By Alex Redd, Th.D
San Francisco Bay Area, California
Liberia is still drenched in deep wounds of unforgiven hearts. Though the guns are silent since the end of the civil war, the reality of peace, personal security, and hope continue to elude Liberians as they foresee the challenges of rebuilding the country. We have witnessed various levels of false accusations, coup d' etats, assassinations, executions, and brutal civil war that claimed over 250,000 lives. As a result, the country and its people have experienced the reality of governmental instability, economic instability, relational instability, personal instability, and more. We as people have looked up to the seat of state government and international partners to draft solutions that will bring lasting stability in every sector of our homeland.
These troubling times in our country are only the manifest reality of what had been pre-plotted in the minds and hearts of individuals and groups for the sake of change and freedom from all forms of oppression. The quest for change is felt in both institutions of the civil magistrate (the government) and the ecclesiastical magistrate (the assembly of God's chosen people-the church). Nevertheless, Liberia has a long way to go in its efforts to grow and develop. As Liberia wobbles through ashes of the past, we should hope for a better future. Of course, we have seen so much that is wrong with our country, and we may all agree that change is necessary for the rebuilding of Liberia.
For the most part, we clamor for such change in the realm of politics. We cry against persistent political corruption in virtually every sector of governing authority, namely the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of government. Many say the lack of progress is due to corrupt political power - mainly politicians--and Liberians blame politicians for all that goes wrong with the progress of the country. However, bandaging the externals without diagnosing the internal disease will bring no lasting healing of our homeland. What about spiritual change that can eventually lead to constructive change? Genuine change begins with renewal of the human soul through the omnipotence of God's redemptive Spirit and the bold preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the power of God unto salvation for all who believe (Romans 1:16). Simply put, authentic change involves the way we think (intellect), the choices we make (will), and the way we feel (emotion). Therefore, the core problem of Liberia's lack in progress is not merely political corruption, it is our distance from God (Isaiah 59: 2).
Distancing from God
God is sovereign! His authority and His control supercede all human’s authority. In fact, no human government exists on earth without God's ultimate approval (Romans 13:1). Thus, any government and its people that veer from God's will and counsel are bound to gradually fall away from God's grace. We profess to love God and know Him, but we look to other things rather than Him. We, instead of God, turn to other things to bring fulfillment into our lives. As a result, our country is experiencing the consequences of God's wrath in an active and passive way. These things are happening because of our distance from God.
The ills of Liberia are not merely the result of corrupt politicians. We can trace our country's troubles directly to ineffective Christians. History teaches us that Christians have been in the majority at virtually every strata of societal governance since the founding of Liberia as an independent nation. Though we are born in sin, and shaped in iniquity, as dictated by our fallen human nature, the token of God's kingdom on earth that brings man closer to God is the church. The church is the Body of Christ, an assembly of believers who are saved by God's grace through faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:8; Psalm 51:5; Ephesians 2: 4-5). Thus, church and its assembly of people should serve as the agent of spiritual "light" and "salt" to a darkened world of people (Matthew 5:16).
The Church in the Midst of Chaos
The tragedy is that the Liberian church has failed to advance the kingdom of God and His principles in the society. I mean it literally! The church is to be a positive influence for good. As our country goes through doldrums of economic starvation, political uncertainty, abject poverty, and Ebola pandemic, God is saying something to us and we are not hearing his voice. God is shaking our country. Why is it that our homeland has fallen into an abyss of abnormality? Political mismanagement, unrest at various levels, civil war, and the plague of Ebola are all indication that God is shaking our country. Why is it that some people involve themselves in traditional ritualistic killings? Why is it that we hate and envy one another? Why is it that greed is at its height in state governance?
Although the guns are silent, however, reality of war persists in the heart of many people. And this war of heart is the rejection of God's love, clash of prideful spirits, and failure to do what Christ Jesus commands us to do—love others as we love ourselves. Pride, arrogance, thievery, hatred, murders, and all forms of immoralities are the results of an unregenerated heart. If those who are occupying the echelon of power in government and the church profess to know and love God, and if they are not demonstrating the character of integrity, then how do we expect our country to tangibly progress?
