Walking Backward Into the Future of Evangelism
(Great Awakenings , The Jesus Movement and Free Radicals)
In the early 1960's some well preserved black and white photographs as well as a few rare "Super-8" millimeter movies show YWAM'ers with white shirts, skinny ties and winged-tipped shoes witnessing door-to-door alongside their female counterparts who sported long dresses and beehive hairdos. (Think "Leave It to Beaver" reruns!). As we launched into the 70's, in an attempt to reach counter-culture youth with the gospel, YWAM workers resembled the hippies they were trying to reach (think long hair, bell bottoms, granny dresses and guitars on the streets). In the 80's and 90's God showed us that we could present the Gospel in deeds as well as creeds and mercy ministries to the poor and standing up for justice issues helped us win over the hearts of Gen-X'ers (born 1964 - 1980) and young Mosaics (born 1980 - 1995).
As we move into our 51st year, if Jesus doesn't come back in the meantime, what will our outreaches look like in 2020? 2030? 2040 and beyond?
Before we look ahead, however, it may serve us well to look back. The Maori of Aoteaoroa (New Zealand) have a proverb that helps describe their way of life: "We walk backwards into the future." In other words, they navigate the uncertain paths of the future by fixing their eyes on the past. We are told 167 times in the Bible to "remember." Paul said that "...everything that was written in the past was written to teach us..."(Rom. 15:4). George Santayana famously said that "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it". What can YWAM (and other groups born in the 2nd half of the 20th Century, (i.e. Operation Mobilization, Campus Crusade, Youth For Christ, Teen Mania, Calvary Chapel etc.) learn from history that might help us burn on to finish the task of World Evangelization and not burn out, blow up or crash and burn in the process because we didn't use our rearview mirror?! *
Revival historians have pointed out that even the most genuine moves of the Holy Spirit to awaken God's church are barely able to keep their vitality for 2 generations. Both Jonathan Edwards, who helped spark America's first Great Awakening ,and Charles Finney, who a century later helped with the second, lamented in their later years, that ,in their view the revivals sputtered out prematurely due to deaf ears to clear warnings given in the Bible as well as history regarding the hindrances to revivals. The same could be said for the counter-culture revival that spawned the above 20th-Century organizations-The Jesus Movement.
The "Boomers" among us (born 1946-1964) need to heed the 20/20 hindsight that the past affords us as we "pass the baton" (to use a worn-out metaphor) to the next generation of world-changers. For instance, history shows that pride and its stepchildren, self-righteousness and a critical religious spirit are sure to frustrate a revival and freeze evangelism. This God-opposed arrogance (1Pet. 5:6) manifests in those who are pro-revival as well as those against it. The one being proud of their being on the "cutting edge" with God. The other jealously hurling unsubstantiated accusations against the revival.
A close second would be what Edwards called "enthusiasms"** and Finney termed "excesses"*** or emotional wildfire. At first the revivalists "let all things be done" then when things got out of hand they leaned toward "decently and in order" (1Cor. 14:40). As time went on they were convinced that much of what was happening was in reality either demonic or human excitement. They found that where leaders failed to "pastor the prophetic" there was sure to be a quenching of the Holy Spirit's fire. Jessie Penn-Lewis and Evan Roberts blamed this type of excess for the snuffing out of the Welsh Revival.**** Will there be excesses in any move of God? Yes. Must liberty be given and grace extended during times of spiritual awakening? Yes. But the line must be drawn somewhere. Hence, need for biblically-based, discerning servant leadership.
Back To The Future
More could be said on hindrances and the short shelf-life of revivals but the above will suffice for now. On a more positive note I would like to share with you a dream that I, and many of my young (and some older) friends from many nations have concerning the future.
