Tag Archives: War

“What Do You Expect?!”

"What Do You Expect?!" (CaD Rev 6) Wayfarer

Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?”
Revelation 6:15-17 (NIV)

Wendy and I find ourselves on that section of life’s road in which we get to watch and walk with my parents and her grandma as they traverse the home stretch of this earthly journey, and experience all that happens to the human body as it ages and begins to wear out. There is nothing novel or new about this progression. Ever since the third chapter of Genesis in which God tells Adam and Eve “from dust you came and to dust you will return,” human beings who live long enough have experienced the natural breakdown of the human body and mind until death finally catches up with us.

On our visits to Wendy’s 95-year-old grandmother, I’ve listened and observed as Wendy listens to grandma, who sometimes laments over her aches, pains, and nagging ailments that limit her quality of life. Wendy, ever the Enneagram Eight “challenger” that God made her, responds: “Your body is ninety-five years old, grandma! What do you expect?!”

In today’s chapter, we find John still in heaven’s throne room and Jesus (a.k.a. the Lamb) begins to open the scroll that was sealed with seven seals. As each seal on the scroll is broken, something awful is revealed to John. Conquest, war, famine, death, injustice, and cataclysmic natural disasters. Come to think of it, it’s a lot like what’s revealed to me when I open my news app each morning. Hold that thought.

A couple of observations. First, the prophetic images John sees here are not new or novel in the Great Story. Centuries before John’s vision, the prophets introduced these visionary images. Zechariah also saw the four horsemen (Zech 1 & 8). The souls under the altar connect directly with the Hebrew altar of sacrifice (Ex 29:12; Lev 4:7). The natural catastrophes mentioned were also referred to by Isaiah, Joel, Haggai, and even mentioned by Peter at Pentecost in Acts 2. So I think it’s important for me to understand that everything in this vision of “end times” has been foreseen all along. It’s all connected and it’s all been foreseen for a long time. Even Jesus described it:

“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

Matthew 24:6-14 (NIV)

Next, I have often stated that human history in the Great Story is very much like one long life cycle. Creation and time are layered with meaning. God’s people have long understood that one day is like a lifetime from birth (sunrise) to death (night). Followers of Jesus have seen that a week is like a metaphorical lifetime of Christ in which every Friday is a memorial of Jesus’ death and every Sunday is a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection that launches us into a “new” week. In the same way, each year has the same pattern. In my chapter-a-day treks through ancient books like Exodus and Joshua, I often made the case that humanity was in the toddler stage of history. Civilization acted like immature, ignorant, and petulant children who are driven by their appetites, emotions, and base instincts. If I follow that metaphor to its logical conclusion, then Revelation is a vision of humanity in the throes of death, the ultimate conclusion of sin’s curse on humanity that was declared in Genesis chapter three.

And this brings me back to Wendy addressing her grandmother’s shock and lamentation over her body’s slow, uncomfortable decline. “What do you expect?!”

In the quiet this morning, I find that an apt question with regard to the bleak description that Jesus, John, and the prophets foreshadow regarding humanity’s final chapters. Broken and sinful humanity living in our civilization and the kingdoms of this world ruled by the “prince of this world” (as Jesus named the evil one) decline into the throes of death.

Pessimistic, I know, and a bit depressing for the one who has no hope.

But, there is hope! And we’ll eventually get there at the end of this chapter-a-day trek through Revelation. Until then, the journey may seem like a long, slow slog of decline towards death. Hang in there. As Bob Dylan sings, “Just remember, that death is not the end.”

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Tension

The Tension (CaD Heb 8) Wayfarer

By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.
Hebrews 8:13 (NIV)

The Temple Mount in Jerusalem is, and likely will always be, a place of constant tension. The three major world religions consider it sacred space, and this means that there are frequent disputes that take many different shapes. The Al Aqsa Mosque with its gold dome sits atop the Mount surrounded by ancient walls. Below the western wall of the Mosque are remnants of the ancient Jewish Temple, commonly called “the wailing wall” where Jews and Christians pray daily. There is always tension.

