How ISIS Reveals What We REALLY Believe

The events, stories, and commentary surrounding the most recent ISIS attacks have bombarded us over the last week and have been overwhelming. I have struggled (like so many others) to know the biblical way to respond in thoughts, words, and actions. Unfortunately, I am nowhere near qualified to claim to have definitive answers for this incredibly complicated issue. So I won’t. Thus this blog is not going to serve in assisting you with the answers and in fact it will just be asking more questions. Let me explain.

Earlier this week, I was doing my Bible study and the author took us to Genesis 3: the serpent deceiving Eve. “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God actually say…'” My Bible study’s focus is the book of Nehemiah and she was just making a minor point from the third chapter of the Bible, but the Holy Spirit stopped me dead in my tracks. Did God actually say…? My mind was immediately flooded with verses.

This past week, I have heard Christian after Christian explain their points. I have read article after article and have had conversation after conversation trying to drudge through this very real global and increasingly local situation. I kept going back and forth with different Scriptures in my mind praying through what the biblical response was to all of this. Again, this blog is not going to have your neat and tidy answers.

My intention today is to instead share a few of the Scriptures that the Holy Spirit revealed that some of us Christians don’t really believe–at least our responses are proving that we don’t (“out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks,” Luke 6:45). We have instead believed the words of the hater of our souls: God didn’t really say…

  1. Philippians 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ, and TO DIE IS GAIN.” If we truly believed that to die is GAIN, we wouldn’t be so scared. Paul screams to us from his jail cell: “IT’S BETTER TO BE WITH CHRIST!!” Maybe we have gotten too comfortable with this life that heaven doesn’t really seem that much better…May God open our eyes to the magnificent, unending joy that awaits us in the glorious presence of Jesus Christ himself. Christ is unexplainably better than anything this life can offer.
  2. Romans 5:10, “…while WE WERE ENEMIES we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son…” With a very imminent, obvious, and real life enemy in our midst, it has given me a new perspective on my relationship with God before Christ saved me. I was his enemy. I don’t think we as Christians really believe that. I think we don’t think we were that bad. I mean, we are thankful that Jesus saved us and all, but–come on–we weren’t killing anybody the day he showed up either! Right? Colossians 1 says that we were “hostile in mind” toward God. We hated him. We were his enemies and instead of running away from us, he ran toward us in the cross. Again, this is not a political commentary. Just a reminder that maybe we have heard the liar say to us, “did God really say you were all that bad?” and believed him. Kill any pride or self-righteousness in your soul. Or it will be killing you.
  3. Acts 9, the conversion of SAUL, THE CHRISTIAN KILLER. Terrorist. Do we really believe the words on the pages of Acts 8 that say that Saul oversaw the murder of Stephen? Do we really believe that he was going from house to house looking for Christian men and women to chain them up and drag them to Jerusalem? Have we entered into the reality of Saul’s terrorism–in the name of his religion? Then, we reach the blessed words of Acts 9 proclaiming Saul’s salvation for generations of mankind to read. Do we believe that God saves terrorists? Or was that a one-time deal just for Saul? Are you praying for ISIS? Do you think they’re unreachable? Unsaveable? Believe Jesus. His very name proclaims, “Yahweh saves!”
  4. Matthew 5:44-45a, “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.” Honestly, this was the first verse that jumped into my mind after reading the words in Genesis. Did God really say….love your enemies. Yup, he did. Yes there are verses that say that God hates the wicked. God is all-together righteous and can do whatever he wants. But here’s the thing: we’re not God. Under the new covenant, I don’t believe we have the option to love or hate.
  5. Matthew 20:1-16, The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard. Speaking out of my flesh, this is easily one of my least favorite passages in all of Scripture. You wanna know why? Because. It’s. Not. Fair. Here’s the thing: doing a full day’s work and getting paid the same amount as someone who does one hour?? Yeah, not fair. The words of the vineyard owner are piercing, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong…Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” May we always remember that everything about our lives–even the very place we were born–is a grace from God (Acts 17:26). We haven’t earned anything apart from him allowing us to have it. The moment we begin to feel entitled to certain things, standards, and lifestyles, we have forgotten grace. Do we really believe that God has the right to show grace to whomever he wishes?
  6. Psalm 115:3, “Our God is in the heavens; he DOES ALL THAT PLEASES HIM.” God is in control. This is only one of many verses that tells us this. Do we really believe that ISIS could be wiped out with a single snap of God’s fingers? Yet, he chooses not to. Do we really believe that he knew about the Paris, 911, and countless other attacks? God’s permissive will is easily one of the most difficult theological doctrines to struggle through in this life, but God’s sovereignty is one of the bedrocks of our faith. Christ-followers should be displaying an unshakeable and irresistable peace to a terrified and watching world.
  7. 2 Corinthians 5:18-20a, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, WE ARE AMBASSADORS FOR CHRIST, God making his appeal through us.” Christian, we have been given the blessed task of taking and preaching the gospel to everyone. As those who have been reconciled to God through Christ, we have the responsibility and privilege of sharing the best news on the planet with those who haven’t heard it yet. Do we really believe that God ordained the church as an integral part of his redemptive plan for the world? Do we really believe that we are all ambassadors for Christ? Or do we think that someone else will take care of it?

Again, I promise you that this is not a political statement, nor even a commentary on how I think we should respond as Christians, and I pray that you don’t read it as such. There are much better articles written by much smarter people about the details of the ISIS situation. But I’m more concerned about us, the church of Christ, believing, loving, and obeying Scripture–it is our very life (Deut. 32:47). No matter what situation we find ourselves struggling through, we need to always endeavor to have a biblical worldview.

