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Gates, Walls and Parades: A Biblical Approach? (Another Necessary Response to Nazarenes United for Peace)

“You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means”  is a quote that came to mind when I saw the new post by Nazarenes United For Peace. This quote was said by Inigo Montoya in the movie Princess Bride, to Vizzini in response to his continued use of the word “inconceivable.” I think that it may apply to Nazarenes United for Peace’s use of Isaiah 60:11 in response to the United States President Donald Trump’s position on border control and immigration.

I’ve already given my thoughts about Nazarenes United for Peace in another response to one of their posts, “An Altar Call” so I won’t go into it again here except to say that I don’t question the integrity or Christian commitment of any of the leaders of the group. I offer this response in a desire to help people properly apply Scripture instead of picking a verse that fits a view and using it in support of a position regardless of context, original meaning or universality (proof-texting).

Nazarenes4Peace-gatesOne of this first things I noticed was how the LXX translated Isaiah 60:11:

And thy gates shall be opened continually; they shall not be shut day nor night; to bring in to thee the power of the Gentiles, and their kings as captives.

So ironically, contrary to a call for peace and peaceful entry of immigrants into the United States, this verse actually speaks of military victory and forceful enslavement of conquered kings.

Another thing that struck me after I read the rest of chapter 60 to understand the context of verse 11, was how if we were to actually apply this verse to modern United States of America, we would also need to equally apply the verses around it. What would that mean?

Build the Wall. Applying all of Isaiah chapter 60 equally would mean applying verse 10 which would support immigrants, or more accurately, conquered foes -now slaves- rebuilding the nation’s border walls. This goes a bit further than candidate Trump’s promise that Mexico would pay for the border wall. In Old Testament time, people of defeated nations would often be taken captive to serve the victors as slaves. Applying this today would perhaps mean instead of deporting illegal aliens, they would be rounded up to build the wall along the border.

Have a Military Parade. Applying the second half of verse 11 as we do the first half would mean that President Trump would get the parade that he asked his military leaders to explore. In the time of what we call the Old Testament, when a nation’s army returned victorious, they would parade through cities displaying their military might and the conquered Kings. This would be equivalent to the military parades we see China, North Korea and the former Soviet Union putting on to show off to the world the strength and power of their military machine.

Have a Strong Military-and Use It. Verse 12 goes on to describe how any nation that does not yield to Israel’s policies (“serve” them) would “perish”, be “utterly ruined.” Today, that would mean enforcing U.S. policy around the world through military force, causing other countries to “serve” the U.S. through its trade agreements, military treaties, and other policies or else face the full force of American military might.

The United States Would Become Rich. If we apply verse 5 equally as the other verses, we would see the wealth of the world come to the Unites States. Other nations would have to suffer diminished wealth as the U.S. grows more wealthy. This would fit into Trump’s desire to re-negotiate former trade agreements to better benefit the United States. It would be the commercial application of “America First.”

Of course, any scholarly reading of Isaiah 60 would not render the interpretation I pursued above, including that of verse 11 offered by Nazarenes United for Peace. We know that Isaiah 60 speaks specifically to the nation of Israel from verses like 14 when Isaiah writes that “all who despise” them “will call you the City of the Lord, Zion of the Holy One of Israel.” But before we too quickly apply this passage to Old Testament Israel or even modern Israel, we have to understand that it is prophecy. So really, it extends beyond the people of Israel to Christians, but not American Christians, future Christians. As participants in the New Covenant, we’re grafted into the Old Testament prophecy of the future Kingdom, the Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God Today. There is no denying that Christ ushered in the Kingdom of God. We become citizens of the Kingdom when we become true followers of Jesus Christ. There is, without question, an existence of the Kingdom of God in our world today as we experience the presence of God in the person of Jesus and the Spirit of Christ in the Holy Spirit. But as real and present the Kingdom of God is today (“already”) it hasn’t fully come (“not yet”) so we can’t apply all of the future prophecies of the Kingdom to today’s world.

Yes, we want to be Kingdom people. We want to live as though the Kingdom is fully come, because as citizens of the Kingdom -Kingdom People- that’s how we live, but that doesn’t make the Kingdom any more fully come.

