Rasha was beyond excited as she skipped out of her house. She’d been dating Nazir for several months now and the more she was away from him, the more she longed to be with him.
She accelerated her pace as she saw the bus approaching the corner. From there it was just a short 15 minute ride to the shop where her beloved Nazir worked.
Ever since she and Nazir had met she had been praying for him. As a former Muslim who had found Jesus to be “the way, the truth and the life,” Rasha believed that Jesus would reveal Himself to Nazir just as He had to her. She thought back to how much her life had changed since accepting Jesus as the Son of God, who forgave her of her sins. Things were not easy, with her family shunning her and threatening to disown her now that she was a Christian. But she had a peace that she could not explain.
The bus came to an abrupt and startling stop, jolting Rasha from her thoughts. Sirens were going off again, signaling the potential of falling bombs or mortars. She had grown accustomed to the sirens, but she knew there was always a real threat. The bus remained stopped for another several minutes before they began moving again.
As they rounded the corner, Rasha could see Nazir’s little shop. She jumped off the bus and jogged towards the spot where she would see the love of her life. She hoped she could talk again with him about Jesus.
As Rasha approached the large glass picture window at the front of the shop, she could see Nazir inside. Her pulse quickened. Their eyes met. Smiles spread across their faces. And…
Boom!! Boom!! Boom!!
The concussion from the bombs threw Nazir across the room as the glass from the front window exploded into the shop. Rasha was gone. Those dark beautiful eyes that had always penetrated his soul were there just a moment before. But now a huge fireball marked the spot where she had stood.
Nazir screamed. Tears poured down his cheeks as he yelled Rasha’s name over and over. Shuffling through the shards of glass and debris that now littered his shop, he crawled out through the gaping hole that was just moments earlier a window, through which he and Rasha had smiled.
Rasha was nowhere to be seen. It was as if she had vanished into thin air. But then he noticed a strange smell. A burning smell. One that brought a sickening feeling to his stomach. And then he saw them. Black charred bodies that had been burned beyond recognition. He collapsed. The sense of loss was too great to bear. How could someone he loved so much be gone forever?
How could humans hate humans this much?
How could Muslims kill Muslims?
Nothing made sense…
The above story is based on a real incident which happened to Nazir (name changed to protect his identity) in Damascus, Syria. The name “Rasha” and the moments leading up to her death are my imagination, but the explosion, her relationship with Nazir, his love for her, and the remaining facts are as reported to us by Nazir.
Earlier this month I had the opportunity to travel to Greece by way of Albania. I was joined there with several other men who live in that part of the world, and we were engaged in what was to become a series of life altering meetings.
We had the opportunity and privilege to interview a number of refugees, including Nazir, who had fled from cities in Syria, Iran and Iraq, mostly because of the wars and conflicts there. Many of these former Muslims are now living in crowded refugee camps throughout Greece.
In addition to Nazir’s story above, below is a sampling of some of the comments of these refugees that will give you just a small glimpse into the catastrophes they fled that led to their new life in Christ:
- As I made the decision to accept Christ, I realized that my Christian girlfriend gave her life so that I would know Jesus.
- I heard a voice say, “I’m with you” while I was in the hospital but I knew the voice was not from the god of Islam because Allah does not speak with people.
- After fleeing Aleppo, I began questioning Islam’s teachings. If God created me, how could he tell me to kill people?
- If you want to be a Muslim you must close your mind.
- When ISIS came to Mosul they killed my brother, and Christians, and did awful things to girls, destroying everything.
- ISIS put me in jail twice: once for failing to pray and the second time for smoking. The second time they placed a loaded and cocked gun to my head.
- ISIS is still looking for me and would kill me if they found me.
- As I was going home from work one day in Aleppo, a bomb exploded near me and I suffered injuries in my arms and legs.
- Because of the war in Aleppo I fled to Turkey. While there, I met a Christian who I fell in love with, even though I was a Muslim. When I told my family that he wanted to marry me, they told me they would disown me and I would never be welcome to come home again.
- While living in my home country of Iran, I met some Christians there and I became a Christian. But because of my conversion, my life was threatened so I had to flee from Iran to Turkey. While there I met a Muslim girl who I was attracted to. But she was from Syria and spoke Kurdish so I had to use a translator. After several months I asked her to marry me, but I could still not speak Kurdish with her. I needed to be able to communicate with her so I had been praying about this. One night I went to bed, unable to speak Kurdish. The next morning I woke up and could speak Kurdish fluently. When I met my girlfriend the next time, she thought I had been lying to her about my inability to speak Kurdish but I explained to her that it was Jesus who had given me the ability to speak her language. I can still speak it fluently to this day.
