A World On Fire

Freedom always comes with a price tag. The sad and tragic fact is the price is often shed blood. My own country’s struggle for freedom 240 years ago was a struggle soaked in blood. This morning as I read the news from around the world I see that same struggle happening in country after country. This is nothing new yet in recent days it has struck me in a far more personal way. I have personal connections in many of the places where people are striving for and in some cases dying for freedom.

Freedom Square in Kiev, known locally as Maydan, is a place I have visited many times. I have numerous friends who have been in the square making their voices heard, not only for freedom but for the Gospel. They have had a prayer tent in the middle of the square since day one and they have served the broken and wounded, both the physically broken and spiritually wounded. Scores of people have been killed and hundreds severely injured. Venezuela is following in the footsteps of Ukraine. Reports are that paramilitary bands are roaming the streets on motorbikes shooting anyone who looks like they are going to protest a government that has increasingly oppressed huge portions of the population. Torture and death have become commonplace but still people are massing to protest the brutality. Venezuela is on our minds because one of our daughters-in-law’s family is from Venezuela having been forced out under Chavez. In the South Sudan cities of Juba and Malakal there is gunfire in the streets with rebels and government forces battling. With a team from Northland I trained 100 church planters in those cities a year ago. They and their children go to sleep at night with the percussion of gunfire and explosions of grenades as their lullaby. Bangkok is barely in the news but I have paid close attention, having been there recently and knowing a team of people who are there now training church planters. Then of course there is Egypt which continues to boil. Once again a place in my heart. I have been there 8 or 9 times over the years. My middle son lived there for the first year of the revolution and we have a close partner church one block from Tahrir Square. That church, like others in Kiev, has served as a makeshift hospital in the midst of bloody turmoil.

These places are not far off distant lands to me or my family. They are very real, tangible, close. We can hear the sounds, see the sights, and smell the unique aromas of each of those places. We hear the voices of friends there and see their faces, hear their laughter, feel their anguish. We have talked about the fact that as a family we have a connection to each of these places, about how our hearts ache for our friends. I honestly wish I could be there with them. I long to be there to stand with them, to let them know they are not alone, that others around the world have not forgotten them. But how do you go to half a dozen places at once? You don’t. But even going to one is not an option. Not because of the danger, but because I know my friends. In one moment they would be thrilled and encouraged by my arrival and in the next their amazing love and hospitality and concern would kick in and they would end up focusing their time and energy on me and not the task at hand. So I stay on my back porch and think of them, pray for them and write to all of you about them. I pray for Oleg, Anatoly, Nadia, Olena, Fayez, Nader, Sarah, Matta, Patrick, their families and many others who yearn for freedom and are paying a price in its struggle and are at the same time being a witness to others of the love of Christ, risking their safety so others may know Jesus.

Know Jesus. That’s really the point isn’t it? Even in thinking about freedom and the price paid for it, one cannot escape the Gospel. I said that the price of freedom is often paid in blood. I wonder, should we really be surprised by that when the price of our ultimate freedom was also blood? There is a great passage in John 8:31-6 where Jesus says that the truth will set us free and that in Him we have true freedom. The religious leaders argued that they had always been free and didn’t need Him to make them free. But as He usually did, Jesus meant something far deeper than physical or even political freedom. He was talking about being spiritually free, which is the most important of all freedoms. He was talking about the fact that we are all enslaved to our sins and desires but that He came to pay the price, the blood price for our freedom. We say that our freedom as Americans has been purchased by the blood sacrifice of countless others who died so we might live. Jesus is the premier example of paying that price for our freedom. He shed His blood so that all who believe and trust in Him might have freedom from guilt, freedom from sin, freedom from the bondage and slavery of our broken human nature. I can’t think about Kiev, Bangkok, Juba, Malakal, Cairo, or the friends I have in those places without thinking about Jesus who gave everything that I might be free. As He said in John 8, “If the Son has set you free, you are free indeed”.

So I pray for my friends, that they would know Jesus presence and freedom even in the midst of suffering. I pray that they would know they are not alone, that He is with them. Yet I wonder perhaps if they don’t already know His presence in the midst of pain far better than I do from the comfort of my back porch. I suspect they really do, for Jesus makes Himself known to us in the midst of the furnace in ways not possible in the midst of comfort.

Finally I ask that you pray for them as well. Pray for Jesus to show up in those places and change hearts as only He can. As you pray for them, pray for yourself also. Pray that Jesus sets you free and makes Himself known to you as never before.


Three Cultural Values That are Suffocating Your Faith: Part 3, Security

I remember hearing a professional athlete some years ago make the case for renegotiating his contract. He was already making several million dollars a year and had a hefty signing bonus from his current contract already in the bank. There were a few years left on that contract but for a number of reasons he wanted a new contract and even more money. The case he made when people objected that he already had a great contract was this, “this is about my families security. This is about feeding my kids and getting them an education. It’s about my family’s security”. My first thought was, what planet are you living on. What kind of food do your kids eat when several million dollars a year doesn’t cover the grocery bill?

