DayBreaks for 2/09/17 – Theology For an Age of Terror

DayBreaks for 2/09/17: Theology for an Age of Terror

“A day that will live in infamy…”  Those words were spoken by President Roosevelt on December 7, 1941 after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  The same words were used to describe what happened on September 11, 2001 in New York.  Sometimes, we think that ours is the only generation that has struggled with such things.  Not so.  What may make it seem that way is that we have far better communication than ever before, and we hear about more atrocities and infamous acts.  But if you want to talk about such horrors, a more apt analogy might be August 24, 410, when the city of Rome was besieged and sacked by an army of 40,000 “barbarians” led by (as Christianity Today, September 2006 put it) “the Osama bin Laden of late antiquity, a wily warrior named Alaric.”  The severity of the attack and its aftermath, I’m told, can still be seen in the ruins of the Roman Forum, where the green stains of copper coins that melted into the stone from the conflagrations set by Alaric and his soldiers are still visible.  Prior to that time, Rome was called Invicta Roma Aeterna: eternal, unconquerable Rome.  For more than 800 years the city had not fallen to an attack, and Rome, like America on 9/11/01, was the only superpower in the world.  But in 410, all their military power could not stop the walls from being breached, its women abused and the sacred sites burned. 

One of the ancient church fathers, Jerome (who lived in Bethlehem – far from Rome when it fell) heard about it and it is said that he put aside his Commentary on Ezekiel and sat stupefied in total silence for 3 entire days.  Later, when he wrote to a friend, he said, “Rome was besieged.  The city to which the whole world fell has fallen.  If Rome can perish, what can be safe?”  Augustine, in North Africa, started writing The City of God in response to those who said Rome fell as punishment for what they had done to Christians. 

Living as we, and all other generations from the dawn of time have, in a world that is full of danger, war, destruction and violence, what can we learn that will help us get through such fears and live productive lives?  After all, one of the Christian tenets is that this “is our Father’s world” (even if not all nature seems to sing at times!), and we would be prone to think that God is in control, that a loving God has nothing to do with such things, and that because we are believers, nothing such as what Alaric did to Rome, or the terrorists did to New York, would ever happen to us.  But…but…there were Christians who died on 9/11.  Christian children became fatherless and motherless on that day. 

One of the lessons Augustine would teach us is this: We must not equate any political entity (America, the Republican or Democratic party, the UN, etc.) with the kingdom of God.  Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against his church – not against any nation.  Here’s a couple of other things we can learn from Augustine:

Just as Rome awaited it’s plunder by Alaric, we need to remember that life is short.  As C.S. Lewis put it during the WW2 blitz on London: “The world is fragile.  All of us are vulnerable, but we are here because this is our calling.  Our lives are rooted not only in time, but also in eternity, and the life of learning, humbly offered to God, is its own reward.  It is one of the appointed approaches to the divine reality and the divine beauty, which we shall hereafter enjoy in heaven and which we are called to display even now amidst the brokenness all around us.” 

And Augustine perhaps reminds  us of what we most need to hear: he saw the world with all its politics, culture and institutions as a tottering old man whose days were growing very short: “You are surprised that the world is losing its grip?  That the world is grown old?  Don’t hold onto the old man, the world; don’t refuse to regain your youth in Christ, who says to you: ‘The world is passing away; the world is losing its grip; the world is short of breath.  Don’t fear, your youth shall be renewed as an eagle.”

1 Cor. 7:29-31 (NIV) – What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.

PRAYER: Father, from a troubled world we cry out to You!  Hear our pleas, see our fears, teach us Your truth and give us Your peace that we should not be troubled, but trusting.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Copyright 2017 by Galen Dalrymple.

DayBreaks for 10/08/14 – Our Hope Through All Our Terrors

DayBreaks for 10/08/14 – Our Hope, Through All Our Terrors

Saw this story and thought it worth sharing:

“Several summers ago I spent three days on a barrier island where loggerhead turtles were laying their eggs. One night while the tide was out, I watched a huge female heave herself up on the beach to dig her nest and empty her eggs into it. Afraid of disturbing her, I left before she had finished. The next morning I returned to see if I could find the spot where her eggs lay hidden in the sand. What I found were her tracks leading in the wrong direction. Instead of heading back out to sea, she had wandered into the dunes, which were already as hot as asphalt in the morning sun.

