Tag Archives: United States

Love and Life; Hatred and Murder

 For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother…

Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.
1 John 3:11-12a, 15 (NIV)

Once again yesterday we citizens of the U.S. were shaking our heads in disbelief at the unfathomable event that took place in Las Vegas late on Sunday evening. While this event was unprecedented in its scope, there is a repetition that I feel when these tragic events unfold.

The endless press coverage. The same video clips played in a ceaseless loop. The scramble to learn everything possible about the perpetrator and the victim. The press conferences with law enforcement. The statements from world leaders. The eyewitness interviews on the street. The outcry from every side of the political spectrum. The talking heads giving psychological profiles and “expert” opinion.

We’ve been down this road before. Here we are again going through the same motions.

This morning’s chapter provided some synchronicity for me. John makes a direct connection between love/hate and life/death. It caught me off guard when John reminds me of Jesus’ command to love others, then immediately switches to the word picture of Cain (If you don’t know the story, see Genesis 4) who murdered his brother.

Whoa. Wait a minute. Hold the phone. How do we get from “love” to “Cain?”

John answers this at the end of the paragraph:

Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.

So, here’s what I’ve been meditating on in the quiet of my walk around the hotel parking lot this morning:

Jesus said He came to give Life. Life is the goal. Increasing Life, abundant Life, eternal Life, fullness of Life.

The conduit, the flow, to Life is love.  Love God. Love others.

When we refuse to love, we shut off the conduit. We shut love down like a valve. The flow stops. Things back up. Stop the flow of water in the eco system and everything dies. Stop the flow of blood and the body dies. Without the flow of love there is a very real spiritual and universal death that  naturally occurs.

When we choose into hate, we are consciously, willfully choosing to stop the flow of love that allows for Life.

Hatred is cosmic murder.

One can say that it’s not the same thing as the physical carnage on the Las Vegas strip, but that’s the very point that John was making in his connection between hatred and Cain. In an eternal perspective it is very much the same. There is direct correlation between hatred and murder.

And, that leaves me with some very serious personal questions to mull over today.

 

Keeping Watch

This is what the Lord says to me:
“Go, post a lookout

    and have him report what he sees.”
Isaiah 21:6 (NIV)

In ancient days major cities had walls built around them. The walls protected the city from invaders. The walls were often tall and wide enough to accommodate soldiers who would watch the horizon for people approaching. It’s much the same concept as the Medieval castles, but on a larger scale. Around Europe and the Middle East you can find cities that still have walls, or remnants of walls standing. Even the old city of Jerusalem is walled, though the walls are from Medieval times, not the days of Isaiah.

Through the lyrics of David’s songs and the poetry of the prophets we find the metaphor of the “watchman” who stands on the walls and is on the lookout:

I wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.
Psalm 130:5

The watchmen found me
    as they made their rounds in the city.
    “Have you seen the one my heart loves?
Song of Songs 3:3

“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me.”
Ezekiel 3:17

The prophet, along with my God,
    is the watchman over Ephraim…
Hosea 9:8

God’s language is metaphor. Paying attention to the metaphors and word pictures use throughout God’s Message provides understanding and insight. In ancient days, the watchman was a powerful word picture, though that power is easily lost in our days of suburbia. The watchman was a crucial figure. The watchman was on guard, ever vigilant in keeping watch on what was going on. The watchman could see things approaching from far off and could raise an alarm or provide important intelligence. The watchman was a perfect metaphor for the prophets who kept watch on what was coming and related the news to God’s people. The watchman is an apt precursor to the teachings of Jesus:

“Seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness.”

“He who seeks, finds.”

“When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.”

“Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”

Jesus made clear that, as His follower, I am to be aware, seeking and watching. We all have responsibilities as watchmen.

This morning as I write this post it is Election Day in the U.S. There is more angst and anger about this election than any election I have experienced in my lifetime. Historians tell us that there have been far more contentious elections and situations in our nations short history, though I think there are relatively few today who actually try to learn from the past (good watchmen look in all directions!).

Whatever the results of this election, it doesn’t take much of a watchman to see the numbers of the polls and know that tomorrow will dawn with more people angry and disappointed than relieved. It is the portents of contention ahead.

And so I’m reminded this morning of another important part of God’s Message, for a watchman should always weigh what he or she sees in context:

Be a good citizen. All governments are under God. Insofar as there is peace and order, it’s God’s order. So live responsibly as a citizen. If you’re irresponsible to the state, then you’re irresponsible with God, and God will hold you responsible. Duly constituted authorities are only a threat if you’re trying to get by with something. Decent citizens should have nothing to fear.

Do you want to be on good terms with the government? Be a responsible citizen and you’ll get on just fine, the government working to your advantage. But if you’re breaking the rules right and left, watch out. The police aren’t there just to be admired in their uniforms. God also has an interest in keeping order, and he uses them to do it. That’s why you must live responsibly—not just to avoid punishment but also because it’s the right way to live.

