The Mystery of Violence Revealed

Wet Dog
photo credit: Hello Turkey Toe via photopin cc

World peace! It is a vision long held by many. Each New Year, it seems, we try to cast off the violence of the previous year like a dog trying to shake off water. Unfortunately, dogs are much more effective in their drying off efforts than we are in our quest to eliminate conflict between humans. Why is peace so elusive? Either we don’t understand the root issues of conflict, or we don’t care enough to change our behavior.

Did you know that Cain’s murder of his brother Abel was not the first act of violence recorded in the Bible? Somewhere in the recesses of time–or perhaps before time began–the greatest of angels, the one we call Lucifer, attempted a violent coup against the Creator of the Universe.

How you have fallen from heaven,
O star of the morning, son of the dawn!
You have been cut down to the earth,
You who have weakened the nations!
But you said in your heart,
“I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne above the stars of God,
And I will sit on the mount of assembly
In the recesses of the north.
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.” Isaiah 14:12-14

Three particular aspects of this attempted coup are extremely relevant for our purposes:

Pride
Photo by SfMe Ministries Inc.

1. Lucifer repeatedly uses “I” to define his self-centered quest. Mysteriously, while God willingly receives worship, He is not self-centered. Always motivated by love and compassion for others, the life of Christ serves as evidence of God’s other-centered heart.

2. Lucifer also adds the word “will” to each of his five uses of “I”. Thus, one of his primary goals is for power and control.

3. Lucifer’s ultimate goal is to be like the Most High (the King of Glory), to lift himself up above all others.

When Adam and Eve fell prey to the serpent’s temptation in the Garden of Eden, they inherited the same  three tendencies which collectively form what we call pride. (I sometimes call it “C-pride” or “collective pride”.) It should stand as no surprise, then, that Cain, the firstborn son of Adam and Eve, murdered his younger brother due to nothing more than jealousy. The rest, unfortunately, is history. Since that fateful day in the Garden, human activity has always been beset with violent sexual assaults, murders, and wars of all kinds.

I have written about much of this in the past, but it bears repeating in light of recent mass shootings in the U.S. When someone mercilessly kills 20 first-grade children, as happened at Sandy Hook Elementary, something is desperately wrong. But something has been desperately wrong almost from the beginning of time as we know it. Even societies that have all appearances of peace are not that far from being immersed in conflict. Like a virus waiting for an immune system to be compromised, the violent tendencies of human nature need only time and opportunity to fully run their course.

Really, only two options are possible for the violence to cease:

Fidel Castro
photo credit: Mr Jaded via photopin cc

1. We remove various layers of freedom until an authoritarian government removes all potential weapons of resistance and forces its citizens to get along. Of course, the very real danger is that the authoritarian regime will itself be violent, subjecting its people to all sorts of cruelty and injustice.

2. We provide people with freedom but change their hearts so that they are motivated by love rather than selfish hatred. Herein lies the foundation for a truly prosperous society, but eliminating the selfish, self-exalting tendencies of the human heart is no simple matter. Real change requires much more than wishful thinking.

Unfortunately, in our self-absorbed world, freedom eventually leads to moral decay, giving way to violence in the end. At the other end of the spectrum, those revolutionaries who rise up to break the grip of an oppressive regime will almost always become the oppressors themselves.

In prophesying the birth of Jesus, Isaiah called Him the “Prince of Peace”. As a revolutionary, Jesus rebelled against the oppressive, self-absorbed establishment, but He broke their power in a thoroughly mysterious manner. By suffering unjustly Himself, Jesus Christ provided the antidote for each of the root causes of violence. We call that antidote the Gospel.

Happy New Year!
photo credit: HackBitz via photopin cc

I, too, really would like to see world peace. In my upcoming posts I will highlight how the Gospel truly is the only lasting cure for deadly virus of violence, but until then, I want to wish you all a happy New Year! My hope is that it won’t be a year that goes to the dogs!

