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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
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.  And they went on stoning Stephen as he called upon the Lord
and said, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!'  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
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."
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
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?  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