The Kingdom of God to Come. The not yet of the Kingdom is yet to come. Its fullness is what we long for. It’s reality is what much of prophecy points to, including Isaiah 60. We can read prophecies like Isaiah’s and get a picture of what the future Kingdom will be like. We can read the Old Testament prophets and peer into the future. While we would love to experience today what is yet to come, no attempt to hasten the coming of the fullness of the Kingdom will make it happen. We can and should live as Kingdom People, but we still must wait for the Kingdom to fully come. We can’t apply future prophecy, particularly that which applies to Israel, to the United States of America.

So how should we understand Isaiah 60:11? As prophecy given to Israel, the People of God, looking forward to Zion’s restoration, when their gates no longer need to be closed in fear of external enemies, but rather open-both for commerce and as a display of victory. It’s a vision of the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God when this world as we know it will cease and a world fully in line with the will and nature of God will come. It’s Israel’s future. It’s our future.

With all of that said, what more do we need to remember? Proper attention to context. Proper interpretation. Proper application.   These are what is needed when we appropriate Scripture to support our political views.

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Dad’s Funeral: Sorrow & Celebration

The Weeks Leading up to the Funeral

From about Thanksgiving, it was hard to get dad out of bed for just about anything. From bed, he would ask for ice cream and Diet Coke. At the beginning, he would feed himself, but as the days went on he would ask to be fed.  Not being able to get him to his regular doctor, we were advised to take him to the Emergency Room. The first time, they assumed that he was weak because he wasn’t taking his medications faithfully, so we went home determined to see that he took them all every day. On December 18th, after a couple of weeks without improvement, we couldn’t get him to get out of bed to take him for a doctor’s appointment so were advised to call an ambulance to take him to the ER. This time, they blamed his weakness on not getting up and using his muscles.  Twice he was in the ER, and both times they couldn’t find anything really wrong with him and sent him home.

On December 28th, 2017 my sister Laura (visiting for Christmas) and I took him to the doctor (with help from Hannah and Jordan to get him out of bed and dressed) to get a referral for home health care to try to help him get his strength back and get back on his feet. At the doctors office, they couldn’t get a good blood pressure reading so, assuming he was dehydrated, sent us over to the Emergency Room. By that point he was pretty weak and not able to get up for much of anything. Little did we know, he would never come home.

 

Laura and I with dad on December 28th when we took him to his doctor’s appointment

The ER doctor admitted him to try to get things under control. He was in the Lebanon hospital for about a week before before they discovered significant blockage in one of his legs and sent him to the hospital in Springfield. We tried to visit, and take mom to visit, as often as we could but the hospital in Springfield was over an hour away, so it was tough.

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Dad being visited by mom, Emily and Hannah on December 29th, in the hospital in Lebanon.

.In Springfield, they operated on dad’s leg and said the surgery was a success, but the next day it closed back up and he was no better off. The surgeon didn’t think that dad would survive surgery to remove his leg, so mom decided not to have it done. At this point, there wasn’t much they could do but keep him comfortable, at least now he could eat ice cream again!

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Even with a feeding tube (to avoid him choking) dad was all smiles at the hospital in Springfield on January 9th

We were able to get him into a skilled nursing facility in Lebanon where mom could visit him more often. His first night there was Monday January 22nd, 2018. With the leg not having circulation, infection grew and became too much for his body to fight and he passed away on January 29th at about 11:20 p.m.

 

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I took this picture of mom and dad just about 1 1/2 hours before dad died.

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Mom kissing dad goodbye about 8 minutes after he took his last breath.

The rest of the week was full of making arrangements and receiving guests. Once my sister Laura got to town, we met with the Funeral Home and made plans for a Saturday visitation and funeral.

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The Day Before the Funeral

Mom had been asking a lot about dad, not remembering his passing. She wanted to see him again, so we went to the Funeral Home to view his remains. It was very hard on mom, and us all, to see dad no longer full of life. Even knowing that what we were viewing was only a shell and he was no longer there but in Heaven without pain or physical limitations, our pain was real as we grieved his passing from this life.