- We got married and 5 months later left Turkey, ending up in a refugee camp in Greece. My wife miscarried our first baby and became deathly ill in the camp. One night, I was praying for my wife to be healed and a dark smoke filled our tent (which I believe was demonic). As I continued to pray to God I saw a bright white light outside our tent and I heard a voice telling me that my wife was going to be fine in the morning. The next morning two women I had never seen before came to our tent and they said, “We have come from the hospital and are here to help. Where is Amanda?” They prayed over my wife and took her to the hospital.
- While I was crying in the hospital I saw visions of Jesus smiling at me and He told me I would be ok. I cried out to Jesus and asked Him to help me and I trusted Him. Later, as I was sleeping, I saw Jesus in white clothes and He touched my forehead and healed me. When I woke up I walked out of the hospital fully healed and my life has changed forever now that Jesus is my Savior.
The Bible is full of stories of our miracle working God, many as dramatic as the ones above. Of course, in America, we see evidence of His miraculous work every time we look in the mirror, look out our window, look into the sky or see a new baby. But how often do we see God working in ways like those experienced by these Muslim refugees? In my case, never. But that does not mean that God is silent. To the contrary.
God promises to be found to those who earnestly seek Him. The more than half-dozen individuals that we interviewed are all powerful testimonies of individuals who were calling out to God in their time of dire distress. They were diligently seeking God. And God in miraculous ways showed Himself through Jesus. Their lives have been transformed for eternity. And these new believers are now reproducing themselves in the lives of dozens of other refugees within the camps scattered around Greece and beyond.
As I was reading through Scripture this week, I came across this verse:
“He showed you these things so you would know that the Lord is God and there is no other. He let you hear his voice from heaven so he could instruct you. He let you see his great fire here on earth so he could speak to you from it.” (Deuteronomy 4:35-36)
Many of these refugees heard God’s voice in Jesus. They witnessed “these things” in order that they would distinguish between Allah, the god of Islam, and the one true God, who not only created the universe, but also sent His Son Jesus to die for them (and you, and me). When God showed Himself to be real to these refugees, they embraced Him completely. And every one of these refugees were promptly baptized, to present a public testimony of the fact that they left Islam and embraced Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
My good friend Nathan has aptly described what is occurring as a result of the war-torn conflicts throughout the middle east in this manner: “From Catastrophe to Christ.” He is planning a book by that name, as a sequel to his more recent book, that he co-authored with Joel Richardson: The Mystery of Catastrophe.
While wars and violence are horrendous, and any person would seek to avoid, we can clearly see God’s sovereignty at work in a mighty way through these ongoing catastrophes. And each one of these refugees is eternally grateful for the catastrophe they experienced, for without it, they would likely have never met Christ.
The book of Daniel in the Bible contains many examples of how a follower of God should comport himself in the midst of a culture or nation that is at odds with God’s values. Here are a few lessons we can learn.
Of course there’s the familiar story of the three young Hebrew men, who were also government officials. When they were commanded to bow to a statue of the king, they refused to do so, even though it would result in a fiery furnace, from which they were miraculously rescued.
Speak Truth Always
And then there’s the story of Daniel who, as one of the highest government officials in the land, was asked to interpret a dream for the king. Recall that Nebuchadnezzar’s dream revealed the king’s haughty and prideful spirit and predicted his downfall. Although there was tremendous risk on the part of Daniel in rebuking the king, Daniel did not falter in speaking truth to power, and Daniel challenged King Nebuchadnezzar to change his ways (which the king ignored).
God’s Laws Trump Man’s
Several years later, various government officials sought to persecute Daniel, who reported directly to the king. Daniel was equivalent to the Prime Minister of the nation. The only way these scoundrels could achieve Daniel’s demise was to attack his religion directly. Note what they concluded:
“Our only chance of finding grounds for accusing Daniel will be in connection with the rules of his religion.” (Daniel 6:5)
And so they made sure that laws were passed that would be in direct violation to the religious values by which they knew Daniel lived. Sound familiar?
So they outlawed prayer, to any god except the king.
