Tag Archives: war

Growing Up Over There

Growing up in a military family in the 60’s meant traveling—almost every year. Not from one city to the next but from one country to a different continent. Dad would come home from work and try to excite us about being transferred. Usually at the end of the school year, but not always. He never had a choice of duty stations except once that I can remember. He asked if we wanted to go to Germany or Taiwan. I couldn’t find either place on a map. We went to Germany.

We would find out we were moving a few months ahead of time. Staying in one place for more than a year happened rarely. By the time I graduated from High School I had attended 13 schools. Summers were never relaxing. I thought everybody grew up like this and was mildly surprised and perplexed to discover, when talking to some of the kids I met along the way, they had lived in one place all their lives. I envied them.

Moving meant a few inconvenient things. One was going through our belongings and chucking anything we really didn’t want. Actually, I wanted to keep everything but could not. Another was shots. Going overseas always meant getting shots. Shot day was dreaded and dreadful. Sometimes we would have to go in multiple days, there were so many shots. So not only did I have to throw away my stuff, they hurt me to boot. Finally, was losing friends. The physical pain of the shots was easy to handle. The emotional pain of losing friends was not. After a few moves I simply stopped making friends. There was no sense to it.

In August of 1967, just before I turned 14, we moved from Belgium to Holland. Our move was less than 80 miles. At least we stayed on the same continent. People spoke a different language and did not dress the same. Even the geography was different. Belgium was filled with woods while Holland was flat and open. The summer before we had moved from California to Belgium, driving across most of the United States to get to an airport to catch a plane that would get us overseas.

Even at a young age I knew distances. From our house in Holland to Prague, Czechoslovakia was about 780 miles. That’s a day’s driving. It is only a couple of hours in the air. It is not far.

We were still unpacking when Russia invaded Czechoslovakia in August 1967. Against my will and rebellion at moving, I became, to some extent, politically aware. The US was deeply embedded in the Vietnam war which touched us a half a world away. We were stationed at military bases with ominous acronyms like SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe) and AFCENT (Armed Forces Central Europe). The whole reason we were there was to support another acronym, NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization).  I didn’t know what a cold war was but had seen the effects of a hot war. I did know moving. When Russia invaded Czechoslovakia the entire European continent watched and prepared themselves for a horrible conflict. We made ourselves ready to move quickly, evacuating back to the States. We did not evacuate but stayed in place. I remember the tension and fear.

In Germany we lived at Ramstein, the US Air Force Base and a village of the same name, less than 20 years after World War II. I remember exploring the streets of the village and would see bullet holes notched into the Cathedral. Dad took us to a death camp. I’m not sure which one. I remember staring into ovens used to incinerate the bodies of the people murdered at that camp. Without having been through the trauma of war as a young boy, I knew enough to be afraid. Our next-door neighbors in Holland spent eight years in a Japanese POW camp. They thanked us for being there. Too much for a young, barely teenaged, boy.

Looking back at what happened that summer is substantial evidence, in my mind and heart, that God is in control. I didn’t like what He was doing and would have done things differently. I would not have moved as much. I would not have been exposed to the aftereffects and possibilities of war. I would have kept all my stuff and avoided shots. I would have grown up with friends. There are a lot of things I would never have learned. The value of friends and people. The idea of war. The not holding onto that which has no eternal value. Most of the lessons I’m still learning.

Now for some self advertising.

These stories are works of fiction told in the style of first-person oral histories. Imagine someone telling you the story of their life or of an experience which changed their life.

Read one of the stories here.

I have been interested in oral histories for many years. These stories are my imagination of what might have happened. Most of the people are fictional characters, but the circumstances they live are historically possible. I have thoughtfully tried to imagine words and conversations, carefully placing those statements in the mouths of a people from two millennia ago, in a culture and with a way of thinking discovered through years of research.

Several people in the stories are real. John, the Baptizer, Thomas, the disciple and Jesus, the Christ are real people. There were real shepherds who visited Jesus on the night he was born. Other characters are those we see in the Gospels. They include Pharisees and lepers, slaves and tax-collectors, disciples and the demon-possessed.

Jesus, the Christ, is a real person. I have not put words into His mouth. Everything He says in these stories is recorded in the Gospels.  Putting words in God’s mouth is dangerous and I would even say forbidden. When Eve was speaking to the serpent, she did not quote God exactly and then added her own words to what He had commanded. Doing this made certain her fall.

Read one of the stories here.

My intent in writing these stories is to understand God’s grace and His amazing gift. You may purchase a paperback through amazon.com here.

