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Unsettled Praying

Psalms 37:28


We are living in tense days-days that remind us of our need to pray. We pray to God, asking Him to intervene on behalf of those we know who have willingly placed themselves in harm's way to defend democracy, their country and to make a preemptive strike against evil. Because of the number of military personnel who attend our church, we all know and love people who are in the theater of operation right now, and most of us have good friends or even family members who could be there soon. That makes this war personal for most of us.

But not only is it a personal war, it is also a personalized war. With the presence of embedded journalist, this war is playing out on television screens around the world in real time. Frankly, I'm not comfortable watching war images from a tank cam-there are some things that I just don't want to see. I don't feel like I need this much information about the war, so as much as possible, I'm carrying on with my life and digesting the news of the war by watching recaps on the news, glancing at some of the 24-hour coverage or reading headlines on the Internet.

Because this war is so personal I find constant reminders around me to pray. Certainly because of my friends who are over there, and because I have a son that proudly wears a uniform now, but also because of one of our missionaries whose family's picture hangs on my wall right behind my desk. He is an undercover missionary near the war zone. I made a promise to him that I'd pray for his family whenever I look at his picture-a promise I've kept. But lately, I've been drawn to the picture and find myself in constant prayer for him and his family. Are they safe? What impact will this war have on their work? If they left their country, will they be able to return?

I find myself claiming Psalm 37:28 for this family, "For the Lord loves justice, And does not forsake His godly ones; They are preserved forever; But the descendants of the wicked will be cut off." (NASB) While I know this verse does not guarantee this family is safe, it is a comfort to me as I pray for them. 

Yet, I also know that there are times when God allows people to suffer and die for their beliefs. Good men-men like Stephen. Acts 7:58-60 says, "And when they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him, and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. [59] And they went on stoning Stephen as he called upon the Lord and said, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!' [60] And falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them!' And having said this, he fell asleep." (NASB) 

While I am quick to acknowledge that having correct beliefs and being a good person will not shield a person from all wickedness, I also know that God never sleeps-there is never a time that He is not watching, and even in war He keeps a firm grip on the heavens and earth. His providence remains in tact, even when wicked men and the terror they leave in their wake reign, on earth. I know our God protects His people. He is the deliverer. Psalm 91:3 says, "For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper, And from the deadly pestilence." (NASB) Nothing happens that God doesn't allow or permit. 

Which immediately raises a question, why doesn't God stop evil things from happening? Go home and think about that question-talk about it with your family and friends. Come back tonight, and we'll discuss it further.

This morning, our focus is not on the times that God chooses not to act, but on the times He chooses to intervene. Like He did for Kenneth and Joyce Nicholson in 1990. The Nicholson's are retired missionaries who now live in New Mexico, but years ago were members of our church when he was stationed out at Ft. Ord. In 1990, they were neither in the Land of Enchantment nor on the Beautiful Central Coast of California, they were in Liberia in a land that was quickly becoming a war zone.

The Nicholson's were planning to leave the country around the 15th of July for a month of well-deserved R&R. Their plans were to see family and to spend some quality time with Joyce's mother who was suffering with Alzheimer Disease. But for a then unknown reason, Joyce had a premonition that they needed to leave early. Yes, there were places in the surrounding area that were dangerous at this time, but they didn't give their safety a second thought-the rebels had not advanced on their city, they were 40 or 50 miles away. The danger level had not reached the point where the missionaries in their area felt they needed to evacuate.

Like the climate, the politics in Liberia is hot and humid. In 1980, Master Sergeant Sammuel Doe staged a coup, assassinating President William Tolbert and established a military government. The Doe regime was brutal-executing thirteen officials in public. After some political maneuvering, Doe was elected president in October 1985. A few years later, government officials uncovered a plot to overthrow the government, and imprisoned 10 men for ten years. The next year, in 1989, the rebels began a military offensive to oust Doe from power. The fighting began in the Northeast of the country and slowly progressed downward toward the capitol city as the rebel forces took one town after another. By July, they'd taken the capitol city and closed down the airport.

Because of the activity of the rebel forces, the Nicholson's knew they couldn't leave through Monrovia, the nation's capitol, they would have to find another way out of the country. So Kenneth took their official papers to a government office to get their exit visas. All his paperwork was in order, but the bureaucrat told him to come back the next day to get his visas. An inconvenience, Kenneth thought, but it wasn't a big deal. He went home and made plans to return the next day. When he returned at the appointed time, they still weren't ready, but he opted to stay and wait, instead of go home and return later as they suggested. The wait paid off; a couple of hours later, he had all the paperwork in hand to begin their journey back home.

