Fields of Grief and Joy

Years ago I stood in a quiet Pennsylvania field.  It was as beautiful that day as it was today, and as it was fourteen years ago.  I had my oldest son with me there.  He was just 3 years old and didn’t know why just being there was terribly difficult.  He didn’t understand the long granite path into a field that seemingly held nothing.  I didn’t tell him that day that free men and women died in that field not that long ago in the most recent shots of a clash of civilizations because he didn’t yet have the maturity to understand.  Funny thing is that the joy of taking a walk with his dad was infectious.

There was sadness and grief there, but there was also joy.  Joy in the bright sunshine and perfectly cloudless blue sky.  Joy in the quiet solitude of the field and the trees beyond.  Joy in the eyes of a child and the new place.

I have said before that I have learned so much more about God after becoming a father.  That day God used my son to teach me a lesson that I knew intellectually, but had never really thought through.

I knew the moment that I first saw the towers burning that Americans were dying at the hands of a mortal enemy.  I knew that moment that my life and everyone’s lives would change forever.  I was sad for my country and grieved the loss of life.  That grief turned to anger, as it did for many.

What I didn’t know was that God was setting me up for that day years later in that field – so that I might finally understand this:

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
    you have loosed my sackcloth
    and clothed me with gladness,
that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
    O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!

Psalm 30:11-12

Loving Your Neighbor

~ Radical thoughts to follow. ~

So many Christians these days are stuck in thinking of God as the almighty Creator of the universe, the final judge and authority on everything good, and they fear this powerful deity enthroned in unfathomable power.  They get so caught up in the God who utterly crushed Sodom and Gomorrah, caused the ground to swallow up disobedient men whole, and sent bears to maul dozens of “youths” in response to a curse by His prophet after their “teasing” of him.  If that is the God you know, you are missing Him… essentially in a forest for the trees moment.

Now let me get this straight – the God I’m talking about did all of those things, but He is so much more.  The God I’m talking about is not vengeful and destructive – He is creative, He is merciful, He is loving.  He is not hovering somewhere up in space ready to cast down lightning and hurl giant hailstones at you if you stumble and fall in trying to serve Him.

This is why the concept of God the Father is so important.  Think to your own children if you have them.  As a father, we only want the very best for them.  We teach them, guide them, influence them, discipline them, and love them as much as we can before we turn them loose on the world.  God the Father is no different, except that He doesn’t want us to ever get turned loose, but rather to turn back to Him – to love Him in return and to become not just His child, but rather also His friend.

Few men in the Bible were ever credited as friends of God – Abraham, Moses, David. These men didn’t go on and do measly things either. Abraham is the forefather of two great peoples – Jews through Isaac (by extension Christians) and Muslims. Moses became the first civil rights leader the world has ever seen – he led an entire nation from slavery to freedom.  David established Israel as a nation-state and also provided the family lineage for the Son of God to be born with a royal bloodline.  These men also give us a stark contrast though because of their friendship with God – Moses talked God out of destroying the idol worshiping Israelites, but He also repeatedly angered God as well to the point where he was forbidden from entering the Promised Land at the end of the decades-long journey to freedom.  David had a man killed because he thought his wife was smoking hot and wanted her for himself.  Neither of these men were perfectly moral, but they sought and loved God for who He was and unconditionally on their parts.

It is friendship with God that brings with it God’s unconditional mercy.

Instead of fearing God because of His righteousness, power, and judgment, we should strive to befriend God because He is right there waiting for us to do just that.  It’s all that He wants as our Father…. the absolute best for us.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.

Matthew 22:37

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Letter to My Sons

Even though you are both still young, there is so much you know and understand.

I enjoy watching you take in the world one amazing thing at a time with joy, astonishment, and apprehension.  You have so many firsts still ahead of you, that I look forward to experiencing and guiding you to and beyond.

Sometimes being a father is hard work.  There is doubt if you are doing things right.  There are so many things out of my control that can impact you forever.  There are points where we do and will disagree and butt heads in the future, but even knowing these days will come I will love you through them.

There are so many things I want to and need to teach you in the few short years where I get to influence you: the nature of God, Christ, the ways of the world, the importance of family, the nature of truth, the importance of justice, the source of liberty, and the responsibilities that go with all of that knowledge.

