Deepest Darkness

By now everyone in America is aware of the tragic events in Charleston the other day.  Since and in the coming days we as a nation have choices to make.  We will choose to judge, hate, fear, legislate, and either draw closer to or push away others.  We will either fall victim to the fear of similar events in our own communities.  Churchgoers will look over their shoulders more often and watch outsiders critically out of fear.

fear not, for I am with you;
    be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Isaiah 41;10

We have already seen politicians trying to leverage the blood of these men and women for their own particular myopic view of what’s wrong with this country – namely what they think is the over-proliferation of guns despite the statistics that demonstrably have proven that more guns has not led to more crime, but rather the marked decrease in violent crime.

Others will grab on to the killer’s racial motives and say that this is an example of the extreme racism prevalent within society.  They will say that this is a more common problem and that this particular tragedy is just the latest example of it.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave[a] nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:28

These knee-jerk reactions don’t capture the problem though, and it is the problem we all have.  We live in a world of darkness, of hate, of violence, of evil, and sin.  But, the good news is for all of us, and that is that the brightest light is possible from the deepest darkness.  It is in fact not only possible, for God uses evil for ultimate good.

68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
    for he has visited and redeemed his people
69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
    in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we should be saved from our enemies
    and from the hand of all who hate us;
72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers
    and to remember his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
74     that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
75     in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
    in the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
    whereby the sunrise shall visit us[h] from on high
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Luke 1:68-79

11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.

Psalm 139:11-12

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

John 8:12

The righteous man perishes,
    and no one lays it to heart;
devout men are taken away,
    while no one understands.
For the righteous man is taken away from calamity;
    he enters into peace

Isaiah 57:1-2

While it is tragic that people had to lose their lives, we should rest assured that they died at peace righteous and redeemed.  What an evil men wrought God will turn into something beautiful – and I suspect that it will begin today, with love, not hate, politics, or legislation, in Charleston.  From deepest darkness the light of Christ shines brightest.

Pray for those left behind, thank God for the grace that covers us all, and praise Jesus for reaching though time and gathering all sin to himself so that all men, women, and children of all ages and all nations are redeemed in the Father’s sight – even the man holding the gun the other night.

Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a simple concept in and of itself.  Forgiveness implies the erasure of debt basically.  When someone wrongs you, they become indebted to you in order to make you whole again and correct the wrong.

Forgiveness implies that you count the debt fulfilled even without recompense (payment).

The last few weeks have been filled with heartache and bloodshed.  The terrible consequences of living in a fallen world echo throughout our civilization.  Despite all of our intrepidity poured into minimizing such horrors, they still occur.  Since shortly after the creation of mankind, man has shed man’s blood.  Disease takes the young and the elderly.  Accidents happen.  Atrocities occur.  Death, destruction, and evil overtake our personal worlds without warning.

Today, there are families walking about missing husbands, wives, sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, cousins, and close friends all because of our humanity.  That which sets us apart from a dog in the street, or a bird in the sky, that spark of the Divine that makes us unique with a power to create, conceive, invent, and to improve our own human condition can be harnessed for the worst of evils – to shoot, stab, bomb, abort, and destroy each other.

I have written before about the importance of Godly men and women being willing to stand up and fight such evil over, and over, and over again.

My sons are not yet ready to stand and fight at four and just over one and a half.  In our household, I stand with my gaze fixed outward at the horizon – trying to discern and classify threats.  My wife does the same, but she also must look inward and remind me from time to time that there is little we can do against some threats, but come to our knees and pray.

There is one more thing we must do though.  Those that are hurting from loss and death are usually incapable of taking this step at first as the searing pain is too great, the anguish too fresh, but those of us detached from the situation personally must take up the mantle.

Despite all of the evils done, despite all of the losses taken and the pain caused… we must forgive.  Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his elder brother could never be sufficiently punished in this life to fill the void and pain caused in so many lives (or in our collective soul as Americans).  Even if Dzhokhar faces the death penalty and is ultimately killed for his role in the Boston attacks, his life does not equal the three innocents lost and the almost two hundred permanently changed by the evil action.

Must we accept evil in this world? Absolutely not.

Must we forgive the lost souls abducted into committing gross evils among us?  Absolutely.

He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

1 John 2:2

Dzhokhar is a lost soul, just as many others.  He is as much deserving of forgiveness and grace as me.  Will he face judgment for his actions?  Yes, but they will fall short of making those hurt or killed whole again, and that is why we must forgive and turn to God in prayer so that He may make us whole again as it is He who is uniquely able.