What if this next generation put their collective beautiful feet down (Rom. 10:15) and insist they won't be in bondage to history, but will change history? What if they "walk backwards" and learn from the good, the bad and the ugly of past revivals? What if their desperate cry reaches the Lord of the Harvest for one last Great Awakening that will extend to the ends of the earth?*****
WHAT IF ?... the future generation of witnesses for Jesus were:
1.) "Neo"-That is, a combination of the old with the new. As they walk backward into the future they follow the Jesus who said that wise stewards of God's truth bring out of their "...storeroom new treasures as well as old."(Mt. 13:52). They will not be enticed by "every wind of teaching"(Eph. 4:14) that comes down the evangelical highway but will "Test everything, and hold on to the good"(1 Thess. 5:21) . They will jealously "Guard the good deposit entrusted to them"(2 Tim.1:14) as they boldly take new initiatives to reach emerging generations of unbelievers. They will "...contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints"(Jude 3) [the old], but wrap the gospel in language that 21st century people can recognize for the good news that it is [the new]. They will not be afraid to alter the trappings of the gospel to commend its contents. Nonetheless they will be "valiant for the truth"(Jer.9:3).
2.)"Militant"- They will gladly "endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ" (2 Tim. 2:3). Secure in God's love they will refuse to be spoiled eternal babies endlessly whining about losing their rights but will eagerly take up their responsibility to "hunger and thirst for righteousness" (Mt.5:6) and not be distracted by lesser or counterfeit ambitions. "No soldier gets involved in civilian affairs - he wants to please his commanding officer"(2 Tim. 2:4). They will sacrifice the luxuries and some of the legitimate pleasures of this world so others can make it to the next one. They will quietly let others waste their time on video fantasy war games while they do battle in the reality of the eternal conflict realizing the stakes that go to the Victor.
3.) "Passionate"- They will burn with love for God . By God's grace they will not be seduced by the intoxicating aroma of "unauthorized fire"(Lev. 10:1) and ministry "success". As they walk backward they take note that the evangelical landscape is littered with the dead bodies of those who wanted God's glory (for themselves) rather than God Himself. They will be consumed with worship and like the "Jesus People" that preceded them they will live like it's all about Jesus only much more so. The term "prayer warrior" will not be a cliche' to them. They will spend hours on their knees in informed intercession for the souls of men and the nations of the world. They will not be passionate for passion's sake or chase the latest charismatic fad, but like King David will say "...my soul pants for you O God. My soul thirsts for God, the living God." (Ps. 42:2). They will not complain about the "cost of discipleship" but will ask 'Where do I pay?!' They will see the Lord not as a washing powder that washes whiter or a trip to end all trips but the Lord of the Universe who demands their surrender. They will joyfully give up and bow down.
4.) "Compassionate"- Their passion for God will overflow in compassion for the poor, the oppressed, the slaves, prisoners and the marginalized. They will unashamedly stand up to the Herods and Pharoahs of this world and be a voice for the voiceless. They will follow the Jesus who announced in his first sermon that he was the Year of Jubilee (freedom) in person (Lk. 4:18-19). Tears will flow from these compassionate warriors as they identify with the pain of the victims they rescue. They have gladly taken up the easy yoke of their Master (Mt. 11:28) and felt his heart for those he died for. Again, as they "walk backwards" they will see they are standing on the shoulders of giants like Wesley, Wilberforce, the Booths, Florence Nightingale, William Carey and scores of other evangelical missionaries who seamlessly served their fellow man in body and soul.
5.) "Experiential"- As they serve a postmodern generation who has experimented with every drug, sexual experience and extreme sport that can be imagined they will proclaim and demonstrate the God they serve is One of power and that the Word of God is much more than leather-bound pages in a Book but a revelation of a Kingdom that "... is not a matter of talk but of power." (1 Cor. 4:20). Walking backward they will learn from the mistakes of previous witnesses for Christ who when asked "Does it work?" said, "It doesn't matter if it works. It matters because it's true." They will boldly proclaim, "It's true and it works because it's true". They will know what they believe, why they believe it and why it matters. They will represent a Jesus who "works" because He is the Way, the Truth and the only source of Life.
In short, they will be radical. To be radical simply means to "return to the roots". --Radical not because they are young but because they carry a message that they believe is "...the power of God unto salvation"(Rom. 1:16). They will radically combine the dreams of the old with the visions of the young and prophesy truth to their generation (Acts 2: 17-21). The Truth will, as Jesus promised, set them free (Jn. 8:32).
