Since I have lived in Sumter, war is not theoretical to me. Every time our country faces a threat, my neighbors, my friends, and my fellow Christ followers answer the call. Once again a threat has arisen from a group that calls itself ISIS or ISIL. The stated goal of ISIS is to form an Islamic state, to restore a Caliph who is a worthy successor to Mohammed, and to force adherence to Islamic jurisprudence. This week military strikes were launched against ISIS strongholds in Iraq and Syria.
Jesus did not come to start a country. He resisted every effort to make king. When Pilate asked him if he was a king, he declared that his kingdom was not of this world. His kingdom would not be about control, taxes, laws, policy, and edicts. His Kingdom would be a movement that started in human hearts and would command allegiance to change the world.
Jesus did not appoint a successor. Instead, he gave a mission to everyone who would follow him. The mission would start with openness: they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them. Then they would carry out their mission – to tell what they had seen and heard. They were to be Jesus to dark and broken world. Every one of his followers is his successor.
Jesus did not get caught up in enforcement of a code or a law. He set standards to be sure, but he recognized that what went on in a person’s heart mattered more than their conduct. So he taught us to aim for inner transformation – which only he could do.
Jesus followers have not always gotten this right. We have lusted after power – sometimes with armies arrayed against each other and sometimes with small factions facing off in a church conference. We have fought over who is going to in control and who is going to have power. Legalism is a comforting temptation; it reduces relationship with Jesus to rules about Jesus. We have not room for self-righteousness. But do not blame our Savior for the failing of his followers.
From time to time, people say, “It doesn’t matter what you believe. All religions are the same.” No thoughtful person can make this statement with integrity. What is true is the way you believe governs your conduct. For ISIS, its beliefs have led to war and terror. For Jesus followers, our beliefs led to His Kingdom, where one of the values is to love your enemies.
I pray for our country, for our leaders to be wise. I pray for our soldiers, my friends and neighbors, for their protection and safety. But in my prayers, I also remember to pray for my enemies. Jesus died for them too.