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Hope for a Chocolaty 2012

For years, sweet treats were never much of a temptation for me. But my dear wife always kept her stash and, well, you can only guess the rest of the story. It’s like the Bible says: Bad company corrupts good morals! I am now a certified fan of chocolate. An American staple, this tasty treat serves as a perfect complement to any meal—or between meal snack for that matter. What chocolate lover wouldn’t want the coming year to be filled with sweet bliss?

Photo by danielmoyle - CC BY 2.0

With the turn of the year, it’s been interesting to hear people comment about 2011. A small handful felt that it was an amazing year. A larger number, it seems, are anxious to put it fully behind us in anticipation of a better 2012.

For many, the idea of putting a bad year behind them is an annual ritual. It begins with hopefulness of better things to come, but with each passing year the hope lessens and the joy of celebration begins to fade. January 1 offers no more promise than December 31.

A mix of factors contributes to our perception of a year. Some are beyond our control—the loss of a loved one for example. Our general outlook on life is another key. Let’s face it; if my perspective is negatively inclined, the likelihood of having a highly favorable year is pretty much nil.

Seriously now, what are the chances of life’s circumstances exactly aligning with our desires? I remember a former pastor saying, “No matter how good life gets, there will always be a fly in the ointment.” Apparently this applies to chocolate as well.

Photo by hayouji - CC BY-ND 2.0

Most of us are aware that the government allows a certain number of insect and rodent parts in chocolate. (Supposedly this allowance temporarily increases every 7th year to allow for the locust cycle.) While we prefer not to think about the reality of bugs in our momentary sweet escapes from the harsh realities of life, the truth is that no real damage is done. Think about it—some people eat chocolate covered insects on purpose! One expert even believes that the allowance should be increased so that we would consume more of the more healthy insects and less of the less healthy pesticides used to kill those bugs. Makes sense. (I think.)

Personally, I’ve come to enjoy a good piece of dark chocolate, but prefer not to look for those stray insect parts. Sometimes I close my eyes to avoid ruining the moment. Having not found a bug in any of my treats, I’m not sure if I’d be grossed out or not. Would I continue to enjoy the sweet, rich taste of the candy, or would I throw it in the garbage in disgust? Would my day be completely ruined by a few bug legs (or wings, or heads, etc.)?

Photo by Rudoni Productions - CC BY-SA 2.0

Life is never perfect. If our happiness depends upon circumstances being just right, we’ll miss the sweetness and find ourselves sullen and depressed. Let’s face it, in our fallen world we don’t have to look for negative circumstances. They’re all around us! And if we want 2012 to be better than 2011, one of the keys is to change the manner in which we process the negative circumstances of our lives. Admittedly, this has never been my strength, although I think I’ve improved in recent years.

Through the next several weeks I’ll share a few of the keys that have helped me to better enjoy the sweetness of walking with God. In the meantime, whether it be dark, milk or white; in candy, cake or cookie, I wish you a sweet, chocolaty, hope-filled 2012!

Harassed at the Border

Photo by Sam Mugraby - Photos8.com

A couple of friends recently helped lead a mission trip into a neighboring country. On the way they got stuck at the border as a customs agent tried to coerce a $100 bribe out of them. It wasn’t until 2-3 hours later that they were able to move on with the trip, their pocketbooks being creatively lighter after covering the cost of certain fees. The trip was great in the end, but the fruit did not come quickly or easily.

The problem of harassment seems to be typical of almost every step we try to take in a positive direction. What happens as soon as you choose to eat right? Donuts suddenly appear! Begin your new exercise plan? Head cold! Decide to start a budget? Large car repair bill! And so it goes in practically every area of life.

Several years ago, God began to unfold to me an understanding of identity unlike anything I’d seen or heard to that point. Soon a vision was born and Search for Me Ministries, Inc. was launched. Writing about the experience is relatively easy compared to all of the research, hard work and faith that encompassed this new endeavor.

Eventually a vision for The Search for Me Identity Series was birthed, but that was just the beginning of the uphill climb. A multitude of needs had to be met and a wide variety of people employed. And time! Editing video and text took soooo much time! I’ll spare you the mundane details, but in addition to the work involved, practically every step forward was met with one type of harassment or another.

