Fighting Off the Wolves

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”[i] The thirteen colonies  unanimously endorsed the Declaration of Independence which spells out the reasons the colonies felt compelled to break from English rule, knowing that it would come to war. The vast majority of the men of the Continental Congress that drafted the Declaration would consider themselves Christian or members of the universal church.[ii]

The Laws of Nature, as understood by the writers of the Declaration means that “all people have inherent rights, conferred not by act of legislation but by God, nature, or reason. Natural law theory can also refer to theories of ethics, theories of politics, theories of civil law, and theories of religious morality.”[iii] In God’s relationship with His creation, according to Thomas Aquinas, He placed within each human a realization of natural law which teaches the person that “good is to be done and pursued and evil is to be avoided.”[iv] A mistake man makes, according to Aquinas is to believe that natural law, because of its name is non-religious but rather it is an instrument of God which helps draw true believers to salvation in Christ while also arguing implicitly against false religions.

If Natural Law and Nature’s God entitles humans to assume the powers of political sovereignty and separate from other political powers it is the responsibility of those seeking separation to state their specific reasons. A general consensus of the need for separation will benefit the fledgling country or political entity and its leaders should attempt to avert any opposition to their cause through reason, when possible.  

One such reason for which such separation is demanded is the physical threats of death inferred and consummated against Christians by political leaders and national powers. This can extend as well to the evil done in the name of a national power which is threatening the same and even committing murder against non-Christians. Christians understand a responsibility for protecting all persons and in so doing are doing good in the Name of Christ.  Good is to be done and evil avoided (Aquinas).

The logic of such an argument for the use of all legitimate means, including war, against the offending realms must then be weighed against the biblical commands to honor political leaders. Paul writes in Romans 13, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same.”[v]

It is believed by many that the creation of the United States through the Revolutionary War was divinely blessed by God. In the Twentieth Century, most who sided with Allied Powers against the mass murderers of the Third Reich and the Japanese Imperial forces believed their cause to be just and true. They believed their cause to be blessed by God and many believed that their protection of the Nation of Israel and Jews the world over was divinely orchestrated and victory was assured. How does that square against Paul’s writing that occurred during a time when the Roman government was sending Christians of all ages to be torn apart by vicious lions and gruesome deaths in  spectacular arenas?

Was Paul declaring a submissive attitude or a respectful attitude and what is the difference? An examination of the Greek verb phrase be subject in the Strong’s Concordance, is defined as:

ποτάσσω hupŏtassō, hoop-ot-as’-so; from G5259 and G5021; to subordinate; reflexively, to obey:—be under obedience (obedient), put under, subdue unto, (be, make) subject (to, unto), be (put) in subjection (to, under), submit self unto.

An explanatory example of the verb phrase is:

“a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden”.[vi]

The question comes, is Paul directing his submission command to the church or to individual Christians in their daily walk? The statement Let every soul is a clear answer to this question. How does that play out in ‘real life?’ Let’s review one simple biblical event that creates a conundrum for us in this discussion.

When God, through His angel, released Peter from prison and he fled after making himself known to the church in the house of Mary, John Mark’s mother, was he not breaking the law and not submitting to government? According to the biblical record in Acts 12, the church was praying for Peter’s release and God answered  their prayer. There are more examples of Christians fleeing persecution in the New Testament. If they were to submit in the way we are defining it here, shouldn’t they simply have gone to the officials and stood in line to be executed rather than fleeing? Recall that in the 1st Century, when the church fled Jerusalem, God used it to spread the Good News across the region. Peter broke the law yet God ordained it and used it for His good.

Evil seems to be ever present in our society. How can a true Christian stand by and watch immorality such as mass arrests, deportations to concentration camps, and murder of people for any reason continue? Is there no command to combat evil?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

any disobedience is allowable only if a person is fully convinced that we stand at the eschaton and that this state is actually the particularized embodiment of Antichrist, which is to say totally of evil, the very incarnation of the demonic (which, by the way, is a judgment I would think sinful human beings are hardly qualified to make). And, Bonhoeffer continues, if that state is Antichrist, then Christians dare not render it obedience in anything. If the state is not Antichrist, total obedience; if it is Antichrist, total disobedience–these are the only options Bonhoeffer considers. Thus he leaves himself no room for the other biblical command about our obeying God rather than man.[vii]

During World War II, one Christian pastor in Germany knew he could not just stand by and watch. His name was Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Vernard Eller, writing on the works of Bonhoeffer, makes this conclusion based on  earlier Bonhoeffer’s earlier writings:

The passages Eller uses to sustain the idea that Bonhoeffer felt so strongly about simply submitting to government were all written before Bonhoeffer became part of a plot to assassinate Hitler. That is an obvious indication that he had come to a point where he either, believed Hitler to be an anti-Christ if not the Anti-Christ, or he had come to rethink Romans 12:21. I will illustrate what I mean there in a moment.

