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As war unfolds, prayer intensifies in Baptist churches across U.S.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Resolve in prayer marked Sunday services in Southern Baptist churches during the first week of the U.S.-led war against the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein.

Among the reports received by Baptist Press March 24:

— First Baptist Church, Springdale, Ark.: Pastor Ronnie Floyd gathered family members of military serviceman on the platform Sunday morning to surround them with prayer in uncertain days. “I cannot imagine what you are going through – to watch on television the possibilities before you,” Floyd said. “There is a temptation to dismiss it and not watch it and that incredible curiosity to watch.”

Sharing that God had led him to fast and pray in preparation for the March 23 service, Floyd encouraged others to join in asking God to do “what God says he wants to do.” Citing Psalm 121:1-2, Floyd reminded those gathered on the platform, “Your help doesn’t come from what’s going on on television nor some kind of peace process that is unfolding or even the destruction of the enemy. Our help comes from heaven and the Lord.”

Floyd requested a circle of prayer and shield of protection around kids, family, husbands and wives serving overseas. In his prayer, he asked, “Speak mightily to them and protect them. You know right now who is in harm’s way literally. You know right now who is in the midst of possible gunfire. I pray that you would stand up strong and do as your Word says, put angels in charge over these people.”

Floyd asked that they would discover a power and peace of God in the midst of the storm. “I ask today for America to prevail, not for our own sake, but because we believe we’re there because we know it is not God’s will to ever put anyone under bondage or fear.” He prayed for the salvation of Saddam Hussein, those around him and the Iraqi people, expressing gratitude that Jesus died on the cross for them as well as the military personnel who are serving in the Mideast. “If one doesn’t know Jesus, send someone to tell them that they will say yes to Jesus Christ.”

— First Baptist Church, Dallas: The church was celebrating the $30,120,000 pledged since mid-October toward its capital campaign, including more than $14 million in cash gifts, which pastor Mac Brunson called a miracle. But the church members’ celebration was squelched, Brunson said, with the news of American soldiers being taken captive and killed. “It’s hard for us to do much celebration. As a church we are to bear the burdens of our country,” Brunson said.

Brunson read Psalm 91 and then prayed for the nation, for President Bush, Iraq war commander Gen. Tommy Franks and other leaders of the nation. He also prayed for the families of those killed, and added, “But you [God] know what it’s like to lose a son.”

Brunson prayed for the freedom of the Iraqi people. He also prayed for the Southern Baptist International Mission Board as preparations are made for ministry in Iraq following the war. “Your Word says you have no delight in the death of the wicked,” Brunson said, ending his prayer, “God spare that not another life has to die.”

In his sermon based on Genesis 10-11, Brunson said of Saddam Hussein, “This man is not stable to begin with. This man wants to restore the empire of Hamurabi which is why he invaded Iran in 1979 and Kuwait in 1990. God doesn’t hate Muslims. Just as much as he loves my white American face, he loves the brown Arab skin. In the midst of this, you take heart, congregation, because he is going to draw all men to himself.”

When asked for comment on the war before the church service, Brunson said, “I find that all of us are praying for a quick resolution. As Christians we are told to pray for our leadership and to pray for our enemies as well. Our hope is freedom would quickly come so they would have freedom to accept Christ. We need to pray for the families of the servicemen, especially those who have lost loved ones on the battlefield. All of us feel their pain. All of us are wounded as well. The church should be the burden bearer of these families.”

— Travis Avenue Baptist Church, Fort Worth, Texas: Pastor Michael Dean noted that the church’s worship service had been altered by the war. “Our worship today is different … there is an appropriate response of God’s people in a time of war,” Dean said. “When the nation goes to war, the role of the church is not to protest, but to pray. A handful of people in prayer is more potent than thousands marching in protest, and more pleasing in the sight of God. … Protests embolden the enemy shooting at our troops.”

Dean said the Bible “does not condemn war in every instance. It is sometimes part of [God’s] sovereign plan for history, where he brings about justice and righteousness in the world.”

Dean cited recent violent protests near the U.S. embassy in Yemen and the hateful chanting of the crowd there. “I never want to be in league with those who say, ‘Death to America.'”

Dean led the congregation in prayer for the president, troops, the enemy and the nations surrounding Iraq, many of which are “adorned in darkness.” He also prayed that America would live according to God’s commandments and again be a righteous nation.

“If ever there was a nation founded upon the principles of Scripture and the righteousness of God, it is the United States of America,” Dean said. “The question is not, ‘Is God on our side?’ The question we need to answer is, ‘Are we on God’s side?'”

— Memorial Baptist Church, Grapevine, Texas: Pastor Gregg Simmons sought in his sermon to equip Christians for the proper response to war.