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Be Holy

Meditations on the Psalms

Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! (Psalm 4:1 ESV)

Jesus prays, speaking intimately with His Father. Jesus is fully human and without sin. God is His measure and standard of righteousness. As the Son of God, Jesus kept all of the laws of God completely, without fault, because He was our sacrifice. He took upon Himself our sin so He might cover us with His righteousness. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV). When Jesus prays, He knows God will answer.

While Jesus taught in the temple during the Feast of Booths, the Jewish leaders declared Him a menace and threat. They sent officers to arrest Him because they thought He was deceiving the people. Jesus challenged those who accused Him of sin to tell Him the evidence. “Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?”(John 8:46 ESV). They had no evidence. He healed a man on the Sabbath, which the Jewish leaders considered breaking the Sabbath law (see John 5). He declared He descended from heaven and was the One who gives life. “So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven’” (John 6:41 ESV).Many asserted His sayings difficult and no longer followed Him (see John 6:60-66). But no one presented evidence He that sinned.

God does present the evidence that all people sin and rebel against Him. In the Hebrew Scripture and the Epistles of the New Testament, God commands us to be holy because He is holy. Jesus also declare we are to be perfect because God is perfect.

“For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44 ESV).

“Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2 ESV).

“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48 ESV).

“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:14-16 ESV).

There are none, other than Jesus, who can declare themselves either holy or righteous before God. Holiness in an attribute of God, an eternal, essential characteristic, just as are righteousness and justice. Holiness means set apart for a specific use and function. When God created Man in His image, all people were set apart, or separated from, the rest of creation, to serve God in the tangible way of taking care of the Earth under His authority. Man was given dominion over the Earth.

“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26-28 ESV)

Because of sin, holiness, like righteousness, must be given and placed over us, because there are none who are either righteous or holy and all are facing God’s just wrath. God tells us throughout Scripture the people He created in His image are set apart for Him, for service and intimate relationship with Him. That none want or have an intimate relationship with Him is ample evidence for sin.

A war rages within each person. On one side is the image of God, the natural inclination to know God intimately and to do that for which they are created. Fighting against God, and the image of God within each person, is sin. Each person has, because of the rebellion of Adam and Eve, a sin nature which wars against the image of God. Though the vessel, the body and soul are corrupted by sin, the image of God is not and cannot be corrupted. People are torn apart by sin, which drives them away from God, while conscious of the tug and pull of the image of God driving them toward Him. People are aware of God until they drive out that awareness from their consciousness, refusing to acknowledge the guilt over sin brought on by the image of God in them. No one has the strength or disposition to fight this war. All cave to the sin nature and run away from God, while He constantly and methodically urges them to turn from sin and run toward Him.

He is the God of our righteousness when we abandon ourselves to Him and allow ourselves to be covered with the blood of His Son. Because Jesus is righteous we are declared righteous. We do nothing. He does everything.

Introduction to Psalm One

Meditations on the Psalms

[This is the beginning of a series of my thoughts on the Psalms.]

Introduction to Psalm 1

In the Psalms, we see two spiritual entities, one struggling with the other, with their respective followers. One, the Deceiver, is at war with the other, God the Creator, having begun the conflict and obsessively refusing to end or concede defeat. God fights an unsought war with every necessary tool, eternally knowing His victory is assured. His opponent also fights with every deceptive trick and contrivance available, knowing it has no chance of victory. It is a war which should not have happened but is raging and cannot be stopped until the time is right. It is the Deceiver, a created being, rebelling against God, the Creator of His foe.

War should bring fear and trembling to every sane and reasonable person. In war is destruction and death. There is no safety and security in a war zone. There is constant terror and unsought courage, debilitating fear and selfless bravery, premeditated loss from destruction and deliberate self-sacrifice. War brings out the worst in people. War brings out the best in people.

Why would any created being wage war against the Creator, knowing there was no hope of victory, knowing at the end of the conflict it would face utter destruction? Would this knowledge not change the face of war? Would not tactics and strategies change? There is no hope of victory for the Deceiver, and no chance of surrender because judgment is irrevocably and eternally decreed. Still, the war rages.

This is not a war as physical, space-time history would define war. In war, there are sides of combatants fighting to control people, land or whatever is at stake. There is ultimately a winner and a loser. All sides will suffer loss but eventually one side will capitulate to the other and sue for terms of peace, or a cessation of conflict. Or, one side will so totally dominate the other the overshadowed side will face annihilation.