They will be free--free from the religious legalism of the past, the cultural bondages of the present and the fear of the future. They will have no part of religious politics, elbowing for position, easy-believism, dead orthodoxy, cheap grace or sleepy Sunday morning Christianity. They won't seek to be cool, but to be holy. They will climb the spiritual ladder down, like their Lord. With shields raised, swords swinging and signs following they will storm the gates of hell and set the captives free in the name of the Lord. And when they turn around from their backwards walk they will see Jesus who will welcome them home:
"Well done, good and faithful servants, enter into the joy of the Lord"
* Please forgive preponderance of Western/American illustrations as space is limited.
**"Thoughts On the Revival in New England", Jonathan Edwards, pg. 410
*** "Finney On Revival", V. Raymond Edman, pg. 147
**** "War On the Saints" Jessie Penn-Lewis, Evan Roberts
***** "The Coming World Revival"-Robert Coleman
"The Coming Revival" Bill Bright
"For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost."
He was truly lost. Johnny Stockton, a 24-year-old physically fit former YWAM staff member, on a break between assignments, decided to take a prayer retreat/expedition along the Kona Coast of Hawaii's Big Island. His plan was to paddle his rented kayak one half mile offshore along the coast and paddle northward for 30 miles where he was intending to make his way inland, sleep under the stars and come back home the next day. The prevailing winds and ocean current did not cooperate and Johnny found himself frantically paddling against the forces of nature to try to get to land. He paddled for hours and collapsed in exhaustion.
Upon awakening he saw the summit of Mauna Kea far off in the distance, made one frantic last call for help on his cell phone which showed no bars. Miraculously his call got through breaking up severely. Johnny waited - for four more days. Severely sunburned and dehydrated, he gave up hope. He wrote a final letter to his family telling them how much he loved them and waited to die. Miraculously, in his final pass a pilot spotted the yellow kayak. His survival story was told worldwide.
Historically one of the strongest motivating factors for world missions has been the fact that Christians believed people without Christ were in the strongest sense of the word, "lost". Hudson Taylor once said , "There is a great Niagra of souls passing into the dark in China... a million a month are dying without God... I never would have gone to China if I didn't believe the Chinese were lost". In a gripping vision of a waterfall of blind people falling headlong off a cliff to their destruction, Amy Carmichael, a missionary to India, described the fate of the lost in her essay "Thy Brother's Blood"*. William Booth is reported to have wished all his Salvation Army officers could hang over Hell for 24 hours prior to their commissioning. He thought this would stir them to greater service to the poor and the lost.
A few months ago on my home island one of the most popular American TV series in history wrapped up filming. For 6 years the writers of "LOST" skillfully took viewers through the lives of people who were stranded on a Pacific island after Oceanic 815 broke up in mid-air and crashed. Millions waited expectantly for the last episode. In the feel-good finale they all ended up in the afterlife happily enjoying one another's company. Prominently displayed on a stained-glass window in the church which represented heaven were the symbols of all the world's major religions signifying what the writers intended to communicate- that no one is really lost after all!
Recently about 3 miles from where this episode was filmed I was told by an angry young man to "go to Hell". Five minutes before he consigned me to perdition, he informed me that he didn't believe such a place existed and then proceeded to damn me by the God that he didn't believe in. This random street witnessing encounter set me to thinking about Hell. I re-examined it's impact on my life. Does it's terrible reality grip my soul in any tangible way. Did I believe that not only the Hitlers and Bin Ladens of our world but many others will end up there? Does the stark reality hit me that according to Jesus unless a person repents they will perish (Lk.3:5)?
A recent book on world missions contrasts old school/new school viewpoints on the Great Commission. One chapter was entitled "From Saving Souls From Hell To The Glory of God". It was pointed out that many missionaries today are discovering that the highest motivation for world missions should be to glorify God and to honor Him, and much less about rescuing the perishing. Fair enough, but shouldn't a primary impetus that sends us and keeps us on the mission field also be the fact that people are lost? Wouldn't this reinforce a burning passion to reach out with the good news?