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Two of mom’s sisters and a niece arrived Friday evening and we brought mom to the church to have dinner with them and Laura’s family…the church was where we could have room for everyone with no steps for mom to have to climb. It was great for mom (and us) to see her sisters Donna, Mary Ann and Mary Ann’s daughter Megan.

 

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The Funeral Service

Dad’s brother Byron, his wife Charlotte and their daughter Meredith got to the Funeral Home just before the service, having been delayed on their train ride from California. Several people were also there from Fort Leonard Wood, where I am assigned, as well as friends from church and even friends of Laura’s who came from Tennessee. We were very blessed by the support shown by our family and friends.

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My pastor from Freedom Church of the Nazarene, where mom and dad attended when they could, officiated at the funeral and dad’s granddaughter’s Emily and Hannah, his niece Meredith and I eulogized him. I also read a nice letter from dad’s brother Bob which told about their early life and the impact that dad has had.

 

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This pictures at the end of the video didn’t come through too well so here they are again in order:

 

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Dinner After the Funeral

The church provided a wonderful meal for the family after the funeral service. It was a great time to not only be nourished, but to visit together and talk about dad. One of the things that dad consistently did at Christmas and birthday celebrations was put bows from gifts on his head. Some of the grand-kids brought bows for us to wear while we ate, adding to the celebration of dad’s life and memory.

 

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Notes & Comments

Beside those who were able to attend the funeral, there were many others who couldn’t be there but sent us notes and made comments on posts about what dad meant to them and many times how he helped changed the direction of their lives toward God. We’ve been overwhelmed by the stories of how God used dad over the years and appreciate those who took a moment to share.

We also really appreciate the financial gifts that so many people gave to help pay for dad’s funeral-about the only thing dad didn’t plan for. The generosity  that we have seen has been so encouraging and a testimony to the impact that dad had on so many people.

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The Future

Now life begins to go on. It’s going to be really hard for mom, especially with her memory problem and having to re-live her grief whenever she is reminded of dad’s passing. Now also begins a year of firsts as we celebrate birthdays and special occasions without him. But more distant in the future, we have the hope and assurance of a reunion, when we cross over and enter Heaven’s gates, where I believe dad will be waiting for us.

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Straddling Eternity

As my dad lay in bed Sunday, nearing his final moments on this Earth, I was at church in worship.

One of the hymns we sang was “Higher Ground” by Johnson Oatman, Jr., a hymn that longs for “a gleam of glory bright” with the prayer to stand on “Heaven’s tableland.” It seems Oatman had had enough of this old world “where doubts arise and fears dismay” and “Satan’s darts at [us] are hurled” but the best that he could hope and pray for was to only experience that Higher Ground by faith while continuing to pray until he finds Heaven in reality.

As I sang this hymn, or rather listened to it unable to sing, I became overwhelmed with the awareness that dad was closer than ever to his feet being planted on that glorious Higher Ground, he now being quite literally straddling eternity.

What a position to be in: one leg in this corrupt world with one leg on that holy plateau of Heaven! Ready to trade in his broken-down body for one that is incorruptible! Gently holding on to those he loves while longing to see the One who is love!

I could sermonize on how Christians can -and should- be living “above the world,” basically in the world but not of it, as New Testament writers admonish, but at that moment I found myself almost envying the place where dad is, wanting to scale with him the utmost heights he is on his way to.

But for now, I have to be satisfied to experience Higher Ground by faith as dad steps over to experience it in reality. As I watch him slowly slip away it occurs to me that maybe, if I listen closely enough, I’ll hear “the joyful sound, the song of saints on higher ground” as he joins in and sings with them on his short journey home.

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Will You Make a Difference This MLK Jr. Day…and Beyond?

MLK, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. (photo by author)

As we are  approaching Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Monday, many people are looking forward to time off work. Some will enjoy a short trip to see family or friends. Others, however, may have different thoughts that come to mind, reflecting on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s message.

The older among us may remember King and his fight for civil rights, the Watts Riots or the nationwide rioting after King was murdered. Those not as old, may remember the riots following the Rodney King beating in Los Angles. Some younger folks may have in mind the Ferguson riots.

