The Mystery of Violence Revealed

Wet Dog
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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:

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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
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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!
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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!


The Violence Cocktail – Guns Are Not the Only Ingredient

photo credit: ~Steve Z~ via photopin cc
photo credit: ~Steve Z~ via photopin cc

Once again the liberal/conservative battle lines have been drawn. Adamant about the need for gun control, many liberals seem to believe that banning all gun ownership would lead to a peaceful and happy society. On the other side of the front, a lot of conservatives give the impression that if every American packed, violence would come to a virtual standstill. Once again, as is often be the case, both sides are completely missing the heart of the matter. If heaven were a giant GPS unit, the entire Earth would hear “RECALCULATING” sounding through the skies.

So, if the violence in our culture (and in our world) isn’t really about guns, then what is it about? The answer can be found in a common word ripe with profound meaning – identity. Almost all of the conflict on earth is the result of not knowing who we are in the eyes of heaven.

I am not saying that guns are irrelevant when it comes to the problem with violence but that there are deeper things happening beneath the surface—issues that we don’t understand or prefer not to touch. We tend to focus on what we know; that which we can see and touch; the things that relieve us of any personal sense of responsibility. Guns, then, become the primary issue, but listen to any expert talking about a mass shooting and you will find that they are always identity related.

Our problem with gun violence is actually the mix of a deadly cocktail with four primary ingredients—all of which are strongly influenced by our materialistic culture.

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1. Lost identity – In a general sense, children receive care and nurture from their mothers, but find their primary source of security and identity from their relationship with their fathers. Further still, wise and loving parents will learn how to shape a child’s heart so that he or she is tender-hearted toward God and entirely secure as a beloved child of the King of the Universe. The breakdown begins, however, when a father is harsh, distant, or entirely absent, resulting in what we might call an orphan spirit in the heart of a child. Generally, a young woman with an orphan spirit will look to a romantic relationship with a man to satisfy her need for validation, while a young man will seek out ways to prove himself.

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2. A culture of violence – A young man looking to establish a sense of identity will pursue success as defined by the subculture that surrounds him. Most of the time, this means trying to prove himself on some type of masculine field of valor. When we add violent movies—and especially video games—to the mix, his heart is desensitized.

3. The loss of moral constraints – Through the influence of atheism and the erosion of traditional Judeo-Christian morals, not only is morality becoming meaningless, but so is the value of a human life.

4. The availability of guns – When we add easy access to high capacity firearms to the previous three ingredients mentioned, we cannot help but expect the types of mass shootings we saw at Columbine, Virginia Tech, and now Sandy Hook Elementary.

The solution to our violence problem has long been with us but very few recognize or appreciate its value. Two thousand years ago, ours was a world that had lost its way. Political, economic, and even religious leadership, had become entrenched with a self-absorbed elitist mentality—a mindset bearing the fruit of oppression and injustice. It was then that heaven send the most powerful “RECALCULATING” message ever known to mankind.

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photo credit: lennyk410 via photopin cc

Jesus came not as a king but as a carpenter. Born in a stable through questionable circumstances, and to parents of lowly status, the very Son of God provided the means for every person on earth to find security as a much-loved child of God. His was—and is—the only sure and certain formula for true peace on earth. More powerful than any weapon of destruction ever envisioned by humankind, the Gospel of Jesus Christ remains the cure for all that ails us. If we truly care about the children of this world, we will seek to to rediscover the amazing power of the Gospel. What better time of the year to do this than at Christmas?

Cataract Hearts in a Lawless Political Landscape

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Trafficking in persons (TIP) is an international crime that involves the acquisition of a human being through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purposes of exploiting the individual for profit through forced labor or prostitution. A modern form of slavery, trafficking constitutes a violation of human rights in which individual victims are deprived of their humanity and basic freedom. TIP can involve either sex or labor exploitation, or both.

Human traffickers earn an estimated $32 billion annually in profits, just under the amount earned through arms and narcotics trafficking. People are enslaved in circumstances of sex and/or labor exploitation, in the majority of countries around the world, including the United States . . . according to the most recent International Labor Organization figures, the number of people enslaved in sex or labor exploitation is approximately 20.9 million.[1]

If ever there were a form of injustice that angered our Creator, this would be it. Exploiting the weak and powerless is bad enough. Doing so for financial gain is worse. Forcing them into the sex trade propels the offense through the ceiling. That we have more human slaves now than any other time in history is simply unacceptable. Thankfully, Christians on various fronts are taking up the call to combat this widespread and horribly oppressive injustice.

