward eternity with joyful expectation, not fear or despair.

So where is He? Everywhere — even in dark places. Especially in dark places. If you watch and listen, you will witness some of the countless, quiet epiphanies that reveal His risen presence. Here are a few:

-- Because of government restrictions in a country hostile to Christians, a church meets on a patch of land 6 feet wide and 30 feet long — no roof, no floor — jammed into a narrow space between a believer’s house and a neighbor’s wall. The preacher stands under a tree at one end. The congregation stretches back for the length of the house and spills into the front yard.

“When it rains everyone gets wet. When the sun shines they all get tanned. But when they praise the Lord, they are all blessed,” says a missionary. “And so were we the night we worshipped with them.”

-- A former missionary struggles with an aggressive form of cancer. He already has lost a leg to a malignant tumor. More treatment looms. He admits that his life seems very fragile at the moment. Yet God continues to use him to bless others.

Recently he visited the renowned Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for medical tests. That afternoon, “I sat down at the grand piano in the main lobby and played for an hour,” he writes. “It was therapy for my soul. I played improvisations on various hymns including Fairest Lord Jesus, It is Well with My Soul and What a Friend We Have in Jesus. I shed a few tears as I thought back on memories of my past … of holidays when our children were small and would dance around the living room to my music.”

Later, as he waited in the lobby, a woman in a volunteer uniform sat down in a chair next to him. “Excuse me, but I wanted to let you know that God used your gifts today to touch someone in a deep way,” she said. “I recognized every song you played, and I must say I have never had a worship experience like I did today. Thank you.”

-- A staunch Buddhist woman in East Asia faithfully burned incense for her deceased parents. Many Christians had tried to share the Good News of Easter with her, but she had rejected it — and even cursed the messengers. One day a massive earthquake destroyed her village, taking her home and family. During one of the long nights of despair that followed, she dreamed of a wordless book of colors falling from heaven.

Early the next morning, some strangers visited the refugee camp where she was living. When one of them took out a book of colored pages, she quickly invited them into her tent. As they shared the Gospel, using colors to explain the way to salvation, she knew that God had sent them. She immediately repented of her sins and received Christ into her heart. Now she too serves in a disaster relief zone, telling others about the love of God.

-- Two dozen volunteers from Kingsland Baptist Church in Katy, Texas, helped a single mother make repairs around her home. A neighbor saw the activity and walked across the street to ask what they were doing. A volunteer explained that the single mom was experiencing tough times and didn’t have the money to pay for house repairs.

“We’re here to demonstrate God’s love to this woman by meeting some of her needs,” the volunteer said.

The neighbor scratched his head and replied, “I’m not a Christian, and I’ve never had a desire to go to any church. I never realized Christianity was about stuff like this — helping those in need. If that’s what it’s about, I’m interested in learning more about Jesus.”

-- On my own street, a young man dropped out of high school a few years ago to drink, take drugs and hang out with gang members. But recently he changed his ways. He has a new friend: Jesus. Through counseling, reading the Word of God and prayer, he’s realizing that he doesn’t need alcohol to make it through the day, doesn’t need pills to calm down, doesn’t need to break the law to be “accepted” by others. Christ is all he needs now, and all he wants. His eyes light up when he talks about his newfound freedom from fear, anxiety and anger.

Small moments. Little Easters, you might say. They seldom make the news — except in heaven.

He is risen.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Loving the enemy

Listen to an audio version of this post: http://media1.imbresources.org/files/107/10745/10745-57495.mp3

Love your enemies, Jesus said.

We nod in easy agreement with the theory. It’s the application that gets sticky. Which enemies, exactly, are you prepared to love? The guy who tailgates you on the road? The “friend” who spreads lies about you?

What about Osama bin Laden?