What these events had in common, is that they were responses to unloving attitudes and actions between races. One side felt their rights were being trampled on. Others thought justice was not being done. Some saw privilege and racism, while others saw lawlessness and disrespect. None of these attitudes — which often lead to actions — can be present in people who wish to live in community. The problem is that too many times we work for our own welfare while neglecting the welfare of others, or worse: we walk over other’s freedoms in pursuit of our own happiness.

Fortunately, we have guidance, principles, even mandates, from sacred texts that if followed, will alleviate, if not eradicate, many of the divisions we see today.

One of these is found in the words of Jesus, in Luke 6:27-28:

But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

To make it even simpler to follow, Jesus later said in verse 31, what would become known as the Golden Rule,

Do to others as you would have them do to you.

How much easier could it get? Before I speak or act, I just need to consider whether that word or action would be one that I would like to receive toward me.

If it isn’t, then don’t say it, don’t do it. It’s really that simple

Maybe this year, instead of just enjoying a couple of days off, we could use this remembrance of Martin Luther King, Jr. to recommit to living more by the “Golden Rule,” showing others respect and dignity, treating others as we would like to be treated.

This is my commitment; will it be yours?
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This post (written by Daryl Densford) originally appeared edited in The Guidon on 11 January 2018, titled What Does Martin Luther King Jr Day Mean to You.
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Trump Said What? (A modern-day parable)

Trump-Official-10There has been a lot in the news and on social media today about President Trump’s alleged comments about some other countries and their people. If what he said is true (which I can’t say for sure since I wasn’t there and really don’t know the character or integrity of anyone who is making the claims), he should be ashamed and somebody needs to help him. I am not that somebody. I don’t have access to the White House and I really doubt that he reads my Facebook comments or blog.

While it’s not exactly the same, my dad can sometimes be embarrassing. It seems like he needs to be the center of attention when we go out in public so is constantly trying to make people laugh. As he has gotten older what he thinks is funny actually isn’t and can sometimes be perceived as rude by some people. I used to apologize for him but I finally realized that people do not transfer my dad’s comments to me. They don’t think bad of me because of what my dad says. Ultimately, they take what he says with a grain of salt, realizing that he’s just a silly old man trying to get a laugh.

Let me quickly say that my dad isn’t that bad, his comments that embarrass me really aren’t that big of a deal and I likely have made more of an issue of them than what they are. But all of this talk about the POTUS and his comments have made me think about my dad and what it would be like if it wasn’t the President of the United States but my father and his comments weren’t about other countries or people but about my sister. What if the same situation was in my family, would the response of those in the meeting with the POTUS, the press, the public and even Christian leaders make any sense? Allow me to share with you a modern-day parable (sort of). I’ll leave it to you to make the application.

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If my father says something bad about my sister, he is wrong. If I tell my sister what he said and it hurts her, then aren’t I wrong?

My sister would rightfully be mad at my father for what he said about her and may thank me for telling her but I am still the one who caused her pain.

Did I help my sister by telling her what my father said? No.

Did I help my father by telling my sister what he said? No.

If I really wanted to help, it is my dad who needs it so I should talk to him. It doesn’t help my father’s attitude by telling my sister what he said.

If I can’t approach my father about it then there really is no benefit in telling anyone else about it, unless they could help him. Likely, however, the neighbors, the local homeowner’s association (HOA) or even other father’s in the neighborhood couldn’t help how my father feels, thinks or speaks, so by telling my sister and other people what my father said only served to hurt my sister. The neighbors may rally against him and raise a neighborhood outcry against what he said. The pastors of the churches in the neighborhood may preach next Sunday about how bad my father is and how my sister is actually a very good person and shouldn’t listen to my scumbag father. But has any of that helped my father? Nope. Has it helped my sister? Nope, again. It just kept the comments being said over and over again causing pain to my sister over and over again.