Whacked out weather. Health issues. Equipment problems. Technical glitches. Financial needs. The list goes on . . . and on.

And yet, our project is now complete and we’re on the verge of launching our online store! We’ve been able to accomplish something that should have never been possible for an organization with such limited resources. Through all of the adversity, challenges, obstacles and needs, our God faithfully met us every step of the way. Still, the process was way more difficult than expected. Why is this?

Photo by Sam Mugraby - Photos8.com

Our world is cloaked in darkness. The kingdom of light gleams brightly on the horizon, but darkness releases its death grip neither quickly nor quietly. Crossing the border into new territory is always met with harassment by dark forces intent on holding their ground.

Perhaps you began 2011 determined to move into new territory in your walk with God. Or maybe you had fresh faith for the welfare of your loved ones. Weary of the same old life with the same old issues, you were ready for a new stage of your journey.

But barely four weeks into the New Year you are already struggling, thinking that, for you, change is nothing more than an impossible dream. Trust me in this! Giving up is the last thing you want to do!

Over the next 3-4 posts I’ll share a few thoughts that I believe will help to facilitate real and lasting change in your life. But until then, I’ll leave you with a final thought. Just because change is difficult, even extremely difficult, does not mean that it is impossible. Nor does it mean that God is somehow absent from the process. The fact we are so often harassed at the border is almost always an indicator of good things to come. Sometimes we just need to persist even in the face of dark and seemingly impossible circumstances. He will meet us every step of the way—as long as we keep stepping!

No Baloney in 2011!

Photo by Anna Bentley

Like many of you, on New Year’s Eve I watched a ball slide down a pole to commemorate the end of the old and the beginning of the new. Or perhaps you participated in a ceremony that was somewhat more creative. In Atlanta it was a peach instead of a disco ball. But Pennsylvania towns lead the way with many of their own traditions. In Dillsburg they drop a giant pickle. (No, I’m not joking! They actually do this as evidenced in the video below.) In Mechanicsburg it’s a wrench. In Lebanon a 12 foot long piece of bologna is lowered to the ground, probably as some type of cold cut music is played in the background.

Regardless of specific traditions, large crowds of people celebrated the end of a year filled with difficulty, tragedy and all around bad news. Perhaps that’s why celebrating the New Year carried so much excitement! Everybody was really ready for a change this time around.

But wait! Didn’t this same scenario happen last year as well? And when we awoke on the morning of January 1, 2011, weren’t the headlines still all negative? The same economic woes. The same governmental conflicts. The same problems with terrorism. The same lack of morality. To be honest, not much changed from December 31 to January 1—except perhaps that we had more wishful thinking than usual.

Photo by Krusnade - MorgueFile

I’m not predicting doom and gloom for 2011, but the bottom line is that if we want things to change for the good in our lives, we’d better not rely too much on external circumstances. True change begins from within as we learn to abide in God’s grace.

Like I stated previously, bitterness is like poison to one’s own soul. Bitterness is a control issue as much as anything . . . and control is all about self-will . . . and self-will is the arch enemy of grace.

As I bring this series on bitterness/forgiveness to a close, I would like to challenge you to forgive again and again and again . . . .

Why does Jesus challenge us to forgive seventy-seven fold? Because life offers us so many opportunities to be bitter! Sometimes our outward circumstances don’t change. Sometimes other people don’t change. Sometimes negative thoughts continue to relentlessly flood our minds.

The only way that our hearts will stay tender toward God, the only way that we will abide in His grace, is to continually let go and forgive. This may seem to be impossible at first, but with practice forgiveness becomes a part of who we are.

Is extreme patience toward others required? Absolutely! But where would we be if our God had not shown extreme patience toward each of us? In all of my misery and failure I have yet to exhaust His patience! My guess is that you aren’t much different than me in this regard.

Do we want this year to truly be a better year? Then it’s certainly best for us to leave any bitter roots in 2010, allowing love to sprout in 2011. And this, my friends, is no baloney!