Tag Archives: Refuge

Ancient Vengeance Cloaked in Modern Technology

“Six of the towns you give the Levites will be cities of refuge, to which a person who has killed someone may flee.”
Numbers 35:6 (NIV)

Last night as Wendy and I sat on the couch she expressed grief and frustration over a pattern of behavior we’ve been observing on social media. It is quite common for the discourse on Facebook and Twitter and online forums to sink into petty jabs, unnecessary name calling, and a general spirit of anger, hatred, and conflict. And this, we routinely notice, from many whom we love and who eagerly claim to be followers of Jesus.

For the past month or two my chapter-a-day journey through the book of Numbers has taken me back to an ancient times. I’ve been mulling over the lives and times of Moses and the Hebrew tribes. It was, without a doubt, a very bloody and ugly period of human society. Ancient tribal societies lived in a time without laws, law enforcement agents, and a system of justice. It was a time of blood feuds, vengeance and “an eye-for-an-eye” free-for-all of individual retribution.

I can’t help but think of the stories we know like The Godfather in which warring families get embroiled in ever escalating acts of violence and murder against one another. The Tataglia family attempts to kill but only wounds Vito Corleone. Vito’s son, Sonny, actually kills Bruno Tataglia in retribution. But, that’s not enough. Michael Corleone also kills the man who orchestrated the plot and the Police Captain who protects him. But that’s not enough. Everyone goes to the mattresses. But that’s not enough. Michael eventually kills the heads of all the other mafia families to protect himself from retribution. The violence and vengeance never ends.

As Sean Connery famously quips in The Untouchables, “He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue!”

What Wendy was observing last night is an example of the old saying “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” We’re still embroiling ourselves in petty, ever escalating feuds between political, religious, and social clans. Now, however, we do it from a safe distance and use words as our weapons. Somehow, we believe that this is better on the grading curve of human society. Name calling on Facebook isn’t as barbaric as literally sticking a knife in someone’s back. Or is it?

I’m reminded in the quiet this morning of Jesus words:

“For the mouth speaks [and the hand types] what the heart is full of.  A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

In today’s chapter, God through Moses is leading a radical step forward in human history. It is a formalized system of justice. The priestly clan of the Levites are scattered to live among all the other tribes. Within those tribes the priestly Levites create “cities of refuge” to which murderers and those who commit manslaughter may flee. The priests gave sanctuary so that a trial, complete with witnesses, could be conducted and a just verdict could be rendered. The accused was required to stay under the protection of priest in the city of refuge. But get this: If the High Priest died, a period of amnesty was unleashed. The accused were free. Any blood feud or vendetta of vengeance was to end.

What great foreshadowing God gives in today’s chapter for what He is going to do on a cosmic spiritual scale in the Great Story. Jesus, High Priest (Heb 6:20) in the mysterious order of Melchizedek, comes to live among us like the priests sent to live among the tribes. [cue: Silent Night] To Jesus we may flee for refuge with all the accusation, guilt, condemnation and social vengeance nipping at our heels. When Jesus, the High Priest, dies then amnesty reigns. Forgiveness and grace (literally, favor we don’t deserve and didn’t earn) are poured out to the accused and condemned. Prisoners are freed. Vengeance ends.

Wait, there’s more. Those of us who follow Jesus are called “a royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9). Spiritually, I become a Levite of our time. I’m a priest in the order of Jesus. I am to be a person and place where “others” (even those of other tribes I don’t particularly like) may flee to find protection, understanding, kindness, mercy, grace, compassion, and justice.

So, I have to ask myself: When I allow myself to get stirred up  and let that f*ing, clueless, ignorant, MORON on Facebook know just what a #*&%-eating, #@)#-faced, #)@(#* they are… am I extending the royal, priestly rites handed down to me by Jesus? Am I being marked by the Spirit of protection, forgiveness, grace, mercy, and compassion that I claim to have received from Jesus, my High Priest? Am I fulfilling my calling to be part of that royal priesthood? Or, am I perpetuating a deep, very entrenched human part of me that is given to bloody, feudal vengeance cloaked in 21st century technology?

Ugh.

Lord, have mercy on me. Help me lay down my weaponized words; My vengeance which I try to costume as “justice” and “righteousness.” Make me a refuge for “others” – all “others.”

City of Refuge

“Say to the Israelites, ‘Appoint the cities of refuge, of which I spoke to you through Moses….'”
Joshua 20:2 (NRSV)

“City of refuge” was an ancient legal concept in which those accused of manslaughter could flee and find refuge from the family of the deceased who might seek revenge for the death. The “city of refuge” had a legal obligation to hear out the person fleeing and, if they decided that the person’s story was honest and worthy, to protect that person until an official hearing could be established.

Over the centuries, the term “city of refuge” expanded in meaning. Many who fled persecution of various kinds would call their new home a “city of refuge.”

