Archive for the 'Middle East' Category

Influence = Nadim

Friday, May 29th, 2009

It’s a region of the world where everything seems to collide.

Shiite and Sunni Muslims, Druze, Syrians, Palestinians, Iranians, Maronite Catholics, Orthodox, and Evangelical Protestants, all mixed together with the ever-present incendiary threat of Israeli bombs.  It’s an emotional pressure-cooker where the Christian movement is marginalized and routinely on the defensive.

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It is easy to want to flee.  To get out.  Any sane person would do whatever they could to insure the safety of their family and the opportunity to pursue a life free from war, devastation and persecution.

But as those who are serious followers of Jesus know, the call of God is not a call to safety, personal peace or prosperity.  It’s a call to sacrifice and sometimes to suffering.

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That’s why Nadim is one of my heroes.  He could take his wife, Julie, their son, and their two twin girls waiting to be born, and he could leave.  But he’s staying.  And more than that, he is committed to being, in word and deed, the presence of Jesus in this strategic region.  He is committed to giving his life to mentor, coach, train and multiply a new generation of leaders for the Christian movement in a region that is unquestionably the most critical flash point on the global scene.

cross-in-conflictThis month, the cover story on National Geographic magazine, entitled The Christian Exodus from the Holy Land, soberly describes how the beleaguered Christian population of the Middle East is shrinking.  In that part of the world where Christianity has its roots, the Church is fast becoming an endangered species.

May God multiply many times over more men and women with the courage, fortitude, and commitment of Nadim who will be the key to steming the tide this article describes.

Religious Freedom and Islam

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

Thomas F. Farr is associate professor of religion and international affairs at Georgetown University.  An excerpt from his new book, World of Faith and Freedom, appeared in this months issue of the journal, First Things. It is a thoughtful, constructive analysis of a way forward to defuse Islamic radicalism.  Highlights include:

The threats [of Islamic radicalism] are unlikely to be defeated by U.S. military power alone, even when that power is combined with good intelligence, efficient law enforcement, and creative diplomacy.  What American foreign policy needs, as well, is a new religious realism….

Evidence suggests that democracies mature when they possess a “bundled commodity” of core rights, such as freedom of speech and assembly, equality under the law, and religious freedom.  The absence of religious liberty can yield democracy-killing religious conflict, religious persecution, and religious extremism.  The presence of religious freedom is highly correlated with political, social and economic good.  As Brian Grim [Pew Forum] puts it:  “Most advanced statistical tests suggest there is indeed a critical independent contribution that religious freedom is making.”

Among other things, such findings tell us that if we want democracy to grow in Muslim lands – especially as a means of draining the swamps of the pathologies that nurture extremism – we must figure out how to advance religious freedom.  We must encourage nascent liberal Islamic political and social movements to put religious freedom at the core of their political theologies.  This is a tall order.  So daunting, in fact, that few outsiders would even consider it.”

If we are to defeat Islamic radicals, we must supplement sound military strategy, good intelligence, vigorous law enforcement, and state-to-state diplomacy with what has, until now, been the missing link.  Ordered liberty demands realism about human nature.  If democracies are to succeed in highly religious societies, they must be grounded in religious freedom.


I think Farr’s thesis is astute and his argument persuasive.  Only, I don’t think he goes far enough.

For religious freedom to have the leavening affect on an Islamic society as he proposes, there has to be more powerful forces at work than statecraft and foreign policy to produce the tolerance of such diversity.  And the very nature of Islam—theologically and politically—makes it difficult.

Rather, I would argue that history proves that the presence of vibrant, authentic Christian faith can be the most effective catalyst to provoke such change. That stimulus can be generated from outside the respective cultures or it can emerge from within.  When both sources work synergistically (effective sodalic efforts from without and vibrant local, modalic efforts from within), then we may actually have a chance to see the type of transformational change that Farr advocates.

I believe both can be accomplished.  It is going to require committed, skilled men and women willing to cross geographical, cultural, and language barriers, give their lives to live incarnationally within Islamic cultures,  and be—in word and in deed—the presence of Jesus.  It also means that they work hand-in-glove with those whom God has already set aside as his people within such settings.

It’s possible.  Is is happening.  It isn’t fast.  And it isn’t glamorous.  It won’t attract those with the money and resources who want quick fixes and triumphalistic results.

But in the long run, if we want to see genuine transformation in what is the greatest challenge to the Western world in the 21st century, such a missiological commitment is an absolute necessity.

From Beirut

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

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Patty and I are in Beirut. We just finished helping lead a 2-day workshop for leaders based on Hugh Halter and Matt Smay’s excellent volume, The Tangible Kingdom. Hugh was with us and was the primary presenter.