I and my two companions were there during a particularly tense political period, things were largely locked down and access was limited. We had two interpreters and guides. One was an older woman, Jewish by birth, who had become a believer in Jesus and considered herself “a completed Jew.” The other was Arab by birth, Jewish by citizenship, and Christian by faith. He was a carpenter in Nazareth.

As we walked along the open area leading to the wailing wall, our female guide spoke of incidents in which Muslims violently attacked and killed Jews at the wall. A few moments later, our male guide quietly leaned into me to explain that the area where we were standing had once been a poor Arab neighborhood which the Jews bulldozed to make public space at the wall. Our time in Jerusalem was like that. Our guides, both followers of Jesus, saw everything from vastly different perspectives. They loved one another, but they often argued (always in Hebrew, which they both spoke but we didn’t). It was a microcosm of the much larger tension that exists there.

Our Arab brother, in particular, quietly saw to it that we experienced the tension first hand. The Temple Mount and Mosque were shut down to tourists because of the tensions, but he insisted on trying to get permission for us to see it briefly. We were grudgingly allowed to ascend a building of the Temple Authorities to view the mosque and its courtyard from the roof over the wall. The entire time we were followed, watched and made to feel the contempt and authority of our disgruntled hosts.

In a separate experience, our guide snuck us as tag-along with a group of Jews visiting the area’s Temple center. Not knowing that four Christians were in the audience, we were treated to hear about the group’s rabid desire to someday rebuild the Jewish Temple and return to the sacrificial system of Moses (complete with blueprints, exhaustive construction plans, and multi-media presentation). As a bonus, we got to hear the presenters speak mockingly of both Jesus and His followers.

I thought of these experiences this morning as I mulled over today’s chapter. The author of the letter to the Hebrews is facing similar tension as he explains that a spiritual shift of tectonic proportions has taken place through Jesus’ death and resurrection. For his fellow Hebrews, this means every religious thing they’ve ever known has changed. The old covenant between God and Moses is literally “obsolete” and a new covenant has taken its place. He then states quite emphatically that the “outdated will soon disappear.”

As I read this I had two thoughts. One was simply that tension that must have existed. Humans don’t like change, and I’ve observed it to be especially true when it comes to well-established and deep-seated religious traditions. The second thought was of Jesus and His followers as they left the Temple mount just days before His impending crucifixion. His followers were impressed with the Temple complex, but Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

And that’s what happened in 70 A.D. when Roman legions descended on Jerusalem to stomp out the Jewish rebellion against Rome. The Temple was torn down. All of the Jewish genealogical records were destroyed, ensuring that it could no longer be definitively established who the descendants of Aaron, Levi, or any other tribe were. Because only descendants of Aaron could be priests, and only Levites could serve in the temple, the sacrificial system was essentially wiped out with the Temple’s destruction.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded that Jesus promised His followers that there would be trouble in this world, along with trials, suffering, and persecution. He said that there will be wars and rumors of war. Nations conspire, people plot, and rulers rage.

There’s always tension.

At the very same time, Jesus told His followers not to allow their hearts to be troubled by such things. He said that there is a peace with which He would leave us. It’s not an international peace, but an inner and interpersonal peace that “passes all understanding” available to me.

In just a moment, I will descend to the kitchen to peruse today’s headlines with Wendy over breakfast. I already know what I will find there. Wars and rumors of war. People plotting. Rulers raging. Tension. I needed the reminder of peace this morning. The words of Isaiah come to mind as I wrap up today’s post:

You will keep in perfect peace
    those whose minds are steadfast,
    because they trust in you.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Fight Song

Fight Song (CaD Ps 83) Wayfarer

Cover their faces with shame, Lord,
    so that they will seek your name.

Psalm 83:16 (NIV)

I consider it virtually impossible for a person in 21st century America to comprehend what life was like for the ancients, such as the songwriters of the Psalms. As evidence, I submit today’s chapter, Psalm 83, as Exhibit A for your consideration.