The latest issue of Mission Frontiers magazine poses that question in a cover article titled “Loving Bin Laden: What does Jesus expect us to do?” (http://www.missionfrontiers.org/) Christian peacemaker Carl Medearis recounts the evolution of his friendship with one of the top operatives in Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based (and Iran-backed) Islamic militant movement that fought Israel during the cross-border war of 2006. Medearis and co-author Ted Dekker tell the same story at greater length in their new book, Tea with Hezbollah: Sitting at the Enemies’ Table (Doubleday, 2010).

“(B)y most definitions he was the enemy of my people, Americans. Maybe even the enemy of Christians. And for sure the enemy of the Israelis. But how could I follow the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth to love my enemies if I never met any?” Medearis writes of his first nervous encounter with the Hezbollah leader.

“That day a friendship began. It was a cautious friendship — on both sides. We were equally skeptical of the other’s agenda. But over the years we have become friends. He’s still a Muslim, still the leader of the Hezbollah in all of south Lebanon, still at war with Israel. But he has now received prayer a thousand times, often by the laying on of hands by my Christian pastor friends I take to see him. He has now read the New Testament. We talk often and deeply about the Gospel, about big international issues, about the small hidden things of our hearts.”

Medearis challenges his friend to make peace with a loving God — and with Israel, Hezbollah’s bitter enemy. He knows some people consider him foolish, na├»ve, a “useful idiot” being manipulated by terrorists for political or public relations purposes. Yet Christ’s words about loving enemies remain. Could the steady application of love and God’s Word to his friend’s war-hardened heart change the course of history in the Middle East?

When Medearis talks about loving enemies as a method of transmitting the love of Jesus across boundaries, the most common response he gets from Christians goes something like this: “Yeah, I know that Jesus said to love our enemies, but … I mean, you’re not suggesting that, well, you know, we should, like, love Osama bin Laden, are you?”

What Medearis (or anyone else) suggests is irrelevant. What matters is the command of Christ, who committed the ultimate act of love on behalf of those who opposed, rejected, betrayed, hated and killed Him. That act, that supernatural life, transcends politics, cultures, nations — and all past, present and future animosities. Forgive as you have been forgiven, He says. No exceptions.

The command doesn’t apply just to individual relationships. The global progress of the Gospel depends on loving and blessing enemies. Every day, hundreds of mission workers and thousands of local believers are forming the kinds of friendships Medearis describes. As often as not, the families, clans or tribes awaiting the Gospel in the next village or across the border are enemies. You fear them; they fear you. How to bridge the gap? Unconditional mercy.

And we must go first, if we claim to follow Christ. We can’t ask new disciples across the world to share the Good News with enemies if we aren’t willing to model the practice.

If all this sounds hyper-spiritual, here’s a real-world model: Steve Hyde.

Steve’s no otherworldly mystic. He’s a big ol’ guy with a big smile and a huge heart — just like his dad, Southern Baptist missionary Bill Hyde. Bill was killed in a 2003 terror bombing carried out by an Islamic rebel group in the Philippines. It was an abrupt end to a life lived passionately for Christ. During 25 years in the Philippines, Bill planted (and trained Filipino Christians to plant) hundreds of churches.

Steve was already doing full-time mission work elsewhere in Southeast Asia when his father was killed. He’s still there, spreading the Good News and equipping believers to multiply churches — just like his dad. On the seventh anniversary of Bill’s death March 4, Steve recalled the words he spoke at his father’s funeral:

“I will avenge my father’s death, but not like the plans of the evil one. To kill and destroy is easy, but to love your enemy is God’s command. The plans of Jesus are peace and love through the forgiveness of sins. I will go and bring Jesus throughout this evil world and take the light of Jesus into the darkness.

“Please, all of you whose lives were touched by my father, who were motivated and encouraged by him in church planting, evangelism and the kingdom of God, join me in avenging my father’s death. Let us together go into every dark area, those hard-to-go places, those places that bring fear just by mention of their name. Go, as my father went. My dad will not be the last martyr, but in the end the Lord Jesus Christ will have the victory. Take the Light into the darkness with me.”

If loving enemies into heaven is good enough for Steve Hyde, it’s good enough for you and me.