I think perhaps Eller would have done well to explore further one of his own earlier points.  The conclusion that Bonhoeffer left no room for anything but submission and no room for the commands to obey God rather than man. Earlier in his thesis, he quoted Bonhoeffer, “The whole of Paul’s doctrine of the State in Romans 13 is controlled by the introductory admonition: “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). It is immaterial whether the power be good or bad, what matters is that the Christian should overcome evil by good.[viii]”  He quotes him again on the point of the world versus Christianity. “The world exercises dominion by force and Christ and Christians conquer by service”[ix] In this treatment of Bonhoeffer and the view on what Eller describes as Christian Anarchists, it is important to understand Eller’s own pro-liberal viewpoint. He writes, “I am not surprised to find a conservative, legitimizing tendency surfacing in Bonhoeffer’s thought.” Rather than see Bonhoeffer’s re-thinking of his position as growing in an understanding of the full meaning of scripture, Eller sees it as Bonhoeffer’s conservative values twisting the Word to fit the conservative narrative and supporting action against the state. An analysis of the change in his position is warranted to help us better understand what our role should be as Christians in the 21t Century.

Let us go back to our original question of how revolution, civil disobedience, the work of undergrounds to save the lives of hundreds, if not thousands upon thousands, in the days of slavery in the U.S. and opposing Hitler in WWII. Are these actions legitimate when it comes to Romans 13? The entire book of Romans, remember, is one text, not written in chapters or in numbered versus when Paul penned it to the church in Rome. So, one needs to read the letter in  whole and, in this case, go back a few paragraphs to what we know as Romans 12:21.

21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”[x] Overcoming evil with good is a command from Paul to the church. I am not playing a game of semantics here to justify something that would be illegitimate for a Christian to become involved. A misapplication of this command would be to infuse a political change of power only to replace one set of politics for another, neither God-honoring or divinely ordained. Seldom is that an answer and it does not fit in the schematic we have here of a Christian doing good in the Name of Christ to overcome evil. A Christian’s allegiance is always to God not to party.

When the cattle cars are lined up and your neighbor’s family is being herded away with certain death the end result, finding a way to stop that or prevent their arrest is doing good. Sending a runaway slave farther along the Underground Railway is doing good but against the law. When we can say our actions are in the Name of Christ  and not in the name of the GOP, we are on the right track. We must never wrap the cross in the flag. Hitler did until finally his flag replaced the cross. The question comes to each individual member of Christ’s body and to the body as a whole. Church leadership must be certain of their own theological understanding of Romans 13. To read into it a one-way only with submission the singular path and no contextual connection to Romans 12 is to err in such a way as to leave too many believers struggling with how they are to contend against evil in their own roles.

The church in America and around the world showed itself susceptible to the manipulation by governments during the recent pandemic when isolation, closures, edicts of masks and physical separation all but silenced the church for over a year. Sadly, the silence of the churches sent a message loud and clear. Driven by a narrow focus on Romans 13 and fueled by the fears of the congregants, the churches capitulated.

The church, not simply the pastors and leaders but every member of the Body of Christ must know scripture and must know how to read it correctly. Proof-texting, of which some may accuse me even in this instance, by taking one set of verses outside of their context to support a cultural stand is dangerous, divisive, and perhaps even, demonically driven. The whole counsel of God, the Bible in full must be brought to bear on such serious decisions as when to obey God and not man, not government. Our founding fathers took their role very seriously and much prayer and much contention came as they argued the merits of their actions. Each knew they could be killed under the current law for the insurrection they were planning. It was, without a doubt, treason under English law. Under God’s law, it was the right thing to do. Can we today, draw our line in the sand and say, ‘to here and no further for in all things I will obey God before man?’

Allow me to close  with a movie quote. You knew you would not get all the way through this sincere effort to bring today’s struggles with evil and the response of the church to bare without at least one  good movie connection! It comes from the movie, The Patriot. Reverend Oliver surprises everyone when he prepares to join the Revolution. His response is timely. “A shepherd must tend his flock, and at times, fight off the wolves.”[xi]

Reverend Oliver in The Patriot

[i] https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript

[ii] Universal church is not to be confused with the Universalist Church which accepts all gods, all religions. The Universal Church is the body of true believers, followers of Christ across time, across all political and denominational boundaries that are the hands of Christ reaching out to the world in His Name.

[iii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_law

[iv] https://taylormarshall.com/2014/06/thomas-aquinas-natural-law-5-points.html

[v] https://www.biblegateway.com/quicksearch/?quicksearch=government&version=NKJV

[vi] https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g5293/nkjv/tr/0-1/

[vii] http://www.hccentral.com/eller12/part6.html

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans%2012:21&version=KJV

[xi] https://quotegeek.com/quotes-from-movies/the-patriot/8024/

TRUST ME

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. (Psalm 19:1) (1)

Can anyone look upon such a morning sky and not utter a simple exclamation at its beauty?  The photo was taken by a friend of mine at his fishing cabin in up-state New York on 22 June 2020.