Theologians disagree about the nature of Hell, whether it's eternal or destructive, flaming hot or cold and dark, physical [fire] or spiritual [death]. Whatever it's nature, it is certain that it's residents are separated from the life of God forever. Paul declared (the verse after warning of God's judgment) that , "Knowing the terror of the Lord we persuade men."(2 Cor 5:11 KJV). Jesus spoke much about Hell (33 times) while other biblical writers used words like death, fire, perishing, destruction, outer darkness, black darkness etc. The Bible refers to hell 167 times. It is there and we must deal with it or dismiss it.
Why Hell Isn't Cool
1) Hell isn't cool because it isn't "cool." Cool people don't like to talk about Hell. It's a drag and unpleasent in polite adult conversation. Not only is it not cool, but it's not popular, hip or sexy in a postmodern world where Truth itself is up for grabs--especially Truth that tells you that you are lost (think U2 lead singer Bono's headband-"Jesus, Mohammed, Jew- it's all true"). Now that's "cool!" One sure fire way to freeze up an otherwise friendly dialogue is to suggest people might want to consider where they are planning to spend eternity.
2) Hell isn't cool because it's, well , "hot." Hell brings the metaphor of a "hot topic" of conversation to a whole new level! Dante's "Inferno," Jonathan Edwards' "Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God" and modern books by folks who say God allowed them to pay Hell a visit offend modern sensibilities. A lake of fire, even when seen metaphorically is tough for 21st Century people to swallow, even giving many Christians the creeps when discussing it.
3) Hell isn't cool because we don't take it seriously. John Lennon's "Imagine" ("...no Hell below us, above us only sky..."), rock bands like AC/DC (Highway to Hell, Hells Bells, Hell Ain't A Bad Place To Be) and Black Sabbath (Heaven and Hell) numbed a previous generation to Hell's reality while more recently TV shows like The Simpsons and South Park regularly made light of Hell and kept millions laughing in the process.
4) Hell isn't cool because we have a warped understanding of God. We often emphasize His benevolence and barely mention or even apologize for His wrath, using phrases like "The Father Heart of God", His "unconditional love" or an allegorized, out-of-context slant on the Song of Solomon that pictures God as a romantic lover, lonely for our companionship. These pictures of God are fine in their context but we must not forget the allegiance and obedience due to the Creator and just Judge of the Universe who demands our surrender, is to be feared and (albeit from a reluctant, broken heart) will execute judgment on those who refuse His gracious offer of eternal life. To The Rescue
The man responsible for more people hearing about Jesus than anyone in history, Dr. Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade For Christ, shortly before his death wrote: "In today's culture with a growing indifference to the afterlife, I have come to realize the need for a greater discussion on hell...To be silent on the eternal destination of souls is to be like a sentry failing to warn his fellow soldiers of an impending attack" ( "Heaven or Hell- Your Ultimate Choice" - pg.32,28).
Recently millions worldwide celebrated with the families of the 33 trapped Chilean miners who were rescued after 69 days underground. They would have been forever "lost" if not for the heroic efforts of hundreds of people at great expense ($19 Million). No one bemoaned the cost of the rescue. Why?-- The value of human life. How much more should we with fervent zeal and burning love come to the eternal rescue of those who are lost. It's not that life is so short, but that you're dead for so long!
" What will it profit a man if he were to gain the whole world and lose his own soul"
* from "Things As They Are"- Amy Carmichael
Jesus made it clear that his disciples were to travel, whether across the sea ("...into all the world...), or across the street "(like Philip), we are to put one beautiful foot in front of the other and GO and proclaim the good news (Rom. 10: 15).
In Bible times chariots were to people like the Ethiopian man what planes, trains and automobiles are to us today, simply modes of transport. Some of my favorite times of witnessing are when I am not intentionally "on outreach" but enjoying those spontaneous divine appointments that God arranges as I go about my daily routine-including travel-when I am "on the go". Let's learn a bit from the example of Philip the evangelist (Acts 21:8) and his encounter with his new African friend.