But the show of support should make my sister feel better, shouldn’t it? Not likely. In fact, if I hadn’t of made my dad’s comments public in the first place, she wouldn’t need feeling better. Actually, even if I shared what my dad said out of some ill-informed sense of duty to my family, if the neighbors hadn’t made such a big deal about it, dad’s comments wouldn’t have hurt her as much and in fact, she may not have paid any attention to what he -or I, repeating it- said.

Here’s something I didn’t know: my father has been trying to get help for how he talks and acts around the family. He has a counselor or adviser (more than one, in fact, and one of them is a minister) who listens to everything he says and privately tells him where he is going wrong and how to improve. As it turns out, he listens to them more than he would me, the neighbors, the HOA, or even the local pastors, because they aren’t constantly slamming him for what he says and does but instead offers constructive criticism that builds up instead of tears down.

What’s more, what my father said bad about my sister was just words. Yes, they flow from the heart and the attitude that created those words could become actions that could hurt my sister more. Fortunately, my father is not a single dad. There is my mother who, while she can’t control what my father thinks or says does have a say about what he does to my sister. Also, should my father try to do something bad to my sister, I would step in to protect her. Then there’s his advisors, who when the rest of us leave the room, set him straight. So, just because my father said something bad about my sister, that doesn’t mean that he can actually do anything bad to my sister because my mother has a vote and I have a vote and his advisers have a vote.

Bottom line:

Should dad be saying bad things about my sister? No,  he needs to work on that but what I, or anyone else who has been vocal about his comments, say won’t help him. And again, just because he says something bad it doesn’t mean that he will do something bad since there are others here to protect her.

Does it help my sister at all for me to air our dirty laundry to the rest of the neighborhood? No. That only serves to boost my own ego, get me favor with my sister and neighbors and maybe hurt my dad- all to my benefit, not to my sisters, my family’s or my neighbor’s benefit.

Does it help for the neighbors, the local pastors, the HOA or anyone else to rally against my dad and his comments and apologize to my sister on the neighborhood’s behalf? Not really. It just gets a bunch of “likes” on their Facebook comments and page clicks on their websites.

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.I know this “parable” only parallels current events so far and you’ll find plenty to disagree with, but hopefully it serves to show that there is more that we should consider about situations and the results of our comments before we pull out our soap box (or keyboard).

Finally, here is some wisdom from sacred writ:

Proverbs 17:9 offers a bit of good advice for us all: Whoever would foster love covers over an offense, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.

Proverbs 11:12 is a good proverb for President Trump (and all of us) to consider before speaking: Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent.

Ecclesiastes 7:21-22 is a good word for those who may be offended by what people say: Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others.

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2017 for the Densfords

If you’re not a Densford, or related to us, you’re likely to have very little interest in this post but here it is anyway! 2017 had its share of ups and downs for us, fortunately mostly ups. Sometimes, we look back at the fond memories while other times we’re glad to see the year end. But as we enter 2018, we can see God’s help and blessings throughout this past year and look forward to a great year to come. As for 2017, here are a few of the highlights (and some low points)…at least that we have pictures of:

January

Of course, the year always begins with Holly’s birthday!

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We’ve got a farm, we needed a truck and got one in January.

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February

We went to Oklahoma City with Holly’s mom. Saw a few sites, picked up an auction win and visited family.

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Hannah earned her brown belt in Jiu Jitsu

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March

Returning from a class in D.C., I rolled our car but walked away with only a compression fracture…probably should have died.

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After totaling our other car, we had to get a new one. We got another Prius!

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April

Nothing much happened in April…

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May

My grandmother, Margaret Newkirk, passed away in May so we went back to Ohio for her funeral.

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But the trip back to Ohio wasn’t all sad (grandma was a solid Christian). It was great to see family and visit some sites…or visit family and see some sites…

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June

June saw Holly and I visit the Smokey Mountains and Cherokee, NC.

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…and Charleston, SC.

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…and my sister and Walton’s Mountain, VA.

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July

In July, we got a visit from my sister and her family.

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Hannah was baptized!

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Julia graduated from High School!

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August

In August, Holly and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary!

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We were in a great location to view the total eclipse…and to have Jacob visit!

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September

In September, one of Julia’s dreams came true when she got a Mustang.

