Backward or Forward? (A Timely Challenge)

Would you like to go back in time? When? Where? Why?

If you could go back to see the Red Sea part, would you also be willing to spend the next forty years wandering through a wilderness? Would you like to see Solomon in all his glory if you also had to fight in the civil wars that followed his reign? Would you like to see the storming of the Bastille (in Paris) if you also had to face the reign of terror?

How about seeing Jesus feed 5,000 hungry Galileans? Do you like fish? Could you contain yourself at the sight of a dove descending from heaven at Jesus’ baptism? What a thrill it would be to see the face of Jesus shine like the sun on the mount of transfiguration with Moses and Elijah. How inspiring to see Jesus heal a withered hand, cleanse a leper, heal the deaf, give sight to the blind, walk on water and calm a raging sea.

Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937), The Raising of Lazarus.
How wonderful to see Lazarus coming forth from his tomb at Jesus’ command! Learning the language would be worth the effort just to hear Jesus tell a parable. You could drink the fine wine Jesus shared at a wedding. You could cheer as Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Oh my!

However, there would be a price for these thrills. You would have to endure Jesus’ generation. Here are a few examples of how Jesus described them:

    “Evil and adulterous…” (Matthew 12:39 and 16:4).
    “Wicked…” (Matthew 12:45 and Luke 11:29)
    “Unbelieving and perverse…” (Matthew 17:17 and Luke 9:41))
    “Adulterous and sinful…” (Mark 8:38)
    “Unbelieving…” (Mark 9:19)

The apostle Peter called his generation “perverse” (Acts 2:40). The Lord’s church was born from the ranks of the perverse. Several years later, the apostle Paul did not shrink from such terms as “crooked and perverse” to describe his generation (Philippians 2:15). Would you still like to hear Peter preach or sleep in one of Paul’s tents? Would you welcome the same fate they faced—being hated and killed?

Perhaps it is just as well that we have no choice but to live in our own time. But guess what? Our generation is no less perverse, wicked, greedy, adulterous, crooked, unbelieving and evil than Jesus’. Ours hates truth just as much and we devalue fatherhood, motherhood and marriage even more! We cannot go back in time but if we wish to go forward into eternity, we must first be crucified with Christ. Paul understood this for all it is worth:

    Now if we die with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Romans 6:8-11

Sadly, most people choose sin as if Jesus came, lived, loved and died for nothing.

The BIG Picture Behind the Birth!

The baby Jesus was not just any ol’ baby coming in the same ol’ way. According to the gospels, he was the Son of God, born of a virgin named Mary. And unlike the rest of us, Jesus actually chose to “empty himself” and leave the comforts of heaven to be born (Philippians 2:5-8).

This unusual arrival was not initially appreciated by all. When Joseph first learned of Mary’s pregnancy, he didn’t hang mistletoe, send out cards, get gifts or build a warm fire and sip eggnog. No, he contemplated a divorce. Thankfully, an angel arrived to help Joseph see a bigger picture.

This big picture, however, didn’t help many months later when Joseph was looking for a place in Bethlehem to stay for the night. They ended up in a stable where Mary had her first baby. Again, no cozy fireplace.

There was also grave discontent over this birth in high places. In 40 BC, Herod the Great was pronounced “king of the Jews” by the Roman Senate. He was not amused nearly 40 years later when the Magi came to Judea looking for another “king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:1). This news of a royal birth troubled Herod and all Jerusalem. He deceitfully asked the Magi to report back when they found this king. When they missed that appointment, Herod was furious. He ordered all baby boys in Bethlehem to be slaughtered.

“Mariamne,” by John William Waterhouse
Herod was a jealous and paranoid man. He used to dress as a commoner and circulate among his citizens to see what they thought of him and discover potential challenges to his throne. There was also great jealousy in Herod’s house. When his sister became jealous of the influence of Herod’s first wife, Mariamme, she told Herod that his wife was being unfaithful. The charge was baseless but he ordered Mariamme killed. The same fate fell upon at least three of his sons when they were suspected of rebellion. With such a willingness to kill family members over gossip and innuendo, the killing of other people’s babies would have been second nature to Herod. Jesus escaped Herod’s wrath after an angel warned his parents to flee to Egypt where they remained until Herod died.