In James chapter four the apostle asks, "what causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight..." The apostle portrays reality of a heart and mind that is not content, always fetching for more at the expense of violating the inalienable rights of others. All the unrest in our country today started within the human’s mind and heart. Jeremiah 17: 9 tells us that the heart is "deceitful" and desperately "wicked" and who can "know" it? Only God searches and knows the heart (Jeremiah 17:10). Moreover, Christ Jesus emphasizes the condition of the human heart. "Out of the heart," Jesus says, "proceeds evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies (Matthew 15:19). Due to the mindset and heart that is far from God, our country is not in good shape.
Folks, the heart of the matter is the heart of the matter. When a man's heart is consumed by true love for God, he will not be so inclined to hurt another person. But we are still experiencing the prevalence of hatred among ourselves and many of us are unwilling to forgive others. Let us not forget that we live in an imperfect world with imperfect people. So, the first step to forgive somebody else is to recognize our imperfection and also imperfection of the offender. Moreover, the present earth is not heaven; it is defiled by sin and sinners and is groaning in pain for future delivery (Romans 8:21-22). Injustice that comes in all forms, shapes, and magnitude will continually plague our lives until the Righteous Judge arrives to settle the score on Judgment Day (II Corinthians 5:10; John 16:33).
Since God has all the resources than us, we must not repay evil that others have done to us. God is our avenger! (Romans 12:19). We should forgive others so that God will also forgive us. But if we fail to forgive others, how then should we expect God to forgive our sins? (Matthew 6:14-15; Luke 7:37-48). The ability to forgive somebody else is our deep sense of love for God and how much others have forgiven us. The biblical command is to love God with all our heart, all our mind, all our soul, and all our strength and then love our neighbor and even our enemies (Romans 13:8; Matthew 5:44). What it means is that we should live as portrait of a new life in accordance with the life and character that Christ Jesus embodies: the fruit of the Holy Spirit. The essence and value of divine love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control must be practical in the Christian life (Galatians 5:22-23).
Declare Liberia A Christian Nation? How Can It Be?
Many Liberian church leaders say with glee that some of their members occupy important roles of leadership in the Liberian government. Some church leaders have even encouraged some of these members to legislate Liberia into a Christian nation. How can this be? Followers of Jesus Christ do not need to find their identity in the name of a country. During his trial in Pontius Pilate's court, Jesus Christ said that his ruling kingdom is not physical but spiritual (John 18:36). And believers in Christ Jesus ought to worship God in spirit and truth (John 4:24).
The church, which is not merely a building, is the token of God's spiritual kingdom on earth that the "gates of hell" will not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). Indeed, history has shown that every empire that ever rose to power has fallen, but the church is still standing. Governments and every forms and shapes of authority will rise and fall, but the remnant of God remains. How can Liberia be declared a Christian nation when many professed Christians are not portraying personal integrity? God knows that we are imperfect beings saved by His grace, yet He expects integrity in every area of our lives. A Christian's love is measured by the depth of his love that works through faith to forgive others.
We must love as Christ loved; we must walk as Christ walked. Such love is not generated from one's own strength but from the Holy Spirit that indwells the believer. It is the perfect love that casts out fear and truly forgives others (I John 4:18).
Moreover, the Christian identity is demonstrated if we internally and externally portray the fruit of the Spirit, an epitome of the Christian character (Galatians 5:22, 23). In other words, we must imitate Christ's life and character in all we do. Unfortunately, our country is morally bankrupt despite the predominant presence of professed Christians in both the church and state government. God is shaking our country so we can draw near to him and put away our personal idols. When we glean from the Old Testament, God was Israel's problem Himself. He unleashed the locusts; the storms and gave them over to their enemies: the Hittites, Philistines and other enemies. Why? because Israel's national life swayed away from worshiping the true God to worshiping idols. In biblical times, people used to worship trees, beads, or rocks as something concrete to give them sense of peace, personal security, as well as material possessions.
Negative Impact of Materialism
In our modern time today, idols are materialism in the form of money, possessions, and the time we spend doing other things that are not pleasing to God (Matthew 6:24). Many of us worship our cars, houses, jewelry, bank account, clothes, careers, and more. We tend to pay more attention to our personal belongings than the ultimate source that provides everything--God. Unfortunately, the young people in our society today are coached into careers geared toward working for state government as the easiest and quickest way to get rich. Hence, the focus of attention is not God who gives knowledge and wisdom and wealth but the "self" and materialism (Proverb 3:5-7; ITimothy 6:10). And when God is your problem, only God is your solution. The impetus behind the problems or crises occurring in Liberia today is spiritual, even though the symptoms are real in themselves as the physical, social, financial and more. They are merely the fruit of what has long been implanted in the hearts and minds of some people. However, God will not allow the ungodly behavior of the few to forever determine the destiny of our country.
