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Friday, July 15, 2016

How Long, O Lord (Dallas, Nice, Ankara)

Habakkuk 1:2English Standard Version (ESV)

Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
    and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
    and you will not save?

            As I write this, I do not know who is in power in the nation of Turkey.  I am writing at 10:18PM, EST.  The BBC is reporting that President Recep Tayyip Ergodan is making threats against the rebels, while Prime Minister Binali Yildirim is asserting that things are under control.  Will either of those two even be in power tomorrow?  And if not, what does it mean for the region?  If they are what does it mean for the region?  Could any country be more centrally located than Turkey, the threshold where Asia meets Europe?  The major power within shouting distance of Syria’s endless war? 
            Meanwhile, France recoils from another terrorist act.  What macabre ingenuity!  A terrorist knows the streets will be body-to-body with people, people with nowhere to go.  So he mows them down with a truck going over 60mph.  And on Bastille Day.  Horrible.  Just horrible.
            In my own country, the United States, we have high profile, deadly encounters between law enforcement and the citizenry, especially people of color.  And there are mass shootings, like the nightmare at the Pulse night club in Orlando, FL. 
            Orlando.  Baton Rouge.  St. Paul.  Dallas.  Nice.  Ankara.  Don’t dare ask, what’s next?   Don’t do it. 

            But, I always write as a follower of Jesus.  It is through the lens of a disciple that I see the world.  I may be a pitifully bad disciple compared to James and John, Matthew and Thomas.  I don’t know.  What I know is I have cast my lot with Jesus and I believe life and hope come in Him.
            At the moment though, I feel suddenly winded, like a gut punch has come and another is coming. I am sure another is coming.   So tonight, I was reading the lectionary passages for September and October as I anticipate the sermons I will preach in those months.[i]  And I came across October 30, Habakkuk 1-2. 
            Is this passage prophecy?  Well, obviously.  But would it also be categorized as a song of lament?  Or is it a distressed confrontation.  The prophet demands action from God.  I think that’s present in Habakkuk.  He says in verse 4 that justice gets perverted.
            I honestly don’t know what justice in Turkey would be.  Nor do I know enough facts about any of the other stories to opine in specifics.  It is pretty clear that chaos abounds, terror lurks, and people are dying in horrible, spectacular ways.  For those of us who believe God is The Sovereign Lord, who else can we confront?  Habakkuk, speak for us.  “How long?”  “Will you not save?”
            I read a series of tweets from some Christian, someone I do not know.  He was asking, “Don’t you want a respite from all that’s happening out there?”  “Just rest in Jesus.”  It sounded feeble and saccharine.  Yes, I agree, our rest and rescue is in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Of course I believe that.  I preach it.  But, reading those tweets alongside the tweets about what’s going on in Turkey made me feel kind of sick.  I imagined the composer of those tweets is a middle class American Christian sitting in a comfortable room like the one I sit in as I type.  The only way these stories affect him or me is by burdening us with bad news. [ii]
            What about our Christian brothers and sisters in Turkey? 
            I support a missionary who lives in … actually I don’t know exactly where she lives.  For security reasons, she keeps her actual location confidential.  She witnesses to Muslims.  From the pictures in her reports, it is clear she is in a strict Muslim country.  In all likelihood, the doings in Turkey will directly affect her.  I can’t sit in my comfortable chair and complain about the “bad news” that poisons my computer screen.  I have to think about her as she strives to proclaim Christ in communities where she could be killed for doing so. 
I have to pray for her.  I have to pray for people in and around Nice, including my denomination’s missionaries in France.  I have to pray and tonight, I take Habakkuk’s words as my prayer.  “How long, O Lord, before you will save?”
Of course, Habakkuk says other things and Habakkuk’s is not the only prophet in history.  But for now … for tonight, for my missionary friend, for my CBF brethren in France, for Christ-followers in Turkey, as a disciple who’s feeling a bit worried, for tonight, I just ask.  If I wasn’t hopeful and completely trusting in God’s love and wisdom, I wouldn’t bother.  But, I am. 
So …
How long, O Lord?  How long until you save?

[i] The lectionary is a 3-year cycle of scripture readings for each Sunday.  Most Sundays include 1 psalm, another OT reading, a gospel reading, and another NT reading.  Sometimes that pattern varies and sometimes there are more than 4 readings.  Some pastors (especially mainline Protestants) follow the lectionary exactly.  Others, like me, follow it sometimes and ignore it at other times.  And some pastors don’t know what the lectionary is.  If you ever here that a pastor is “preaching from the lectionary,” he or she is preaching from scripture.  He’s a “Bible preacher.”   He’s just preaching a prescribed text instead of one he selected.
[ii] I may be completely wrong about him.  I am just reacting to how insufficient I felt when I read his tweets.  Maybe his words are essential for him in his situation.  For me, his words were empty and useless – because of the moment.

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