WAR ZONE

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.

ALONE and IN DANGER!

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. (1 Peter 5:8 NKJV)

This time it was not a roaring lion; it was like it has been many nights this past summer, a coyote, sometimes a single hunter, most times in a pack. We knew he had been back and this time, bold enough to be up to the house right by our garage doors. The evidence of his attack was everywhere. White chicken feathers were strewn across our driveway, it looked like it had been snowing down or that there had been an Olympic-worthy feather pillow fight in our driveway.

Our chickens free-range, that is they roam anywhere across our property, usually staying within the acre upon which is their coop. Most of the time they are in their brood, following closely to one another. At night, if they are not in the coop, which is a frequent occurrence in the summertime, they spread out in small groups. Some go high, up to about fifteen feet on our ‘ham radio’ antenna tower or the roof of their coop. Many, however, stay near the horse’s run-in. They enjoy the heat lamp there when it’s cold and the fan when it’s warm; but always the protection provided by 800-pound horses. There are those few, though, that wander off by themselves, away from the protection of the brood. Those few are getting fewer. Being face to face with a predator like a coyote is not a pleasant experience, I’m sure.

Did you hear about the man who explained to his hunting buddies how, when pounced upon by a huge Grizzly bear, deep in the woods, he saved his life with just one shot from his small Jennings .25 caliber semi-auto pistol? Here is his story…

grizzly cartoon

There I was, right in the path of the biggest Grizzly Bear any man has seen in the whole of the Northeast! It stood like a mountain in front of me! It’s paws, as big as my head were outstretched high above his head as he was ready to swoop that gigantic paw with razor-sharp claws right across me. It would be my end if I did not act and fast! My only defense was my tiny Jennings .25 caliber pistol. It only took one shot! The shot was, I must admit, timed perfectly and my aim was exact! One single round into my wife’s bad knee and there was no way she could out run me! Yes, sir; that little Jennings saved my life!

Probably not a story for a pre-marriage counseling environment but, for those of us married for any length of time… The biggest problem our friend had in the woods (or maybe his second biggest problem) was that he and his wife were away from the safety of the group. They were facing dangers for which they were not prepared and they had no real protection. That is the same predicament that some of my hens have found themselves in and a fairly usual circumstance for sheep who graze in open land surrounded by predators.

Jesus used the analogy of a good shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine sheep who are safe in the fold and goes to search for the one that is lost. The shepherd knows that, alone, the individual sheep has no protection and will be killed. He may also realize that if a mountain lion or other predator finds food in this one location, he will be back, and the rest of the flock is endangered as well; including the shepherd!

The analogy of the sheep being lost and alone speaks to us in our living in community with one another. Paul admonishes us to not neglect our sharing together regularly as the body of Christ, the church. Sharing community together benefits us as we share our life experiences with one another. Our brothers and sisters in Christ are in one of three groups.

  • They have already been where we are and can help us avoid the dangers.
  • They are currently walking the same path we are, and we can walk together to help and encourage each other.
  • They will someday soon be walking where we are, and we can help them manage the path ahead of them that we have just been on.

It is not only the lost sheep that is in danger. The sheep who is lost can also be endangering the rest of the flock and the shepherd. Just as the coyote has found a free meal at my hens’ expense has now returned for additional meals and the lion who enjoys dining on the stray sheep may return to attack the flock, danger comes to the body of believers when one of its own is away from his walk with Christ. Scripture admonishes us not to give the devil a foothold. Sin, like an infection, in one part of the body can spread and infect other parts. A virus spreading through a flock of sheep endangers all of the sheep and the shepherd for he is not invulnerable to disease. I am speaking, of course, to the human shepherd Christ has placed in leadership of a local body of believers and not the Good Shepherd.

The risks of walking alone can also be found when individually we are separated from God’s Word. Even if we are going through the motions of body life, when we are outside a regular habit of daily Bible reading and prayer then we are essentially saying to God, I’ve got this… just hang loose and I’ll call you if I need you.