But notice how Daniel responded:
“But when Daniel learned that the law had been signed, he went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs room, with its windows open toward Jerusalem. He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God.” Daniel 6:10
Daniel not only ignored the law, but he did so publicly, with his window open so that there would be no doubt about whom Daniel would obey. You’ll recall that the rest of this story involved a lions den, God’s miraculous deliverance, the defeat and death of Daniel’s adversaries, and a proclamation from the king affirming Daniel’s God as the one true living and eternal God.
So, you may say, “Yeah, I know all those stories but what do they have to do with me?”
And I say, “A lot!”
The book of Daniel is not just full of a lot of cute bed time stories. Rather it is a book with deep, powerful truths, with principles that apply to the very era in which we a living.
Our culture and government is no longer friendly to Biblical values. In fact, whether it’s a school board, or a city, state or federal government, or agency, the antagonism and animosity towards Christians and the values taught by Jesus are under vicious attack… and it will only grow worse.
If you are a government official or employee who claims to follow Jesus, you have been or will be called to make a choice, when man’s laws and regulations conflict with God’s laws and values. (Remember Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky who refused to issue marriage licenses?)
But most of you are private citizens so you may say, “I’m exempt” from having to make such a choice. But don’t be deceived. Your day is coming… or is already here.
If you own a business, and attempt to abide by biblical values, there is a bullseye on you and your business. (Remember the cake maker, photographer and florist who were singled out and attacked for their Biblical beliefs?)
If you’re not a business owner, you have been (or will be) confronted with a myriad of choices, whether it’s your kids’ education, how your tax dollars are used, your selection of political candidates that may not affirm biblical values, and a host of other choices. (Remember the coach who was recently attacked for his decision to pray with his team?)
But first, will you and I even recognize it when we are confronted with these choices? And secondly, will we cave under pressure, or will we follow the examples from Daniel?
In the final moments of the life of Joshua, we see this great warrior for God and hero of our faith presenting his nation and fellow citizens with this choice:
“But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15
Who will you and I choose? The god of our culture or our government? Or the God of the Ages, whose values and truths never change?
If you’ve read the Bible much, and you’ve been engaged in politics at all, there’s no doubt that you’ve heard of the encounter Jesus had with a group of Pharisees. These religious elite hated Jesus and they were constantly looking for a way to trap the Son of God. So they posed the following question to Jesus:
“Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
But Jesus, understanding the evil in their hearts, responded:
“Why do you test me, you hypocrites? Show me the tax money.”
As soon as they brought Jesus the money, He responded, “Whose image and inscription is this?”
And the Pharisees said, “Caesar’s.”
Then Jesus instructed them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”
I’ve always marveled at the response from Jesus and have heard this passage used frequently regarding a citizen’s responsibility to be engaged in the political process. While that’s certainly a possible conclusion, if we stop there, we are missing the greatest message that Jesus was communicating.
I’ve read this verse dozens of times, but it dawned on me recently what the greater message was that Jesus was no doubt communicating. To understand that message, we must go back to Jesus’ question to the Pharisees: “Whose image is on the money?” That was an easy response because they could look at it and see that Caesar’s image was emblazoned on the coin.
But have you ever wondered, what was left unsaid? What was the greater message?
In the very first chapter of the Bible, we read this truth: “Then God said, “Let us make man in Our image…”
God’s image is emblazoned on every human that has ever lived, including you and me. We were created with the image of God stamped upon us.
So if a coin bearing the image of Caesar was to be given to Caesar, what should should be done with a life that bears the image of God?
Uncle Sam demands and always receives what is due him. You and I don’t hesitate to honor that obligation.
But what about the obligation that Jesus informed us of, when He affirmed that we are to “Render to God the things that are God’s?” If His image is stamped upon us, do we take our obligation to completely give our life back to Him, as seriously as we do “rendering unto the tax man” that which is due him?
So next time you hear this passage, I hope you’ll remember the greater message Jesus was communicating. It wasn’t mainly about taxes, or even politics. No, it was about offering back to God the life He gave to you, without reservation and with complete abandon.
Oftentimes in life, the values we claim to hold are tested in ways that may not always be apparent. But when those tests come, it may reveal that the values we lay claim to, are often not the ones we put into practice. (Sadly, I know this to be true in my life all too often, when I’m honest enough to acknowledge it.)