 God’s word tells us how He loves his creation and takes great joy in sharing it with we who are also part of His creation.

Recently my grandchildren, accompanied by their mother and others were marveling at the vast number of toads and frogs which had inundated our pond. The first, the toads who remain in the woods come to the pond one time a year for the frenzy of procreation. Just about a week later the frogs who spend most of their lives on or in the pond have their turn to invade the shallow areas of the pond and take their turn at the creation cavalcade! Thousands of tiny amphibious critters were everywhere! I couldn’t help but think of what it must have been like in Egypt so many years ago! During the week, I removed the cushion off an outside chair before the rain came and found a tiny toad sleeping peacefully between the two sections of fabric. A few days later, after the rain, I unrolled my hammock planning for a mid-day nap. Rolled up inside was an adult size toad, also enjoying a mid-day nap! I’ll be the first to admit that the beauty of the sky pictured here is thousands of times more beautiful than either of those toads or any of the hundreds my grandchildren found!

However, the complexity of their instinct: when to leave the woods, where to go, what to do and then the ‘babies’ left to fend for themselves are to find their way back to the woods at the right time and at the right place. Intelligent design? A better descriptor is Divine Creator God.

The disciples were under a great deal of pressure and Jesus was working on preparing them for their ministry. He said to them in a passage recorded by Matthew, “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.”(2) Jesus went on to say, “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”(3) For some of us that is a more daunting task than others, especially given the ravages of time!

Two sparrows sold for a cent

What Jesus was trying to get them to understand was how very deeply God, the divine Creator of the universe, loves us so much. He counts every star. He has named each one of them. (4) Can we even begin to grasp how many stars there are?

Hubble Telescope view of stars

Is it likely or is it even possible that all of the stress and the hard times you may be going through now, have gone through in the past, or are yet to go through are outside God’s caring reach and His love for you?

I know what some may be thinking. If He loves me so much or cares about my need for a job, my heartache over a failed relationship, my struggle with money that runs out before the month does, my children who are struggling so hard with life or about those little ones fighting cancer and seem to be all alone, why doesn’t He just fix it?

I’m in my sixties. I’ve had a full life with lots of experiences and I’ve seen things both in police work and in ministry that I simply cannot explain outside the divine nature, the miracles of God. I hold both a Master of Ministry degree and a Doctor of Ministry degree, that’s a lot of study and, with all that, I can now share with you the best theological answer I can offer. I don’t know.

That wasn’t a lot of help, was it?

Let me share with you what God said to Job when he asked God a similar question. Job was, I suspect, dealing with more bovine bullion than probably any person in history. Not only that, according to God’s Word, Job was a righteous man. He did what God expected of him and still everything, and I mean everything, came crashing down around him. Job’s wife was so hurt, she came at Job one day and here is what the Bible reports she said. “Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!” (5) That is a bit intense. But finally, it all got the best of Job and he let fly with his questions.

Here is what God said to Job. Let me set the stage because, I don’t know about all of you but, having God, the all-powerful, all knowing, eternal Master of the Universe speak to me one on one would be, on the average day, more than a little bit of tense! This was in what we call the Old Testament days, or the days before the Holy Spirit indwelt believers. We have much more the ability to confer with God daily as we talk to Him in prayer. No one I know, however, has had God answer back in a voice to be heard. So, what is the first thing that Job hears from God?

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?“Now gird up your loins like a man, and I will ask you, and you instruct Me! (6)

If Job was not previously fearful in hearing directly from God, these first two sentences should have put Job in, uh-oh mode! The question and statement by God in these verses put me in mind of being in military basic training and you mess up very badly! Suddenly the DI who strangely looks exactly like R. Lee Ermey is standing over you about to do the things to you he promised he would do on Day 1 if you messed up this bad.

R. Lee Ermey – http://www.theguardian.com

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you [a]have understanding, “Or who enclosed the sea with doors when, bursting forth, it went out from the womb; “Have you [c]ever in your life commanded the morning, And caused the dawn to know its place, “Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades, Or loose the cords of Orion?” (7)

All of these are designed to get Job to realize he really did not understand or have any power to control anything in his life and God is the only one in control. It was not to put it in Job’s face how small he was or how little control he had. God was trying to convince Job to trust Him. Job would eventually have so many wonderful things in his life. Those new things would not replace the family he lost or erase the pain of their deaths, but still God was in control and had great things in store for Job.

God tells us in one of my favorite verses, Jeremiah 29:11

“For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.”(8)

The next time you see something truly amazing in God’s creation, know that it is God whispering to you, Trust Me.

(1) Psalm 119:1 (NASB)

[2] Matthew 12:29 (NASB)

[3] Matthew 12:30 (NASB)

[4] Psalm 147:4 (NASB)

(5) Job 2:9 (NASB)

[6] Job 38:2 (NASB)

(7) Job 38:31 (NASB)

[8] Jeremiah 29:11 (NASB)

STILL

Every once in a great while a song comes along that touches you right down to the deepest part of your soul.