1) Get friendly. First we see that Philip obeyed the Spirit's prompting to "go near" to the lone traveler. One of the first things I do before I board a plane is ask God to help me to "go near", get out of my introspection, and be intentionally friendly to the person sitting next to me. Then I make myself available to the Lord, keeping in mind Jesus' model of being a friend to sinners (Mt. 11:19). Not long ago I was on a plane sitting next to a little boy. His mother was seated a few rows up on the aisle seat. Before the plane took off I volunteered to switch seats with the mom simply so she could sit next to her son. In my new seat I found myself sitting next to a university student whose girlfriend had just become a Christian and had severed their relationship. When he found out that I had recently spoken at the church at which she was converted he was wide open and ready to hear the good news. God had set up a divine appointment and before we landed he surrendered his life to Jesus.
2) Get interested. Philip found a common interest with his new partner on the chariot, even though he was from another culture. He noticed him reading a book and asked him a simple question. On a flight just last week my wife Linda and I sat next to a young lady who was reading a book on motivational speaking. I enthusiastically informed her that I was a motivational speaker and proceeded to give her public speaking tips. All of my illustrations, of course came from the Bible and evangelistic messages! I gave her a gospel tract, sent her 2 books in the mail and just yesterday she sent me an e-mail promising to read them. We plan on following up on her.
3)Get verbal. We also notice that Philip "opened his mouth" (vs.35). It is crucial that we get verbal in our witness for Christ. People do not get saved by osmosis or by basking in the bright light of our glowing glory! Faith comes by hearing God's Word and the "foolishness of preaching" (Rom 10:17, 1 Cor. 1:21). This brings up the key element of witnessing as we travel. Not only did Philip open his mouth but got specific and "...told him the good news about Jesus." (vs. 35). It's all about Him!
4) Get Christlike-in other words- serve ( "...the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve..."-[Mt. 20:28] ). A little over a year ago I boarded a plane and found a young lady sleeping in my previously assigned window seat. She complained about being jet-lagged and tired and informed me she slept better in window seats , so I exchanged my seat for hers. When the plane got to cruising altitude, I gave her both seats (and my pillow and blanket) and went to the back of the plane to do some stretches and read my pocket New Testament. I let her sleep for an hour and a half, came back and found an appreciative young woman open to the gospel. She gave her life to Christ and joined a church in California. Before we landed she told me she was the victim of a praying grandmother. Grandma and I were unknowingly "co-workers" with God in His harvest field!(1 Cor. 3:9,2 Cor. 6:1)
5) Get personal- Ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom ("...he who wins souls is wise- [Prov. 11 30]) in guiding the conversation from broad generalities to specifics. Personally inquire what ,if anything, is holding them back from committing their life to Jesus. While trying not to be pushy or manipulative, (you don't want to talk them into something that someone else can talk them out of), communicate the basics of the gospel message and what God offers to them and requires from them.
Years ago Loren Cunningham was on an American Airlines flight from LA to Dallas. He was seated next to a psychologist (and confirmed athiest!) from New Zealand. In the course of his conversation with her he felt prompted by the Lord to share some Biblical principles on "8 Steps To Suicide", writing them out on a sheet of paper, not knowing she had previously attempted to take her life several times previously. At the bottom of the note he put three steps back from suicide including repentance and faith in Christ.
Fifteen years later that woman attended a meeting in Tauranga,NZ, where Loren was speaking and enthusiastically told him how she had come to Jesus after reading a book that he had given her on the plane. She had saved the book and the note all those years, and pulled it out of her purse to show him. Loren recognized his handwriting and they rejoiced together at God's awesome ways!
Recently as a result of the Iceland volcano, YWAM leader Gwen Bergquist was bumped from a flight out of Munich that she needed to be on in order to fulfill teaching commitments in South Africa. Miraculously a seat opened up and she "just happened" to be seated next to a fellow traveler who had a similar experience at getting a seat. As the conversation went on, Gwen gave the man a tract and proceeded to tell him about Jesus. It turns out that two week prior, another person had given him a tract and he described having the same "feeling" in reading Gwen's tract as he did with the other one. She followed the Holy Spirit's prompting and led him to Jesus on the plane. Like Phillip of long ago she witnessed "on the go".
Evangelism is not just an event, but a lifestyle of Jesus' friends who simply want to make new friends who can become friends of Jesus. We're on a train bound for glory. As we go let's enthusiastically invite others to climb aboard!
“If the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?”
“Blow the trumpet in Zion. Sound the alarm in my holy mountain.”