Wendy and I live in a small Iowa town that was settled by a few hundred Dutch immigrants in 1847. They were led by their pastor, H.P. Scholte, who was an amazing mix of theologian, businessman, lawyer, artist, and visionary. He and his followers fled Holland because the state church of the Netherlands had imprisoned Scholte for not towing their doctrinal line. Scholte and a group of his faithful followers pooled their resources, purchased land from the United States in the new state of Iowa, and created a town from Scholte’s vision. He had the town completely mapped out and zoned before the group even arrived. Scholte gave his new town the name Pella, after a “city of refuge” in the country of Jordan where early followers of Jesus fled Jewish and Roman persecution. Pella, Scholte said, would be a “city of refuge” for the fleeing Hollanders.

To this day, our little town of Pella continues to hang on to the “city of refuge” moniker that was given to us by our town’s founder. Long ago the residents of Pella forgave native Holland for its persecution.  We now embrace our Dutch heritage to a fault. Scholte’s resentment towards the Netherlands also tempered later in life. He even sought to return to his native land as an ambassador of the U.S. (it never came to be). Still, residents of Pella find refuge of a sort in our little town. It is common for children raised in Pella to return and raise their families here. Life in Pella is relatively quiet. The pace is slow compared to most places, and the residents still cling to values that other places seem to have abandoned. And, we have great food and a Tulip Time Festival every May (Join us May 5-7!).

Today I’m thinking about the concept of refuge. Today’s chapter speaks of refuge from revenge in ancient legal terms. Still, the broader concept has equal merit. We all need a place, or places, where we can find refuge. We all need shelter from life’s storms.

The Rock that is Higher than I

from Stylelab via Flickr

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 61

Lead me to the rock
    that is higher than I
Psalm 61:2b (ESV)

Some days, our only safe refuge from that which overwhelms us is a place we cannot reach on our own. It is a rock fortress, a castle, a tower of strength not made by hands. It is a place of God’s Spirit. We find it only by seeking after the One who can lift us there.

My Life: A Photo Abecedarius

L is for Lake.

Rainy Lake, MN is where my family spent our two weeks of summer vacation every year from the time I was five until I was in high school.

Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri is where my parents bought their retirement getaway and where our girls spent their summers growing up. When my folks were ready to retire the retirement getaway, Wendy and I chose to buy it and keep it in the family. It continues to be our refuge, our retreat, our place of rest.

 

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 28

The Lord gives his people strength.
    He is a safe fortress for his anointed king.
Psalm 28:8 (NLT)

When I was a kid, my grandfather was fond of saying that he was “King of this castle!” Usually, it was said in jest at the dining room table as he pounded his fist and asserted his authority (before being reminded that he had his wife’s permission to say so). Still, our jests are often rooted in deeper truths and I observed throughout my childhood that my grandfather’s home was, in fact, his castle. It was the place he found refuge. He loved being at home.

From the time we are young, we have a natural affinity for building forts, fortresses, and tree houses. I can remember constructing fortresses made of mattresses and pillows, blankets and tables, and the ever present snow of an Iowa winter. Forts are a place of imaginative play. They are a safe place, a protective place, and place away from outside threat where we can rest and re-create.

I believe that adults are more like children than we care to admit. As we get older we still need our forts and places of refuge. My office here at home is my fortress. It is here that I find quiet each morning to converse with God, meditate on His Message, and write my blog posts. It is here that I imagine and read and write. I’m blessed to get to work here, too. It is my safe place, and when I am gone on the road or at the lake for extended periods of time, I find myself missing it.

Today, I’m thinking about the safety and security I feel in my little 12′ x 12′ fort each morning. I’m grateful to have a physical place of refuge; to be “King of this Castle” (and to have my wife’s permission to say so). I’m considerate this morning of the fact that God’s ever-presence is a place of refuge no matter where I find myself; no matter what the circumstance.

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 144

The Playhouse. Blessed be God, my mountain, who trains me to fight fair and well. He's the bedrock on which I stand, the castle in which I live, my rescuing knight, The high crag where I run for dear life, while he lays my enemies low. (Psalm 144:1-2, The Message)

I just returned from spending the weekend at the lake with a friend. It was a guys weekend, and I had the blessed experience of watching my friend melt before my eyes as he slowly decompressed. The tightness and intensity of his daily battle gave way to the peaceful effects of water, wind and wave. His eyelids grew heavy with weariness. His body relaxed. Stress yielded to healing slumber.

Our family's playhouse at the lake has always been a place of refuge. A quiet waystation, well behind the battle line of daily life, where weary individuals can find safety, rest and healing. I get to experience it regularly myself, and it's cool to share it with others in need.

As I read the lyrics to David's song, I was struck by his line "the high crag where I run for dear life." I thanked God for a place of retreat to which I, my family, and my friends, can run. A place to feel God's healing presence away from life's daily battle.

 

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