The Race

In the aftermath of yesterday, my daily life has not changed one iota.  My heart aches for the families rent apart yesterday and the people immeasurably maimed.  Right now, there is little that I or anyone else can say that will help heal the wound or patch the broken heart.  The medical care that they are receiving is about as far as humankind can provide.  The heart can only be healed by God.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1:2-4

Yesterday produced moments of terror for people trapped between the blasts triggered by men bent on nothing but bloodshed and destruction of innocent life.  The murderers will meet justice eventually, but even then, humankind is only capable of a certain level of justice.

In our society, a capital crime such as a murder can only be punished once.  After the first murder, all subsequent crimes become essentially free to the murderer.  Their life is already forfeit.  While it is our right to apply the laws of our society and to prosecute the murderers and punish them in accordance with those laws, that punishment always falls short of the anguish of the imposed pain felt by the victims and the families of the victims of these tragedies.

This is the essential understanding that someone has to come to in order to truly understand God’s infinite grace and mercy.  All men fall short of the Law.  By failing to keep God’s law, we violate all of it.  Righteousness in God’s eyes is all-or-nothing. It is black and white.  There can be no gray or the very righteousness of God would be called into question.

So bringing this back to the loss of life yesterday, while I mourn for those killed and pray for those injured, the pain inflicted will far outweigh any pain that humankind can inflect in retribution.  That is the terrible fact of acts of terror – the terrorist will inevitably cause more pain than they endure in the end on this Earth.

My great fear is that this IED-style attack is just the beginning.  The attack was simple to plan and execute and few levels of interdiction would successfully stop such an attack within a free republic such as ours.  Perhaps though, this attack will prepare the people of this nation for the trials to come.

We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Romans 5:3-5

So what can be done in the face of terror knowing full well that our legal system, our military, our laws can only take from someone their life and that is the ultimate punishment that we can mete out?

Rise.

Stand up.

Be strong and courageous.

Yesterday, there were instances of God’s grace and mercy at work right in the aftermath before the smoke even cleared.  Men and women, immediately took up that great charge of the unorganized militia and sprung into action tending to the wounded, tourniquetting severed limbs, staunching bleeding, carrying people to hospitals, and intentionally putting themselves in harms’ way.  Those men and women were not just police and paramedics, but spectators – mothers, fathers, children, parents and the runners themselves (many of which heroically ran toward the blast site despite their exhaustion at the end of the grueling marathon course).

Yesterday there was death and despair.  Today there is hope.

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

2 Corinthians 4:8-12

Those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:31

Day of Affliction

Today is Good Friday.

Today is the day that we remember that a man walked the Earth and was punished, tortured, beaten, scourged, and nailed by his hands and feet to a rough-hewn log.

That man had committed no great evil, but yet he hung suspended over the crowd on a modest hill.

Who has believed our message
    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
    and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
    nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

He was just a man, like me.  He walked, talked, befriended, ate, slept, had fears and doubts, and yet he was thrown down.  Shattered.  Crushed.  Buried.

Surely he took up our pain
    and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
    stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
    each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

It was my inability to obey the law.  Every lie I told, I spoke against Him.  Every malicious thought targeted Him.  Every wrong, evil, regrettable thing ever done by me was against Him.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
    yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
    and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
    Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
    for the transgression of my people he was punished.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
    and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
    nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Even more so, not only as the target of my anger and sin, but He willfully replaced me in the cross-hairs of an Almighty God who cannot tolerate sin no matter how small or trivial.  My King stood there while I spat in His face and scourged his back with a whip and took the punishment that I deserved in addition to the punishment and insolence that I doled out.

Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer.

Isaiah 53

On this day, Christ reached forward and backward through time.  The battle was to take place there, on that rough-hewn log.  God would crush sin once and for all.  Christ hung, afflicted, because of me.  Christ took all of the world’s sin, past and present, on to Himself and offered Himself as the target of the wrath of God’s righteousness.

His love, His desire for my freedom from the terrible burden of blackening sin, His desire for me to return His love held Him there, not the nails.

For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

Romans 5:19

 

Stand

The last few days I have written about hope and the need to rise to meet the world’s challenges.

In order to be effective though, you have to know why you stand.  What is it that drives you to stand firm in spite of the world?  There are lots of things that you could cite and I won’t judge any of them because whatever it is that will drive you to throw down when the world comes calling and the bell is tolling is worthwhile to you.

Arctic Patriot wrote about freedom and liberty the other day.  Would you fight for freedom?  Do you know what freedom is?  Freedom from what?  Would you fight for liberty?  Do you know what liberty is?  Liberty to do what?  These words represent concepts and principles and I could get all philosophical about them both as I believe they are worthwhile enough that they should be defended fiercely, but that is because I believe that I understand them and the implications of the loss of either of them.

