Pastoral Relief and Retreat

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Wethersfield, CT, United States
I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.


Monday, December 13, 2010

Unto us a child is born

             The people who walked in darkness
                        have seen a great light;
            those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
                        on them has light shined.
            You have multiplied the nation;
                        you have increased its joy;
            they rejoice before you
                        as with joy at the harvest,
                        as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
            For the yoke of his burden,
                        and the staff for his shoulder,
                        the rod of his oppressor,
                        you have broken as on the day of Midian.
            For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
                        and every garment rolled in blood
                        will be burned as fuel for the fire.
            For to us a child is born,
                        to us a son is given;
            and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
                        and his name shall be called
            Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
                        Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
            Of the increase of his government and of peace
                        there will be no end,
            on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
                        to establish it and to uphold it
            with justice and with righteousness
                        from this time forth and forevermore.
            The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
 (Isaiah 9:2-7 ESV)

It takes a little research to understand the absolutely radical thing that is being said here.  It all centers on a story written in Judges 7 and 8.   God told Gideon to prepare for battle, because an army of about 135,000 men was coming from Midian to stand against Israel.  God was very explicit in his instructions about who Gideon should choose for his army.  When he had finally whittled the number down to 300 he was ready to go to battle against Midian. 

The night before the main event, Gideon snuck down to the edge of the Midianite encampment, and overheard two soldiers talking about a dream one of them had had.  The dream clearly identified that the next day Gideon and his army were going to defeat Midian.  The text says that upon hearing it, Gideon worshipped God. 

The really crazy thing that happens next is that Gideon’s army each carried those plastic vuvuzelas, a thermos, and a glow-stick.  They looked more like spectators at a Patriots game than an army.   Okay, they carried trumpets, clay pots, and torches.  Same difference.  The point is that here were 300 madmen about to do the most embarrassingly non-violent thing possible in front of an army of 135,000. 

At the appointed moment, the 300 men went racing into the camp, broke the pots, held up the torches and blew the trumpets like fools.  The result was that the opposing army all sprung into battle—against each other.  Not one of Gideon’s men was injured, and 120,000 of the enemy died that day by their own hand.  In the resulting rout, the only people Gideon’s men killed were the four kings (think of middle-eastern mullahs). 

This is the model Isaiah uses to talk about the establishment of the kingdom of God.   We all love the words of Isaiah 9:6, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.” But they are nearly always disconnected from the equally affecting words of Isaiah 9:5,  “Every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.”  That is to say, the child Isaiah is about to speak of is going to put war out of business.

The reason for the disconnect is clear: we today want the same thing the Jews of Jesus’ day wanted – conquest.  We want our king to come and fight for us.  And we want to be found fighting on the “right” side in the war.  Christians have been told by their preachers for over 100 years here in America that somehow the armies of democracy are always going to be the good guys, and that a vague equation can be made between our armies and the army of God. 

But Christians cannot be American-Christians or British-Christians or Any-other-Nation-Christians either.  “The government shall be upon his shoulder… Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end.”  If we are to be called by The Name, we are to be called “Christian” only.  No other banner, no other allegiance.  Yes, nations are instituted by God as he works out his purposes on earth, and in general God tells us to submit to the state as it works out God’s purposes.  But men live as brothers only in the Kingdom of God.  Only under the banner of the Kingdom of God will the lion ever lie down with the lamb. 

In the light of the Kingdom’s shining call for peace, for any Christian to endorse or vote on behalf of spending $700,000,000,000 per year on defense by any government is, quite simply, sin.   But let us be clear.  Those of you who read this must understand that I believe the average soldier, sailor, or airman is behaving honorably.   Those whose conscience before God allows them to serve in the military are doing nothing wrong and many believe they are responding to the call of God in their service.  

Still, I would challenge the governments that send them into harms way to justify what they are doing before God.   “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end.”  A larger defense budget does not make for a good or godly defense.  It seems to me that a bunch of guys armed with vuvuzelas, thermoses, and glow sticks might win the battle more quickly than the current tactics being used on all sides of conflicts world-wide.   If nothing else, such a display would certainly get everyone to take themselves and their national interests a little less seriously.




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