Of course it is easy to poke fun at an athlete who makes more in a year than many people will make in a lifetime yet is still worried about financial security and the future. When I speak of our cultural value of security it is the financial variety I am talking about. Make all the fun we want of the athlete but the fact is, nearly everyone in our western culture is looking for financial security. And nearly everyone is convinced that if they only had a little more money, security would finally be theirs. The athlete making millions a year worries about the end of his career and says, I just need a few million more a year and I will be okay. The business woman making great money on Wall Street says, if I only had a few hundred thousand more a year I would finally be secure. The middle class suburbanite says if I only had ten or fifteen thousand more a year I would be set. The inner city single mom says, if I only had a few hundred more a month I would be fine. Do you get the point? We all think that what we need is a little bit more and we would be financially secure and able to breathe easier.

Now I get the feelings of the single mom to whom a few hundred dollars a month means the difference between food on the table or shoes on the feet. But after that it seems to me that most of the rest of us have somehow missed an important biblical point. It goes to the story in Luke 12 of a farmer who had such a huge crop that he ended up building bigger barns to store all that grain in for a future day. He went to bed feeling completely secure in his future because by all human standards of measurement he had it made. No worries. His supply of food, i.e. tangible wealth in the 1st century, would never run out. He was as secure as anyone could ever be. Yet when he went to sleep that night, it was his last. The warning given by Jesus was do not seek to gain the whole world and then end up losing your soul. In our western material obsessed culture we are doing just that. Even within Christianity there is a growing movement that measures spirituality by how prosperous you are materially. Surely with such a theology we are in danger of losing our soul.

Perspective and context are often the keys to understanding life. In The United States there is an escalating tension over wealth. People who have huge amounts of it are being attacked for having it and people who don’t are crying out about the unfairness of it all. The 99% and occupy movements are indicative of this way of thinking. Here is my problem with it all. If you live in The United States you had best be careful about this whole 99% issue and about the injustice and unfairness of the income inequality you see. The reason is simply this, by mere fact of living in America you are among the tops 5% wealthiest people in the world. How do I figure that? Simple. For starters there are roughly 7 billion people on the planet of whom just over 300 million are living in the USA. That makes it less that 5 % of the world’s population. When we look at the financial side of it, when compared to the world’s top 30 developed nations, the average American makes about 60% more a year than the average for those countries. That doesn’t even take into account half the planet that lives on 2 dollars a day or less. That’s 3-4 billion people who live on two dollars a day. When you sift it all out what you end up with is that nearly every American is better of materially and financially than 90-95% of the rest of the world. So when you complain about the injustice of income gaps between the rich and the not so rich in America, remember that on a world context you are most likely among the rich.

I could go on with lots of numbers that would make your eyes glaze over. Rather, having been in 30+ countries on every continent but Antarctica in recent years I think I have a fairly decent view of the world and what people are living through. Let’s not talk numbers. Let’s talk lifestyle. Let me ask you a few questions. Have you gone out to dinner in the last month, including fast food drive through? Have you bought a book just to read for pleasure in the last 6 months? Have you gone to a movie theater in the last 12 months? How many televisions are in you house? Cable or satellite? How many cars in your family? Do you have things in your closet that you haven’t worn in a year because you have plenty of clothes that you do wear regularly? I could go on and on and on. Please understand this, for many people I know around the world the answer to every one of those questions is no or none. They could not dream of buying a book to read for pleasure because it is the cost of three meals. They have never been to a movie theater because it means the difference between a few hours of amusement and shoes. They have only the barest of necessities to sustain their lives.

What I find fascinating about so many of those folks is that they are more in touch with community, their faith, family, God, and lots of other things that really matter than any dozen of us who have so much more. You see something is happening to us in our material blessing. We are being deceived into thinking that those are the things that make life good. We have bought into the cultural value that says those are the things that will insure our security into the future. The problem is, we end up trusting in those things and not the Lord who blessed us with them. Jesus made it clear that we should not be obsessed with such things because our heavenly Father knows we need them and if we trust Him, He will take care of us. That was not a license to sit back and not work or even to plan for the future. Rather it was a word of assurance reminding us that our security does not come from our stuff but from our Father. Instead of feeling secure because we have material wealth we need to feel secure because of our relationship with and trust in our heavenly Father. Jesus says that all our stuff will rust, corrode, be burned up, stolen, destroyed. There is no security in that stuff. There is only security in Him. The more we place our security in the stuff, the less we will find true security in Him and that will slowly suffocate our faith.