Not feeding ourselves regularly on the meat found in scripture and then spending time talking to our Heavenly Father, listening for what He has to say to us is walking all alone through the dark forest of today’s world and we are at great risk! Whether a roaring lion or a grizzly bear, the risks of being alone when the spiritual battles comes is a dangerous one. We must not go into the spiritual battles of everyday life unarmed. The Bible is the only offensive weapon given to us as we put on the full armor of God described in Ephesians 6. We must not just carry the sword of truth, but know very well how to use it.

We can talk all the bravado we want about being a lone-wolf, an island to ourselves or any other rendition of why we avoid living our life in community we choose; but, it does not change one simple fact. God said, “It is not good for man to be alone.”

Those who cannot remember…

George Santayana wrote a first volume titled Reason in Common Sense, The Life of Reason and in it he made a statement that has been quoted and misquoted (more the latter than the former) since he penned it around the turn of the 20th Century. Santayana was born in Spain during the American Civil War and lived in America through the ‘Great War’  and WWII and died while the Korean War was raging. It is a curiosity as to how he would have sided in the Spanish-American War in 1898.

In his book, on page 284 in fact, is the quote: “Those who don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Perhaps it is appropriate that it is so often misquoted, since Santayana himself turned the phrase of Edmund Burke, a British philosopher who would have been about fifty years old at the time of the American Revolution. Burke was first to write: “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” There is a slight turn of phrase, not remembering the past as compared to not knowing history. I don’t think the two are inter-changeable particularly in this instance. Not knowing seems to indicate and ignorance of or indifference toward history. Not remembering the past has different  variables such as physically being unable to recall or being negligent in initially retaining the information.

Memories can be fickle things; clear one moment and as a wisp of air, gone the next. We can come to a point where we are not sure if our memories are actual records of events as they were or as we think they might have been. They may even be simply as we were told they were so repeatedly. I prefer to know something rather than remember it. One is solid the other vapor. Often, as I have left places, particularly in the Balkans or Eastern Europe; I have prayed that God would not permit me to forget what I have seen. I took to writing a travel log of sorts for my Balkan memories. It helps me to know my history there.

My very first visit to a “Concentration Camp”, better understood as Death Camps, this one,  Stutthof, is in Gdańsk Poland and was run by Hitler’s SS (secret police) rather than like the prisoner of war camps run by the Luftwaffe (air force). Each was horrific in their own ways. This, the first camp built outside of Germany was near the town of Skopje where Hitler kept a residence in the early part of the war following the Blitzkrieg of Poland. It was first run by the local chief of police from 1937 to 39 when in September it was transformed to a deportation center and  a re-education camp by the SS. Eventually, Stutthof  had some of the most brutal female guards in Third Reich (perhaps world) history.

There is mostly pristine grass fields and woodlands there now, just a couple of buildings and a gate to let you know where you are. A small memorial stands solemnly to the victims of this Satan’s lair. I trust I will not forget the shoes of Skopje. Taken from prisoners after their death, they are all sizes; many of them are women’s and children’s shoes, even tiny pinkish slippers the size for a toddler. One building houses nothing but the largest pile of discarded shoes I ever expect to see. Other than a small area for visitors to stand, the pile of shoes fills the building. In the center of the long building, the pile of shoes stands as a silent memorial from the floor to the ceiling. Estimates of the number murdered there are around 100,000 but most historians believe that to be a low number because those sent during the  final solution for immediate execution were never registered. Two things stand out in my mind. The first the most horrific, I think, that a small factory near the camp made soap from human bodies. How can one human being do that to another? The other is this solitary hangman’s post. The center of the camp as it is today in the background, the image is stark against the quiet backdrop. But not so in the days of Stutthof. Graphic images from the days of its liberation in May 1945 should be viewed by those determined not to forget, but to know history so we do not repeat it. Hangman's noose Stutthof Nazi Death Camp Gdansk Poland

On the door frame of my home is a small olive wood box from Jerusalem with an inscription on the front depicting Romans 11. The passage describes new believers as grafted in to the tree that began as the Nation of Israel. Inside the small box is a scroll on which is the Shema passage that God instructed the Israelites to know and to pass down to the generations that followed them. They were to place them on their door posts and speak of them in their goings and comings, in their sitting down and rising up. Hear Oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength. I do not keep it there because of the commandment given to the Israelites in the days of Moses; I keep it there so I will not only remember, I will know. As I go out and as I come in, I am reminded again who is the reason for my hope.