Today is Father’s Day.  God put you here to do mighty things for Him and I cherish the opportunity to lead you to Him and then set you loose to do those things.  It is a father’s greatest responsibility, but also a father’s greatest joy and blessing to be granted that opportunity and blessing.   Through you both, I have come to understand the nature and heart of God much more clearly as he is both my and your Father as much as I am your father and the love and joy that you bring me, I know he feels toward me.

I know there will be times where my words come up short, but your heavenly Father’s words never will.  I know there will be times where you and I fail each other, but I will always ask you to forgive me and forgive you in the same way when it happens.

Regardless of those small happenings in everyone’s life, I will never cease loving you because you are my sons, and that is how God loves us – regardless of how often or how terribly we abuse His love, He will always forgive us and welcome us back to Him.  In fact, He will pursue US.  He will find us hiding in the dark, afraid to come out because of shame, guilt, or whatever is holding us back and bring us home to Him if we just ask.

Today on Father’s Day, I wanted to write something for you… words from Our Father that I hope one day make sense to you as they now do to me.

The father of a righteous child has great joy;
    a man who fathers a wise son rejoices in him.

Proverbs 23:24

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline,
    and do not resent his rebuke,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
    as a father the son he delights in.

Proverbs 3:11-12

You saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son.

Deuteronomy 1:31

Children are a heritage from the Lord,
    offspring a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
    are children born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
    whose quiver is full of them.

Psalm 127:3-5

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

Joshua 1:9

 

 

Arrows

Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are children born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
whose quiver is full of them.

Psalm 127:4-5

He shot his arrows and scattered the enemy,
with great bolts of lightning he routed them.

2 Samuel 22:15

arrow2

Children are like arrows.  Mine are young right now, but one day I will send them out into the world to do battle with it.  Will they be well-made – hewn from stout wood?  Bound strongly and tempered to flex, but not break?  Will I fletch them correctly to guide them on their flight?  Will their sharpened warheads pierce the evil they are sure to encounter?

Protection

Due to recent events nationally, I have focused more on the world than on God as of late and for that I apologize.  One of my stated purposes for this collection of short essays and thoughts is to throw the truth and the Truth out there.  While I have focused much on the events in Connecticut from one week ago, I have tried to keep it balanced with my desire to ensure that the Truth is heard.  In light of that, I will close my thoughts on the matter today because while it is easy to focus on evil, to dissect it, to prescribe cures for it, it is impossible to eliminate for me, for you, or for anyone else because it is a force beyond our comprehension.

How do we protect against evil if we cannot understand it?  How can we protect against more slaughterings of children in schools if we cannot understand why someone would target the most innocent amongst us?

Discretion will protect you,
and understanding will guard you.

Proverbs 2:11

So what is this understanding that we need to have in order to be guarded?  The pat answer is that we need an understanding of God’s saving grace and the Holy Sacrifice made by Christ.  Beyond that though, what is the understanding that we have to come to?  My take on it is that evil resides in the world and that no action of man will ever halt evil from striking where you think you are safest, or in this case, where people believed their children to be safest.

Why?  Isn’t that the significant question we always ask after any tragedy?

To that question, I say that there can be no answer that you will understand on this Earth.

I’m at war with the world

And they try to pull me into the dark

I struggle to find my faith

As I’m slipping from your arms

It’s getting harder to stay awake

And my strength is fading fast

Skillet, Awake and Alive

When I first wrote on the atrocity and the outpouring of hate in a world that we want so desperately to be filled with love, it was with the distant observation of someone familiar with the love one feels for their children and how such a sudden traumatic blow would shake me to my core.  This was the killer’s objective – to not strike at the children, they were merely his targets, but to strike at that fundamental love that we share for our children.  Evil used that wonderful Godly blessing of love as tool of destruction within us.  It threatens to destroy more of us too as the post-atrocity time-frame focuses on how to prevent the next atrocity, which is foolhardy to believe that we, as humans, have any capability to do as the ways of evil come easy to us on this fallen world.

How does one protect from an atrocity of another?  It is as difficult to stop a mass murdered intent on a high body count unless you are willing to open your eyes to the evil at work throughout the world.  If you can perceive it and recognize it for what it is, then you have a vital tool at how to protect yourself from it.  Notice I refuse to consider the concept of prevention as I firmly believe that no preventative steps we take will ever be enough as the gross majority of mankind will follow the rules, play within the boundaries, and not go to extremes in order to maintain a stable world in which to live.