This song is one of those. It was passsed to me with a comment that it is new and that some stations are refusing to play it. Unfortunately, I wasn’t told who the artists are but, still, it is absolutely wonderful.

In His word, God tells us to be still and in that stillness, get to know Him. In the song, the word still is used with the contextual definition of as in the past, so now in the present, with hope it will remain so in the future. I would love for you to listen to this song and consider the word still both ways as you consider what God might add to this piece.

Please feel free to share this if you like!

God bless!

Front Steps and Back Patios

t may be a pity too few may read this post for, even though many seem driven to cast a pall over America’s horizon and bemoan how Americans will never be what they once were, there is a brighter hope I see emanating from the shadows cast by all the nay say-ers

                    InSCIghts is one of a half-dozen titles under which this author writes some basic and other more detailed and complex concepts of law enforcement relations with their communities. Sadly, it is also one which has been bereft of any serious works of late. In thinking about why and trying to explain it to my son, I made the comment, ‘life happened’ but such has more in common with an excuse than an explanation. In hopes of filling the void on my web’s blog sites and reviving what once was a plethora of article submissions – to which several quality magazine editors would let out a long sigh when they saw the familiar SCI logo in their ‘in-box’ – I take pen and paper in hand and begin to swipe at the cobwebs of my mind and see what awakens! Okay, so I use a laptop and mouse not pen and paper and most of the cobwebs which have begun to take over my ‘attic’ are too entrenched to go with just a swipe. It is going to take a shop-vac on full suction to get those bad-boys out of the corners!

                    It is a combination of the ‘Patriot Day’ just passed which brought with it friends lamenting how communities and neighbors were so much closer in the weeks following 9-11 and the simple realization that students now high school seniors, to graduate in the Spring of 2020, were not yet born in 2001. They cannot share the common experience of Americans from that fateful day; nor can any of their classmates who come after them. These thoughts began to stir in me a desire to write. I realize when I pen an article or blog, there may be only a handful of people taking the time to read it. But, that’s okay. Writing is cathartic for me and if, by chance, it does some smattering of good for someone who is inclined to read it; all the better.

                     It may be a pity too few may read this post for, even though many seem driven to cast a pall over America’s horizon and bemoan how Americans will never be what they once were, there is a brighter hope I see emanating from the shadows cast by all the nay say-ers. What began as a faint glow and then was just an unsteady glimmer has begun to brighten and is overcoming the darkness one front porch at a time, or perhaps a back deck; maybe one kitchen at a time or within the family rooms of people who share a common bond. 

                    When traveling abroad for many years; Karin and I were taken by how a sense of community existed in a bond between people of the town and it seemed founded upon the small groups which would appear like magic on front steps or back patios, even along fence rows, as men and women, their work done for the day did not retreat  behind closed doors, shuttered windows and loud televisions. Instead in what were some of the  most financially destitute villages, we enjoyed these visits; when the evening light was fading and the one or two streetlights would crackle and buzz until the dim light within came on, brightening and lessening as the available amount of electrical current along the line would fluctuate and neighbors sought out neighbors to do nothing more than share time. In a world driven by money and possessions, those with the most of each seem to have less time than those who could not afford a cellphone, even if service was available. These folks were rich because of the way they valued and used their time.

                    The people who graciously gave us of their time and allowed us to share ours, in these far-flung villages were Christ followers. Not Christians because their names were dutifully entered into a ledger of some national church at their birth but people who had found the richness of the grace of God irresistible and they had given in, fully and completely plunging themselves into the love of Christ and learning what it meant to live in a community of believers. The New Testament has a name for such communities of believers, they are called the church.

                    What I am finding refreshing and the provider of hope for America, is these ‘old-world’ ways – the appreciation of time, the enjoyment of being involved in an event for the event’s sake and not for what each may get out of the event as another notch on their social status belt or recognition of their worldly wisdom. Men and women of America, more and more, are re-learning the joys of being. They are enjoying being together, being involved in others lives, being accepted and even needed – not for some thing they offer to the group but needed to just be part of the group. Those who seem to be succeeding at this new adventure seem as if they are living in an older, simpler time. Likely it was not truly simpler – maybe – just less complex, but not simpler. What I mean by that is; those who lives were less complex back in my parent’s and grandparent’s days were still not simple lives. There was pain and hurt, financial troubles, World Wars and much more. Still, their lives were less complex. They took time to have time and to share time with others. Family time was held sacrosanct. You did not find an excuse to miss family time, no matter how, as a teenager one might believe family time to be lame; or as a young adult might have too much work or something else as a priority, there was no excuse for missing family time.