This truth has been playing out in our community for the last couple weeks in a way that perhaps you’ve never fully considered. The issue at hand is an effort by TVA to “appropriate” private land for its “greater” use. For those who are not familiar, TVA is a nearly 90 year old federal agency that provides electricity to nine million customers across seven states, and operates annually with a multi-billion dollar budget.
Red Line is proposed path of TVA line across Mr. Vital’s property
The controversy involves TVA seeking to extend an electrical service line across the land of a personal friend and local businessman, Greg Vital. Amongst Greg’s many business holdings is farmland in Georgetown Tennessee, which is home to his buffalo operation.
What is unknown by many is the fact that TVA purchased a parcel of land over a year ago. Their plan at the time targeted Mr. Vital’s property as the route to extend their power lines across, to reach their newly purchased parcel. But only in the last couple weeks did TVA finally inform the public, including Mr. Vital, of their plans to appropriate his land for their proposed project.
If ever there was a David vs Goliath battle, this is it.
At a public meeting this last week, I had the opportunity to meet with several TVA representatives to ask questions as well as express my objections to the manner in which they had contrived their plans. While the TVA reps were pleasant, it was clear that they were less than forthcoming with some of their answers.
The concept of eminent domain is one that most Americans are familiar with, but it’s likely the majority of us have seldom been confronted with such a threat. To have an entity that is all-powerful, both economically and politically, confront the little guy, simply because he owns something they want, is an intimidating and often overwhelming struggle. But in such battles, Goliath is typically the victor and David more often than not walks away with a few stones in his pocket.
Most of us know the Golden Rule, and we would likely claim it as a guiding force in our lives.
“Treat others the way you’d like to be treated.”
But there is sadly another rule that involves gold as well. It’s this one:
“He who has the gold, rules.”
These two “Golden Rules” are clashing head to head in the TVA controversy at hand.
Back to the meeting this last week though. As I was pressing the TVA folks about their proposed project, the Golden Rule, as taught by Jesus, popped into my mind. So I asked them a simple question: “Are you a Christian?”
They replied “Yes.”
I then asked them if they believed in the Golden Rule as taught by Jesus, which teaches to treat others the way they wanted to be treated?
“Yes” was again their answer.
So I then asked, “Well, if you believe in the Golden Rule, does it only apply in your personal life? Or do you also believe it is a principle we should practice in our professional lives as well? Would you want someone to treat you the way you are proposing to treat Mr. Vital?”
Silence met my answer. I don’t know if the silence was because they truly did not know the answer, or if it was the reality that the rule they claimed to embrace was being violated by the agency for whom they worked.
As I pressed them further, I asked them if they would ever consider going onto their neighbor’s land with the intent of taking a portion of his land for their own personal use, particularly if that neighbor objected? Their answer was an obvious “NO” and it illustrated how at odds their personal beliefs were with the TVA plan they were supporting and leading.
It would be easy to blame this controversy on a multi-lettered government agency. But the truth is government agencies are made up of individuals. Each individual has his or her own set of values. If our values are deeply rooted, then they should surface in every area of our lives. So when we see the strategy of “appropriating” the property of others via eminent domain (another word for theft), and then that strategy is hidden for over a year (another word for deception), one must wonder what values drive the TVA employees who are overseeing and approving of such strategies? Can they profess their personal dedication to the Golden Rule, integrity, and transparency, while ignoring or contradicting those values professionally?
There’s a story in the Old Testament that deals with eminent domain and it involves King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. This husband and wife pair were two evil peas-in-a-pod and they regularly defied God and His values throughout their lives. One day Ahab wanted to purchase a plot of land from a local farmer. But the man did not want to sell it. So, Ahab’s wife used the most extreme kind of eminent domain. Jezebel had the farmer killed and then gave his land to her husband, King Ahab. Ahab got what he wanted while the citizen not only lost his land but also his life. But that very day God pronounced a fateful judgement on both Ahab and Jezebel. (Read I Kings 21)
Of course, no one is accusing TVA of threatening an American citizen with loss of life. But there is no question that TVA is conniving to take the personal property of an American citizen.
America’s forefathers each pledged their “lives, fortunes and sacred honor” to defend the values of liberty and personal property. When a government agency uses eminent domain, secrecy, and deception to secure private land from an unwilling party, there is no greater threat to the values for which our founding fathers fought.