Simmons began by quoting Ecclestiastes 3:1-8, which includes the statement: “to everything there is a season,” including a time for war and peace.

“Because we live in a sinful world, all these things have a place and a purpose in the world in which we live,” Simmons said. “Although we pray and work for peace, Solomon says there are times in life when war is the most appropriate response to a situation.”

To illustrate his point, Simmons gave three scriptural examples of times when God approved of war: the battle of the five kings in Genesis 14; the battle between David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17; and the battle of Jericho in Joshua 5-11. Additionally, Simmons observed that in Genesis 9:6, God ordained government’s discriminate use of armed might to take life. This Old Testament principle also is found in the New Testament in Romans 13:4, Simmons said, in which the apostle Paul calls government a “minister of God for good.”

“Government should do right and punish wrong,” Simmons said, “and God empowers [government] to do that to maintain order in the nation.”

Although Scripture can be used to support times of war, Simmons also stated that individual believers must be vigilant and verbal if a war is biblically unjust. In determining the integrity of war, Simmons directed the congregation to the just war theory penned by the church father Augustine of Hippo. Simmons said the war with Iraq meets criterion of the just war theory regarding proper authority; proper cause; reasonable chance for success; and proportionality to the aggression of the enemy.

Simmons also said Christians have three primary responsibilities in times of war. First, believers should support those in leadership and those in battle through prayer and words. “I am thankful that I live in a country where people can protest and express their views in public,” Simmons said, referring to recent anti-war demonstrations across the globe. “But it also makes me sad and ashamed. When the bullets start flying, we don’t march up and down the street and say we don’t like that. That is the time to get down on our knees.”

Second, Simmons said Christians should serve in battle if called upon. Third, believers must give themselves to individual and corporate prayer, specifically petitioning God for wisdom for U.S. leaders; supernatural protection for U.S. military, a minimal loss of life for both sides; and that the war would bring glory to God and good to the world.

“Already something good is coming out of it,” Simmons said, referring to baptismal reports from Southern Baptist chaplains serving alongside U.S. troops, using makeshift baptisteries in the desert sands. “Revival is sweeping through the troops and up until this point, Iraq has been closed to the gospel.”

The church service concluded with corporate prayer for America in which church members who have family or know a person currently serving in the war effort were asked to stand. As almost half the congregation stood to their feet the rest of the church surrounded them, placing hands on them, praying for the gospel of Jesus Christ to make its way to the people of Iraq.

— Inglewood Baptist Church, Grand Prairie, Texas: During evening services, interim pastor Ron Boswell reminded church members of their responsibility to pray for the troops, aware that sons and daughters of several members are currently serving. “I’m praying that the Iraqis would just surrender – just give up.” Asked to voice a prayer, layman Hank Crismore prayed that President Bush constantly would be reminded that he can turn to God for wisdom and strength.

— Immanuel Baptist Church, Shawnee, Okla.: Interim pastor John Yeats, editor of the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger, said, “We heard during the Sunday School hour about the troops taken captive. We already scheduled special prayer for our men and women in military. However, when I shared this news with them, it was if there was a rush to our knees. All across the worship center, men and women of all ages knelt and humbled themselves. You could hear some soft sobs. We waited for a while, then our youth pastor prayed for the troops, our president and for revival to come to our nation.

“Is it possible that as the realities of war sink into our fickle hearts that we could witness a tsunami wave of repentance and humility, the prerequisites that are necessary for genuine revival?” Yeats asked.

— Concord Baptist Church, Jefferson City, Mo.: It was red, white and blue day March 23 as the congregation prayed for America and for military personnel involved in the war in Iraq.

The church choir and most of the congregation displayed support for the country and the war effort by wearing red, white and blue clothing.

Monte Shinkle, Concord’s pastor and president of the Missouri Baptist Convention, requested all who have family members or acquaintances involved in the war to come to the platform for prayer and recognition. More than 50 people crowded onto the platform for prayer.

— Grove Avenue Baptist Church, Richmond, Va.: Pastor Mark Becton challenged the congregation not to be troubled during times of war, but to continue to pray and seek out the Word of God for direction. Becton focused his sermon on the topic of war and what the Bible has to say about it. Using Scripture from both Old and New Testament, Becton proposed that war is always a direct result of sin, and it can be justifiable when it is a response to sin.

Becton urged the congregation to pray for all sides of the conflict. “We should continue to pray for our leaders and that they would have a heart for God, an ear for wisdom and a longing for righteousness,” he said. “We should pray for the safety of our soldiers. We also need to pray for our enemies.”

Becton added that Christians should pray that faith would be visible during this time of crisis and that peace would be the result of the war. “Peace should be the ultimate end of all wars,” he said.

