Tag Archives: World War II

Generations

But Rehoboam rejected the advice the elders gave him and consulted the young men who had grown up with him and were serving him.
1 Kings 12:8 (NIV)

When I was a young man, I had all the confidence in the world. I had an intense belief that I could do anything to which I set my mind. I didn’t even question it. The only question was what it was to which I would set my mind and heart. I was three years old when Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the moon, and for my generation, I believe there was a certain anticipation and belief that we could shoot for the stars. Our grandparents were “the greatest generation” who grew up during the Great Depression and gave their lives to save the world from tyrannical evil in World War II. Our parents’ generation put men on the moon. There was no limit to what our generation could accomplish.

In those early years, I don’t remember having much anger or animosity toward the previous generations other than what I perceived to be their blind obedience to institutions and institutional traditions. I was an obedient and good kid for the most post, but I bucked traditions that I found silly and void of any tangible purpose.

By way of contrast, our daughters’ childhood and youth were marked by September 11, 2001, and a post-9/11 world. Taylor was 11, and Madison was not quite 10. Now in their 30s, I look at their generation and find them to have a very different mindset. My personal observation has been that they’ve largely rejected the faith and belief systems of previous generations outright. Despite being arguably the most affluent and privileged generation in the history of humanity, theirs is a pessimistic and cynical worldview of a world made perpetually evil by the previous generations and their belief systems, an assuredly apocalyptic future from any number of doomsday scenarios from climate change to capitalism, and their conviction that only they can change the world and save it for subsequent generations.

Generations are fascinating.

In today’s chapter, Solomon’s son Rehoboam takes over his father’s throne. I couldn’t help but think through the experience of the generations:

Generation #1: David
David has an incredibly difficult journey to the throne. Despite his early victory over Goliath and popular acclaim, David lives as a mercenary in the desert with a price on his head for well over a decade. He’s a middle-aged man by the time he ascends to the throne. He earned the kingdom through grit, faith, perseverance, and conquest.

Generation #2: Solomon
David’s marriage to Bathsheba and the subsequent birth of Solomon came relatively late in David’s life and reign. Solomon was born into the wealth and power of the royal family, but he was relatively young when he ascended the throne and inherited a vastly larger and wealthier nation that his father had spent a lifetime building. Solomon enjoyed the heck out of it, but his excess and extravagance came at a heavy expense to the everyday people of the nation.

Generation #3: Rehoboam
From what we can surmise, Rehoboam never knew a difficult day in his life. He great up, not only in the Royal palace like his father, but he also experienced the wealth, extravagance, and excess with which his father lived. Solomon may have known privilege, but Rehoboam knew only privilege and fortune on steroids. When he finally has his chance at the throne, he has no regard for his people or his nation. He and his entourage of similarly privileged and wealthy friends treat the throne as if it’s their golden ticket to continue their extravagant living while using their power to lord themselves over others.

In the quiet this morning, I ponder my place in the Great Story from a historical and generational perspective. On one hand, I feel humble in accepting the reality that generations are often unwitting products of the generations before them and the circumstances around them over which they have no control. On the other hand, I find myself desiring to not be fatalistic about the differences between generations but rather to help other generations with the wisdom of experience. Ultimately, you can’t control whether another generation will listen to or accept that wisdom.

The elders who tried to speak wisdom into Rehoboam learned that the hard way.

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

“Gonna Change My Way of Thinking”

"Gonna Change My Way of Thinking" (CaD Rev 9) Wayfarer

The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands…
Revelation 9:20a (NIV)

I find it fascinating that our world continues to use Hitler and the Nazis as the ultimate metaphor for evil. Given their lust for power, their unbridled ambition, and the atrocities they unleashed on this earth, it’s an apt metaphor in many ways. I have heard it argued that true evil will not respond to anything but overpowering force. It could be argued that World War II is an example of that principle. We continue to hold Hitler and his Nazis as our favorite metaphor for evil. Of course, metaphor loses its power when it is applied loosely and flippantly in unwarranted situations, but that’s a different post for another day.

Today’s chapter describes the fifth and sixth “trumpet judgments” on the earth that John saw in his vision. The fifth is a plague of locusts another plague that parallels the plagues on Egypt in the time of Moses. The locusts are described with monstrous imagery and led by “the angel of the Abyss.” The locusts torture earth’s inhabitants until they beg to die.