This war is not in heaven. It is not an eternal struggle but has an end. It is on Earth. Though it is two spiritual beings, one eternal and omnipotent and the other having a beginning and powerful but still not God, the war is fought in space-time.

Over what is the rebellion being raged? Ultimately, there is no prize. God, existing before the beginning and after the end of time, is the object of the Deceivers wrath. But God is not a prize which can be won or lost. Temporarily, the trophy is the souls of people made in the image of God, whom God loves. Those who belong to Him cannot be lost while those who rebel against Him cannot be saved.

But do not think anyone born is a passive participant or an innocent bystander. Nor think any person choses sides. Every person born is thrust into the war against God, for the sinful bent and corruption of Man propels all away from their Creator. Yet, God’s image drives each person toward God. It is a true war, with eternal consequences fought within the soul of each person given the image of God while inhabiting a vessel corrupted by sin.

Those who are known by God are the battlefield, continually threatened and assaulted by those who do not belong to God. Most in the world will not even recognize there is a war raging. It is not an awareness of position for or against God which defines the war. It is the justice and righteousness of God judging those who rebel against God, which sets the stage. The war we face moment by moment is a rebellion against God and all He represents.

There is only one champion. His name is Jesus Christ. He is God who was born in flesh as a righteous, sinless man. He took upon Himself the punishment for rebellion and sin for all so all might be reconciled to God. He, and He alone, has fought the war and claimed victory over the consequences of sin, not just the entities who rebelled against Him.

Still, the Deceiver, knowing its own end is annihilation, eternal separation from that which creates and sustains life, is bent on wreaking as much havoc and destruction as possible. There is no prize. It, the Deceiver, is called the prince, or ruler, of this world but it is not the king and supreme ruler of hell. God still rules hell, for it is a place He created for those who rebel against Him, beginning with the Deceiver.

Psalm 1 describes the conflict and ultimate resolution between the only Righteous One, and those who are His, and the Deceiver, and those who follow it.

Thorns and Thistles

Studies in Genesis 3

And to Adam he said, … “cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:17-19 ESV)

Because Adam ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which God had said he was to not eat from, sustaining his life and the lives of his family by growing food would now become difficult and even painful. God cursed the ground, not Adam. This is a serious consequence for everyone who comes after Adam.

God had already told the man the ultimate consequence of eating the fruit from the forbidden tree would be death. Not just physical death but spiritual separation from that which sustains life. The man would be separated from God. When God cursed the ground His declaration was on top of the absolute justified sentence of death and separation. Yet, by not cursing the man, and all men, God leaves open a way for reconciliation, just as He did with the woman’s sentence. The consequence of her rebellion was pain in childbirth, with sorrow in raising children, with the knowledge that a child would come who would crush the head of the serpent. God, while holding them accountable for their rebellion, takes upon Himself the ultimate consequences of their actions.

When Adam prepares the ground to plant, then plants the seed so a crop will grow, thorns and thistles, weeds, will also grow. A weed is a plant growing where it is not supposed to grow. If Adam plants wheat and flowers grow among the crop, the flowers are weeds, taking up soil and nutrients meant for food. God says that “thorns and thistles” will grow where Adam wants food to grow. There will always be weeds, making Adam’s job more difficult. He will have to constantly pull the weeds so his crop will continue to grow.

Thorns and thistles are a constant reminder of the rebellion of Adam and the presence of sin. Adam will wage a constant war against sin as he works to sustain his life. So, too, all who follow, as they work will have to wage a uncompromising war against sin, while sin is waging an unrelenting war against them. The weeds want to take over the crops just as sin controls every thought, motive, action and consequence and wants to take over the life.

Work, to keep the thorns and thistles at bay, becomes hard. Adam will sweat as he works to get food for himself and his family. Perspiration is not evil. Avoiding perspiration by avoiding work, is rebellion. Is it not the intent of everyone who works to come to a time in life where they no longer have to put an abundance of effort into sustaining life? Those who do not have the discipline of work will not have the discipline to wage war against the sin which continually assaults.

The Gospel

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. [Matthew 5:6 ESV]

In the first few verses of Matthew 5, in the passage we have come to know as the  Sermon on the Mount, Jesus presents a description of the citizen of the kingdom of heaven. There are in this description elements of the personality of the citizen and the evidences of reality of this Godly person living in a world which is not godly. His first four statements lay the foundation for the way a citizen thinks and feels and acts. It is no secret God’s desire to bring into His kingdom those who are His and that He uses His citizens as witnesses of His eternal working. Each Christian is a living, breathing example of the Gospel of grace.