                    There is, thankfully, an extension of family time. People, some related by DNA matches but many more who are together, making time, sharing time, enjoying time in simpler ways on front steps and back patios, even over fence rows and no one is looking to see what time it is or how late it is getting. These people begin to grow together and learn to care for one another building into one another’s lives. It all happens because they are blood relatives. All are saved by the precious blood of Jesus. They are Christ followers, not perfect people, hopefully not legalistic people or judgmental but similarly they have come from a past of yuckiness and brown stuff and found how Christ can forgive and forget and He loves them all the same, anyway. These followers of the Yeshuah are laughing and loving; learning and praying; hurting and crying; living and thriving – enjoying time together. Seldom is the television on (unless its football season – there can be a little leeway here – and it doesn’t matter because you would not be able to hear it over the talking and laughter anyway. Sometimes when they gather, they study their Bible or discuss ways to cope. No matter the mix – within it is hope. They are communities of believers in Jesus Christ who love one another and love getting together – the New Testament called it the church.

                    Is it perfect and without problems? Nope. But, there’s hope.

                    In this group, when it is believers who are mostly American citizens, there can be a range of political beliefs but politics which divide are not part of the ingredients of these groups. What is incredible is how these groups can become the strongest fiber, the most level foundation, the walls of support for a nation such as ours who desperately needs to know Jesus. These men, women, both young and older people of prayer will be what holds the American experiment together – not just because America is exceptional but also because these Americans are exceptional. What makes them exceptional? The God who made them. Their faith and trust in Him will hold them while the ship of state rocks on heavy seas.

                    If there was ever a time in America’s history when people of faith needed to be strongly united in being Behind the Line – the Thin Blue Line – it’s now. Together, prayerfully asking for God’s blessing and faithfully following His lead; Americans can overcome all of the dark forces which are vying for America’s lifeblood. Behind the Line – that is where I want to be – yet at the same time, Christ has asked His believers to be on the front line and it is possible be both. Christ is who He says He is, and He will do what He has said He will do. In the in-between time; when the day’s work is done and the streetlights falter, then flicker on; its good to get together and spend the most valuable resource you have in life – time, and it’s better when you spend it together.

AWE – SOME

we can, and should, awe-some. I choose to reserve such respect, admiration to very few; but at the top of my list is my wife, Karin Riggs.

AWESOME! We say it often. Too often. Like using the word LOVE all the time for things that have nothing whatsoever to really do with love. “I’d love to see someone kick such and such’s tail in!” “I love ice cream,” “I love snowboarding,” “I love… yada yada yada…”

When I say to my wife and my children, “I love you” – What do they hear? ‘WOW! I mean as much to my dad as his new fishing rod! I wonder if he will throw me in the lake if I don’t do what I’m supposed to?

The on-line WORD dictionaries define AWE:

“a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder”

“an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, fear, etc., produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful, or the like: in awe of God; in awe of great political figures.”

I’m a little concerned about God and great political figures in the same example, but it is what it is. Such was AWE as a noun. As an adjective AWESOME is defined as: extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear. “The awesome power of the atomic bomb” – quite a bit away from ‘Our God is an AWESOME God…’ to go to the atom bomb but, C’est la vie!

I would most likely fall into a strange category of people who are trying their best to not follow culture on this one but say rather, we should ‘AWE-some’ and in that ‘some’ are VERY few human beings.

God is AWESOME. I am filled with AWE and wonder in the love of Christ! The Holy Spirit’s work in my life is AWESOME! I will also exclaim such awe when viewing the majestic grandeur of God’s creation. Usually it happens on a dark night, far away from city lights, looking up at a host of heavenly lights; it can be an AWESOME sight! The unmatched grace of an eagle in flight or the intricacies of a spider’s web on a split-rail fence still wet with morning dew. Those things are awesome because their creator is awesome. He is the One for whom we should have an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration and fear.

There are other parts of God’s creation which deserve at least a quiet moment of ‘awe’ or a grasp of the awesomeness of a particular part of nature.

The title… AWE-SOME means just what it says. We should awe some and not very many. Many things might be ‘ah-some’; give you a quick minute or two of amazement; but to really be in AWE, that is a very special category.

What brings me to write this after midnight, when I should be asleep, is watching my wife these last few days and recollecting some things from the past.

Dr. Karin T. Riggs, M.D.

Karin and I will celebrate 40 years of marriage this August. Success in marriage is a partnership, sometimes 80/20!  in our case, Karin is doing the heavy work!

On Friday night, after a long week at work, anticipating a long weekend, she arranged to have six of our eleven grandchildren overnight. Not just a typical overnight but a ‘let’s sleep in the camper in the driveway… Mamaw is bringing in a movie and food for us to celebrate the first night of summer vacation!’ It was that kind of overnighter.

On Saturday, she rode with me on our Harley trike for four hours to raise money for preventing veteran suicide. (“SAVE 22” a great cause, please get behind it if you can!) Then, once we were home, she was helping out another of our children. Did I mention she helped our granddaughter sew a custom designed dress ensemble for a horse-back riding show and a grade in school?