Psalm 83 is a song of national lament. It’s a plea to God to protect them from and destroy their enemies. A quick side note as I’m thinking bout it: One thing that has become really clear to me as I journey through the psalms the past few months is that David, who wrote most of the songs compiled in the first half of the anthology we call the Psalms, wrote personal songs expressing emotions he felt in his own circumstances. The songs attributed to Asaph, like today’s, were more about tribal and national issues. It’s the difference between me blogging about the stress I’m feeling in my own personal life and blogging about the issues surrounding the recent national election.

Asaph’s song was written at a time of national crisis when all of the people groups surrounding them were allied against them and bent on wiping them out. Here in North America, the nations that we see as a threat are an ocean away. For Asaph and the people of Judah, the enemies were less than 50 miles away. The map below is a scale of 50 miles and pinpoints all but one of the people groups mentioned in Psalm 83. Jerusalem is pretty much right in the middle. They were literally surrounded by 10 neighboring nations bent on ending their existence.

I try to imagine it. I live in Pella, a small town in rural Iowa. I try to envision being at war with every other sizeable town in a 30-mile radius. The Newtonians, the Knoxvillites, Oskaloosans, the not-so-Pleasantvillians, the New Sharonians, the Albians, the Monrovians, the Prairie Citians, the Montezumians, and the big empirical threat the Des Moinesiacs. If all these people groups immediately surrounding my town were banded together in an alliance to come and kill everyone in Pella and take everything we have and own as plunder, I would be feeling an incredible amount of stress. Welcome to the daily “kill-or-be-killed” realities of Asaph and his people.

So, Asaph writes a spiritual fight-song asking God to protect them and fight for their existence. It’s a very human thing to do. We just commemorated Pearl Harbor Day on December 7 which was the last time America was seriously attacked and threatened back in World War II. It took me ten seconds to find a playlist on YouTube of American fight songs from that era including Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition, Stalin Wasn’t Stallin’ in 1943, Hot Time in the Town of Berlin (When the Yanks Go Marchin’ In). And who can forget Spike Jones’ famous lyrics:

When the Fuhrer says, “We is the master race,”
We sing:
“Heil” (blow a raspberry)
“Heil” (blow a raspberry)
“Heil” (blow a raspberry)
Right in the Fuhrer’s face.

How much life has changed in just two generations. I can hardly comprehend the realities of 80 years ago. How can I really comprehend Asaph’s realities over 2500 years ago?

The fact that I can’t comprehend Asaph’s realities leads me to extend him some grace as I try to wrap my head around the context of asking God to destroy my enemy. Which leaves me asking, “What am I supposed to take away from Psalm 83?”

That brings me to the lyric that stuck out at me this morning:

Cover their faces with shame, Lord,
    so that they will seek your name.

Underneath the cries for God to help them successfully defeat the enemy was a desire for their enemies to ultimately know God. When Jesus arrived on the scene hundreds of years later the situation was very different. The known world was ruled by the Roman Empire and while Jesus said that humanity can expect wars to continue right up until the end of the Great Story, He set the expectation that I, as His follower, would take a different approach to getting my enemy to “seek His name.”

“Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.

“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.

“In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”

I understand that there is a difference between international relationships and personal ones. All I know is that today, in my circles of influence, Jesus asks me to follow His instruction to love my enemy, bless my enemy, and pray for my enemy.

So, “Praise the Lord, and pass…” a little more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.

A Very Different Time and Place

The Lord said to Moses, “Take vengeance on the Midianites for the Israelites. After that, you will be gathered to your people.”

Remember Pearl Harbor” was a popular phrase in the years of World War II. It was a reminder to all Americans that the United States had been attacked by the Japanese without warning or provocation. To this day, most Americans need only see the number 9/11 to raise up similar feelings of sadness, grief, disbelief and anger. While trends on twitter may come and go in minutes, there are some events for which national memory is slow to forget.

For Moses and the Hebrew tribes, the phrase “Remember Peor” may have been a similar phrase. Just a number of chapters back we read the story of how the Israelites were camped near the Midianite town of Peor. The Midianite King tried to hire a well-known seer named Balaam to curse the Israelites, but Balaam couldn’t do it because he knew God had blessed them. So, Balaam conjured a clandestine plan to subvert the Israelites. Midianite maidens were sent to seduce Israelite men and convince them to worship their Midianite gods. To the ancient Israelites, the seduction of their men into worshipping the Canaanite dieties was more heinous and personal than a surprise military or terror attack.