So, let’s get back to the crux of the issue.  What do you stand for?  What thing do you look at and know deep down at the core of your soul that you will not compromise?  There is no wrong answer, but there MUST be an answer.   Perhaps for you it is your family – your spouse, your children, your grandchildren.   Perhaps it is your principles.  Perhaps it is your friends.  Perhaps it is your home-built business.

Why must there be an answer?  Shouldn’t we all just agree to compromise so we can live in peace together?  We’re all citizens of the world, or Americans, or whatever.

Good cannot compromise with evil.  If I am to be obedient to God, I cannot, under any circumstance, strike a deal with evil.

Evil is like a pollutant.  Imagine you have a fresh water spring.  Striking a deal with evil is like inviting someone to pour just half of the pollutant into your spring that they wanted to… yes, you compromised, but in the end your spring is still polluted and no longer useful as a source of water.

Can you compromise with someone who wants to kill you?  “Well, I’ll just let you chop off a few limbs.  Will that work for you?”

The world is telling you compromise. Bend. Don’t be so strident. Don’t be so stubborn. It’s for the common welfare.

Do not compromise. Do not bend. Rise.  Stand firm.

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.

Matthew 5:13-15

Rise

Have you ever been knocked down?  Has the world ever landed a body blow on you that took you off of your feet?

Perhaps you lost a loved one that was particular close and important to you.  Perhaps a marriage fell apart.  Perhaps you suffered a terrible illness or a prolonged period of joblessness.  Perhaps you have felt persecuted because of your faith.  Perhaps you have felt disheartened by the path that the world seems to be taking.

What keeps us from just giving up?  Why do we not just surrender?  Turn the other cheek?

Hope.  Duty.  Faith.  Love.

Hope for the future.

Duty to our country and family.

Faith in His faithfulness and the promise that the future holds.

Love of Others, even our enemies.

David prayed that God would reduce his enemies that surrounded him and the Psalms are filled with examples where he prays that justice is done.  Christ commands us to pray for our enemies though.

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

Matthew 5:44

Why should we do that?  Our God possesses perfect Justice and He seeks that all may come to know Him.

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.

1 Timothy 2:1-6

It is your steadfast defiance to naked force, that which can only destroy the body, that allows you to become more powerful than anything or anyone that attacks you.  The simple fact that you get back up after being knocked down is an act of faith.  Faith that you won’t be held down.

The next time you take a shot from the world, whatever it might be, don’t grumble and curse it. Pray for it.  Pray that you might shine the light of Truth as you rise up again and again.

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They are brought to their knees and fall,
but we rise up and stand firm.

Psalm 20:7-8

Though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again,
but the wicked stumble when calamity strikes.

Proverbs 24:16

Do not gloat over me, my enemy!
Though I have fallen, I will rise.
Though I sit in darkness,
the Lord will be my light.

Micah 7:8

Rise and rise again until lambs become lions.

When the world challenges and destroys?  Will you go quietly like a lamb or will you take on the mantle of a lion?  Rise.  Rise again.  And Again. And Again… until those that choose to be lambs and go silently along with injustice, with hate, and with evil see you relentlessly rising over and over again to meet the challenges of the world.

If you want to change the world and restore the soul of your nation you need to take the first step in faith.  Rise up, bear your cross with honor, and roar with your battle cry.  The world will do it’s best to knock you down to discourage you, to break your will, to break your faith, to ultimately, if necessary, break you.  They will land blows.  What do you intend to do?

Rise.

Hope

Hope.  It is one of the most strange of thoughts and feelings. It is sometimes completely unjustifiable and sometimes it is all that is left.  You find the concept of hope alive in all of mankind wherever you might look.  Hope lives in the breast of a poor goat herder in the mountain passes of Afghanistan, and the breast of the richest man alive today.  It drives the young and the old, the rich and the poor, the healthy and the sick.  It drives the slave to dream of freedom.  It drives our dreams.  It girds against our fears.

I find hope in the darkest of days, and focus in the brightest.

Dalai Lama

Hope is so quintessential to our survival, that it is found in the simplest of things.  It provides strength when we are weak.  It provides warmth when we are cold.  It is the promise of a new dawn.  It is the light at the end of the tunnel.

To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable. Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless.

Gilbert K. Chesterton

Why is hope so universal?

I could take the easy way out and say that it is a gift from God.  While this is completely true, let’s think about hope a little bit.  To answer why it is universal, maybe we should look at why we hope.  To think about why we hope, we should consider what we hope for as that might be more illustrative.

If children have the ability to ignore all odds and percentages, then maybe we can all learn from them. When you think about it, what other choice is there but to hope? We have two options, medically and emotionally: give up, or Fight Like Hell.
Lance Armstrong

Hope for each person is different.  You might hope for recovery from an illness or an injury.  You might hope for improvement in your marriage.  You might hope for financial security.  You might hope for a restoration of liberty and justice in the world.  You might hope to see Christ return before you die.  Or you might simply hope to hand the world over to your children and grandchildren a little better off than you received it yourself.  What you hope for can vary and change over time even.