The next morning, the police, the fireman, the military and the emigration officials, the very people who had given him their exit visas had fled the country. The Nicholson's followed their lead and made final preparations to leave. In the capital city, Doe's troops turned on civilians, massacring 600 refugees that had found sanctuary in St. Peter's Lutheran Church. The danger level and reached the boiling point, and as it turns out, the Nicholson's were just one step in front of the fire. The day they chose to evacuate was the same day the rebel forces entered their city. They were heading for Guinea, a neighboring West African country thirty miles away. I'm sure they gave a huge sigh of relief when they crossed the border, but it was short-lived. The river was flooded in front of them, and when they checked on the border crossing back into Liberia, it was closed. Remember-they didn't know the severity of the threat level in Liberia. At this time, they didn't know their city had been attacked, they didn't know about the massacre in St. Peter's Church-all they were working on was the prompting of the Holy Spirit to leave. So what would they do? It appears to me that they were one step ahead of falling dominoes, and they should go forward. But how? The bridge was washed out and the river was swollen. They had to feel a bit like Moses did as he stood in front of the Red Sea with sound of approaching thunder from Pharaoh's army closing in on him.

Psalm 91:11 says, "For he orders his angels to protect you wherever you go." I think some of the angels were on overtime duty on this day. There wasn't a bridge, but there was a tree that had fallen across the river, leaving a big log-a way of escape for them. Some locals that were traveling with them, put the Nicholson's suitcases on their heads and walked across the log. Then it was Kenneth & Joyce's turn. If they slipped, they would have fallen into a watery grave. The swollen river formed dangerous rapids beneath their feet. With their feet on dry ground on the other side, they counted their blessings. When they discovered the extent of the danger they were in, they thanked God for his watch care over them and the prayers of His people on their behalf.

Not only did God protect them, but also the local, a Mandingo man that assisted them across the river. The next day when they arrived safely in Konacree, their destination in Guinea, he found out that all the men in his village had been shot and killed by the advancing forces. They spared the women, but the only man that survived was the one that carried the Missionary's luggage across the river.

Joyce said, "All this time we felt at peace, we experienced the peace that passes all understanding. We knew the people at home were praying for us, but we just didn't realize the impact of prayer, that it can give you peace in the midst of all this chaos and the fear."

During this time of uncertainty, it is our privilege to pray for God's protection over people we know, and those we don't. Because God does hear and answer our prayers.

First segment Sunday Evening

Why doesn't God Stop Evil things from happening?

This is a question for the ages, something people have struggled over for longer than we've been alive. Because we know God is all powerful, we wonder why He doesn't act to wipe out evil. Though I wouldn't presume to say that I understand why God does what He does, I would like to point a few things out that have helped me as continue to struggle with this question.

1. The potential for evil must exist for there to be free will.

Can there be free will without the presence of sin?

If God has made us with a free will, then isn't it necessary for Him to give us the opportunity to sin?

If we have free will, then God cannot force righteousness upon us, right?

2. Evil must exist for there to be good.

Isn't sin necessary for there to be virtue?

Can there be a reaction with an action?

Can there be strength without obstacles?

Can there be pleasure without pain?

3. Good does emerge from evil.

"Wars are dreadful evils, yet the world is indebted to wars for the preservation of civil and religious liberty, for which they are a small price. Better have war than lose the liberty wherewith Christ made us free." Hodge

Second Segment Sunday Evening

These lines of reasoning are anthro-centric, not theo-centric. Each of them looks at the end results of evil from man's point of view--how it affects us, not from God's point of view.

Remember, it isn't about us--it is about Him.

So I offer a 4th suggestion from a theo-centric viewpoint that takes into account how God is glorified, not how man's life is made easier/better.

4. God's glory is amplified when His judgement is made known through the punishment of sin and his grace is shown when He forgives it.

Romans 9:22-23 NASB "What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? [23] And He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory."

And so as we pray for the safety of our friends and family members overseas and for God's justice to reign over evil and for His grace and mercy to freely flow, we also pray that He might be glorified-even in the midst of evil.

Impact Preaching: A Case for the
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