Thoughts on September 11th

That day is permanently etched in our mind and the very sound of the words 9/11 awaken within us the deepest feelings of sorrow.  At 8:15 am on that cool, crisp September morning I drove to Open Door Baptist Church just like I did every morning.  Walking through the parking lot into my office I couldn’t help but to think how beautiful the deep blue sky was that morning.  As I opened my Bible and started working on my sermon for Sunday morning, I could not help but think how it seemed like a perfect morning.  A little before 9 am that morning the phone rang and my wife was on the other line asking me if I’d seen the news about the plane crashing into the World Trade Center.  I had no television or internet access at the church so she was explaining the scene to me when all at once she gasped and cried “Oh No!”  It was 9:03 AM, the second plane had just struck the South Tower and everyone in America realized that we were under attack.

The remainder of that day is a haze now.  I remember going to my son’s school to pick him up early and Carla Brady asking me, “Is this the end of the word?”  Thirteen years later, I can’t remember how I answered her that morning but I know that the same question was running through my mind.  The world didn’t end that morning, but life as we know it was changed in so many ways.  The blanket of security that we slept with at night was suddenly taken away and for the first time America seemed vulnerable.  A lot of has happened since that morning.  We’ve fought long drawn out battles in Afghanistan and Iraq.  We’ve spent hundreds of billions of dollars on defense and security.  We’ve hunted down and killed the mastermind behind the plot, Osama Bin-Laden, and most of his cronies.  Thirteen years of nearly constant battle and yet last night our President announced that a new threat has emerged named ISIS and once again America must send our military resources to fight.

While I’m supportive of the President in this endeavor and believe military force is necessary in order to protect innocent lives and secure peace, I also can’t help but think that we are missing a key ingredient in this formula.  Let me explain what I mean.  The basic premise that I would put forth is that we can never defeat an ideology with mere military force.  Think back for a minute to the Second World War.  While the war was necessary and just, it alone did not secure the ultimate defeat of socialism in Nazi Germany and Japan.  Ultimately, it was what happened after the war that changed the hearts of the Germans and the Japanese.  When the war ended, the United States and other allies did something amazing, they went back in and rebuilt the very nations they had fought so hard to destroy.  This astounding act of courage, wisdom and altruism brought about a dramatic change and produced a peace that has lasted until this very day.  Compare that to what happened at the end of World War I, when the allies crippled Germany with harsh reparations and thus set the stage for the rise of Adolph Hitler and the Second World War.  It seems to me that we are creating the vacuums that ISIS is filling.  Perhaps the answer is to have a two-pronged approach.

My thesis is that if we resort only to military force in the Middle East we will continue to see the rise of militant, radical Islam.  What we need to do, therefore, is to combine strategic military strikes aimed at protecting the innocent with a massive effort at winning the hearts of the people through acts of kindness.  In other words, we need to help to rebuild the Middle East in a manner similar to what we did in Germany and Japan after World War II.  Specifically, I have in mind building hospitals, schools, highways, and other vital infrastructure that can improve the daily lives of people living in these lands.  Such actions will speak louder than words and will certainly do more than bombs at changing the hearts and minds of the people.  In the end, what do we have to lose?  We can keep on going down the endless road of frustration that we’re on or we can try something different.  Total disengagement isn’t a viable option so we need to adapt our strategies to include a balance between force and kindness.

As a follower of Christ and Pastor I also recognize there must be a supernatural element in the overall strategy.  The church in the United States and around the world committing ourselves to the task of praying for the middle east.  Specifically, we need to be praying for Christians in the region to be emboldened to preach the gospel and for God to open the hearts of minds of millions of Muslims to it’s saving truth.  In Romans 1:16-17 the Apostle Paul says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believers, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”  The Gospel is more powerful than any bomb or device invented by man.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ can change hearts and bring peace where there has been no peace.  Let’s pray that by this time next year, God will send a great spiritual awakening not only here in the United States but across the globe and especially in the middle east.

The Importance of Praying Together

Christ Church StellartonWe have experienced something very special over the past several weeks here at First Baptist, Metropolis.  For nearly two months now God has moved within our congregation in a very special way.  Last Sunday night in our deacons meeting we rejoiced in the fact that last month eighteen people joined our fellowship, most of them by baptism.  What’s even more exciting is that nearly every week, I am hearing from other Pastors around the country about how God is moving in their congregations.  Couple that with the fact that right not across the nation there are two films in the theaters that expressly present the gospel (Son of God and God is not Dead) and it becomes clear that something special is beginning to happen.  While it is too early to call it revival, God is clearly up to something and if you pay attention you will see Him moving all around you.  With this in mind, I want to encourage everyone who reads this to refocus and rededicate themselves to the work of prayer.

It is no secret that every revival in the history of the church has begun with people setting aside time to pray and to seek God’s face.  We are all familiar with 2 Chronicles 7:14 which says, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”  Notice the emphasis here on prayer and repentance.  These are the two key elements in every great revival that has occurred in the church.  Therefore, over the next couple of weeks, I am going to dedicate this blog space to encouraging and equipping Christians for the work of prayer.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  One of the first things that stands out in these verses is that these commands are to be the perpetual activity of Christians.  We should always be rejoicing, always praying, and always giving thanks.  Many years ago, I had the opportunity to serve with an older Pastor named Tom Darter.  One of the interesting characteristics of Tom’s personality was that when he started to pray he would begin with the word “…and.”  So if you were sitting down to a meal with Tom he would pray, “…and Father we thank you for this food.”  If you asked him to pray for a need he would say, “…and Father I come to you today on behalf of Joe…”  If he was praying in the worship service he would say, “…and Father we praise you today for…”  He always began his prayers with the word “…and.”  One day I worked up the courage to ask Tom why he did this.  I will never forget what he said, “Joe, prayer is the continuous work of every Christian.  Our prayers do not have a beginning and an end, our lives are just one continuous prayer.”  Tom went on to explain that when he prayed he was just continuing an ongoing conversation with God that had begun at the moment of his conversion.

This is what Paul has in mind here when he says “pray without ceasing.”  We should be in an ongoing conversation with God that reflects our gratitude, our dependence, and our adoration.  Today, as you go through your daily schedule I hope that you will strive to keep up a constant conversation with God.  As you go through your day, talk to Him.  Praise Him for His goodness and grace.  Ask Him for the things you need.  Thank Him for the many blessings, even the small ones, that He sends your way.  Pray without ceasing.