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October

In October, three of my girls had their artwork in a show in Springfield:

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November

On Veterans Day we celebrated with a free meal (for me) at Applebee’s.

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Julia’s dream was hit by a deer.

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December

We attended the German Christmas Service on post (which brought back many memories of our time in Germany).

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…and enjoyed the German goodies following the service!

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Heidi was in a dance recital in Buffalo (MO):

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Jonathan visited from Chicago in December, but we didn’t get many good pictures. Here’s one at dinner after Heidi’s dance recital.

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Dad ended the year in the hospital.

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So here’s to 2017, with the good times and the bad; and to 2018, with hope for a great tomorrow.

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Christmas Bells: From Despair to Assurance.

Dunker Church with the dead laying before it, on Antietam Battlefield (Library of Congress photo)

Born in 1807, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow became a famous poet and one of the most famous Americans. His life wasn’t all happiness, however. His first wife died in 1835 during a miscarriage. then in 1861, Longfellow’s second wife, Francis, died from injuries received from burns when her dress was ignited when sealing her daughter’s newly cut curls in wax. November 1863 brought Longfellow the news that his son Charles had been seriously wounded in fighting during the Civil War, and if not paralyzed would required many months to recover. Longfellow’s despair was deep, evidenced by journal comments like:

“I can make no record of these days, Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace.”

H.W. Longfellow and his dog Trap (Longfellow Historical Site photo)

It was on Christmas day in 1864, hearing the church bells announcing the birth of Christ and the carols proclaiming “peace on earth, good-will to men,” that Longfellow penned the words of a poem that confessed his despair but finally affirmed his hope in the living God. Writing before the end of the Civil War, he included two verses that refer to the ravages of war that were omitted when the poem, “Christmas Bells” was made into the carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” These two verses, while obsolete in the years following the end of the war, have become more applicable in our world today, where it seems that peace is fleeting and good-will only a dream.

Below is Longfellow’s original poem “Christmas Bells” with all seven verses. I encourage you to read through it all and affirm with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow the assurance of hope and peace that we have in the living God who ultimately will cause wrong to fail and right to prevail with “peace on earth, good-will to men!”

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I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said:
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!”

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Bibliography

“Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.” Website: Poets.org (https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poet/henry-wadsworth-longfellow), accessed Dec. 22, 2017.

Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. “Christmas Bells.” Website: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,  A Maine Historical Society Website (http://www.hwlongfellow.org/poems_poem.php?pid=40), accessed Dec. 22, 2017.

Stewart, Tom. “The Story Behind I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Website: What Saith the Scripture (http://www.whatsaiththescripture.com/Fellowship/Edit_I.Heard.the.Bells.html), accessed Dec. 22, 2017.

Taylor, Justin. “The True Story of Pain and Hope Behind “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Website: The Gospel Coalition (https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/the-story-of-pain-and-hope-behind-i-heard-the-bells-on-christmas-day/), accessed Dec. 22, 2017.

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A Sensible Response to Nazarenes United for Peace, “An Altar Call”

In the wake of the violent murders at a Sutherland Springs, Texas Church, a Facebook group called Nazarenes United for Peace posted a statement titled “An Altar Call” which with only a superficial reading sounds likes positive support for the victims of the attack while calling us all to a deeper walk with Christ. But a closer reading reveals an irresponsible statement with assumptions and errors that (at least in my opinion) need answering.

I should say that I chose to follow Nazarenes United for Peace some time ago because as a Soldier who has seen war, I long for peace. I believe that a peaceful existence is the ideal of Scripture and Christ’s teachings. While I agree with many of their posts, they often go too far on the pacifist, complete non-violence, side of Christianity. But that’s fine, I “like” the posts I agree with and just keep scrolling past the ones I don’t.

But this one, “An Altar Call,” I can’t just scroll by. Not because I agree, or even because I strongly disagree, but because it’s an irresponsible post. It makes assumptions of gun owners that rarely are true. It presents interpretations of Scripture that are not the only possible interpretations. It ignores other statements by Jesus and others recorded in Scripture that not only don’t support their thesis but contradicts it. And finally, it gives no room for disagreement, but dogmatically asserts that it’s their way or the highway (or “the door” as they put it).