A Revival Necessary in the Church
Liberia will never be saved unless the church revives itself in cadence with God's kingdom agenda for our homeland. No lasting solutions until believers (that is the church- the Body of Christ) appropriately return to God to hear His voice. True believers in God must humbly fast and pray until they get on the same page together. They must seek His face. The Executive Mansion is not where we must find the first and foremost solution to our nation's problems.
God's house is where we must first and foremost turn our attention for solutions. God is in charge and His believers have priority access to Him through the means of grace: prayer, Bible study, worship, and selfless service to others. Now is the time to invoke those solutions by calling on spiritual leaders and believers to initiate a national sacred assembly. Now is the time to clearly comprehend that God works to restore our nation until he first restores His church. The Body of Christ (the church) must earnestly seek Him, and we must do it (Hebrew 11:6). Folks, our problem is not the Executive Mansion. I believe that our problem is the church house.
If God could ever get us straight in His house, He will overflow into our communities and our nation, bringing life where there was once only the stench of death. We need the flow of God's healing power and influence to flow down the aisles of our churches. We have been so numbed by the rituals of religiosity that we are focusing less on the substance of our calling and faith. What then is the goal of the church? The church's goal is to advance and enrich God's kingdom on earth by positively affecting its members. As a result of such kingdom-minded goal, members will then affect the culture in which they live. It is the duty of the church to make its members know, experience, and trust God's Spirit. In hindsight, whenever biblical Israelites experienced crises and distance from God, the prophets would gather the people into an assembly.
God is the FIXER-IN-CHIEF
The Israelites resolved their crises by hearing the voice of God, who disrupted their normalcy of life. God disciplined them by sending locust, drought, and allowed their enemies to torment them. To hear the voice of God, the prophets needed a collective gathering of the people to call on his name. In biblical times, assembly of people was the means by which God used for national revival. We see major occurrences in the Old Testament concerning national revival, sacred assembly, time of prayer or fasting which preceded the revival.
Some of those events include the Sabbath-Leviticus 23:3; the Feast of Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread-Leviticus 24:4-8; Feast of Weeks-Numbers 23:26-28; Feast of the Trumpets-Leviticus 23:23-25; Day of Atonement-Leviticus 23:26-32; and the Feast of Booths-1st and 8th day-Leviticus 23:33-36). Such revival continued in the New Testament.
These enlisted forms of worship occurred during the New Testament period as well. The church itself was birth out of a multi-day prayer meeting that cumulated into the Day of Pentecost or the Feast of Weeks. This period is the concept of sacred gathering, a collective solemn assembly. And what was the purpose of the sacred assembly? It was done for purpose of renewing their covenantal relationship with God and to repent (that's turning away from sin and turning back to God). This, in turn, ushered in the rhythm of revival, resulting in the return of God’s manifest presence among his own, and their land. "Now, therefore, says the Lord, turn to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning. So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness." (Joel 22:12-13).
"Rend your heart" only works if it is internally driven and not merely externally enacted. The strategy for a long-term, effective national reform in Liberia must be to go along with what God has set out in His agenda for the church that must flow through every area of our lives, causing us to live all of life under God. My friends, God is asking us to take our nation's mess to him. Some of us are standing around looking at the plight of our nation and shaking our heads, asking "when is God going to do something?" Some of us are waiting on God to act. Why can't we see the things that are happening to our nation? Can't we see how God is shaking his head as He waits on us?
God has already provided His blueprint (His Word) as the necessary steps for what we need to do to get our nation back on track. Now is the time! With all of the decays and destructions that we face on so many levels in our country, it is now the time to come together and seek God collectively; time to call for a solemn assembly. Second Chronicles chapter 15 tells us that Israel's wayward national life occurred due to the absence of the true God. Due to the wrong view of God, that nation no longer followed the agenda of God. When the people of a nation fail to adjust to God’s way, the true God does not adjust to them. Apostle James says that if we draw near to God, then He will draw near to us (James 4:8). But we cannot draw near to God if we do not bend our heart toward him before we bend our knee in devotional prayer. If we assemble as formality without truly humbling our hearts before God and seeking Him first, we will have wasted our time.