The sound of trumpets is heard throughout the Bible. Their purpose is to, as in the above quote from Joel, to sound an alarm. Whether a call to battle, a metaphor for clarifying truth (1Cor.14:8), warning of judgement or a signal of Christ’s second coming (the last trumpet, 1Cor.15:52), their sound is intended to stir us to action.
The Romans had forty three distinct trumpet sounds to alert their legions to rise to immediate obedience ,whether to wake up in the morning , attend a meeting , show up for a meal or ready themselves for battle.
I recently heard a popular American speaker lament that the church is too concerned with "right teaching"(Orthodoxy) and needs to get on with "right living" (Orthopraxy). At first I heartily agreed until he went on to ridicule "truth freaks" who try to convince non-Christians that they are wrong while they (the Christians) are right. He then criticized missionaries who use "clumsy terms" like unreached, unsaved and lost and said we are arrogant to presume we should convert people. He suggested rather a give and take "conversation" with those of other religions so there can be a mutual exchange of ideas.
While we certainly should have healthy and friendly dialogue with those of other faiths (Paul did-Acts 17:2,18:4,19;19:8-9,20:7) and listen sensitively in order to understand, must we at the same time surrender the need to proclaim and contend for "the faith which was once for all entrusted to the saints"(Jude 3)?
Paul began his epic discourse to the Corinthians on the Resurrection by sounding a clear trumpet to the Corinthians on the content of the Gospel message. It was "this gospel" as opposed to counterfeit gospels (2Cor. 11:3), that he:
1. Proclaimed(1 Cor. 15;1)
2. They "received"(vs. 1)
3. They "took their stand on" (vs. 1)
4. They were "saved by"(vs.2)
He then went on to urge them to "hold firmly" to this gospel(vs.2),centered around the historical facts of the death and resurrection of Christ(vs. 3-4) and proceeded in glorious detail to describe the hope that believers in this gospel have in the resurrection of their bodies.
A few years ago I had a 4 1/2 hour dialogue with Janet, a Jehovah's Witness who showed up at my door. The exchange, although a bit heated at times as she struggled with the fact that she was wrong about God , ended with her giving her life to Jesus. If you were to meet her today as she worships in her Pentecostal church she would tell you how glad she is that I didn't simply "exchange ideas" with her but did my best to sound a clear trumpet and persuade her to convert to Christ(Paul did that too!-Acts 17:4,18:4,19:8,26;26:28,28:23,2 Cor. 5:11)
We know that one of the Enemy's main weapons is confusion (Gen 3:1-5, 1 Cor. 14:33) or giving unclear trumpet sounds. If he can’t get us to accept a patently false gospel, like Gnosticism in the 1st Century or Mormonism in the 21st, he will try to confuse us regarding the content of the gospel message itself.
Church history as well as contemporary prophetic warnings have sounded an alarm to beware of counterfeit gospels that are cross-less and Christ-less. In the early church, as now, when sinners are told to repent (change direction from the wrong way to the right), selfish people are told to deny themselves, and when the Name above all names is exclusively proclaimed in a world of 5 major religions and hundreds of minor ones, it is then that Satan's wrath gets hot!
Is it any wonder why we shy away from proclamation and persuasion, not only in the hard places, but any places? Who wants to get rejected and persecuted? We don't like the offense that the cross brings (Gal. 5:11). We would rather win friends than take the risks that it takes to win souls.
The prophet lamented "...friend deceives friend, and no one speaks the truth."(Jer. 9:5), while John wrote to those "...I love in the truth-and not I only, but also all who know the truth-because of the truth, which lives in us and will be with us forever."(2 Jn.2). 2000 years of the martyr's blood was not shed for a "conversation" but because our brothers and sisters in Christ believed this gospel to be true. May God help us, by His grace to "...speak the truth in love..."(Eph. 4;15).
Like most people the news of Haiti ’s earthquake moved my heart to a deep sense of sadness as well as a desire to help in some practical way. As a believer I can explain this compassionate response as an overflow of God’s love. After all, the 23rd Psalm promises that goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.