In today’s chapter, Moses is at the end of his tenure as leader. His last task as leader of the Israelites is to close the loop on the Peor incident. The Midianites are destroyed along with Balaam the seer.

Chapters like today’s are difficult for 21st century readers to comprehend. We cannot comprehend the kill-or-be-killed reality of daily life in the time of Moses. We cannot comprehend living in a time when most humans didn’t live past 15 years of age, and if you were fortunate enough to make it to 15 your life expectancy was still only somewhere between 25-35 years of age.

This morning I’m gratefully meditating on the amazing time and place of history in which I’m fortunate enough to make my life journey. I’m conscious of how totally clueless I am at understanding the realities of Moses’ time, place, and culture. I’m thinking about how Jesus changed the entire paradigm of conversation. In the early chapters of human history, Moses and Aaron were all about building a nation and system of worship that would survive the horrific realities of life on earth in those days. Jesus quite consciously spoke about a very different Kingdom and urged those who follow Him to usher that Kingdom to earth through our thoughts, words, and acts of loving-kindness, mercy, grace, and forgiveness.

The Placement of Faith in Precarious Times

Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help,
    who rely on horses,
who trust in the multitude of their chariots
    and in the great strength of their horsemen,
but do not look to the Holy One of Israel,
    or seek help from the Lord.
Isaiah 31:1 (NIV)

The political situation in Isaiah’s day was precarious. Assyria was a giant, regional super power bent on conquest and destruction. The Assyrian army was on the move, swallowing up every city and nation in its way. The divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah were now in Assyria’s sights. The Assyrian war machine was large, well-trained, well-equipped and utterly ruthless. The Assyrians didn’t just invade, they destroyed. Assyrian kings would repeatedly inscribe the phrase, “I destroyed, devastated, and burned with fire.”

If the Assyrians attacked a city and the city refused to surrender, the men leading the defense of their target would be rounded up to be publicly humiliated. Some could look forward to being flayed alive, their skins hung out for public spectacle. Others could look forward to being impaled alive on stakes or perhaps buried alive. If you approached a city in Isaiah’s day and  found a pile of dismembered limbs by the gate, you knew that the Assyrians had been there. It is no wonder that Isaiah and the people of Judah were in a bit of a panic. The political winds were blowing in the direction of Egypt, believing that an alliance with Egypt would save them from Assyrian devastation.

In today’s chapter, the ancient prophet questions the object of his fellow citizens faith. They were depending on Egypt to save them. They were bowing to foreign Gods in desperation for salvation. Isaiah reminds them that their trust should be in the Holy One of Israel. Isaiah predicts that Assyria’s ultimate fall would not come about from a “human sword.”

Throughout God’s Message there is a recurring theme. The ebb and flow of power throughout history is subject to a larger context. There is a Great Story that is being told in an ever-expanding universe. As with all great epics, the forces of good and evil, creation and chaos, are in constant conflict. I can focus on the temporal circumstance, or I can trust the Author of Life with the storyline. Isaiah was suggesting the latter, and predicting that the Author was going to show up in a eucatastrophic climax to this particular chapter of history. It might seem a bit naive given the grave circumstances. We’ll learn in the coming week or two how things played out.

This morning I’m thinking about the very real fear and anxiety being felt by people and nations in today’s world. I listen to the feelings of people in the media, on social media, and in casual personal conversations. We are witnessing a fascinating time of tremendous change. There is a tremendous amount of fear, and fear leads us to think, speak, and act in atypical ways. It seems to me that Isaiah’s ancient message to the people of Judah resonates even today. We are living in precarious times, as well.

Where will I find hope?

Where will I place my faith?