A sacred assembly involves getting our hearts to beat in cadence with God's own, returning to Him so that He can return his favor by covering and protecting us. When God says return to him with all our hearts, God is saying to return to him as our fundamental source. He must be the center of our lives, homes, churches, communities, and nation. He must flow through all that we do. Many of us cursorily worship God by offering a nice little prayer before public meetings while simultaneously leaving God’s perspective out of the details. Not that the Israelites lacked Rabbis (or teaching priests); but they had stopped teaching the truth. Worship had degenerated into an ungodly lifestyle. The church (assembly) of the Israelites no longer became the center of life and conscience in the culture, calling people to take God seriously. In short, Israel was suffering from an absence of spiritual leaders who should honor the authority of Scripture.
Today's Reality of the Christian Community in Liberia
Too often today, we find the same thing in Liberia. Too many pastors preach to please, for they seem to fear backlash or the loss of church membership. At a recent function in Elk Grove, California, a pastor in the area alleges that pastors in Liberia today are more corrupt than politicians and, he added, they feed on other well-financed international churches to promote their personal welfare. That is a blanket and bleak indictment of the entire Liberian clergy. I do not believe that "all" pastors are corrupt, for there are some Liberian pastors who serve the Lord's flock with integrity. Nonetheless, I encourage the church to restore Christology, a Christ-centered message.
It is a fact that many preachers today spend time of preaching away from a Christ-centered message to exalting themselves. And they do so by sprinkling a little Jesus in their sermons whereas the Apostle Paul encourages us to preach the "full counsel of the gospel." (Acts 20:27). Jesus Christ is the content of the gospel (Mark 1:1). The issue is whether the message is true, not whether it is popular. An American pastor once put it this way, "politicians need to be popular. Preachers need to tell the truth." When the culture fails to define absolute truth based on God’s law, the nation is bound to wobble and fail. The Israelites had a false view of the true God so they engaged in idolatry. When a culture is ingrained with twisted view of God, then God begins to remove the restraint of His law and evil grows unstoppable.
What we are witnessing in Liberia today is the reality that God is removing more of His restraints. Once God is marginalized in a culture, then the righteous standard for a society is gone and God becomes one's fiercest enemy and nightmare, as we experience the natural consequences of distancing ourselves from Him . That's what happened in biblical Israel and that's what happening on a number of levels today in our beloved homeland. Yes, indeed, the rule of God is missing and chaos replaces community. The bottom line is that we cannot have order and structure in society without God. The more we sideline God, the worst things will become. Liberia is not in short supply of Bible schools and seminaries nor is it short of Christian leaders.
What is holding us back from fostering the kingdom of God’s agenda in public life is that we have left our first love-God, so did the loveless church of Ephesus (Revelation 2:4). Moreover, we fall short to measure our heart by our money and time. How much do we really give back in tithe to God? God still has more in his rich treasure to impact our country, but why would He want to give to His people who are only stealing from Him? In the Book of Malachi chapter three, God calls it "thievery." Yet, many of us have bigger houses, newer cars, newer clothes, but the message of God’s Word to our country in need continues to be truncated in its reach.
All Must Come To God
Folks, God is saying something to us as a nation. Due to the fact that we are not listening to God, He is shaking things up to get our attention. Can't we see how our country has gone through deadly coup d'etats, civil war, displacement of human capital, and an insidious outbreak of the Ebola disease? All our elected presidents are deceased, except for one who is bedraggled in prison for life while the other is now president. Countless lives have been lost as a result of raging fight over resources and political advantage. God is shaking things up in our country so that we can come to our senses by turning to Him wholeheartedly.
When the Israelites felt the weight of oppression at the hands of their enemies due to their distance from God, they cried out and Prophet Samuel provided the roadmap as a formula for freedom, victory, and stability. And the formula can be summarized in one word: ALL. "Return to the Lord with all your heart," is what the people of Israel needed to do in order to experience God’s favor of stability. God demands all our hearts, all of us. We must live with the ALL mentality. The Israelites had God and something else: God and their own wise ideas.
Sounds like today's Liberia? We think that we can solve our country's problem without God. As a result, our nation is suffering underneath the atmospheric chaos of distance from God. The question remains: do we look to God’s precepts and principles as our guiding force or do we seek the world's way of resolving personal problems and then just sprinkle little Jesus on top? My friends, God and something else doesn't work. The only workable strategy to get our nation on track is to listen and do what God is asking of us--He wants ALL our heart devoted to Him so that we can make a difference.