We, as a people and particularly as Americans, need to know our history. We need to be reminded of why this country was founded and upon what and who it was founded. Do not ever say that what happened beginning in Gdańsk, Poland can never happen here. Remember, the first kommandant was the chief of police of the city whose full name was The Free City of GdańskI do not believe that on one day the chief of police just woke up and said, ‘today I will start imprisoning my friends and neighbors.’  Records indicate that, before the camp began in 1937, that since at least 1936 the SS had been secretly creating dossiers on the locals. They gathered information on political enemies of the government. We must also remember that Adolf Hitler was elected to office. 

Look past the hangman’s post and see the fresh grass growing green and new. It had been a lush grass field on the outskirts of Gdańsk before the war and then it became nearly one square mile of human suffering, mud, blood and shoes. Then, it became fresh, green and growing grass again. Gdańsk did not have to endure that interlude. Somewhere in the line of events, someone, some one, could have stood up and said No! Once it began, many tried to say, No, and they paid for it with their lives. But before that power was in place, somebody had the chance to say No! but they didn’t.

Sociologists and historians give us lots of reasons that Hitler was able to be elected and able to change his job title from Reich Chancellor of Germany  to Führer (father). We do know that a group of conservatives who understood the threats Hitler posed were loyal to President-for life Hindenburg. One, a vice-chancellor (Franz Von Papen) almost convinced Hindenburg to return the country to a constitutional monarchy. Hindenburg himself, dying at the age of 87 told Von Papen “…things are going badly, see what you can do.” Von Papen urged Hindenburg to put the declaration in his will that the country was to be returned to a constitutionally based monarchy. Rather than put it in his will, Hindenburg put the decree in a personal letter to Adolf Hitler. I wonder what Santayana thought.

I will leave you with this: first, there is hope… His Name is Jesus. Second, those who are unable to remember history must know history and be prepared to do whatever it takes to keep our society from repeating it.

 

What’s Mayan is Yours…

ruins-from-chichen-itza

Observatory for viewing stars

chichen-itza-3

Sink-hole that was the site of virgin sacrifices

Mexico - Chitzen Itza

Goal!

Here we are… just a few days from what the Mayan calendar claims will be the end of the world.  Around 1,000 BC a tribal group began to form in the Yucatan Peninsula of what is now Mexico. They created a calendar that set the age of the earth from beginning to end at five thousand one-hundred and twenty-five years. This sophisticated calendar has been interpreted to say that the world will end December 21st. Yes, they did have a unique methodology for viewing the skies. In their syncretic religion that meshed Catholicism and their tribal religions, they had 13 different heavens and 9 different underworlds and they would load a virgin down with heavy gold and throw her into a bottomless spring to give the offering to the gods. If they were satisfied, she would return. For some reason, the gods were never satisfied. They also played a game of soccer that could go on for days until one goal was scored with the ball going through a rock hoop mounted at a ninety degree angle from the high side wall. The captain of the winning team had the honor of being sacrificed to the gods. (No wonder it took days for a team to win!)

Today there are several hundred thousand that speak a version of the Mayan language throughout the region. The culture itself, however, has not been nearly as strong and prolific as it had been between 300 and 900 A.D. If you are one of the many who are absolutely horrified at the possibility that these ancient Mexican natives were correct, take heart, a much older, much more reliable source defies even a remote possibility that this is the end.

First, the Bible tells us that “no man knows the hour or the day” of Christ’s return. The Rapture of the church by Christ could happen before I finish typing this sentence. We know from the biblical text, following a Dispensational Pre-tribulation hermeneutic to which I subscribe, that once Christ has raptured the church, there will be a seven year Tribulation where God will bring Israel back to Himself and there will be major catastrophes worldwide to which you do NOT want to be a first-hand witness. Even once that is completed and Satan is bound, there will be another 1,000 years of Christ reigning from Jerusalem on this earth. At the end of the Millennial Reign of Christ, Satan will be loosed for the final Battle of Armageddon. When Satan is then defeated and thrown into the Lake of Fire and the final judgments of the non-believers are finished; God will destroy this earth with fire and create a new one, perfect, sinless and for us, who are Christ followers, to enjoy for all of eternity. If you don’t believe me, ask me about it on December 22nd. I’ll be glad to explain it all to you.