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A Less Than Trivial Question of Direction

The Revelation of St John: 4. The Four Riders ...
The Revelation of St John: 4. The Four Riders of the Apocalypse (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackclothmade of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The heavens receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Revelation 6:12-14 (NIV)

Over the past year or so I have been slowly listening to Professor Corey Olsen’s series of podcast lectures on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. Over the same period of time, I’ve been reading Tolkien’s letters. For me, one of the most profound things to come out of both the lectures and the letters is a seemingly minor point, which I have come to recognize as having profound implications. Professor Olsen observes that Tolkien was a medievalist, and in the middle ages the common world view was that the world and humanity were slowly getting worse and inevitably heading towards destruction. Tolkien clearly believed that our technological advances were not actually advancing society in a positive way*. You see this played out in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings as the machines of war created by Sauron and Saruman are set against the powers of nature in forms of tree herds, floods of water, and eternal powers hidden in the forests.

The idea that we are moving towards destruction, of course, flies in the face of what I find to be the common world view today. We like to believe that humanity is inherently good constantly getting better. Technology and human advancement is moving us towards a better world in which peoples and nations come to mutual understanding and respect. Famine gives way to food for all. Death gives way to medical miracles. Pestilence gives way to environmental utopia. War gives way to peace as we all embrace the better angels of our nature.

As I look around me, read the headlines from around the globe, and talk to people of diverse opinions, I have come to believe that this seemingly trivial question of  which direction the world is heading isn’t really trivial at all. It’s fundamental to the way we perceive and approach life.

Today’s chapter reads like a medievalist’s nightmare. Things are not getting better, they are quickly getting worse on the Earth. The four riders of the apocalypse spread war, death, famine and pestilence across the earth. Believers are persecuted and slaughtered for their faith. And, reading like a number Hollywood disaster movies, stars fall from the sky with ensuing cataclysmic effects of nature, sending people scurrying into the mountains to escape the disaster.

I am a relatively positive person. I try to approach life with a “glass half-full” perspective, look for the goodness in others, and seek to discover the silver lining in tragic circumstances. At the same time, I look back across my lifetime. I study history. I cannot see a fundamental change in human nature. I’ve seen tremendous advances in treating symptomatic human problems, but I’ve also seen that the cures often create their own set of problems. I have not seen major shifts in addressing the underlying problems of human greed, the lust for power, hatred, selfishness, not to mention the senseless evil (the existence of which many choose to ignore) I find always at work under the surface and in the shadows.

Today, I am feeling a bit sobered. I believe that history is, indeed, an epic battle of good and evil. I believe that tragically flawed humanity is forever erecting a tower of Babel and seeking a pinnacle of god-like goodness that it can never, and will never attain. I believe that God and good is at work achieving amazing victories small and large, and I believe that the enemy, evil is at work ever thwarting, marring, and twisting for selfish, chaotic ends. I believe that Life and good will win in the end, but I also believe that today’s chapter stands as a reminder of what we instinctively know in our souls; That which resonates in our greatest epic stories: there is darkness before the dawn.

*From a letter 9 August 1945, Tolkien writes to his son Christopher: “The news today about ‘Atomic bombs’ is so horrifying one is stunned. The utter folly of these lunatic physicists to consent to do such work for war-purposes: calmly plotting the destruction of the world! Such explosives in men’s hands, while their moral and intellectual status is declining, is about as useful as giving out firearms to all inmates of a gaol and then saying that you hope ‘this will ensure peace’. But one good thing may arise out of it, I suppose, if the write-ups are not overheated: Japan ought to cave in. Well we’re in God’s hands. But He does not look kindly on Babel-builders.”

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“I Am With You Heart and Soul”

American Legion parade-557706-original
American Legion Parade (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Do all that you have in mind,” [Jonathan’s] armor-bearer said. “Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul.” 1 Samuel 14:7 (NIV)

While a freshman in college, my roommate Kirk and I were asked to do patriotic readings at the local Veteran’s Day festitivities at the city center. We were asked to meet at the local American Legion Hall and ride the bus with the veterans to the parade route. We walked in the parade and then did our readings as part of a long agenda of civic dignitaries.

