Kathy likes terriers. When we talk about getting a dog, she is always trying to make me choose between Fox Terriers, Scottish Terriers, Westies, and a few other terrier breeds. There are problems with all terriers, however. They are small. They were bred to hunt rats and other vermin. They are extremely aggressive. If they are not trained properly, they think they are in charge of the entire family. When attacked, even by a child, they can bite. All in all, I prefer Golden Retrievers who are easy to train and happily fit into almost any situation.
Nevertheless, when I practiced law, I had a statute of a Fox Terrier in my office. Most people in those days thought it was appropriate, since I was small, aggressive, and occasionally bit when attacked. In fact, if there is such a thing as reincarnation, it is possible that I was a terrier in some prior life. I am telling this little story to make a point: What I have to say does not come naturally. In fact, quite the opposite: by nature, I am not a pacifist or inclined to let things go wrong without a fight.
Several weeks ago, one of our members related to me that a prominent media figure had challenged American pastors to preach on ISIS and on events in the Middle East. At the time, I thought that I did not want to do it. However, as I was reading the text for this week and contemplated the blog for the week, it seemed to me that, as much as I hesitate to give my opinion on certain issues, perhaps today’s post meets a need.
In this blog, I want to talk about “Amazing Love in Troubled Times.” It is easy to act wisely and love people when times are easy. It is harder to be wise and love people when times are tough and we feel threatened. As Jesus noted, it is easy to love our friends and families. It is harder to pray for and love enemies (Matthew 5:44).
Mark 13 is sometimes called a little apocalypse because Jesus here describes the destruction of the temple and also speaks of troubled times for all believers in all times to the very end of time. I cannot reproduce here the entire chapter. I suggest interested readers take a look at the entire chapter as they read the blog and ponder its message. Here is what Mark says about the end of the temple and by implication the end of time:
Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains. You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit (Mark 13:5-11).
Jesus Faced Danger and Opposition
The last week of his life, Jesus faced unrelenting opposition. The Gospels are unanimous that the High Priests, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and other leaders of the people early on looked for ways to get rid of Jesus. There were several possibilities. They could discredit him before the people by forcing him to say things that would turn the people against him. They could trick him into saying things that would cause the Roman government to arrest him. They could arrest him for false teaching and convict him of heresy. They could find a way to have him killed. In fact, they tried all of these ways to get rid of him. Eventually, the succeeded.
Let me give you a few examples: On Jesus’ third day in Jerusalem, the authorities questioned his habit of speaking as if he possessed divine authority (Mark 11:27-35). Jesus responded with a parable about a landowner who sends his son to check on the harvest (Mark 12:1-11). The son is killed by the tenants— a direct reference to the Chief Priests, teachers of the law, and elders. By implication, Jesus was the true son, while they were only dishonest tenants.
The authorities responded by trying to get Jesus to deny Caesar’s authority to tax the Jews—a popular position with the crowd, but sure to get Jesus arrested by the Romans. Jesus responded by pointing out that people should render to Caesar what belong to Caesar and to God what belongs to God (Mark 12:17). The Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection, tried to confuse him with resurrection riddles. He avoided them by pointing out that in the resurrection there will be no marriage, and he defended the doctrine of the resurrection (Mark 12:18-27). In all these events and more, the leaders of the people were simply trying to trick Jesus, confuse Jesus, and cause him to lose support from the common people. Jesus responded with wisdom and the power of the Holy Spirit.
What is remarkable is that Jesus never lashed out. He never played the same game as the leaders of the people were playing. He answered questions shrewdly but honestly. He exposed hypocrisy. He avoided trap after trap. He came out of every conflict unshaken. Perhaps there is a message for us: When times are tough, when we face enemies, when we are being tested—it is at these times when our capacity to show the world the wisdom and love of God is the most important. It is when we act and speak in the power of the Spirit that we are most effective.
We Face Danger and Opposition
As I mentioned earlier, some weeks ago a member came to me and asked if I would preach on ISIS. I don’t know all the facts, but I am told that on a national television show there was a discussion about Christian faith and the problems of the Middle East. ISIS is, at least to some degree, motivated by a particular interpretation of Islam to engage in a war to create in the Middle East what is called a “Caliphate”. A caliphate is an Islamic state led by a “Caliph,” a political and religious leader, a direct successor to the Islamic prophet Muhammad. His power and authority is absolute. 