Recently I heard a radio interview with singer Natalie Grant as she talked about her involvement in combating TIP, the content of which compelled me to refocus my attention. Grant has done such excellent work in this area that President Obama invited her to a reception focusing on the eradication of this atrocious evil.

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What caught my attention, however, was not her discussion about President Obama’s invitation, but rather about the onslaught of criticism she received from the conservative Christian community because she met with a President whom many believe to be a contemporary expression of the anti-Christ. How far we have fallen from the heart of God that our anger toward our Commander In Chief would supersede our love for those caught in the vice of human trafficking!

Herein lies the second of the four political traps highlighted in this blog series—a hardening of the heart. Hardness of heart is an issue that receives little attention in the Christian community in spite of its huge importance. Our Lord Himself spoke of the danger of a hardened heart in the last days.

Because lawlessness will multiply, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be delivered. Matthew 24:12-13 (HCSB)

Our political landscape is now lawless in so many ways. Whether through the avenues of talk shows, campaign speeches, or political ads, politics on every level can be characterized as vitriolic—bitterly abusive and caustic. It is to our shame that we have been sucked into the political trap of disregarding the heart of New Testament teaching in the name of Christian values. (Where are the days when Bible believing Christians obeyed the Scriptures by respecting a Head of State for his office, regardless of his character or platform? (1 Peter 2:13-17))

Our immersion in the vitriol of today’s politics reveals that we fail to grasp the extreme danger of a hardened heart.

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. Ephesians 4:17-18 (ESV)

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The effects of the hardening of the heart can be likened to the formation of cataracts over the lens of the eye. The process is so subtle and so deceptive that a person rarely realizes it is happening until one day the entire world is dark and blurry. In a similar vein, the gradual, layer after layer hardening of a person’s heart–for whatever reason–leads to spiritual blindness resulting in an ignorance of God’s ways. Immersed in the hostile clash of human politics, we begin to lose sight of His preeminent kingdom on the horizon. Rather than walking in love and living by faith, we become increasingly frustrated and angered by the lawless world of politics.

I do not suggest that we as Christians passively withdraw from the political arena. The right and privilege to influence the direction of our nation is not something to ignore. We must, however, be vigilant to both guard our own hearts, and to encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ not to allow their love to grow cold in these last days. Contending for righteousness in the name of Christ is not sufficient—our lives must also be characterized by the ever-loving heart of Christ.

A Stitch in Time–Doesn’t Really Help Much

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I wonder if you’ve noticed. We live in a cruel world.

From playground bullies to the inner city gangs to oppressive governments, we lack no shortage of people who will not hesitate to inflict pain on others for their own personal pleasure or benefit.

What’s the prerequisite for being a recipient of such treatment? Weakness. Shortcoming. Lack of money. The inability to live up to societal standards.

I have a friend who works in the prison system. If an inmate shows even one iota of weakness, the others pounce upon him quicker than shoppers on a 75% discount!

I often marvel that we attempt to blame God for the existence of such evil. Our vision has been blinded by the tainted lens of a sin stained world. If you really want to see the heart of God, look back to Genesis 1 & 2. These two chapters of Scripture provide an awesome picture for us of God’s original design.

Genesis 2:25 stands out in particular: “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. ” Genesis 2:25 (NASB)

According to God’s design Adam & Eve had no fear of exposure and exploitation. Theirs was a safe world.

Life couldn’t have been more different after they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Suddenly naked meant something completely different—something associated with the fear of vulnerability.

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Their response? Work! Fig leaves weren’t the best coverings, but with a bit of stitching they would serve their purpose—until they dried out or caught on a tree branch that is. Does this type of futile effort sound familiar?

We don’t know what happened to the literal tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but we continue to eat of its fruit—and we continue to work ever so hard to cover our inadequacies in order to avoid the pain of shame and oppression.

But this presents a major problem! The kingdom of God operates by grace, which we obtain through a humble faith. Our constant work of self-coverfication (is this a word?) undermines our ability to walk with God and abide in His grace.

Do you want to live a victorious Christian life? You can forget it if your top priority is to hide your weaknesses from others. This is why a loving Christian community is so important. We all need to have people around whom we can trust, a bully-free environment where we can let down our guard.

I wonder what our churches would look like if we stopped working so hard to keep up our images of perfection and made a little more effort to strengthen and encourage those around us? Just a thought.