— LifeWay Baptist Church, Fresno, Calif.: Phil Langley, director of new church extension for the California Southern Baptist Convention, in a time of intercession, prayed: “Father, thank you that we can trust you. We pray for the families of those already in this conflict who have lost loved ones. We don’t pretend to understand war, but we pray that as we find ourselves in time of turmoil, you might be with our nation.

“May the people of the world know that you are a real and powerful and personal God. We pray that our nation might be drawn closer to you, and that you would bring rapid conclusion to this conflict. We pray that somehow, through all of this, you might expand your Kingdom and that Christianity might be spread.”

— Capital Baptist Church, Salem, Ore.: Pastor John Lipton led a season of prayer as part of an extended Sunday evening service focused on the war in Iraq.

“I don’t know anyone who needs our prayers more than President Bush,” Carlton Butler, a longtime member of Central Baptist Church, said during a somber time of voicing prayer specifics. As if understanding the gravity of the discussion, even the youngest children sat quietly. “President Bush and his staff are making awesome decisions that will affect the whole world,” Butler added.

Among other prayer specifics: protection of the troops and national unity. “We pray for our enemies who despitefully use us,” Lipton said to God. “… We pray that you will transcend the differences among us.”

— Olive Baptist Church, Pensacola, Fla.: The congregation had special times of prayer March 23 for military personnel deployed in the war and the nation’s leaders. Before prayer led by pastor Ted Traylor, the congregation viewed a video produced by the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board on how to pray for the military. Olive Baptist Church, which has members deployed from both Pensacola Naval Air Station and Eglin Air Force Base, sponsors a weekly support meeting – Solo Ops – for wives whose husbands are now overseas in combat. The church’s website, www.olivebaptist.org, contains a link to a military prayer list.

— First Baptist Church, Orlando, Fla.: The congregation devoted two worship services to praying for military personnel. Families who have relatives in the war zone stood in the congregation while others gathered around them, praying for their loved ones. Pastor Jim Henry preached on a “Biblical Perspective on War.” The church maintains a prayer wall containing names and photos of those deployed in the war zone.

— Idlewild Baptist Church, Tampa, Fla.: The church prefaced special prayer for the military by viewing the North American Mission Board-produced video on how to pray for the military. Pastor Ken Whitten led the congregation in prayer. Of the war, he said: “We support President Bush and his decisions, but nothing in any of us wants to see lives destroyed.” The congregation prayed for the nation’s leaders by name – Bush, Rumsfield, Powell, Rice – and especially for Gen. Tommy Franks, a Tampa resident, at the Central Command headquarters in Qatar.

Church members were asked to fill out a card with the name and address of any relative in the armed forces. The names are being placed on a list for prayer by the church’s Watchman on the Wall 24-hour prayer ministry.

“I really have mixed emotions all the time,” Whitten said. “I love my country, but as a pastor, I hurt for my people. This affects church families deeply. I have gratitude for those defending our country, but sadness that they have to defend us.”

— First Baptist Church, Marianna, Fla.: “Americans are so used to our comforts that we have a hard time thinking there are bad people out there,” pastor Michael Petty said. The entire service March 23 was dedicated to the men and women serving in the war.

Reading Ecclesiates 3:8, Petty spoke about the ethical reasons for a just war. He told the congregation the Israelites didn’t win because they were “righteous,” but because of the evil in the land. The service also included prayer for President Bush, the troops in the Mideast and the nation. Petty said Americans need to realize people are dying in their own neighborhoods without a saving faith in Christ and sometimes it takes a World Trade Center explosion to wake up the church.

— First Baptist Church, Live Oak, Fla.: Using the four-minute video “Military Prayer” produced by the North American Mission Board, pastor Jim Robinett led his congregation in extensive prayer time for the military and the situation in Iraq. “We have a military list and we plan to pray for all the military until they come home,” Robinett said. He said the congregation has been praying for members and relatives serving on the front lines since the war began.

— Jublilee Community Church, Coral Springs, Fla.: Pastor Al Fernandez said his sermon for Sunday was based on Matthew 6:25-34 and titled, “Sandstorms, Stress and Strategy.” He said the world is stressed about the situation in Iraq but Christians shouldn’t be. “If we trust our Jesus with our souls, how can we not trust him with our earthly life?” Fernandez asked. The congregation prayed for the armed services and the nation. Next Friday, the director of missions for the Miami Baptist Association, David Cleeland, will speak to the church on the topic, “Does God Support War?”
Compiled by Art Toalston, with reporting by Greg Tomlin, Melissa Deming, Tammi Reed Ledbetter, Bob Baysinger, Shawn Hendricks, Holly Smith, Karen L. Willoughby & Joni B. Hannigan. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: A VETERAN’S SALUTE.

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