When the sixth angel sounds its trumpet, four angels at the Euphrates River are loosed along with a countless multitude of mounted troops with horses that spew fire, smoke, and sulfur. One-third of the earth’s inhabitants are killed. While this plague does not have a parallel to the ten plagues of Egypt, its imagery had a clear parallel to Roman citizens in the first century. The Parthian Empire was right across the Euphrates River to the east of the Roman Empire, and the Parthians were the only enemy that the Roman Legions could not defeat. Parthia’s mounted archers could ride forward and shoot backward, and their unpredictable battle tactics made them one foe that Rome did not want to face. Romans feared the day that Parthia’s mounted army attacked and John’s vision would have directly stirred these fears.

Along my spiritual journey, I’ve observed that it’s easy to get lost in the minute details of apocalyptic literature. I recall one arrogant professor I once had who famously lectured on the end times and sold volumes of his recordings on the subject. I remember some of his interpretations being so rooted in the geopolitical world of the cold war that I highly doubt they would make sense today.

Instead of getting buried in the minutia, I tend to pull back to try and see the big picture. I believe the rather obvious parallels between the judgments of Revelation and the plagues of Egypt are more than a coincidence. In the Exodus, God unleashed 10 plagues on Egypt in an effort to get a hard-hearted Pharaoh to repent and free the Hebrews from slavery. In Revelation God unleashes plagues on the earth in an effort to get hard-hearted humanity to repent and be free from the shackles of sin.

The hard-hearted Pharaoh refused to repent. So does humanity in John’s vision.

And so, I find my thoughts wandering back to the nature of evil and to history. The Nuremberg Trials and the flight of top Nazi officials to places like Argentina revealed how unrepentant and hard-hearted were the individuals who unleashed unspeakable atrocities on humanity for their own power and pride. To this day, the stories of powerful families and corporations who fueled the Nazi regime and remain unrepentant for their past continue to come out.

So in the quiet, I find myself thinking about the simple act of repentance. It means a change of heart that leads to a change in direction. It means to spiritually stop, turn, and go the other way. As Bob Dylan sings it: “Gonna change my way of thinkin’, make myself a different set of rules. Gonna put my good foot forward and stop being influenced by fools.” It’s what Pharaoh refused to do. It’s what Hitler’s henchmen refused to do. It’s what humanity refuses to do in the end times according to today’s chapter.

And, on this Monday morning, I once again find myself humbly admitting that I don’t know what every one of John’s visions means. I’m sorry that I can’t reveal it to you with smug certainty like my old professor and the multi-cassette volumes he was happy to sell to anyone. Here’s what I do know for certain. My heart, my thoughts, and my subsequent words and actions can easily become rooted in pride rather than humility, in selfishness rather than generosity, in anger rather than kindness, in vengeance rather than forgiveness, and in hatred rather than in love. Every day of this earthly journey is an opportunity for me to have the self-awareness to catch myself, stop, and choose to go in the opposite direction; To choose good rather than evil.

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

“Kingdoms Fall”

Kingdoms Fall (CaD Na 3) Wayfarer

Nothing can heal you;
    your wound is fatal.
All who hear the news about you
    clap their hands at your fall,
for who has not felt
    your endless cruelty?

Nahum 3:19 (NIV)

I am wrapping up the book Band of Brothers by Stephen A. Ambrose, the book that inspired the HBO miniseries of the title. I’m enjoying getting more depth and insight to the actual story told in the miniseries, and I’m impressed with how closely they stuck to the true story.

For those who are unfamiliar (if there are any) Band of Brothers is the story of one company of airborne infantry from boot camp through D-Day (when the Allies invaded Normandy) and to VE Day (Victory in Europe) in World War II.

One of the things that has stood out in reading the book is the way that things changed for the soldiers when they made their way into Germany itself. There was such a contrast between the German towns and villages which had been untouched by the war and the violence, destruction, and devastation Easy Company experienced fighting its way through France, the Netherlands, and Belgium. Even more stark was the relatively “normal” life they witnessed of German towns and citizens protected from the carnage their country had unleashed on others and the horrors of the concentration camp the men discovered in the nearby woods. Richard Winters wrote, “…it leaves feelings that cannot be described and will never be forgotten.”

I have to believe that this is about as close as most modern readers can come to understanding the schadenfreude the prophet Nahum spews in today’s chapter. Assyrian brutality is infamous in history.

From one commentary I read:

“Many casualties, piles of dead” (vs. 3). Assyrian armies had inflicted these horrors on conquered enemies. The inscriptions of Ashurnasirpal give the most frightful reports: “I captured many soldiers alive. The rest of them I burnt. I carried off valuable tribute from them. I built a pile of live (men and) heads before his gate. I erected on stakes 700 soldiers before their gate. I razed, destroyed (and) turned in to ruin hills the city. I burnt their adolescent boys and girls.” When Sennacherib conquered Babylon, he related, “I left no one. I filled the city squares with their corpses.” Relief sculptures depict Assyrian soldiers bringing the heads of their enemies for secretaries to record.

