Posts tagged ‘Victory’

Tragedy in California

They are the worst wildfires in the history of the state of California.

Nearly 250,000 acres have burned.  79 people have been killed.  Sadly, that number will likely climb as first responders continue their search through the rubble these fires have left behind.  The town of Paradise, in the Sierra Nevada foothills, has been especially hard hit, with nearly the whole town being destroyed.

California has had a rough go of it lately.  Just two weeks ago, the state endured another tragedy as a gunman opened fire at a country bar filled with college students in Thousand Oaks, killing twelve.  The shooter was a Marine Corps veteran who appears to have had all sorts of mental health issues and was, at one time, on the cusp of being committed.

The sheer number of tragedies that roll in through each news cycle can begin to feel overwhelming.  For each town that is charred and person that is shot, we ask, “How can we stop this from happening?”  Answers to this perennial and pressing question seem to elude us.  When tragedies do strike, we are thankful for firefighters who risk their lives on the frontlines of massive and unpredictable blazes and officers who run into hails of bullets rather than away from them.  Proactively, we are instructed to keep dry brush away from homes in fire zones and guns out of the hands of mentally disturbed people.  But despite our best efforts, the tragedies keep coming.  Tragedies, even if they can be somewhat mitigated and managed by us, cannot be successfully stayed by us.

On the surface, the California fires and the California shooting seem to be two different types of tragedies.  One is a natural disaster.  The other is man-caused carnage.  Below the surface, however, these two tragedies share a common core:  sin.  The fires remind us that the sin that came into the world with Adam and Eve has disordered and distorted the world in profound and frightening ways.  The mass shooting reminds us that sin is not just in the world.  It is in us.  It’s not just that we cannot eradicate the sin that distorts creation; it’s that we cannot even kill the sin in ourselves.

The message of Christianity reminds us that, even as societies scramble to address sin, we need a victory over sin that we cannot gain for ourselves.  Sin needs not only our noble actions and timely reactions, but a perfect transaction that exchanges our sad sin for a better righteousness.  This is the transaction Christ makes for us on the cross.

Tragedies are sure to continue.  And we should be thankful for those fighting on the front lines of those tragedies.  But we can also be hopeful that tragedy’s time is short, for sin’s defeat is certain.

November 19, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Victory, Truth, and Politics

Trump Mueller

When there’s the potential for dirt on everyone’s hands, it is easy to turn that dirt into mud to sling against your political opponents.  This is what we are learning from the ongoing saga of Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential election.  News broke last week that Mr. Mueller has interviewed some of the most powerful officials in Washington, including former FBI Director James Comey and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  Many are speculating that Mr. Mueller is close to asking for an interview with the president himself, and is moving beyond his initial collusion investigation and is now building a case for obstruction of justice against the Trump administration.

But it’s not just the Trump administration that is the subject of severe suspicion.  Mr. Mueller and the FBI are too.  Recently uncovered texts between two FBI agents who once worked for Mueller’s team seem to reveal a manifest “anti-Trump” bias.  Coupled with the fact that some of the texts between these two agents seem to reveal that the FBI intentionally tempered an investigation they were conducting at the time into Mr. Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, many people are becoming worried that something foul is afoot.  Calls are now coming to appoint a special counsel to investigate the special counsel.

None of this, of course, is good.  But neither is any of this particularly surprising.  Politics, after all, is a dirty business and can often evolve into nothing far short of outright combat.  It is also not surprising that, depending on your political convictions, you may find yourself rooting for one of these stories to overtake the other.  Democrats are hoping that the Mueller investigation will reveal something that will discredit and perhaps even destroy the Trump presidency while Republicans are hoping that the Mueller investigation itself will be discredited and destroyed by the anti-Trump bias that was apparently harbored by some of the FBI agents connected to it.

Sadly, in politics, there seems to be an ascendant attitude that victory over an opponent is more important than the truth about an issue.  Thus, overlooking shady dealings in the president’s administration if you’re a Republican, or ignoring serious questions of integrity in the FBI if you’re a Democrat, is simply an expedient necessity to achieve what many believe to be “the greater good” of their particular political party’s continued empowerment.

Christianity knows that real victory cannot be gained without a commitment to truth.  The two go hand in hand.  This is why, for instance, the Psalmist can implore God: “In Your majesty ride forth victoriously in the cause of truth, humility, and justice” (Psalm 45:4).  The Psalmist knows that victory from the Lord is inexorably connected to the truth of the Lord.

As Christians, our hope and consolation are that what has been written about Christ’s victory over sin, death, and the devil is actually true!  If it’s not, then there is no real victory.  Thus, in a culture and in a political landscape that can sometimes love victory more than truth, let’s love both.  Otherwise, we just might wind up with neither.

And that would be a tragedy.

January 29, 2018 at 5:15 am 3 comments

ISIS Takes a Tumble

ISIS’s caliphate has fallen.

This is the news that broke last week when the Syrian Democratic Forces, who are backed by the U.S., finally broke the terrorist group’s last metropolitan stronghold in Raqqa.  The New York Times reports that:

Celebrations erupted in Raqqa, where residents had lived under the repressive rule of militants who beheaded people for offenses as minor as smoking. Fighters could be seen cheering and firing celebratory gunfire in the streets, according to residents reached by phone and text message.