However, as I have followed the media response to this tragedy, I have also noticed, that compassion and generosity also flow from non believers. (1/3 of all Americans gave money to aid the 2004 Tsunami victims). Across the human spectrum from rock stars to movie stars to simple folk, some of whom are atheists, rose to the challenge of helping their neighbors in need.
How do we explain such “goodness?” People, many of whom the night before the quake were likely engaged in various forms of immoral behavior, within 24 hours were giving and raising money while some hopped on the next flight to Haiti to lend a hand.
Often, when a horrendous tragedy strikes people understandingly ask, “Why?” Various worldviews offer possible answers:
1. Bad Luck (i.e. Naturalism - time + matter + chance randomly lined up and “boom”-an earthquake).
2. Bad Karma (i.e. Hinduism, Buddhism- because of previous bad actions it’s payback time. The victims had it coming).
3. Bad People (The Blame Game- some follow Job’s friends and point the finger – [at anyone but themselves] as the cause of God’s pulling the trigger in judgment).
4. Bad God (i.e. Islam and other views of Divine determinism “God works in mysterious ways”).<> 5. Broken World, Broken-hearted God (God created a Paradise to share with us. We fell into sin. Creation fell with us and it grieves God’s heart when death and destruction fall. He could have chosen to create a hyper-controlled, robotic world where only His will was done. He chose in His wisdom to create our imperfect world where human choices, natural disasters and accidents happen).
Admittedly, no answer is completely satisfying, but the Biblical worldview (5) not only provides some light on the subject but gives “goodness” a chance to shine in the free gifts of mercy and compassion. This brings me back to the “good” atheists.<> In the absolute moral sense no one is good (Romans 3: 10-12). There is however, still remaining in all of us a spark or two of the God in whose image we are made. Even famous God-deniers like Richard Dawkins believe one can do good without God and is busily raising money for Haiti . In doing so, however, he is conveniently hijacking the Christian worldview because his Bad Luck Naturalism gives no logical foundation for doing good.
He has written, “Good and evil? I don’t believe there is hanging out there anywhere something called good and something called evil.”
A question for atheists like Dawkins is how is it given your evolutionary, dog - eat dog, survival-of-the-fittest worldview do you account for this sudden desire to do good when you see Haitians in need? If the world is as Dawkins says it is…and there is no good or evil “hanging out there” he would be justified to hang onto his money and do nothing. But he doesn’t. He is compelled to show goodness and mercy, thereby demonstrating that he is made in God’s image. Far from disasters proving there is no God they actually demonstrate there is.
What About Us?
How much more should we who profess “The Lord is my Shepherd” make sure goodness and mercy follow us “all the days” of our lives and not only when disaster strikes? We are told by the prophet to “love mercy” (Micah 6:8) as we follow a God who “delights in mercy (Micah 7:18) and obey Jesus who promised merciful people would be blessed (Matt 5:4). Christians should be leading the world in demonstrating by deed and proclaiming by words in evangelism the Good News of God’s mercy.
Speaking of evangelism, let’s once for all bury the either/or mentality and resurrect a both/and posture with regard to proclaiming God’s mercy on the cross and demonstrating God’s mercy through compassion. We need two legs to run and birds need two wings to fly. Likewise, proclamation and demonstration are joined together and what God has joined together let not man separate.
Days after the tsunami when I was raising money for emergency relief work, a pastor quizzed me on whether or not his funds were going for evangelism. I gave him the word picture of a neighbor’s house being on fire. Mercy ministry is responding to the need and rescuing the perishing out of the fire (Jesus didn’t have his Good Samaritan giving a tract to the Jericho bound mugging victim!). They have to be alive in order to hear the gospel! William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army once said that we should never preach the gospel to someone with a toothache. This is simply because they can’t hear the word because their tooth is making too much noise. His solution? Fix the tooth, and then get them saved.
A wise man once said, “He who throws mud not only gets his hands dirty but loses a lot of ground.” Unfortunately, much mud has been thrown back and forth between demonstrators (mercy ministries) and proclaimers (evangelism) each claiming to be primary on God’s agenda. Jesus indicated by teaching and example that we need to do both.
“There’s a wideness in God’s mercy
Like the wideness of the sea
There’s a kindness in His justice
Which is more than liberty”
Youth With A Mission, Intl.