The epilogue of Nahum’s prophetic message is its fulfillment. Assyria an its capital city of Nineveh fell to the Babylonians in 612 B.C. Nineveh was utterly destroyed. Assyria became a province of the Babylonian and Persian empires, then faded into history. Just 200 years after Nineveh’s fall the Greek adventurer, Xenophon, traveled through the area and was completely unaware that Nineveh, once the largest city on the planet, had ever existed there.

As I’ve been reading and contemplating Nahum’s prophetic poetry this week, lyrics of an old U2 song keep flitting through my soul:

Kingdoms rise, and Kingdoms fall.
But You go on, and on, and on.

As I prepare and study for a series of messages this fall on the wisdom of the Sage of Ecclesiastes, I also can’t escape the notion that all life is simply “vapor” that comes and goes so fleetingly. I can see it. It appears tangible, yet when I try to grasp it simply slips through the fingers.

And so I leave the words of ancient Nahum for now, until the journey brings me back this way. Kingdoms and empires come and go on this earth as they have since the first civilization in Sumer. And so, they ever will until the Great Story is concluded. And so I press on with the words of Isaiah echoing in my soul:

Doom to those who go off to Egypt
    thinking that horses can help them,
Impressed by military mathematics,
    awed by sheer numbers of chariots and riders—
And to The Holy of Israel, not even a glance,
    not so much as a prayer to God.
Still, he must be reckoned with

Isaiah 31:1-2 (MSG)

And so, I reckon I’ll take a brief respite from this chapter-a-day journey to enjoy an extended Labor Day holiday with dear friends. I plan to resume Wednesday of next week. Enjoy your holiday, my friend. Cheers!

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.

Three Heroes: Winston Churchill

I was recently challenged by a friend to embark on this exercise that they’d been working on as part of an identity statement they were developing for a class. Quite simply, you pick three people who are “heroes” or individuals you greatly admire. It can be almost anyone, but should be someone famous and someone you don’t know personally. For those who happen to be followers of Jesus, it was asked that He be excluded from this particular exercise.

I’ve been thinking about it for a few weeks, and it lends itself to a a good blogging challenge. There were a handful of finalists but I finally narrowed it down to three. As it happens, I have photos of these gentlemen taped on the front of my old, worn, paperback Bible (see the featured image of this post).

Today… it’s Winston Churchill.

The more I’ve learned about Churchill over the years, the more I’ve come to appreciate and admire him. Here are a few of the reasons off the top of my head:

Churchill steadfastly held to what he believed to be right. After World War I, when the nations were high on the notion that it was “the war to end all wars,” a young Churchill believed that greatest deterrent to another war was Britain’s strong defense. When the Chamberlain administration was bent on appeasing Hitler and holding that the upstart German dictator didn’t pose a threat to Britain, it was Churchill who was willing to be the loudest, loneliest voice of warning. Churchill reminds me of the strength and character required to stand firm for what you know is right.

Churchill understood, perhaps better than any 20th statesman, the power of words and oratory. He was a master at crafting a speech and delivering it for powerful and memorable effect. During the dark days of World War II when frightened Britons huddled in the dark of night as German bombers rained terror from the skies, it was Churchill’s words that shored up their resolve and inspired their courageous defiance. I am sometimes complimented for my speaking abilities, but Churchill reminds me how much I have yet to learn (and the inspiration to keep working at it).

Churchill was an artist. When he wasn’t changing the course of human history and saving the free world from tyranny, he was outside in nature, in front of a canvas, with a brush in his hand. He reminds me that one can make a living at business or politics while still making a life with art.

churchill painting bw

Churchill struggled. He didn’t have a particularly happy childhood or home life. He had financial struggles. He had major, public failures. He was the object of ridicule and scorn. And, he never let it stop him.

Churchill enjoyed life. The biographies I’ve read of the statesman make it clear that he enjoyed  good company, good cigars, good Scotch, and good discourse. I would love to have enjoyed a long meal, good drink, and an after dinner stogie with the man as we discussed a plethora of topics.

In the person of Winston Churchill I find a cocktail of character, conviction, creativity, leadership, communication, and life. It is a mix that I would love to emulate in my own journey.