I’ve listened to her talk with patients everywhere we go. They love her and always stop to talk to her. I’ve listened this week as she counseled a patient on the phone as she does so often – no matter what she was supposed to be doing. I’ve watched tears fall as she shares a prayer request for patients and others, she has learned of through a friend who have suffered great losses. After 30 years of practicing medicine, she has not become hard and calloused about her patients; but even more so she is touched by them in ways I cannot explain. She shares her love of Christ through her life, her actions, her words of comfort. I see how she aches and her heart breaks over pain for people she loves dearly.

I watch her feed and bathe the babies and I think to myself this godly woman, who is so incredibly intelligent, so lovely, so loving, so self-effacing, has been God’s precious gift to me for all these years. She hears me tell her ‘I love you’ but she cannot know how very deeply, unendingly in love I am with her; even when she frustrates the beejeebers out of me. I know how frustrating I am to her… she ran out of beejeebers about a dozen anniversaries ago!

(Beejeebers is a word, or at least an idiom – but I don’t like to call even strange words names, so I won’t call it an idiom- the Free Dictionary and the Urban Dictionary both include in the definition it is a less heretical term than its origin ‘bejesus’ which of course I have to look it up too since the dictionaries claim it is sacrilegious… In their definitions I could not find any ‘religious’ connotation, other than an old Irish exclamation of surprise. (I would absolutely LOVE -see, there I go again, to share with you the Urban Dictionary’s example sentence they use for it; but you’ll have to look that one up yourself. Hint: if you find the word ‘shizzing’ in it, you’re there. And, yes, I looked it up, and no – shizzing is not even an idiom!)

I apologize to for digressing but, to my point, God the Father, Jesus Christ, His Son and the Holy Spirit deserve awe, our overwhelming admiration, reverence and fear. His creation, we can attest, is awesome in many ways from the bubbling of a country brook to the babbling of a baby and in His creation we can, and should, awe-some. I choose to reserve such respect, admiration to very few; but at the top of my list is my wife, Karin Riggs.

THE TURN

The perfect God/man, Creator of all things, the Son of GOd blackened by the most horrific sins imaginable. God the Father could not bear to look.

Those who know the Easter story, who know the biblical account of the crucifixion and who have perhaps dug deeper into the traditions that surrounded the gruesome yet beautiful event, will remember well the climax of the story. At least, it is the climax of the story from our viewpoint. Luke 23 beginning in verse 44 is where I want to begin.

” Now it [l]was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. 45 Then the sun was [m]darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in [n]two. “

Jesus had taken on the sin of the world. All sin for all time. The perfect God/man, Creator of all things, the Son of God blackened by the most horrific sins imaginable. God the Father could not bear to look. God the Father turned His face away, His back toward His only Son. Jesus cried and asked, “Why have you forsaken me?” The anguish of seperation between two who for eternity past had been One, now torn… Jesus commits His spirit to the Father and from our viewpoint, the story of Good Friday and Christ on the cross comes to an end.

Right now its almost 5am on Easter Sunday morning 2019. Most pastors are getting up preparing for the sunrise services. Me, an old retired cop, just spent 5 hours on a security detail for my company and I’m preparing for bed, hoping to make the non-sunrise service. But, driving home, contemplating Easter morning I began thinking about what time it was that Jesus actually arose. We know the women came to the tomb at first light but how long had Jesus been back to the earthly domain? Had He stood over His mother Mary, as she fitfully slept in shear exhaustion, eager to comfort her? Maybe watching over His disciples, knowing their hurt and how joy would come to them this day.

As I thought on those things, I went back in my mind to Friday. Just after Jesus died. That was perhaps the most amazing and overwheling part of the story and we, for the most part have missed it! The picture above of Jesus in heaven is a nice picture but think about Jesus story of the prodigal son and how the father came running down the road to greet him when he returned.

AFTER God the Father had to turn His back on Jesus, His only Son, seconds later, Jesus is there with the Father and God turns back, His face now beaming at His Son! Can you imagine the embrace? Can you picture God the Father running to embrace His Son? Ah, Easter, thank God!

The Path

a little bit of time for some introspection and a chance to talk with God about life, love and the meaning of the universe

A walk along a mountain ridge outside of Keezletown, Virginia on an early morning recently allowed me a little bit of time for some introspection and a chance to talk with God about life, love and the meaning of the universe.

As I looked across at the hills in the distance and then glanced down the path in front of me, I was struck by how barren it looked. The brown and dead look of winter seemed to hang over the path like a dreary curtain pulled over the sunshine of the blue morning sky. There was no sign of green life anywhere… or so it seemed.

It seemed odd, it was late March and April was only a few days away, where was any sign of spring? I had to stop on the path, quit my focus on just moving forward and standstill to look more closely. Every brown twig that looked so bleak in passing actually held a small bud of a new leaf about to sprout. Within the next two weeks, this same path will be bursting forth in green and already some signs of pink on the cheery blossom trees were there for those who stoppped long enough to see them.