It is important to remember that not all Muslims share the radical ideas of ISIS, nor do all Muslims believe that the violence and cruelty of ISIS reflects a correct understanding of Islam. On the program, however, a representative of the Middle Eastern cultures critiqued Christianity by reminding the audience that, during the Middle Ages, Christians several times attempted to create a Christian state in what is today Israel by what are called today the “Crusades.” He was making the point that Christians have sometimes violated our own deepest convictions in the search for power or to respond to threats. We don’t want be guilty of the same thing in responding to today’s threats.
In recent weeks, the United States and our allies have had to try to slow down the advance of ISIS in parts of Syria and Iraq by force. In response, ISIS has threatened terror attacks against several Western nations, including the United States of America. The President of Egypt has been fighting a battle against a Libyan offshoot of ISIS. It is really a very complex and dangerous thing that is happening. We all ought to pray about what is going on because it could easily end in a war.
ISIS is not the only pressure Americans, and American Christians, experience. The fact is that our nation and our faith face threats. So the question arises, “What should we do in response?” and “How should we behave?” These are important questions because it is important that as Christians we behave with the wisdom and love of God and encourage our neighbors and nation to do the same. One big contribution Christians can make to our nation, so caught up in simplistic and sometimes irrational and unloving politics, is to bear witness to a better way—a way of wisdom and love.
Jesus Reacted in Love
Not to be simplistic, but the first thing might be to ask, “What would Jesus do?” “How did Jesus face opposition and impending persecution and death during his last week of life?” Clearly, the answer is that Jesus continued to be Jesus. He continued to preach and teach concerning the Kingdom of God. He continued to point out where the Priests, Scribes, Teachers of the Law, Pharisees, and leaders of his people had gone astray. He was willing to take action, as he did as he was cleansing the Temple. On the other hand, he never overreacted however badly provoked.
A second thing we can do is to love our enemies.
In Matthew, Jesus says the following in the Sermon on the Mount:
You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:43-48).
Jesus’ behavior when he was arrested and tried indicates that he was cooperating with God’s will and responding as peaceably and lovingly as possible. When a follower drew his sword, he stopped the attack, healed the guard, and said: “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword” Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 25:52-53). Jesus’ peaceful response to violence was not because he could not respond; he chose not to respond with violence. When Jesus had to speak to the Sanhedrin, the Priests, Pilate, and Herod, he was filled with the Spirit and spoke wisely.
On the cross, when he was about to die, Jesus looked down upon those who had crucified him and said, “Father, forgive them, for the do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). All during his last week, amid all the opposition, violence, and troubles he faced, Jesus continued to be a peacemaker. Even at the end, when he might have cursed his enemies, be forgave them. What Amazing Love.
When the disciples and apostles looked back upon this behavior, they were astounded. Paul, in Romans, puts it this way: “ For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Romans 5:10). What amazed Paul was that God loved him and the human race even though they were acting as enemies of God. Later in the First Century, John writes, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (I John 3:16). God, it seems, is in the business of loving his enemies and those who oppose him even as he may have to act to correct them. He wants his people to act in the very same way, as hard as it may be for us.
The implications for us are clear: Somehow, we have to love our enemies, even those who threaten our existence. Whatever governments and armies may have to do, as Christians we must be motivated by love and continue to show love, even for our enemies.
Making it Work in the Real World
This is not the place for a long dissertation on Just War Theory; however, the as we think about a Christian response to ISIS, here are four principles to keep in mind. For Christians to use force (i) There must be a grave threat by an aggressor; (ii) The damage the aggressor can inflict upon a nation or community must be significant, lasting, and certain; (iii) There must be no practical or effective way of deterring the aggressor except through the use of force; and (iv) The force used must not result in greater evils than the aggressor threatens.  The goal, from beginning to end, must be to create a just peace.
Once a conflict begins, Just War Theory demands that the conflict be conducted humanely, avoiding indiscriminate violence against civilians, and especially violence against women and children who are not engaged in the conflict. Generally, Christian Just War Theory restricts Christian nations to use no greater force than necessary to achieve a just end. In broad terms, Christians must not love violence. We must promote peace whenever possible and be slow to resort to the use of arms. However, we may use force when it is necessary. Evil must not be allowed to remain unchecked. 
I’ve been a pastor for a long time now, and I’ve noticed that laypeople often think of pastors, including me, as being both different from ordinary people and slightly disconnected from reality, especially as regards conflict. This is sometimes true, but not always. Our pastor in Houston was a very peaceful, conflict-avoidant person. This did not mean he was a pansy. He spent the Second World War in a submarine in the South Pacific. The casualty rates in the Submarine Service in World War II ensured that pansy’s did not seek such duty.  I have mentioned my father who, throughout World War II and thirty-five years in the FBI, remained a man of peace in a world of war and conflict. Jesus resisted evil, controlled his impulses and worked for peace and blessedness in a world of conflict. So should we.  In all of the challenges we face as a nation and as individuals, we should keep in mind the Beatitude that reads, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God”(Matthew 5:9).