“Freud’s Last Session”

C.S. Lewis
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis, smok...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I will praise the Lord all my life;
    I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
Psalm 146:2 (NIV)

Wendy and I went to see a wonderful play last night entitled Freud’s Last Session. It is set in the early days of World War II. Sigmund Freud fled Vienna and sought refuge in London. It is 1939 and his death from oral cancer is imminent. The play is a “what if” imagining in which the brilliant psychoanalyst and staunch atheist calls a young Oxford Professor and  Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis, to visit him in his London office.

The two intellectuals spar conversationally for an hour and twenty minutes about life, death, God, religion, history, sex, and family. There is precious little agreement but plenty of humorous jabs and flashes of passionate verbal conflict in-between very poignant human moments. The German Blitz and impending war is a present reality in the room as is Freud’s impending death. Their world views are polar opposites and in conflict with one another, yet under the tense debate between proud, brilliant scholars is a respectful curiosity of the opponent, a delight in the conversation and the desire understand.

There is no “winner” or “loser” in the play. Neither man is convinced or converted. In the final minutes through his coughing up blood, Freud makes his declaratory statement that the truth he sees is that “the end [e.g. death] is the end.” Lewis amicably departs his session with Freud, and each audience member is left to weigh the arguments themselves and carry on the conversation.

I woke up this morning thinking about the play, the men, and their respective world views. As I read the psalmist’s lyric above, I thought of Lewis, the story of his conversion, and his personal faith journey which . I have a story like his, and I closely identified with the faith and world view which molded Lewis’ own life journey for another 34 years after the play’s end. I can’t imagine my life apart from my faith. Like the psalmist, like Lewis, it is a faith journey which I will walk to my grave. At the same time, because of my faith I can’t imagine not loving and respecting those who don’t share it. Even those who passionately disagree with me.

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Chapter-a-Day 1 Peter 1

Contemporary rendering of a poster from the Un...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So think clearly and exercise self-control. 1 Peter 1:13a (NLT)

As I read through these words from this morning’s chapter, I was reminded of the British war time posters that have become all the rage in recent years. Millions of the posters, which simply state “Keep Calm and Carry On” were made by the British Ministry of Information in 1939 to boost morale during World War II, but for an unknown reason the posters were only distributed in limited numbers and were little known. In 2000, the posters were rediscovered and have become a popular theme on all sorts of products and parodies.

Perhaps it’s the coupling of two simple commands that made my brain make the connection. “Think clearly and practice self-control” is just as relevant an admonishment in times of war or peace. It’s worthy of daily reminder.

We are bombarded with so much information and misinformation on a daily basis from an increasing number of media outlets and apps. Clear thinking is not always an easy task in the midst of it. Our chapter-a-day journey is one way that I try to feed my thinking with eternal, spiritual truths rather than momentary sound bytes. The daily perspective from God’s Message helps my mind and soul cut through the glut of useless and temporal noise.

Exercising self-control is an equally important command worthy of daily reminder. Wendy and I have been doing a lot of thinking about and discussion around the idea of appetites recently. A few weeks ago we spent a drive to Des Moines talking about the traditional “seven deadly sins” (lust, gluttony, wrath, sloth, pride, greed, envy) and made the observation that each of the “sins” are natural human appetites out of control. Likewise, the result of each is destructive to both self, intimacy with God and intimacy with others. Our journey towards maturity, wisdom and spiritual wholeness requires an ever and increasing measure of self-control over our human appetites and inclinations.

Today, I’m reminding myself to “think clearly and exercise self-control.”

 

Chapter-a-Day Jeremiah 26

Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of the Unite...
Image via Wikipedia

When Jeremiah had finished his sermon, saying everything God had commanded him to say, the priests and prophets and people all grabbed him, yelling, “Death! You’re going to die for this! How dare you preach—and using God’s name!—saying that this Temple will become a heap of rubble like Shiloh and this city be wiped out without a soul left in it!”

   All the people mobbed Jeremiah right in the Temple itself. Jeremiah 26:8-9 (MSG)

In the early 1930’s, a young member of Britain’s Parliment began boldly warning that Germany and it’s upstart leader, Adolph Hitler, were arming for war. With the painful memories of World War I still fresh in their minds, no one in England wanted to hear the dire warnings. The prophetic member of Parliment was roundly criticized and shunned. Undaunted by the criticism, he was stalwart in raising the alarm and calling for England to prepare for war.

His name was Winston Churchill. And, much like Jeremiah, history now records how prescient his warnings were. Were it not for Churchill, the second World War may have had a very different outcome. I find it fascinating how one individual can be so critical in the course of world history.

We need prophets. Nationally, locally, individually, we need people who are willing to say the things no one else will say and bring to the conversation the things we don’t want to hear. We need people in our lives who will speak truth when there are so many other voices hell-bent on tickling our ears with the status quo.

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