Life is like the path I was on… there are times our path seems so bleak, so dreary and there are no signs of new life. Down right depressing! But then we stop and we look a little more closely and sure enough, there are signs God is turning the world a little at a time and the change of seasons is still happening even when we fail to see it. I was blessed God allowed me a minute to stop on the path and notice the hope of spring. Maybe, I’ll be a little quicker to stop more often and take in a fesh breath of springtime to push away some of the dark winter has left behind.

WAR ZONE

…we live in a war zone. There will be casualties

I have written in past days about my first experiences in Bosnia Herzegovina not very long after the cessation of open war. I use the term open war because the hatred and the racial and societal issues still divide the country and corruption stops any real forward progress in defeating the enemy.

It is difficult to describe a war zone. The buildings that once were homes, businesses, churches are just bombed out shells, with no life save the foraging insects and vermin that root among the remains looking for what else they can devour.

A hand painted sign reading welcome to Sarajevo covered in shrapnel caused pock-marks
Iconic Sarajevo sign 1995

Where people still reside, apartment buildings have shell holes that allow in the winter wind and the outside is pock-marked, the results of shrapnel tearing apart at the structure trying to weaken it.

There is a stark analogy between the physical war zone I witnessed in Sarajevo and remote areas of the countryside and the spiritual battles we face today. In Bosnia, no place was left untouched. Specific places had horrific stories of hate-driven carnage and we see the same in the battles Satan wages upon our world. I have felt the darkness of Satan’s demonic power more in Bosnia than anywhere else I have traveled but, it is only because there the mask of civilization was ripped away, and Satan’s plans were open for anyone to see. In the rest of our world, often, we keep the mask of civility and Satan’s attacks are, perhaps, not unseen, but unnoticed  by an uncaring society too wrapped in their own pain and secular drives to respond.

In the Bible we read, Satan is a roaring lion, prowling around seeing whom he may devour, just like the vermin crawling among the carnage of Bosnia’s war. Paul tells us our war is not against flesh and blood but “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph. 6:12)

A fierce looking lion crouched as if to pounce surrounded by a black background with the words Our Adversary the Devil

God has permitted Satan to have dominion over the world until the time He finishes it and brings Satan to destruction and all who believe in Christ are His forever in peace. God waits, not because He is cruel but because He is patient and loving. Peter explains it, writing that God is “not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”(2 Peter 3:9)

Until then, as one writer put it, “Satan’s attack means that we all are vulnerable to sickness, betrayal, financial meltdown, relational loss, emotional despair and other hardships… bad things happen to good people… we live in a war zone. There will be casualties.” (Rooted, Mariners Church 2011 p 85)

In our spiritual battles, there will be homes empty, just shells remaining where once there were families. There will be businesses and churches gone, only the few, scattered remains from a bombing by sin and failure. Where people still reside, there will be shell holes letting in the cold winter wind, chilling the soul and hardening the heart; the explosive remains of  damaged relationships, lost trust and horrific sin. The lives of those struggling to survive are pock-marked by the shrapnel of sin which has left its mark upon them.

There is hope.

The damage of war can be overcome and what was once uninhabitable shells of homes and broken down lives can come to life again like spring after a hard winter. The refreshing breeze of peace and love that comes only from Jesus Christ through His victory over death and sin.  When it coms to spiritual battles, as the ‘Rooted’ book spells out, “And (the Lord) wins. Every. Single. Time.” (p 85)

Someone once wrote how, in the darkest of places, a single candle burns brightest. I saw such a candle in Bosnia. It came in the form of a simple, unpretentious man who loved His Lord and loved every single person God sent his way in a very dark place. The flame of his candle lit many small candles which will burn for generations when the Spirit moves to set those candles within His lampstand.

A completely dark black frame with one bright flame from a candle visible in the darkness

John writes, “We know that we are children of God and that the world is under the control of the evil one.” That is disconcerting to say the least. But in context, we find hope. The verse just before this one reads, “We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God (that’s Jesus)keeps him (that’s you if you truly believe)and the evil one (that’s Satan) does not touch him. Jesus told us we would have trouble in this world, but the Good News is that Jesus has overcome the world! He said so! Jesus doesn’t lie. Satan’s attacks will be all around us, but as believers, saved by grace through faith, even if we die because of a sinful world’s sickness, we are safe, secure, in heaven forever with Him.   

We live in a war zone. Live under the banner of the victor. Take heed to what He teaches about daily survival and keep a long-view, looking toward the completion of all things under Christ.

Line of Duty

Keep building your foundation, keep strengthening to be survival strong, keep training, keep practicing and preparing, and NEVER FOLD.”