The Little Apocalypse of Mark
Throughout his last week of life, Jesus constantly warned his followers about the destruction of the Temple to come and the persecutions they would face as a result. Jesus could see that the current situation would not continue forever and that the destruction of the Temple and a new Jewish time of suffering were on the horizon. In Biblical terms, the long awaited “Day of the Lord” was at hand (Mark 13:24).  As he spoke of that terrible day, he was concerned to remind his disciples that they were in God’s hands. They needed to be prudent, but they did not need to worry. They would be persecuted, but they would be given the right words to say when drug before authorities just as Jesus was being given the words to say in the face of the opposition of the leaders of the people (Mark 13:9-11).
Jesus also did not want them or us to overreact. This is why he warns them that there will be false Messiah’s and wars and rumors of wars (Mark 13:5). Jesus wanted them to know that history was going to unfold just has history had unfolded in the past (Mark 13:5-8). Just as God is patient, he wants his people to be patient in the face of threats and dangerous times.
This is hard for Americans and for American Christians because we are an active and sometimes impulsive people. Nevertheless, we need to remember to be patient and wise.
We cannot be sure when Jesus will come and rescue his people nor do we know exactly how (Mark 13:42-35). What we do know is that God loves his people and intends to rescue us when the time is right. That applies to the end of time and it applies to every bad time in between the times. What we must do is remain faithful to God, to Christ, and to the wisdom and love God has promised to give us. We Americans have been lucky. We have not been persecuted until recently. Our nation has been spared attacks on civilian centers. We have not experiences the horrors of war that other nations have experienced since the American Civil War. Unfortunately, it may be that our good fortune may not continue forever. We should pray it does.
I am afraid that today’s blog is long and not entirely satisfactory. The scope of the subject is too vast for me to possibly do it justice in a short article. All I can do is scratch the surface and urge readers to do their own investigation. As I mentioned earlier, we do live in challenging times. To face these times as Jesus faced his challenging times we need all the wisdom and all the steadfast love God can give us. It is quite possible that the greatest service we can do for our nation is to model a kind of peaceful reasonableness in the midst of negative politics, media hype, denigration of Christian faith, and all the other negative aspects of our culture. As we do so we can rest assured that “God’s Amazing Love” wins in the end.
Copyright 2015, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved.
 https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&es_th=1&ie=UTF-8#q=what%20is%20caliphate%3F&es_th=1 (Downloaded March 19, 2015).
 There are various ways of expressing the principles of Just War Theory. This is but one, simple and short way. From the time of Augustine, through Thomas Aquinas, and to the present day Christians have continued to struggle with the best expression
 There is a Muslim expression of these very principles, and one way in which the Fundamentalist, ISIS war of terror violates Muslim principles is in the way violence is being used against women, children, and other non-combatants.
 http://www.catholic.com/documents/just-war-doctrine (Downloaded March 19, 2015). I have basically quoted this website. Sometimes I call the basic Christian approach to war “Just War Pacifism.” War is a last resort. Christians should always regard it as such. However, when peaceful means are exhausted, Christians may engage in war.
 During World War II, the U.S. Navy’s submarine service suffered the highest casualty percentage of all the American armed forces, losing twenty percent of all submariners. www.valoratsea.com/bookstore.htm See, wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_lost_United_States_submarines (Downloaded, March 18, 2015).
 In Centered Living/Centered Leading: The Way of Light and Love Rev. Ed (Memphis, TN: Booksurge Publishing, 2014), there are many sections in Centered Living/Centered Leading that deal with conflict and war. This week, I read the following:
“Those who wisely lead or assist those who lead avoid using force to attain an objective.
Wise shepherds resort to force or compulsion only when there is no other alternative.
Force normally brings a violent response; it is contrary to the Way.
A wise leader remembers this: the strong weaken over time.
Wherever there is conflict or coercion, true accomplishment seldom results.
Therefore, wise shepherds are patient.”
This secion ends with the reflection, “Fighting and violence violate God’s Deep Love. Conflict is not the deepest Way of the One Who Is.” (Chapter 30). There are many such references in the Tao and in my Christian adaptation.
 The Old Testament is filled with prophesies of the Day of the LORD, a day in which God will act in vengeance on his enemies and establish his kingdom of righteousness. See, William Barclay, “Mark” in The Daily Bible Study Series rev. ed. (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1975), 303-324.