NEVER RETREAT!

RIGGS MINISTRY MINUTE: When there is only a minute for ministry

8 June 2012     www.docriggs.com

 

The story is told of a general arriving on a battlefield only to see his troops beating a hasty retreat. From astride his horse he stopped a young soldier who was quickly retreating and demanded to know why his men were running from the battle. The young soldier looked up into the eyes of the quite irate general and said, “Sir we are not retreating! We are rapidly advancing to the rear!” Sometimes we can think of ourselves as advancing in the work we are striving to do for the Lord but we could be advancing in the wrong direction!

Early this morning I was reading my devotions using a book I have just acquired titled: Streams in the Desert from L. B. Cowman, edited by Jim Reimann. As I write Daniel, our son who is with the U.S. Army, I include some devotional thoughts or an insight on something I have read. Just this morning, I came across a quote by Marshal Ferdinand Foch that captured my attention. The Marshal was quite the war hero of the French during the First World War.[i] His quote that I sent to Daniel is:

When you have faith, you need never retreat. You can stop the Enemy wherever you encounter him.”[ii]   

WWI was dubbed the ‘war to end all wars’ and obviously that was a serious misnomer! WWI was also trench warfare where the armies each dug in deep long trenches and this was, for the most part, where the front lines would be. Sometimes with a short advance, the opposing forces could over run a trench and occupy it for a time until the troops could reclaim it. Venturing out of the trench, though, for any reason was nearly always a death sentence. Everywhere you needed to go you could do so in the trench except for one direction, forward. The key to battlefield victory was stopping the enemy’s advance movement.  It was not necessary to neither annihilate the enemy nor even just overpower them. Once forward movement was halted, without any resurgence of momentum, all hope was lost; and defeat is imminent.

Satan uses a very similar attack on Christians and he has many ways he tries to stop any advancement of the gospel. Perhaps the most effective way to stop a Christian ministry’s forward advance is to keep them busy in their trenches. Lots of activity can take place along a trench line. Once well dug in, a trench can provide a safe place to do everything a Christian ministry is expected to do in society, perhaps even obtain a grant or two as long as the ministry does not attempt to advance the gospel of Christ. Someone once defined a trench as ‘a grave with the ends kicked out.’ No better picture of a ministry without the advancement of the gospel is a church sitting in the middle of a graveyard and such  ministry is a  death sentence to the unsaved that might have been reached.

Aerial view trench lines British on left; German lines right and bottom July 1917

The question that stirred in my mind was: “Am I, as a minister, reaching souls for Christ or busily working away in the safety of my trench?”

Allied lines trench “50 yards from German lines”

The second part of Marshal Foch’s statement is that the enemy can be stopped wherever he is found. Immediately, we know that it is the Lord God that stops Satan and not us; but, we can be God’s tools that He uses in ways He chooses. The Lord has given orders to us, however, that are clear. We are not to allow Satan to have a foothold. He is to have no opportunity in our lives to sow seeds of discord. We are to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together. ‘An Army of One’ used to be a slogan for the U.S Army Recruiting forces. I did not care for that concept when it was part of the Army’s advertising campaign. One of the key foci of basic training is to tear down the individual and build up the team. So to have team building as a goal and proclaim, at the same time, that you are an Army of One is self-defeating. Churches, however, do it all the time. They meet together on Sunday for the big build up so that on Monday everyone goes their separate ways, often not even speaking with one another, even by phone, until the next Sunday.  Christ said that we are all members of one body and His analogy makes it clear, one part cannot function without the others.

Are you busy inside your trench or are you advancing the gospel? Do you prefer to be safe in the trench or out there where Satan is attacking; building up your fellow soldiers, out there where you can hear someone holler, “Medic!”?


[ii] Cowman, L.B. Streams in the Desert, Zondervan, Grand Rapids MI:1997