News From The Frontier

Is That You, Lord?

How could it be that Islamic terrorists during Easter services in Sri Lanka in 2019, or a zealous Muslim student in France before beheading his teacher for being blasphemous last year, or Al Qaeda terrorists flying planes into the Twin Towers in New York City in 2001, could have yelled, “Allah ‘akbar,” or “God is great,” before destroying innocent lives? And, if that were not enough, how could red-blooded Americans attack their own Capitol earlier this month, yelling, “Hang Mike Pence,” “Kill Satanic worshipper, Nancy Pelosi,” and then in the same breath hold a prayer service for Jesus in the congressional chambers they had just overtaken? What voices are these people hearing? Do they think it is their God and Lord who is prompting and instructing them? Could it be someone else who is urging them on? Perhaps few times before in American history has the need for spiritual discernment, healthy theology, been more important than now.

Jesus left us with a strong image when discussing the need for us to accurately recognize his voice in our lives. He likened himself to being a Good Shepherd and we as his obedient and trusting sheep. Jesus warned his disciples and us that many deceivers or thieves would come along in life trying to fool us, tempting us to follow their voices without us knowing or suspecting that we are being led into abuse and eventual death. Jesus was urging his disciples to work diligently at recognizing and knowing his voice among all the other competing voices in the world. He said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice. They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.” (John 10:1-5)

Following Jesus is a daily discipline requiring constant prayer, leaning on the good counsel of more mature Christians than ourselves, and willing obedience to the invaluable instruction of the Bible. Jesus never instructed his followers to take up arms, lead an insurrection, or find virtue in being a suicide bomber. On the contrary, he told his followers to resist the temptation of revenge or attacking enemies with violence. He told them to have faith that the Lord himself would do the judging, enforcing of justice, and issuing discipline and punishment for those ignoring his commands. As he ushered in his New Covenant, Jesus went so far as to instruct his followers to love their enemies and pray for them to find the love, comfort, and guidance of the Good Shepherd in their lives.

For the past 19 years, I have been in awe of my Egyptian Christian friends. Against all odds, they have never sought revenge after being ruthlessly attacked so often by Islamic terrorists. In recent years, Muslim militants have blown up sanctuaries in the middle of Orthodox Easter worship services in Cairo and Alexandria, attacked vehicles and murdered innocent Christian pilgrims traveling to retreat centers in upper Egypt, and even beheaded 21 Egyptian Christian laborers in Libya who refused demands to become members of the Muslim faith. In all these cases and in many more, the Egyptian Christians never retaliated. In fact, after the beheading of the 21 laborers, many of the mothers of these innocent victims spoke on Egyptian television, urging all Christians to pray for the terrorists as terribly lost souls, forgive them in their hearts in obedience to Jesus, and not seek revenge. Because of these powerful witnesses for the kingdom of Christ, thousands of Egyptian Muslims have since come to faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior, wanting for themselves the peace and power of the resurrection for their own lives.

Today, on a daily basis, our lives are being bombarded by hundreds of competing messages. We are constantly being tempted to follow and believe any number of voices, often not knowing or understanding how harmful some of them can be to our souls. Proverbs 14:12 warns us, “There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death.” If we are not careful, we could be following a message or a group of people who could be leading us further from the love of God instead of closer to it. Spiritual discernment is an art and an essential element of the Christian life which needs constant practice. King Solomon asked God for one thing above all others, namely wisdom. He understood that all the riches or power in the world paled in comparison to the value of knowing God’s true voice, that which discerns between right from wrong.

Jesus told his followers that if they trusted their lives to him as Lord, he would give them the gift of the Holy Spirit to live inside them, helping them to distinguish good from evil, and remember all that he had taught them. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would give them comfort during trials, advocacy and help when they were discouraged, and discernment for the many and often difficult decisions they would have to make. What could be a more valuable gift for us today than this kind of help? In increasing and alarming numbers, good-hearted people are being led astray by mindless chatter on the internet, conspiracy theories spun like candy, fast-talking politicians who are desperate for more power, and even church leaders who have become hungry for worldly prestige and privileges. We have reached our limit as a country and people. The answer is no longer which news source to seek or which political party to join; we have run beyond those kinds of critical solutions by now. The only answer to today’s circumstances is what the Holy Spirit alone can bring us: wisdom from above.

How confident are you that you are hearing accurately and clearly the Good Shepherd’s voice in your life? Innocently, you might be listening to an entirely different voice than the Lord’s, and not knowing it. You might be convinced that Jesus is telling you to do or believe certain things which are in fact clearly contrary to all that he taught and exemplified in his lifetime. Spiritual discernment requires humility, prudence, and self-control. Kneeling in prayer, we need to seek God directly and ask for a wisdom greater than our own. The book of James says, “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you.” (James 1:5) With eagerness and an open heart, we need search our Scriptures, learning the ways of God, not man. For the sake of community and needed fellowship, we must surround ourselves with wise, humble, and kind Christians who can give us the feedback and advice we may need at any given moment in time. If we fail to do these things, we will most likely be led astray into behavior that will be harmful to others and ourselves.

May we take full advantage of this current pandemic and all the incredible down-time it is giving us. If you haven’t lately, take time to crack open your Bible on a more regular basis, close your eyes and pray more often, and ask God to help you know which way to go each day and what to believe for the sake of his kingdom. Are the people you are currently following on social media, television, and the latest podcast wiser than Jesus? Of course they are not. Yet we are tempted to keep following them because they are so easily accessible on our smart phones and computer screens, producing likes, affirmations, and internet communities for which our hearts are so desperately seeking. However, the only like or affirmation that matters in the end is the love of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives without whom we are as a vulnerable and purposeless as a lost sheep.

We need to ask ourselves, what voices are predominant in my life? What voice am I really listening to? What voice can I trust to help me choose right from wrong? Proverbs also tells us: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5,6).

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