“A little ways inland I found her: Exhausted, all but baked, her head and flippers caked with dried sand. After pouring water on her and covering her with sea oats, I fetched a park ranger who returned with a jeep to rescue her. He flipped her on her back, wrapped tire chains around her front legs, and hooked the chains to a trailer hitch on his jeep. Then I watched horrified as he took off, yanking her body forward so that her mouth filled with sand and her neck bent so far back I thought it would break.

“The ranger hauled her over the dunes and down onto the beach. At the ocean’s edge, he unhooked her and turned her right side up. She lay motionless in the surf as the water lapped at her body, washing the sand from her eyes and making her skin shine again. A wave broke over her; she lifted her head slightly, moving her back legs. Other waves brought her further back to life until one of them made her light enough to find a foothold and push off, back into the ocean. Watching her swim slowly away and remembering her nightmare ride through the dunes, I reflected that it is sometimes hard to tell whether you are being killed or saved by the hands that turn your life upside down.

“Our hope, through all our own terrors, is that we are being saved. But this does not mean we lie down before the terrors. For as long as we have strength to fight, it is both our nature and our privilege to do so. Sometimes God’s blessing does not come until daybreak, after a full night of emptying ourselves and wandering in the wrong direction. Our job is to struggle with the terrors, neither surrendering nor stealing away until they have yielded their blessings.” – Barbara Brown-Taylor

Psalm 30:5 (NLT)  For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime! Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.

PRAYER: Thank you for the rest and relief you give us as we struggle here in this world!  Give us the good sense to stay close to our Shepherd!  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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DayBreaks for 06/16/11 – Living in the Valley of Elah

DayBreaks for 06/16/11 – Living in the Valley of Elah

NOTE: Galen is on Sabbatical until 7/11.  Until he returns, DayBreaks will be publishing prior devotions (that is, if Galen has access to the Internet!)  Thanks for your understanding!

The Valley of Elah, Israel

1 Samuel 17:2-11 – “2 Saul and the Israelites assembled and camped in the Valley of Elah and drew up their battle line to meet the Philistines. 3 The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them.  4 A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. He was over nine feet tall. 5 He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing five thousand shekels; 6 on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. 7 His spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod, and its iron point weighed six hundred shekels. His shield bearer went ahead of him.  8 Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. 9 If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.” 10 Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” 11 On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.

The confrontation described in these verses took place several thousand years ago, yet the story of David and Goliath continues to capture the imagination of people – young and old – to this day.  I wish I could have watched the confrontation (notice I said “WATCH”).  I labor under no delusions that I would have done what David did – I am ashamed to say that I’m not that courageous, nor do I have the faith of the young shepherd boy.  His faith still inspires me.

I have never been to the valley of Elah.  I’ve never been to the Promised Land.  Perhaps some day I’ll go there and see the valley where this amazing biblical event took place.  But in another sense, we have all been there, in fact, we’ve all lived in that very valley.  You see, the Valley of Elah can stand for any place in any age where God’s people and His enemies square off against one another.  It was in the Valley of Elah that the giant, seemingly so great and mighty and invincible, bellowed out his words: “This day I defy the ranks of Israel!

Isn’t our land full of giants who defy the ranks of God’s chosen?  The battle lines have been drawn, the forces are arrayed one against the other.  At the very sight of God’s people, the taunting and challenge begin.

It is sad, isn’t it?  Verse 11 tells us that all it took were words to terrify and dismay not only the Israelites, but their king as well.  It didn’t take any demonstration of power or superior warfare techniques.  All it required was for a challenge to be issued and the people of God shrank back in fear.

The Valley of Elah is alive and well today.  The questions remain and need to be answered in every generation: where are the people of God?  What will they do when they find themselves in the Valley of Elah?  “If we tremble in the face of Satan, it is never because Satan has grown large, but because our God has grown small.

It only took one young shepherd boy to step out in faith to turn the tide of a battle.  Perhaps now it is your turn – and mine.

Copyright 2001 by Galen C. Dalrymple.

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