So, I repost it here, with my comments inserted in red. Feel free to disagree, that’s your right and more importantly, I realize there are different views. I’m not suggesting, as they did, that there is only one way to understand the teachings of Jesus and other Scripture. But more than that, I appreciate that some have taken on as their calling a life of pacifism and non-violence but I contend that it is a calling and not the calling of a Christian.

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An altar call (That’s OK, we all need time at the altar)

At the heart of the gospel resides the call to take up your cross and follow Jesus. This is a non-negotiable of discipleship: to be Christian is to be crucified with Christ. To be sure, crucifixion in the Roman world often was the response to violent defiance of the authorities, but the way Jesus was crucified was different. He faced down crucifixion non-violently, he surrendered his life, he became obedient to death, even death on a cross.  The Christian call is to let that same mind be in us that was in him, to become obedient to death on a cross (I’m in complete agreement so far). To be willing to be defenseless for the sake of bearing witness to the one who would rather die than be without us, to bear witness to the one who did not send in armed defenders to rescue his Son. (The problem here is equating our following Jesus, “to become obedient to death death on a cross,” to the death of Jesus on the cross. Jesus chose to -He had to die- to accomplish our salvation. For Him to resist would be to resist the will of God. To suggest that our death would be anything similar to Christ’s is ludicrous, therefore to freely go to death –while it may be the calling of some- is not mandated as the only way a Christian must live-or die.)

To take up one’s cross and follow Jesus to co-crucifixion is to lay down one’s weapons (says the author, but says nobody in Scripture-including Jesus. He told Peter to put his weapon away, but it’s a misinterpretation to make that a universal command). This is the non-negotiable call of the gospel of Jesus Christ. (This is an incorrect assumption, that Scripture teaches non-violence as the only Christian view. There’s plenty of Scripture, and interpretations, that indicate defense, Soldiering, etc., is not anti-Christian). To call for arming more parishioners in churches as a response to the recent tragedy in a Texas church is anti-gospel and anti-Christ. (Again, making an incorrect interpretation of Scripture that to defend others, family members, loved ones, is anti-Gospel and anti-Christ. The exercise of love can mean providing for the protection of others. To not defend our family or the weak could be seen as neglecting our call to care for them, to love them, to provide for them).

Whenever I raise the issue of responding legislatively and otherwise to mass shootings and gun violence I am often met with the rejoinder: Gun violence is a heart problem. I agree. It is a heart problem to not renounce the ways and means of violence. (This suggests that those who support responsible gun ownership and/or support only responsible gun legislation and not knee-jerk legislation, are violent people and support violence of any kind, which isn’t true). To not give up the right to kill in the face of the commandment not to kill is a heart problem. (This statement just shows the author’s lack of proper interpretation of Scripture. Nowhere does the Bible say not to kill. The commandment, correctly interpreted, is not to murder. There is a difference). It is a heart problem and it is an American societal problem.

So hear this call to repentance: if you are not ready to renounce your addiction to violence, (an assumption that if you have guns you’re addicted to violence) your justification of a culture that values instruments of death over human life, (an assumption that if you own guns and believe in sensible gun laws that your guns are more important to you than human life-absurd!) and your own justification to use those weapons, (see all previous comments!) either come down to the altar and surrender your life to Jesus and his way, (suggesting that the “anonymous contributor’s” way is Jesus’ way and if you haven’t been living it, you haven’t surrendered to Jesus) or find the door (since you’re not welcome if you don’t agree. This may be the scariest part of this statement. Shouldn’t the Church be the place for one who is not following the Way of the Cross? Shouldn’t the sinner as well as the saint be welcome in our churches? Isn’t among those who follow Christ  the best place to be for those who don’t, to see the example of Christ? But instead, we are told that if we don’t agree and don’t repent, we should just “find the door.”). If you are defending the way of violence you have abandoned the way of Jesus (once again, his interpretation of Scripture, neglecting several passages that suggest non-violence is not the only way to live the Christian life, and that if you are any kind of gun owner or 2nd Amendment supporter then you support “the way of violence” of any kind). You cannot serve two masters, you cannot serve both the God of Jesus Christ and the God of Violence. (And here he is again, jumping from gun ownership and support for the 2nd Amendment to worshiping and supporting violence of any kind, which responsible gun owners do not).