Nearing death, Herod ordered the arrest of 70 elders of Israel who were to be put to death when Herod died so all Israel would mourn his passing. However, after his death, the 70 were released, transforming Herod’s funeral into a day of celebration.

Today, the birth of Jesus evokes widespread celebration because many of us see the bigger picture behind it. Yet, Jesus still troubles paranoid people. In fact, politicians still use baby-killing policies to stay in power. Like Herod, many still miss the big picture.

How are you doing with the big picture this Christmas? Holiday frustrations and disappointments can take a lot out of our joy. Christmas does not always offer us a “holiday” from life’s hurts and heartaches. Losing a loved one can make Christmas tough to bear. Here’s the BIG picture:

      When Jesus was born, God’s plan to forgive our sins began. That’s why we can celebrate his birth as well as his life, death and resurrection. When God’s big-picture plan is clear, paranoia loses its power.

Photo Credits

Joseph and Mary



Theory and practice are hard to reconcile, especially in the realm of war. The phrase “just war” originated with St. Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430), an influential bishop in the fourth century church, in his work The City of God. He believed that war was always the result of sin. Yet, it might be necessary to wage a just war against the forces of evil. He saw God as more anti-evil than anti-war. Therefore, he sought to offer a practical and theological framework for waging a just war and preventing an unjust war.

Conditions for a Just War:

    1. A just war must rise from a proper cause. The objective of a just war is to defend the innocent, punish injustice and/or restore peace. The cause of maintaining peace, for Augustine, was not merely proper, it was an obligation for a leader.

    2. A just war must be waged by the proper authority. Augustine noted Paul’s instruction in Romans 13 about submitting to the God-ordained governing authorities. He wrote, “The natural order conducive to peace among mortals demands that the power to declare and counsel war should be in the hands of those who hold the supreme authority.”

    3. A just war must be waged with just motives, not vindictive motives. This point impacts both the manner of fighting as well as the motives. Cruelty, restlessness, revenge, and lust for domination are all unjust motives. Political motives should not extend beyond peace-keeping protection for the common good.

    4. Unnecessary violence is forbidden. Force can be justified only as a last resort and because no other viable options are perceived. Negotiate first and exhaust all your options for peace.

As centuries passed, other principles for a just war were considered:

    5. A just war demands that there be a reasonable chance of success. Even if the four conditions above are met but losing is a sure thing, then there is no excuse for driving men to their deaths. Human life is too sacred for that.

    6. A just war must be proportional. The harm caused by a just response to evil must not surpass the harm caused by the evil itself. Dropping a nuclear bomb in response to a minor skirmish would not qualify. All is not fair in the name of war.

    7. Non-combatants must never be targeted. In fact, pains must be taken to protect them. Indiscriminate killing of the innocent is prohibited as is using them as human shields.

Questions and Contingencies Remain:

    1. To what degree can we respond to evil when we do not know its source? How do we pull terrorists out of hiding? Should the Geneva Convention apply to a lethal enemy who does not wear a uniform and hides behind innocents?

    2. How far can we go to seek life-saving intelligence? What about covert action, enhanced interrogation or bribery?

    3. When is it just to use pre-emptive force to save lives? Such actions are often based on speculation over threats. How can we assess the reliability of speculation?

    4. Modern technology has complicated just war theory. The potential for mass destruction has increased dramatically. A tiny germ or chemical can do great damage. Can a modern army cross borders with peace-keeping motives to prevent technological progress in a rouge state?

    5. When non-combatants are harmed; is it the fault of those who purposely use civilians as human shields or those who wield the weapon of harm?

    6. If the use of force at home or abroad can be just to stop evil and Christians do serve as policemen or soldiers, how should they handle “gray-area” situations wherein they perceive unjust motives and methods at play?

    7. Does loving our enemy mean we must let them slaughter the innocent?

I hope these thoughts have helped you to approach this vital issue with deeper concern and courage as well as greater humility and wisdom. Certainly, people who differ on just war theory can hate war and love peace with equal conviction. The two worst options, it seems to me, are the simplistic ones:

  • To rush into war presuming that might makes right or that God is always on your side.
  • To sweepingly rule out any or all uses of force in the face of lethal evil, regardless of any or all the real conditions and contingencies listed above.


Photo Credits
Afganistan Soldiers: Featured Photo