KENNER, La. (BP)–This missionary ticked me off the other day. In a letter home to friends and supporters, this Christian worker in a heavily Muslim country, unnamed for security reasons, was making the point that we should not discriminate against all Arabs or Muslims for the work of a few terrorists. Okay, I can see that. Then the missionary said, “After all, those terrorists lived in the United States for many months prior to the Sept. 11 tragedies. Why didn’t your church lead them to Christ while they were living in your city?”
That’s what stung.
I have numerous reactions to that question, on various levels. First, I’m not sure that a terrorist on a suicide mission to kill hundreds of his enemies — my neighbors — is going to be a candidate for visiting my church and hearing the gospel. I mean, these guys are seriously disturbed. There are people on planet earth who cannot be reasoned with, and it would seem that terrorists poisoned with blind hatred would qualify. I keep recalling how the Lord Jesus said only little children could receive the gospel.
But on another level, I wonder if my kind of Christianity would win a terrorist to the Lord Jesus Christ. There is an unwritten law in evangelism that you cannot win to Christ anyone more committed to his way of life than you are to the Lord. In other words, I have to outlive and outlove and outdo him in my own commitment and sacrifice in order to earn his attention. And therein lies a problem.
In the first century, the early Christians were concerned about their own Osama bin Laden. His name was Saul and he was a holy terror to the followers of Jesus. He participated in the execution of the first Christian martyr, Stephen, and with that taste of blood, followed up with numerous other acts of terrorism. He even received permission to seek out believers in Syria, to arrest them and bring them to Jerusalem for trial.
I wonder whether any believer said in a prayer meeting, “Let’s pray for Saul to come to Christ and be saved.” That would have seemed beyond the realm of possibility even to these people who had seen their share of miracles. They would have been satisfied simply to be protected from his escapades. But heaven had bigger plans. All God needed was someone who could outlive and outlove and outdo Saul. Maybe outdie him.
Enter Stephen. This charter member of the first deacon fellowship is described in Acts 6 as “full of grace and power.” Those who heard Stephen speak were “unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit” of his words. When the enemies of the faith investigated him for something to charge him with, they came up empty and ended up suborning witnesses to tell lies against the man. Here was God’s man for an incredible mission: win the terrorist.
The seventh chapter of Acts tells of Stephen’s death by stoning. Off to the side stood Saul — watching the action, noting Stephen’s amazing behavior, guarding the coats of the rock-throwers and congratulating them for their courage.
Saul threw no stones, but he was a witness that day. He saw the dying Stephen pray for his executioners and forgive them. He saw the angelic countenance spread across the bruised face of the bleeding disciple. He heard him call out, “I see Jesus … standing at the right hand of the Father…. Lord Jesus! Receive my spirit!” Saul saw and he never forgot.
That day, Saul was bested. He finally met one more committed to Christ than he was committed against Christ. Saul was never the same man. Over the next few days and weeks, he continued in his murderous ways, but the damage had been done. The Holy Spirit had penetrated his hard heart with the arrow of a holier man than he. Eventually, on a road outside Damascus, God reeled him in. The rest is history.
Would my kind of faith and witness win that kind of enemy to the Lord? It’s a question to drive me to my knees in prayer, and to stand up with a new determination not to be outlived and outdone by the likes of God’s enemies.
This is a call to a real holy war: to love our enemies, to pray for them and to lay down our lives if need be — whatever it takes for God to use us to win them. This is, after all, how God destroys terrorists. He turns them into disciples.