That’s also why you pay taxes—so that an orderly way of life can be maintained. Fulfill your obligations as a citizen. Pay your taxes, pay your bills, respect your leaders. Romans 13:1-7 (MSG)

Be a responsible citizen. Fulfill our obligation. Vote.

Then be at peace, love our neighbors , and respect our leaders (whoever they may be).

The Struggle for Unity Among Many

The Israelites went up and wept before the Lord until evening, and they inquired of the Lord. They said, “Shall we go up again to fight against the Benjamites, our fellow Israelites?”
Judges 20:23 (NIV)

The violent gang rape that had taken place in the previous chapter of Judges now becomes national news and sparks corporate outrage. The other 11 tribes of Israel muster an army and demand that the perpetrators of the act be delivered up for justice. Their fellow countrymen from Benjamin refuse. The tribes of Israel find themselves on the brink of civil war.

This morning as I read of the events described I thought of our own civil war here in the United States. I thought about the name itself: “United States.” Many smaller states united as one. It was not unlike the 12 tribes of Israel, spread out and occupying their own geographic territory, but with no strong central government to bring unity. In Ken Burns’ classic documentary of the American Civil War it is explained that, prior to the war, it was common to say “the United States are” (plural). After the war, we began to say “the United States is” (singular). As the end of the book of Judges, the nation of Israel is having a similar experience.

Today, I’m thinking about the need we have as humans in society for strong central leadership and authority. Without it, smaller societal groups with strong identity and disparate ideas quickly fall into conflict that can turn divisive, violent, and deadly. We need law, order, and the freedom to express our ideas. We need a system that allows for reasonable exchange and compromise.

Without it, things get ugly.

Checks and Balances. Nice Try.

Diagram of US Federal Government and American ...
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Chapter-a-Day Psalm 53

But no, all have turned away;
    all have become corrupt.
No one does good,
    not a single one!
Psalm 53:3 (NLT)

Having just come through an intense political season and subsequent national election, I have been spending a lot of time mulling over issues of government. Bear with me here. This is not a partisan political rant but a meditation on spiritual principle. Beyond political agendas of the two main parties, my thoughts have been reaching deeper to the system of government itself. The American experiment was, in many ways, unique when our founding fathers hammered out and crafted our current system of government. Not to get all high school government class on you this morning, but I’m struck at how the framers of our constitution understood the corruption of humanity. They acknowledged that without checks and balances, the system would quickly fall to corruption. By separating power and spreading it out between branches of government, between houses of congress, and between the states and the federal entities, there was a greater likelihood that one person or one government entity could not have too much power and grab control of the entire system (which history reveals is always the eventuality).

What the founders of the United States acknowledged was what God’s Message calls the sinful nature and what theologians refer to as the depravity of humanity. Every person who has watched over or parented small children has witnessed and experienced this. Given to him or herself, a little tike will hit their rival, rip the toy they want out of another person’s hands and then lie about doing it. They will hide their vegetables under the table or feed them to the dog. As we get older we hopefully learn that these behaviors are wrong. However, my personal experience and my dealings with other human beings leads me to believe that as adults we just get better at hiding our true nature, excusing our failings, shifting blame and getting away with it.

Prevailing thought in our culture is that we are all basically good and are given to doing the right thing. Therefore, given a little effort, we can reach a level of moral excellence acceptable to God. At the very least, we should be able to tip the scales slightly to the side of “good” and earn a pass on Judgement Day. My journey through God’s Message reveals a very different picture. I find God telling us that despite Herculean efforts to overcome our corrupt nature and moral shortcomings, we will instead find ourselves to be Sisyphus who just gets the stone to the top of the hill only to find that it rolls right back down again. We can never achieve a level of moral perfection necessary to be found innocent.

Which is why I find that even our system of government with all of its checks and balances still slides slowly into the muck of corrupt dealings, power grabs, deceptive advertising, pork barrel spending, blame shifting, and inside trading.

God help us. Despite our best efforts we still fall short.

We need a Savior.

Call to Gratitude: Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation

Abraham Lincoln, three-quarter length portrait...
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Chapter-a-Day Psalm 50

“But giving thanks is a sacrifice that truly honors me.

    If you keep to my path,
    I will reveal to you the salvation of God.”
Psalm 50:23 (NLT)

For those of us in the U.S., the Thanksgiving holiday is just a few weeks away. Today’s chapter reminds us multiple times that God is honored by “sacrifices of thanks.” I believe if we were truly honest we would admit to giving little thought to the act of actually giving thanks on Thanksgiving. Despite a nod to sharing one thing we’re thankful for before we dig in to our meal, I tend to believe that our hearts and minds are more typically filled with thoughts of food, football and black friday shopping.