You can station armed guards and metal detectors at a school.  They themselves will become the first targets of opportunity as they are limited in number and can be overcome, especially in the event of a planned multiple attacker event such as Columbine or Beslan.

You can ban guns entirely and try to confiscate them, but the knowledge of how to make them remains.

You can lock up everyone who ever made an idle threat or anything construed as an idle threat, but at the cost of a free society and any semblance of personal liberty remaining.  This alone will not stop an atrocity as the rational person would just remain quiet and not broadcast their intent beforehand.

You can go so far as to search every person entering the building, station  tactical response teams on site at every school, and regulate firearms out of civilian ownership and yet, atrocities will happen.  They will happen with knives, swords, and bombs.

In the end, no preventative steps we take can prevent evil.  It always gets to take the initiative, while we must be ready to respond anywhere it could feasibly strike.

How best, can I as a father, protect my family in the face of these threats?  Despite what the world tells you, the responsibility is mine and mine alone.  I am ultimately responsible for my children and my wife and will answer God in regard to the discharge of my duties.  Will I say that I turned a blind eye toward evil?  Will I say that I looked evil in the eye and told it to keep back?  Will I say that I surrendered the tools of the mind and the body to provide for their safety and security to someone who ultimately is not responsible for my family’s safety?  Will I abdicate my rightful role as the guardian-redeemer of my family?

If I love my children and my wife with all of my heart, how can I not take every step available to me including that of taking up arms in their defense against the evil of the world?  Other men may look at me and scorn my decision to take that stand, so be it.  I answer to God, not men.

My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.

John 17:15

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

1 Corinthians 13:7

Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Galatians 1:10

Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

1 Timothy 5:8

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.”

Surely he will save you
    from the fowler’s snare
    and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
    nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
    ten thousand at your right hand,
    but it will not come near you.
You will only observe with your eyes
    and see the punishment of the wicked.

If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”
    and you make the Most High your dwelling,

no harm will overtake you,
    no disaster will come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
    you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;
    I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
He will call on me, and I will answer him;
    I will be with him in trouble,
    I will deliver him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
    and show him my salvation.”

Psalm 91

What do we do in the face of inspeakable evil?  Ride out and meet it.

Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.

Nehemiah 4:14

Threats

One of my favorite talk radio hosts has a phrase he often uses: liberals love democracy until the vote doesn’t go their way.  To add substance to this quote, in the aftermath of Tuesday’s debate, a number of tweets flooded Twitter calling for assassinations of Governor Romney or riots should he win the general election come November.

While I take these threats with a grain of salt, I refuse to walk through life with blinders on.  There will be violence in that event.  It may not visit my neighborhood, or even my county, but I would rather be prepared for such an eventuality and not need to rely on my preparations.  I love to wade into the cultural war going on between right and left, good and evil, capitalism and communism, etc… and I sense a palatable amount of vitriol on both sides over this upcoming election.  This country is being divided into two camps.

There is little middle ground between the two, so the culture of animosity has grown since roughly the halfway point of the Clinton presidency by my personal estimation to what you see today.  I don’t believe that the conservatives will riot as they are… you know… conservative.  That usually means that they are more restrained (this is a generality and there are sure to be some examples where it is not true).

At this point you probably wonder why this matters.  If the chance is fairly low in your estimation, why bother talking about it?  Because I love my wife and my kids and I would be negligent in my duties as a husband, father, and protector of my family if I didn’t constantly have a keen eye watching the borders of my personal kingdom.

Whoa whoa whoa… kingdom?

 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

Genesis 1:26

Man was made in the image of God.  God is the King of all creation, therefore we are charged with being kings as well.  We are kings over all of creation by design.  We have more specifically been charged to protect our wives and children though.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.

Ephesians 5:25

One of the attributes of a good king is that they constantly are on guard against an invasion or an attack.  Those that submit to the king rely on the king to guard their lives and to protect them from all aggressors.  So you can say that I am being paranoid, or you can think hard about your role within your family.  You can be a loving father and husband, but failing at one of your principal duties to your wife and children in that they are protected by you.

The next question you might be asking about now is: how can one man protect his family from a riot?

You took seriously this instruction from Jesus right?

“But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.”

Luke 22:36

There is one other thing to consider though… even armed, against a riot, I don’t stand a chance alone, but if I ally myself with other similarly minded men… kings… then together we can defend our families.

Image Credit: Oleg Volk

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