Other than my uncle who was a ship’s cook in the Korean War, my family does not have much of a history of military service. It was a strange experience for me to enter the American Legion Hall filled with old men in their black jackets and legion caps which detailed where they served. I keenly remember the man in the white cap, signifying he had served at Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. It was 10:00 a.m. and our hosts shoved a fist full of free drink tickets into our hands. Kirk and I were under the legal drinking age and neither of us were drinkers so we gave our tickets away. It struck me, however, that many of these men were not only drinking when they were our age but were dodging bullets in Europe and the South Pacific.

I will admit that my Christian good boy sensibilities were taken aback at first with all of the early morning drinking. But, I sat and observed and struck up conversations with many of the Legion members. I watched these men swapping stories. I watched them laugh together. At different times I heard songs rising up from different places in the hall as they sang memories from marching and battle. It was the first time I’d ever witnessed that kind of deep comaraderie among men.

Soon we were on the bus headed to the parade. The bus seats were positioned so that Kirk and I were facing the back of the bus and staring at the two Legion members in the seat behind us. The older gentleman before me struck up a conversation. When I asked about where he served, he began to talk about being in World War II. It began as a cheerful retelling of where he was stationed and then quickly transitioned into some of the conflicts he survived. I watched as his eyes glassed over and and his brain receded into deep, abiding memories. Within moments he was staring silently out the bus window lost somewhere on the battlefield of his distant past. Tears began to flow down from his eyes and across his cheeks. He made no attempt to wipe them away and I made no attempt to disturb his thoughts. I simply watched until finally he looked back at me.

“Don’t ever get into another war,” he said in a soft whisper. He said no more.

As I read the response of Jonathan’s armor bearer in this morning’s chapter, I thought of that cold Veteran’s Day morning twenty-five years ago. “I am with you heart and soul,” the man said to his comrade in arms. I observed and experienced the heart and soul connection of men who had shared the experience of battle in that American Legion hall. I have not served in the military, nor have I had the experience of battle. The only conflicts I have experienced are spiritual and domestic. I will not pretend to equate or confuse the two.

I have, however, experienced the comaradarie of men who have shared my journey, my struggles, my life wounds, as well as my life’s victories. I have men in my life whom I know, if I asked them to follow me into difficult circumstance, would respond “I am with you heart and soul.” There are men whom I have not regularly spoken with in years who I could call in the middle of the night in need. Today, I am grateful for each one of them as I picture their faces and offer a silent prayer of thanks for each by name.

A Very Different Kind of War

source: mkrigsman
source: mkrigsman

We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. 2 Corinthians 10:3 (NLT)

For most of my life, the headlines have been filled with news of one war or another. As a child, my first recollections of television news were reports on the war in Vietnam. I grew up in school hearing about the Cold War. In high school there were wars with the Soviets and Afghanistan, and there was conflict between Britain and the Falkland Islands. The U.S. had a conflict with a tiny island nation of Grenada. Then came the first Gulf War, and then the War on Terror. The second war in Iraq followed by war in Afghanistan. Now the headlines are filled with talk of war in Syria.

My experience is not unique. All of us can mark time along our life journey by the wars we remember. War has been an ever present part of the human experience. When Paul was writing his letter to the believers of Jesus in Corinth, they were living near the heart of the Roman Empire. Paul had grown up surrounded by the occupational forces of Rome and he witnessed continuous conflicts with Rome both at home and in Jerusalem. When it came time to teach the followers of Jesus about the ever present conflict being waged in the spiritual realm, the very real images of soldiers, conflict, and war were readily available to Paul as word pictures to which everyone of that day could relate.

One of the most important things I have come to realize and internalize about the spiritual conflict in which we are engaged is how different it is with the physical war to which we are accustomed. In fact, war in the spiritual realm is the very opposite of war on a human scale. In the spiritual conflict our greatest weapon is love. Our tactics are forgiveness, sacrifice, generosity, service, kindness, and grace. The result of a successful campaign in the spirit realm is salvation, peace, healing, wholeness, and restoration.

Today I am reminded that while there are similarities between war in the physical realm and war in the spiritual realm, I must never forget the stark differences between the two. I must fully embrace the contrast if I am to be successfully engaged in the spiritual conflict in which I am enlisted.