When Abraham Lincoln issued his proclamation making Thanksgiving an official holiday, he was clearly calling U.S. citizens, divided in two by a terrible Civil War, to a day of humble and sincere thanks-giving to God. In the days before a national election, when it seems that our nation is largely divided into two camps of thought and engaged in a war of words, I think it might be beneficial for us all to read Lincoln’s plea for ourselves [note: italics added]:

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,
Secretary of State

Chapter-a-Day Deuteronomy 25

This a picture of one of the survivors of Ande...
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If the guilty one deserves punishment, the judge will have him prostrate himself before him and lashed as many times as his crime deserves, but not more than forty. If you hit him more than forty times, you will degrade him to something less than human. Deuteronomy 25:2-3 (MSG)

In a sleepy cemetery not far from where I live stands a grave marker with the name Andersonville on it. I would imagine that most who pass that way have no idea what the name means. The man memorialized with that marker was imprisoned in an infamous prisoner of war camp where the conditions and treatment were incredibly inhumane. The picture in this post was taken of one of the few who survived encampment at the prison. But this camp was not in Nazi Germany or in the Middle East. It was located in Andersonville Georgia during the American Civil War.

Our culture likes to pride itself in our sense of freedom and justice, and so we should. But names like Andersonville and Abu Ghraib should not be forgotten. They should stand as constant reminders, along with the dictates God gives in today’s chapter, that in trying times – especially times of war – the line between human and inhumane becomes easily blurred.

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Day 23: Something You Always Say “What if…” About

30 Day Blogging Challenge Day 23: Something you always say “What if…” about.

What if I’d been born in a different part of the world, in a different time of history, in a different culture? What would my life be like?

Perhaps I ask the question because I love history, or perhaps I love history because I’m always asking the question. There’s a chicken and egg thing going on there. I feel so blessed to have been born in the United States, in Iowa, in the 20th century. So much of the blessing I’ve experienced in life, which I so often take for granted, is simply because of where and when I was born.

Chapter-a-Day Matthew 3

“What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it’s deadwood, it goes on the fire.” Matthew 3:10 (MSG)

I’ve been fascinated by the reports of radioactivity coming out of Japan. Just the other day a plane load of passengers from Tokyo arrived at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and set off the TSA‘s radiation detectors. How interesting radioactivity is. We can’t see it, feel it, hear it, smell it, or taste it. But, it’s there. I wasn’t even aware that airports had detectors for those things.

Imagine a hand-held device like a Geiger Counter. It also detects an energy that can’t be seen, felt, smelt, heard or tasted. It’s a Life Detector, and measures the amount of Life welling up inside our spirit and radiating out of our life. What would this Life Detector reveal about me? Would it show Life radiating from me in increasing measure and pegging out the needle? Would the needle barely register a blip on the screen as my soul slowly becomes dead wood?

The further I get in the journey the more I realize that the needle is moving each day for each one of us. Life is either growing more fully inside of us or it’s seeping slowly from our souls. It’s pretty simple. We’ve got to get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’.

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Pursuit of Happiness #29

Happy St. Patrick's Day - St. James Gate, Dublin, Ireland

There is nothing like good memories to bring a smile to your face when you need it. So, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I have to pull some old photos out of the archive. In 1998, I had a rare opportunity to go to Ireland for a long weekend with my friends Eric, Justin, Drew, Tracy, and Jason. Long evenings drinking Guinness and having great conversations in the pubs of Dublin became one of the best memories of my life. In the photo below, we were camped out at the Brazen Head, a pub which had been in continuous operation longer than the United States had been a country.

At the Brazen Head, Dublin, Ireland November 1998

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone!

I’m looking forward to making some more best memories of my life this weekend, but more about that in the days to come.

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Chapter-a-Day Luke 21

Widow's Mite - Ancient Roman Bronze Coins
Image by IronRodArt – Royce Bair via Flickr

[Jesus] said, “The plain truth is that this widow has given by far the largest offering today. All these others made offerings that they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford—she gave her all!” Luke 21:3-4 (MSG)

There is an interesting place where money and faith intersect. I come from a Dutch heritage. The history of the Dutch is a fascinating study. In the 1600s, Amsterdam became the financial center of the world. Dutch trading ships made the Netherlands the richest republic in the world. At the same that time their coffers were brimming over with gilders, the Dutch were staunchly entrenched in their Reformed faith and Calvinist theology against greed and worldliness. The result was a wealthy people who felt intensely awkward about being rich. In a small town founded by Hollanders, half a world and four centuries away, I can still see that awkward struggle trying to work itself out. 

It is the season of giving centered in the greatest, most extravagant gift of all. Despite a heritage of wrangling with riches, I’m reminded today of the simplicity of Jesus’ teaching.

Let go. Be generous. Give extravagantly.

God did.

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