I pray that the Holy Spirit would be gracious to reveal where you have allowed the enemy to whisper, “Did God really say….?” and believed him.

8 Things God Taught Me In Seattle….

Last Tuesday marked exactly two years since I moved across the country and started my new life in Seattle. Anniversaries have a way of making us reminisce. It obviously came up in my time with the Lord and I spent some time journaling a few specific things that he taught me first-hand during (and because of) the last two years.

Two more things before we jump in: (1) this list certainly isn’t exhaustive and (2) I can’t promise that you’ll read anything you didn’t already know. But there’s something about lessons taught through experience that takes knowledge to a new depth in our soul.

1. NO MINISTRY IS INDESTRUCTIBLE.

I will not bore you with Mars Hill’s stats when I came on staff in November 2013. I will not tell you our attendance numbers. I will not tell you how many people were on staff. I will not tell you how many locations we had or how many states we were in. I will not tell you our annual budget numbers. It’s unnecessary and honestly, I don’t know all those numbers. The point is this: no one, NO ONE, saw the close of Mars Hill Church coming. Ministry was thriving. Growth was happening. Mars Hill was known to be one of the most innovative and fastest-growing churches in America. Mark Driscoll was known (and loved) worldwide for his unmatched style of Bible-teaching. Mars Hill wasn’t going anywhere no matter what her critics were doing on the outside. She was too big. Or that’s what I and many others thought…

The close of Mars Hill will likely remain one of my most heart-breaking, most surreal, most shocking events in ministry. It taught me that God gives, and God takes away. No matter how unfathomable that might be or impossible that might seem. God is in control and he knows best…and his name is to be praised.

2. PEOPLE WILL EVENTUALLY DEMONIZE ANYONE WHOM THEY IDOLIZE.

This is actually something that I heard Mark Driscoll preach time and time again. But I saw this proved true, as people in the church quickly turned from hurt to hate. Whenever a person is the source of our joy, security, peace, or acceptance, and then they inevitably fail us, they threaten (instead of provide) those things in our lives. They who were our perceived savior, quickly become our enemy.

3. GOD USES WHOM HE CHOOSES.

Mark Driscoll definitely had his stuff–we all do. He preached often about his struggle with the sin of pride and anger. But God chose him–even in the midst of his stuff. God chose to save a 19-year old kid, gifted him mightily, and led him into ministry for the good of people and the glory of God.

Also, let me say this publicly here since I’ve been asked several times: I had the privilege of meeting weekly with Pastor Mark because of my role on staff. I had several casual encounters with him at staff meetings and other functions. I never, NEVER experienced anything other than grace, honor, humility, love, appreciation, and pastoral care from him. He has a pastor’s heart and loves people.

4. GRIEF WILL MANIFEST…EVENTUALLY.

I have cried at the strangest times–one of those times being while writing this blogpost. But I’m thankful for the grief, because the current pain proves the previous joy. I loved everything about my time at Mars Hill: the people who became my family, leading worship at one of our locations, the work I got to do, my pastors, serving a church who had done so much for me for years.

If you find your grief stalling, give it to the Lord. He knows best how to allow your heart to heal.

5. MISSING A GIFTED, INFLUENTIAL PERSON IS NOT A SIN.

I really struggled with feeling guilty for missing Mark’s preaching so much. I felt way less mature than the many people around me who kept saying, “Mars Hill isn’t about Mark. We are a family no matter who our pastor is!” Things like that–which were true. But through a lot of time journaling and praying, I realized that it was OK for me to miss Mark, his preaching, and his content. He is easily one of the top five most influential people regarding my spiritual formation. I needed to allow myself to grieve his preaching. The Holy Spirit had used him to teach me such life-changing truths that even the sound of his voice (having been a podcaster for 6-7 years) was comforting. It was peaceful for me. But just because I missed a man, did not mean that I idolized a man.

Having an earthly hero and grieving your loss of them is perfectly normal. Don’t let people try to tell you otherwise. Devastation, however, is another story.

6. DON’T DISCOUNT PAST MINISTRY EFFICACY BECAUSE OF CURRENT SITUATIONS.

No one can deny what God did through Mark Driscoll. No one. There are quite possibly hundreds of thousands of people who have heard the gospel of Jesus Christ through that man. The current situation does not negate any of God’s previous work. He is the first person who clearly told me, “There is nothing you can do to make God love you more, and there’s nothing you can do to make him love you less.” Freedom. Life-changing. Life. Changing. There is nothing that will ever discount my appreciation for his ministry in my life. Nothing.

Similarly, any current sin issue or consequences of past sin in your life does not demean or devalue what God has done through you in the past. If the enemy is attacking you this way, ask the Lord to remind you of his goodness to you and his grace through you to others.

7. DON’T COUNT OUT A FUTURE MINISTRY BECAUSE OF CURRENT SITUATIONS.

I have no idea what God has planned for Mark Driscoll. But I know he has something for him because (a) God has prepared good works for him to do and (b) he’s still breathing. Yes, there is need for repentance, growth, healing, and restoration, but God is able to do abundantly more than all we can ask or imagine.

Likewise, if you find yourself in a current season of sin, rebuke, and consequences, do not let the enemy convince you that you’re out of the game. As long as there is repentance, it’s simply not true. Hold onto the precious truth of Romans 8:28 that he works all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose.

8. JESUS IS WAY TOO GOOD TO ME.

I write that sentence with tears welling up in my eyes. It’s true: his unbelievable favor blows my mind. He is the prize. He is my prize. If you find yourself in a tough, tough situation today, hold onto Jesus with all you have. He is your prize. He is enough. When ALL around your soul gives way, HE THEN is all your hope and stay.