“The Weeping Prophet”

Rembrandt - Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction...
Rembrandt – Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem – WGA19091 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For all these things I weep;
    tears flow down my cheeks.
No one is here to comfort me;
    any who might encourage me are far away.
Lamentations 1:16 (NLT)

Jeremiah, traditionally believed to have written this song/poem of lamentation, is widely known through history as “the weeping prophet.” Across the panacea of ancient prophets, Jeremiah got among the toughest of prophetic gigs. He was called upon to tell the people of Jerusalem that they’d better straighten up or God was going to send the Babylonians to destroy them. No one wanted to hear his message. For his efforts, he was persecuted by his own people and thrown into a well as punishment. When his prophecies came true Jeremiah appears to have been given the job of correspondent to record for posterity’s sake the fulfillment of his own words of doom.

And what a doom it was. We tend to think of sieges and ancient wars in PG-13 rated, Hollywood-like mental images. Even in today’s world we at home view war as a sort distant video-game taking place on the other side of the world. We have the Geneva convention and international treaties to ensure that the nastiest of war crimes are avoided. We naively believe that they are a thing of the past. But, in Jeremiah’s day there were no international laws. There was no expectation that war would be carried out in a human way. In fact, victory in Jeremiah’s day went to the most powerful army who could utterly destroy enemies in the nastiest ways: Starve people until they are forced to eat the flesh of their dead family members. Burn the place to the ground, rape the women and little ones. Let your soldiers pillage the place and take whatever they can find.  Hack off body parts and leave them in giant festering piles outside the city as a calling card that you were there. Take the best of the young ones as slaves and concubines, but kill all the rest in nasty ways so that you don’t leave anyone with a thought for revenge.

And, in the middle of this carnage is a little old man who foresaw it all and was unable to prevent it from happening. It is no wonder he is weeping as he pens his song of lament. Talk about having the blues.

Today, I’m soberly reminded that God does not promise us a life of luxury and ease. God is not an antidote for tragedy and suffering. In fact, God’s Message makes it clear that there are certain depths of character and spiritual maturity that can only be attained through suffering. Jeremiah weeping as he witnesses the cannibalism and carnage in Jerusalem is a case in point.

Truth is not always easy, but being difficult does not make it less true.

God is Not “Either Or.” God is “Both And.”

Hammer your plowshares into swords
    and your pruning hooks into spears.
    Train even your weaklings to be warriors.
Joel 3:10 (NLT)

I know a small host of people I love for whom the “warrior God” metaphors such as we find in Joel’s prophecy today an uncomfortable pill to swallow. I totally get it, but it’s an on-going reminder to me that God is so much more than any one of us can possibly comprehend. God’s nature, as described throughout God’s Message, is so vast that it encompasses incredible contradictory elements. God is Lion and Lamb. God is Alpha and Omega. God is Artist and Warrior. God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is not “either or.” God is “yes and.”

I’m reminded this morning of Meredith Brooks‘ song, B*tch. I believe God totally relates to Brooks’ very true, very raw sentiments. They’re inspired. Just as Brooks so eloquently describes the complexities and contradictions of being a woman, God is so much more than the box we try to put Him in. He is solely confined by boundaries of His own choosing, and that can be confusing for our finite understandings.

Brooks sings:

I can understand how you’d be so confused
I don’t envy you
I’m a little bit of everything
All rolled into one

I’m a b*tch, I’m a lover
I’m a child, I’m a mother
I’m a sinner, I’m a saint
I do not feel ashamed
I’m your hell, I’m your dream
I’m nothing in between
You know you wouldn’t want it any other way

Today I’m thinking about the oft forgotten reality that we are engaged in a spiritual battle. Like all good stories, the Great Story that God is authoring throughout history is about light versus darkness, death versus life, good versus evil. It is not about what is seen, but what is unseen. That doesn’t, however, mean it isn’t real. When the climactic confrontation arrives in that spiritual conflict, I personally want a warrior God leading the charge of the forces of Light.

*i  😉