I’ve often heard it said by critics of biblical conservatives that they should check their values at the doors when they leave their church or personal residence. But this debacle at TVA should teach us otherwise. If we claim certain values are deeply rooted convictions, then they should flow over into every area of our lives. Otherwise these values are merely preferences and have little affect in guiding our behavior in all scenarios.
So time will tell which Golden Rule prevails in the “TVA vs Vital” matter. Will it be the rule taught by Jesus, or the one too many of the elite of our world love to impose on their neighbors, the power of force and intimidation to gain what the one with the gold desires?
If you want to remain informed or be a part of the solution, you can go to Facebook and Like the Page “Stop Destroying Tennessee Farms” to get regular updates on this ongoing battle.
“Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.” (James 4:14)
God has been impressing on me for some time now of the need to always be prepared to meet Him, whether through death or His return. Even so, I struggle daily to keep that moment by moment focus which inevitably results in my 1) getting distracted with all manner of things (both good and bad, big and little), and 2) making choices that would render me woefully unprepared to meet the One I love and to leave the ones I love.
So, in an effort to bring better focus and to increase awareness of my need to continuously “be ready,” I’ve begun to work on what I’m calling my “30 Days to Live” Plan, or #30D2L. It is not a complete or static plan, but rather it will be a growing and changing one, as: 1) I hopefully continue to mature and grow closer to God, 2) I better understand His plan for me and those I love, and 3) I continuously seek to maintain a relationship with God that is unhampered by sin in my life
In essence, the #30D2L Plan is a list of priorities that I would likely have were I to visit my doctor someday and be told that I had 30 Days to Live. Sadly, such news comes to people everyday. But when it does, those receiving the dreaded news, in a sense, have the “benefit” of living out their final days with a knowledge that they are within their final days.
Because of this raised awareness of one’s imminent death, there is no doubt that the choices such individuals make are drastically different than the choices before they were confronted with their own mortality, as well as the choices I make everyday.
So, it seems to me both logical and wise, to take a positive, deliberate and planned approach to living out each 30 Days as if they were to be my last. I’ll confess though that while it may be logical and wise to maintain this mindset, it’s also very easy to stray from living this way each day and very hard to maintain this daily focus, much less hourly. (I know this to be true as I have been attempting to live in this manner for several 30 day periods so far… and failing miserably at maintaining the proper focus.)
But here’s a truth that we should all consider: If the next 30 Days are not my final ones or yours, at some point you and I will wake up for the last 30 days of our life. When this happens in my life, I want to arrive at my last day with no regrets, no items left unchecked, and a clear conscience before God and man.
With this in mind, I want to echo the Psalmist’s attitude when he wrote: “Teach us to number our days.” (Psalm 90:12)
So here’s an initial checklist that I’ve started. But as God continues to give me another 30 day period, I hope to continue to fine tune this list. I’d love to hear if you have other items that you would add to your list.
→ Relationships in order; reconcile any broken ones
→ Sins confessed
→ Maintain a clear conscience before God and man
→ To do list sorted, prioritized and the essentials completed.
→ Make sure that those closest to me know that I love them, every single day.
→ Life insurance in order
→ Finances in order
→ Will/Estate plans up to date
→ No “secrets” in my life
→ Make sure any comments that I want to make to folks are made
→ Spend daily time in God’s Word
→ Always seek to simplify and unclutter my life.
→ Seek opportunities to share God’s Truth in Love
As I begin each new month, treating it as if it could be my final one, I am looking to these thoughts and verses to keep me grounded in the brevity of life. I hope you will be challenged to consider a similar approach. For God has this to say about those who regularly reflect on their own mortality:
“A wise person thinks a lot about death.” (Ecclesiastes 7:4)
May God help me to truly live til I die. And may my outlook always be as Paul shared when he said:
“For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)
Here are a few more relevant verses to maintaining the proper mindset about our final days:
“You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.” (Matthew 24:44)
“This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” (Romans 13:11)
“How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.” (James 4:14)
“All of us must die eventually. Our lives are like water spilled out on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. But God does not just sweep life away; instead, he devises ways to bring us back when we have been separated from him.” (2 Samuel 14:14)
“About that time Hezekiah became deathly ill, and the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to visit him. He gave the king this message: “This is what the Lord says: ‘Set your affairs in order, for you are going to die. You will not recover from this illness.’” (Isaiah 38:1)