Serving the Church in this region to move toward a more missional, incarnational posture is a significant challenge. It has been a sobering time. As we have been here, some of the comments we have heard include:

“Throughout the past 50 years, the church in the Middle East has imported models from the West, particularly the U.S., and we’re coming to the realization that these models have failed.”

“I left the church I am a part of here in Beirut because I came to be convinced that God wouldn’t give his Son for this.”

“Christians are supposed to only have close relationships with other Christians. If we relate to others, it is only to preach repentance and faith in Christ to them.”

“I don’t think we should relate to others outside of the church because we may loose our faith …it is dangerous and risky.”

“If I have an problem with God, I can always go to him and work it out. But heaven help me if I have a problem with a pastor. I am just expected to salute and obey.”


Of course, there are bright spots in this setting and these statements don’t reflect the totality of the context. But overall, the Christian movement, particularly that portion of the movement that is represented by the traditional, institutional church, oozes pathology. This is particularly discouraging because of the strategic nature of the region. The stakes are high.

The Beqaa

Wednesday, July 18th, 2007

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It’s called the Beqaa. The massive rift valley in the center of Lebanon separated from the coast by the Mount Lebanon range to the west and from Syria on the East by the Anti-Lebanon mountains. In this picture, Syria is straight ahead over the mountains in the background. The Beqaa forms the northeastern-most extension of the Great Rift Valley, which extends down the spine of East Africa.

While historically the bread-basket of the region, today it is a harbor and a crossroads for the drug trade, money laundering, and terrorists of many stripes …Hezbollah, Iranian jihadists, and Syrian infiltrators into Lebanon to name the more well-known. It figured prominently in one of the first Tom Clancy novels I ever read years ago as a hotbed of intrigue and espionage.

As I was driving through it with one of the Lebanese who serves and ministers with us in Beirut, he mentioned that he used to be in the Beqaa several times a week and he pointed out the places where groups of believers in Jesus met.

I continued to be amazed at how God establishes his presence and signs of his Kingdom’s reality even in the most inhospitable places on the planet.

Assasination

Sunday, July 15th, 2007

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Lebanon continues to teeter on the verge of war and chaos. One of the major destabilizing factors contributing to the present situation was the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri in February of 2005. His death further catalyzed the “cedar revolution” which resulted in the end of Syria’s overt influence in Lebanon.

We passed over the place where a bomb blew up Hariri’s car on a Beirut thoroughfare. The blast, equivalent to 1000 kgs of TNT, gouged a 30 foot hole in the pavement and the evidence of the magnitude can still be seen from the destruction of the surrounding buildings in the photos above.

While the UN investigates and the labyrinth that is Lebanese politics continues to swirl with intrigue, life in Beirut is characterized by fear and uncertainty. Such instability can make life hard, but it also means people grapple with the significant and the deeply personal much more readily than those whose lives are immune to such trauma.

Beirut is a contemporary example of what historians and missiologists have always known; that spiritual receptivity can be the silver lining of social/political upheaval. The search for God and ultimate meaning takes on a new urgency when all hell is breaking loose around us. What I have seen firsthand in places like this is that the good news of Jesus is profoundly transforming when communicated humbly and lived out authentically. Such sovereign intervention by God, mediated by those on the ground determined to follow Jesus, is the only hope for Lebanon.

Cedars of Lebanon

Saturday, July 14th, 2007

Cedars Of Lebanon
This is one of the few remaining groves of the famous cedars of Lebanon. I had a unique chance to wander in this remote grove up in the mountains recently during time in the Middle East. These trees are remarkable …huge umbrellas with massive trunks, some which were alive during the time of Jesus.

Wood from these trees were used in ancient times by the Phoenicians to build their trade and military ships, as well as their houses and temples. The Egyptians used its resin for mummification, and its sawdust was found in the pharaoh’s tombs. Jewish priests were ordered by Moses to use the bark of the Lebanon Cedar in circumcision and treatment of leprosy. Kings of neighboring and distant countries asked for this wood to build their religious and civil constructs, the most famous of which are King Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem and David’s and Solomon’s Palaces. In addition it was used by the Romans, Greeks, Persians, Assyrians and Babylonians.

The Face of War

Friday, July 13th, 2007

Lebanon Destruction
One gets a very different picture of the realities of life and ministry in the Middle East when on the ground in the region. Particularly stunning is the perspective on the state of Israel shared by many of those who are followers of Jesus and who live in the region. What I found is dismay at the uncritical, and what they perceive as naive, posture held by many North American Christians in their unequivocal support of the secular Jewish state.