Hope is a uniquely human trait as far as we know, (although I swear my dog hopes that my boys eat messy so she gets to help “clean up.”).  What makes it even more interesting is that, even in the worst of circumstances, we find people clinging to hope.  Hope is a life raft on the turbulent seas of life.  Could God have given us hope to enable us to live?

Courage is like love, it must have hope for nourishment.

Napoleon Bonaparte

Imagine a world without hope.  Why would we bother waking up in the morning to go to our jobs?  Why would we bother having children?  What purpose would there be in freedom and liberty?  Without hope, without the innate dreams of improvement and betterment for ourselves and others, there is nothing.  Everything would be utterly meaningless without hope.

What makes this even more paradoxical is that we truly are without hope.  The human race is divisive, destructive, warring, jealous, vindictive, and ultimately, savage.   But at the same time, the hope that God has blessed us with shines His light on us.  It brings out the best in us.  The divine spark that He gives so that we might live ignites an inferno within us when we have hope.

Guide me in your truth and teach me,
    for you are God my Savior,
    and my hope is in you all day long.

Psalm 25:5

We dream of impressive works of art, beautiful passages of music, poetry, and literature.  We tame the wilderness.  We creatively destroy in order to create, in imitation of our Maker, in order to improve the world for us.  We conceive, we create, we repair, we rebuild, we inspire, we live.  We hope.  We dream.  We launch ourselves toward our dreams, whatever they may be.

Be strong and take heart,
    all you who hope in the Lord.

Psalm 31:24

Since we have such a hope, we are very bold.

2 Corinthians 3:12

The same vicious nature inherent in us as humans is an amazing source of power when coupled with hope.  Instead of warring for material gain, we make war so that we might have peace.  We fight against absolute evil incarnate so that we might have security in this life and provide it not just for ourselves, but for all mankind.  We charge into burning buildings to save a stranger who is trapped.  We throw ourselves in the path of moving cars to push a child to safety.  We sacrifice ourselves, sometimes even our very lives, so that others may live.  These are not logical actions by themselves, but they are driven by hope and love.

The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
    and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;

but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:28-31

As far gone as this Republic may seem to be, we can not lose hope.  Hope drives us to be strident and defiant of tyranny.  It drives us to confront oppression and the loss of liberty confident and calm.  It will keep us warm in the cold to come.  By God’s infinite mercy and grace, it will see us through to the restoration of this Republic, once more founded and centered on the Truth and the Hope of the Lord.

You will be secure, because there is hope;
    you will look about you and take your rest in safety.

Job 11:18

Hope.  There is always hope.

Refuge

Today you will hear many people recount personal stories about 9-11-01, the day that Islamic terror filled the skies with malice, hatred, and evil manifested itself in a few dozen hijackers that killed thousands. 

You will hear about the stories of heroism where men and women alike rushed back into burning buildings to save those that needed help.  Those that stayed behind to ensure that everyone got out.

My story is not like that.

I learned of the first crash while sitting in my AFROTC class that morning.  We learned of it quickly, but the teacher, an Air Force Captain, seemed to believe it had been a small plane.  I left class and remember that day being so amazing.  It was a cerulean blue sky with not a single cloud in the air.

The grass was still green and it was a perfect day in Northwest Indiana.  I walked across campus to a career fair that was being held that day.  I remember the various booths – everything from companies that built machines for the medical industry, to car companies, to the military and other governmental agencies.

“The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.” Zephaniah 3:17 (NIV)

Being in ROTC, I was just perusing at the time and hoping to score a few free t-shirts or plastic cups for my dorm room when I remember hearing something odd coming from one of the car companies’ display cars.  I reached in and turned the radio all the way up and heard the broadcaster panicking as the first tower collapsed.  I don’t remember running, but within minutes I was inside a building that was about a mile away and was rushing toward a television.  Someone had already turned on the news, although by then, the news was being broadcast everywhere you could look.  I watched in horror as the country I love, and my fellow Americans, stood helpless as the face of evil manifested itself that day in New York City, Arlington, Virginia, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Every single man and woman in the room came together.  Many cried.  Others couldn’t watch.  No one wanted to leave though because together we were stronger than we were by ourselves.  Color, sex, politics, philosophy, religion… none of it mattered at that moment.  I imagine everyone in that room wouldn’t have thought to identify as anything other than an American.  No hyphens, no exceptions, no additions.  An American.

Much has happened since that beautiful crystalline-skied day, but we still remember.

Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me,
    for in you I take refuge.
I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings
    until the disaster has passed.

Psalm 57:1

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10 (NIV)

 

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