How wide is the Line? How straight the path? What is it within a person driving them to take an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, to uphold the laws of the city, county or state for which they serve? For so many, it is a dream of a lifetime to someday become part of the Thin Blue Line. Just last summer, Natalie Corona fulfilled a lifetime dream of receiving her commission as a police officer for the City of Davis in California and on January 10, 2019, Officer Corona was gunned down while responding to a traffic crash.  She had told her father, before attending the police academy, “Dad, this is what I want to do.” Her father is a retired Colusa County Sheriff’s Deputy. No doubt her Dad is asking the same question  many retired law enforcement officers ask themselves each time another officer is killed in the line of duty. Why them? Why not me?

No doubt, most every retired police officer has faced a share of hard times, even wounds and some debilitating injuries. This author is one of those who has shared in instances where life was on the line and has scars and pain to remind me of the good ol’ days. I survived. I lived long enough to be able to complain about the pension fund and look with envy upon the young officers who are now walking the Line, praying for them daily because the threats are real, and the Line is narrow. I fulfilled my early life’s dream to be a police officer like my oldest brother and I have seen, now, my son pin on the badge. How the Line will fare for him, only the Lord knows and thankfully, my son trusts in Christ’s capable hands.

Each year, as the number of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty increases, there are thousands of officers who bend their knees in prayer to ask the Lord’s grace upon the families and department for each one. The Lord knows when every sparrow falls and, so much more, when servants of the public lay down their lives. Christ spoke highly of those who lay down their lives for others.

Recently, I wrote an article titled Survival Strong which I hope will appear soon in the POFCI magazine. In that article, I wrote:

“I can also assure you of two things. First, God sees everything that you do in His Name. Second, He will reward you for it some day in the not too far distant future. Keep building your foundation, keep strengthening to be survival strong, keep training, keep practicing and preparing, and NEVER FOLD.”

Again, to the family of Natalie Corona and the Davis Police Department, I send our prayers and deepest sympathies. To Natalie’s father, I give the assurance of Scripture when Jesus says, “No greater love has any man than this that he lay down his life for a friend.” May she be remembered always for her zeal and dedication to law enforcement. Would it be Natalie’s would be the last line of duty death for 2019, though we know such is not to be.

May God bless each and every officer and keep them safe, trusting in the strength of Christ.

Clouds on the horizon create a reminder of the Thin Blue Line
Photo by Daniel W. Riggs, used by permission from “Stretching the Thin Blue Line: Policing America in Times of Heightened Threat”

A Watering Trough or Mountain Spring?

Reflections on John Piper’s devotion,

Serve God with Your Thirst

Please take a few minutes to read John Pipers, Serve God with Your Thirst, before enjoying this reflection.

At a recent gathering of Christian men; a dear brother read to us John Piper’s Serve God with Your Thirst. I was hit square on by the passage  and want to share some of my own reflections from that first view  of this work. In his devotional titled, Solid Joys, Piper has penned this short piece and he makes the analogy between a watering trough and a mountain spring. Having been the keeper of horses, (I’m not certain anyone truly owns a horse, but they allow themselves to be kept, fed, cared for and, upon occasion, will acquiesce to a rider), I found the analogy striking. Piper writes, “God is a mountain spring, not a watering trough. A mountain spring is self-replenishing. It constantly overflows and supplies others. But a watering trough needs to be filled with a pump or bucket.”

Something Piper did not report was that a watering trough is a breeding ground for all types of yuck. Without a good power washing or scrubbing, before long there are more things living in the trough than are supplied by it. Mosquitos, fly larvae, and some bacteria without nice names will soon make the trough not just unusable, but unsafe. A mountain spring, however, is forever new, refreshed, clean, crisp and clear. Piper’s analogy, of course, is succinct. Our indwelling in Christ is not of our work, but His.

He goes on to write,” If you want to glorify the worth of a watering trough, you work hard to keep it full and useful. But if you want to glorify the worth of a spring, you do it by getting down on your hands and knees and drinking to your heart’s satisfaction, until you have the refreshment and strength to go back down in the valley and tell the people what you’ve found.”

Recently, my wife and I sat on the patio of a restaurant along the bank of a river. As we watched, the river run past. The cool breeze of the afternoon was a welcome relief from the hot summer sun over us, shaded just enough by the grape arbor and magnificent oak that grew along the water’s edge. I remarked how the water pushing past us just then, rushing toward the Ohio River then working its way south to the Gulf of Mexico, would not come past us again. It was gone. But, even before it was out of reach, new water arrived to replace it. And so, it is with God’s grace. A mountain spring whose waters are fresh every second invite you to drink deeply, even wade in and allow the water to cover you. That the grace of God could be felt like that cool, mountain spring, pouring over us, new every minute.

https://desiringgod.org/articles/serve-god-with-your-thirst
trough photos courtesy of West Fork Ranch – Western Country Realty and Current Events in Historical Perspective The Ohio State – Dry Days Downunder
Smokey Mountain Spring Photograph courtesy Don F. Bradford