We need not make the Gospel complicated. What is incomprehensible are the reactions of those confronted by God with the Gospel, which is everyone, and the danger and hatred toward God which comes with the Gospel’s plain teaching. It is the whole person God wants and it is the whole person who either concedes the truth in the Gospel or rebels against the One stating the truth.

Imagine yourself facing something, anything, you know in your deepest being is corrupt and vile yet morbidly attractive and provocative. You are moving toward this thing, drawn by it irresistibly and the closer you come the less vile it is and the more attractive it becomes. It is sin. Behind you is God calling you to turn away from sin and toward Him. Turning away from sin is repentance. Turning toward God is faith. Walking toward God is obedience. Every citizen of the kingdom has gone through this transition. Hungering and thirsting for righteousness is the culmination of God changing those who are His and the beginning of His citizen being His.

Before we continue discussing hungering and thirsting for righteousness we must remember the process God has done in bringing us to this place.

These steps, if we can call them steps, are absolute and begin with poverty of spirit which is the recognition of sin. Those who are poor in spirit come to hate sin and love the truth. Thus, when God calls they turn because His call is the realization of the consequences of sin, which is separation from God. This realization is shown by deep mourning and repentance. Where there is repentance there is faith, for one cannot occur without the other. Faith is the flip-side of repentance. True faith is characterized by the relinquishing of control of self to the object of faith who is none other than God. This relinquishing of control of our weakness is in exchange for God’s strength.  Meekness is God’s strength in me under His control. Once control is given to God there is freedom from the slavery of sin to pursue the very opposite of what our corrupted nature and the world wants. God demands righteousness. The world demands rebellion against God, which is unrighteousness.  Once the citizen reaches this point they want righteousness and pursue righteousness out of love for God, not simple duty to Him. Righteousness is not a goal but the natural result of knowing God, and being known by Him.

Jesus has, in these few characterizations, defined and presented the Gospel. Return to imagining yourself walking toward sin, running toward sin, not knowing how devastating sin is. Then, God called and suddenly you recognize sin for what it is and that you are corrupted by sin. You recognize in the same way an addict must recognize the power his substance of choice has over him. He must grow to hate that substance. If there is no hatred for sin there is no turning from it.

God’s call stopped you in your tracks. But the power of sin, in the world, in your own flesh, in the enticement of Satan, fought against the voice of God. He demands obedience. It is why you were created. There is no merit in obedience, no earning your way into the Kingdom. You obey, not because you will get something but because it is what you want. Obedience is not an option but an expectation. Continued rebellion after hearing the call of God drives home the consequences, the reality of separation from God. When God calls only an out-and-out act of persistent rebellion drives some to stop their ears and close their eyes.

Once God’s call has stopped your continued journey toward sin He turns you away from sin toward Himself. No one turns them self. God has to turn. Turning away from sin requires trusting God. This is an emotional response to God’s moral character. It is repentance. Repentance is accompanied by grieving over what sin has done to you and to the world. Mostly though, deep grief comes from realizing what sin has done to God. For in turning away from sin you must turn toward God and begin to see who He is truly. And who you truly are.

Turning way from sin is repentance. Turning toward God is faith. Here, faith is relinquishing control of self. How can you or anyone fight for control against God while facing Him? You cannot, unless you take your eyes off Him.  Faith is the conduit through which we receive all God has to offer. All He gives is free. Faith is believing what He has said, trusting Him and obeying His commands.

While obedience is a necessary part of faith it is also integral to salvation. God does not ask us to believe, He commands it. He does not ask us to turn away from sin and repent, He demands it. He does not ask us to acquire faith and all He wants us to have. He supplies faith as the only way to receive what He has to give. He does not ask for obedience, He requires it. His commands are not grievous and overbearing. His commands are essential to our very being. Yet, in our present corrupted state there is nothing we can do but reject. If we obey, it is in His strength. If we reject God, it is in our own strength.

When we hunger and thirst for His righteousness our desire is obedience, to grow every closer to the source of life. Yet, we are conflicted. God does not lift us out of this world or change us so we are never tempted or prevent us from actively rebelling against Him. Christians are tempted and do fall into sin. We are at war and this war continues as long as He wants us in this world. Our struggle between the flesh which wants only itself, and the Spirit, which wants only God, rages. This is why so many of the admonitions in the Epistles are to stand firm with eyes firmly fixed on Him who is our salvation. Those who truly hunger and thirst for righteousness know their place in the kingdom and before God is fixed and sure.