Tuesday, February 28, 2017

WHOSE SIDE IS GOD ON?

The “Holy War” had been proclaimed.

The religious extremist shouted, “We must take up arms to drive out the infidels from the land! They are the enemies of our faith!  To die in the holy war is to be rewarded in heaven and your assurance of salvation!  Your highest calling is to go to war and to kill the enemies of God!  God has willed it!”

Reading these words in light of current events, we might assume they were spoken by Mullah Omar, Osama Bin Laden, or perhaps some leader from ISIS.  But in this particular case to which I am referring, they were not.  These words were not spoken by any Islamic leader against the west or against Christians.

They instead were spoken by the leader of the Christian church in order to raise up a great crusade to drive the Muslims out of the Holy Land.  His call came at the end of the eleventh century. 

Nine Hundred Years

Today we stand at the beginning of the twenty-first century.  It is almost incredulous how the rhetoric has been reversed.  Nine hundred years ago, it was the Christians who waged a holy war against Islam.  Today, not only in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also in Palestine and in increasingly more places in the Middle East and even in the west, the Jihad has been raised against all that the Islamists see as the enemies of Islam.

The intervening years may have brought about many changes, but there is one thing that has remained constant.  In all times, and on all sides of a conflict, in what are described as “holy wars,” everyone claims to be fighting in the Name of God. Combatants are quick to proclaim that God is on their side.

I watched the image of a twelve year old Afghani boy on the television news a couple of years ago.  His young mind had been solidly indoctrinated to believe that the Taliban, despite the fact that they had so brutally ruled his country, were building a government in Afghanistan as Allah would have it done.

“The Taliban will never fall,” the young boy said, “because God is on our side!” 

“You will succeed,” the Pope told the crusaders of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, “because God is on your side!”

Today in the West, we do not agree with the twelve year old Afghani boy.  We look on Al Qaeda, the Taliban and also as the ISIS movement as being regimes of extreme evil. Each one in succession seems to only have increased in their cruelty.  The brutality of their actions against all who do not agree with them, and the violence that they have wrought in their own countries and around the world have demonstrated clearly their wickedness.  We believe that in fighting them we are fighting evil.

But nine hundred years ago the same might have been said of the crusaders who marched under the Christian banner to combat what they saw as the infidels of that day. The massacre that took place by the crusaders after the taking of Jerusalem was almost beyond belief.

Whose side is God on?

Saturday, February 18, 2017

THE DESTROYER OF CULTURES

For several years, I worked as a trainer of pastors in churches all throughout Latin America and also for a few short years in the islands of the Pacific. Because of this work, I often traveled to some remote areas. As I did, I listened to and tried to understand many various perspectives from a great variety of several people. Through all of these experiences, I learned to greatly appreciate the differences we have among us as people.

During this time I was also working as a missionary of the Christian church. This fact caused me to have to consider the following question: How do I reconcile the spread of Christianity with the preservation of indigenous cultures? 

THE DESTROYER OF CULTURES

Once on a trip to Venezuela, I found myself in a conversation with a young German student at the airport in Caracas as we waited for our out-going flights to go home – he back to Germany and I to Guatemala, where I was living at the time. The country and the people of Venezuela were well known to me, since I had earlier lived there for many years. On this trip, however, I had only returned for a visit.

I had been to Venezuela to conduct a pastor’s training seminar. When I told the young German about my work and that I was doing similar work in several countries at that time, our conversation began to become centered on a theme that I had often had with travelers.

The theme has to do with the effect of Christianity on local cultures. Because of my work in different countries and because of the fact that I often worked with people from indigenous cultures, I was fair game for criticism from other travelers who pop in to a country to visit certain areas in order to get a cultural “experience” and then go back home. 

Two Types of Travelers

Actually, I usually appreciated hearing the various perspectives and opinions of these travelers and I usually learned something from what they had to tell me. Gaining such insights from people who have diverse points of view is one of the aspects of my work that I have enjoyed.

Because I generally worked with people at the local level in areas where there were relatively few tourists, the tourists that I did meet in these areas were usually people who were sensitive to cultural issues and appreciated the differences that we have among us as people. This, to me, is much preferable to a second type of traveler that I would meet.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

ABANDONED BY GOD

One of the saddest words in all of human speech is the word abandonment. It brings to mind the terror in a child’s eyes the moment that he realizes that his mother no longer wants him. Or the sense of despair that a starving refugee has after having walked and crawled a hundred miles to what he thought was a feeding station, only to find when he arrives at the place that there is nothing.

Abandonment is the worst kind of despair because not only is it a feeling of hopelessness, but it also comes with the blow of having placed one’s trust in someone, only to be forsaken by them. When we trust someone, we become vulnerable to that person. We give that person the power not only to help us, but also to hurt us to the core of our being.

These cases of abandonment can be great or they can be small. Many times, we are able to rise above and overcome this abandonment by someone whom we had trusted, but even the small cases can have a cumulative effect that might bring us eventually to a breaking point.

The sense of abandonment can also come from what seems to be a hopeless situation. We drop our bucket into a well that we have stumbled onto in the middle of a dry and barren desert, only to hear it hit a bottom as equally thirsty as our own parched throat. It would have been better if there were no well at all, rather than to have our hopes elevated and then shattered. 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

THE SOUND OF BATTLE

Now when Joshua heard the sound of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a sound of war in the camp.”

But he said, “It is not the sound of the cry of triumph, nor is it the sound of the cry of defeat; but the sound of singing I hear.” (Exodus 32:17-18 NAS) 
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 “Go down at once,” the Lord said to Moses on Mount Sinai, “for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves” (Exodus 32:7 NAS).

It was the incident of the Golden Calf. In the days before this incident that took place at the foot of Mount Sinai, the Israelites had just been delivered by the powerful hand of God from four hundred years of slavery in Egypt. In their exodus from that land of slavery, they had witnessed God’s great power in the ten plagues that he had brought upon the Egyptian nation and on Pharaoh, so that Pharaoh would finally agree to let Moses lead the Israelites out of the country.

However, Pharaoh later had a change of mind and sent his vast army to pursue the Israelites. As God’s children fled before the armies of Egypt, they saw the Red Sea open before them so that they could pass through. When the Israelites had crossed the sea, they looked back and saw the water close up again to swallow up the Egyptian army. The army had been right on their heels in their pursuit.

But those events were behind the people of Israel now. They were entering into a new relationship with God, and Moses was the man whom had been appointed by God to be their representative. At one point not long after the people had escaped from Egypt, Moses had climbed Mount Sinai with Joshua to meet with God to learn of God’s vision and plans for this new nation. However, the people at the foot of the mountain were growing tired of waiting for the return of Moses from the heights of the mountain. It would be forty days and forty nights before Moses finally did come down (Exodus 24:18). The people had grown increasingly impatient for him to return. The Israelites had expected a lot more from Moses and apparently wanted it a lot sooner. They were restless.