The facts are that that almost all of those who name the name of Christ in the Middle East are also Arabs. The cannot understand the theological and/or geo-political justifications that American Christians—particularly some evangelicals—give to political Israel and Zionism. It makes no sense to them biblically, historically, or politically.

What is happening in this region is incredibly complex. And the only long-term solution is the present and future rule of the Prince of Peace and his Kingdom, which has no bias regarding family of birth, ethnic group, or possession of land.

(The pic above is of a major bridge destroyed by the Israelis in northern Lebanon during last summer’s war. I had the chance to see it up close and personal. Bombing it severed a major artery between Beirut and the western part of the country and inflicted great suffering on innocent segments of the population. Its destruction had little strategic or military value).

Cry for Lebanon

Thursday, July 12th, 2007

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We have people serving and ministering in Beirut who, with their families, lived through the trauma of the war last year.

When visiting with them, all things trite and insignificant pale in light of their circumstances and gravity of the Middle East context. They minister in a crucible where there is indescribable pressure from every side: radical Sunni Muslims, militant Palestinians, Hezbollah and radical Shiites, Syria, “Christian” militias, pressure from the majority Marionite Catholics, and the ever present threat of Israeli incursions, bombings and retaliations in which innocent people are invariably hurt.

In this unbelievable cauldron of political, religious and social turmoil, they are following Jesus with perseverance and integrity. Their quiet, steady ministry in Lebanon and throughout the region is making a profound contribution to the Christian movement on the soil of the lands where it first originated. The honor is all mine to serve alongside them.

On the Nile

Saturday, June 30th, 2007

Cairo Night

This is my view this evening of the Nile in the heart of Cairo.

It’s been a day packed meeting with folks here who are doing some thrilling things when it comes to representing Jesus both far and near. I’ve learned much. The diversity and magnitude of what God does to see His name renowned among the nations and the worship of his Son extended is astounding.

During my day, I’ve seen again that the missionary purpose of a gracious and ever-redeeming God can never be put into boxes or relegated to a limited number of human structures. His persistent pursuit of a wayward humanity is staggering to the imagination, not just that he would do it but that he would do it with such infinite creativity and accommodation to our limitations.

Deo Gloria!

Beirut Postponed

Thursday, November 30th, 2006

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I was scheduled to be in Lebanon this week and then on to Egypt. The travel has been postponed.

With all the turmoil and unrest in the region as a result of the assassination of Pierre Gemayel, the purpose of going was defeated. The ability to travel, move around the city, meet with people, etc., is next to impossible. Our folks living and serving in the region wrote:

“After several contacts yesterday and today with many people who are very well connected with the different factions in the country at the highest levels, we were informed that the upcoming week is very critical and it is most likely that Beirut airport would be closed due to the planned demonstrations and actions. Once things start it is not clear when and how it will end. The situation is very critical and outcomes could go any direction.”

Cry for Lebanon

Thursday, November 23rd, 2006

Lebanon Demonstration

CRM has several families living and serving in Lebanon. This is the latest from the leader of the team, a Lebanese national:

Once again Lebanon and the Lebanese have fallen victim to the vicious hand of evil!

You no doubt have heard of the assassination of Pierre Amine Gemayel. His murder may easily trigger civil unrest particularly at this very sensitive period in the history of Lebanon.

Directly after his murder, many Lebanese flooded the streets blocking roads, burning tires and photos of political opponents… In several parts of Beirut, the Internal Security had to intervene to stop fights between people affiliated with opposing factions. The funeral is scheduled for tomorrow and hundreds of thousands are going to take the streets.

This comes at a time when we embarking on new ministry opportunities and many doors are opening in normally closed communities. While our country and people have grown used to times of crisis and difficulty, our hearts are burdened with sorrow. Nevertheless, we are not afraid knowing that our God is in control.

Please pray for Lebanon and the Lebanese; for wisdom at all levels and the avoidance of reactions that lead to further strife in the country. May God have mercy on our people and country.

War in the Middle East

Sunday, July 16th, 2006

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CRM has people serving and living in Lebanon. It is hard to describe the difference it makes when the scenes on CNN are places I’m familiar with and where I know people on the ground. The geo-political becomes profoundly personal.

As this conflict has exploded onto headlines around the world, these courageous folks yesterday wrote:

“The situation is devastating and maddening … It is war, war at large… Your prayers (and the prayers of those who know us) are very much needed. Prayers for safety, for peace in this country, for mercy and grace… We fully trust the Lord, the Almighty with our lives, our families and the ministry. We wholeheartedly believe that He does hold tomorrow. We trust that even in the darkest moments of such wrath and intense anger, His mercy and goodness will prevail. There’s a huge atmosphere of depression and desperation in the country and the Israeli forces are applying a complete siege, which is creating panic among the people. Yet we believe God is good…”