One video shows a woman ripping off her burqa and chanting joyfully, overcome with emotion that her city has been liberated.

Even with this victory, Raqqa is still a plenty dangerous place.  ISIS still probably has suicide bombers in hiding waiting to launch attacks.  The terrorist group has also booby-trapped many areas with improvised explosive devices.  Moreover, the city of Raqqa itself has been devastated.  The New York Times published another article featuring images from cities across Iraq, including Raqqa.  All of them lie in ruins.

Still, this is an important milestone victory against a terrorist group whose territory, at its height in 2014, covered 34,000 square miles in Syria and Iraq and whose tactics against defectors and dissidents were nothing short of gruesomely brutal.  In Paradise Square in the center of Raqqa, later fittingly renamed Hell Square:

Prisoners were tossed from tall buildings, beheaded, lashed or shot while the crowds gathered … Hands and feet were chopped off. Others were stoned to death … Bodies and severed heads were carefully placed around the square by Islamic State militants and would remain there for days. Those who lived and escaped to tell the tale would describe how the bodies were labeled, identifying the victim’s crime in a deliberate warning to others.

Sadly, as chilling as these macabre parades were, we know that, even if scenes like these are in the past for now, they may not be in the past forever.  Wickedness is horrifyingly resilient.  But even if the war against the wickedness of ISIS has not yet been fully won, we can be thankful that a major battle has been.  We can also be thankful that, no matter how brutal a regime may be, we have a perfect Sovereign who, in the words of the prophet Daniel, graciously and often necessarily, “deposes kings and raises up others” (Daniel 2:21).

Daniel’s words about God’s power over world affairs come as he is interpreting a dream for Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.  The king has a dream where he sees his kingdom, the kingdom of Babylon, along with four future kingdoms:  the kingdom of the Medes and the Persians, the kingdom of the Greeks, the kingdom of the Romans, and the kingdom of God.  In his vision, only one kingdom lasts.  Daniel, in his interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s vision, reveals to the king which kingdom will endure:

The God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. (Daniel 2:44)

Only the kingdom of God, Daniel says, will endure.  Every other kingdom, including Nebuchadnezzar’s, will fall.

In a world where a kingdom like ISIS’s can have its say, we can be thankful that the kingdom of God will eventually carry the day.  So, as grateful as I am that ISIS’s caliphate is waning, I’m ultimately hopeful for a perfect kingdom that is coming.  For when that kingdom comes on the Last Day, ISIS will not only lose the prospect of further victories like they have now thanks to the brave work of the Syrian Democratic Forces, they’ll lose even their past victories, as the death they have wrought will be swallowed up by the eternal life that Christ, by the cross, has bought.

ISIS has an even bigger loss to come.

October 23, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

No-Win Situations

maze-1

George Jones once sang a song called “Sometimes You Just Can’t Win.”  I imagine Jesus felt much the same way when He uttered one of the tersest parables of His ministry:

To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other: “We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry.” For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, “He has a demon.” The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, “Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.”  (Luke 7:31-34)

It seems no matter what message the kingdom of God was offering, the people of Jesus’ day were determined to reject it.  When John came preaching a message of somber repentance from sins, the people thought him to be mad.  When Jesus came and welcomed sinners and preached to them the gospel of grace, the people thought Him to be licentious.  Sometimes, you just can’t win.

A while back, my son Hayden was a little under the weather.  He was also teething.  So when I held him, he cried  And when I put him down, he cried.  When I sat down with him, he cried.  And when I stood up with him, he cried.  At that time, I just couldn’t win.

I have been a pastor long enough to watch quite a few people put themselves in what I call “no-win situations.”  Sometimes it’s a financial no-win situation.  “There is no way I have enough money to live on!” a person will say.  Sometimes it’s a relational no-win situation.  “There is no way I can ever forgive this person for what they have done to me!” another person will say.  And when I suggest some ways that someone can, in fact, navigate toward a winning solution, I will hear a whole litany of why there is no way to fix the problem.  Sometimes, a person just won’t let himself win.

When Jesus invites us to Himself, He invites out of the no-win situations of our sin and into the comforts, promises, and delights of His grace.  Like John the Baptist came before Jesus, there is an element of repentance that comes before forgiveness – sorrow that comes before joy.  But whether it is in dirge or in dance, we are invited out of our sin and into Christ’s arms.  The question is:  will we be like the people of Jesus’ generation, refusing both to participate in repentance and to receive God’s forgiveness?

The apostle Paul writes that his desire is to “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).  Paul has a desire to win what matters most.  But he also knows that his win will come not by his effort, but by his loss:

Whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ, and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.  (Philippians 3:7-9)

Paul’s win is the righteousness of Christ that leads to everlasting life.  This is the win to which Jesus invited the people of His day in Luke 7.  And this is still the win to which Jesus invites us.  And there’s no win that’s better than this win.

May 15, 2017 at 5:15 am 1 comment


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