An invitation to the altar: “Come, behold the works of the Lord. See what desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; [he melts down the assault rifle] (because assault rifles are the real problem, right?); he burns the shields with fire. Enough of this! And know that I am God. I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46, emended. (More misinterpretation to apply the fullness of the Kingdom of God to the period we live in today. When Jesus returns, when the Kingdom of God is fully come on Earth as it is in Heaven, then we will see wars cease with no need for weapons of war or the defense of weapons. Then, God will be exalted among the nations…)

– Anonymous Contributor (Responses by Daryl Densford, Christian, Nazarene elder, Army Chaplain, disciple and follower of Christ)

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Here’s the original post without my comments, in case you want to read it without interruption:

NUP

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On Flags, Allegiance and Idolatry

With the recent hubbub over our National Anthem and respect for the flag of the United States, other discussions have sprouted up, some about the presence of the national flag in places of worship which have often  led to conversations about perceived empire worship or misplaced allegiances. I’ve appreciated the discussions I have read about these topics and want to add my thoughts to the conversation.

Cross on uniformI’ve worn the uniform of an Army chaplain for about 15 years now, with the American flag on my right shoulder but with a cross on my chest. As with many others, I’ve gone to war. I’ve nurtured the living. I’ve cared for the wounded. I’ve honored the dead. I’ve tried through my career to bring God to Soldiers and Soldiers to God.

I have a deep respect for my country, represented by the flag. But I don’t see the flag as a symbol of the military any more than it’s a symbol of oppression or a symbol of privilege. I see it as a symbol of my country,  but more than that, as a symbol of what’s good in the American people. When I see the American flag, I’m reminded that the United States has given me (and others around the world) freedom. It’s not a perfect country and certainly not one that can compare to the Kingdom of God, but it’s a country that I believe still seeks the best for its people and people around the world. I have pledged my allegiance to this country and have pledged to defend its Constitution.

But my allegiance to my country is secondary to my allegiance to God and His Kingdom. My commitment to defend the Constitution is secondary to my commitment to live by God’s Word. If ever those two allegiances come into conflict, the Kingdom of God will always win out. If ever my defense of the the Constitution comes into conflict with God’s Word, God’s Word will always win out.

IMG_20170618_134503710 (2)-40With that said (and if anyone is still reading this monologue), I’m still ambivalent toward the presence of national flags in the sanctuary. Obviously, in the sanctuaries of military chapels, the American flag is prominent, but no more prominent than the Christian Chaplain flag (or whichever faith group is using the chapel at the time). It’s only natural to see both flags when at worship in the military. But in all my years, I’ve never heard, seen or sensed anything more than a healthy respect for the national flag. I’ve never suspected anyone was raising it above the Christian flag or putting it before God. I’ve never gotten the impression that it was the nation the people were worshiping instead of the God of the nations. I’ve never had any need to question the motives of worshipers who are grateful to their nation and its service members for the freedom to worship while praising God, the true giver of freedom, for the freedoms they have as Americans.

I believe that military members, more than most other people, have seen the filthy underside of the world and the oppression that many around the world are under, so they appreciate all the more the freedoms that we enjoy as Americans causing them to give a greater degree of respect to the symbol of our nation: the flag. But I emphasize, a high degree of respect, even devotion, but not rising to the level of worship or idolatry.

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Go Ahead and Kneel

As I have read posts from both “sides” of the current cultural conflict, it has become clear to me that there are a variety of views on this whole kneeling protest thing.

kaepernick-kneels-during-national-anthem-750Some view kneeling during the National Anthem as showing disrespect to our flag, country, military, etc. While others view it, not as an act of disrespect to those things, but rather calling attention to a cause in a respectful way. It’s obvious that there are different opinions on the role and significance of kneeling and standing.

When I think of kneeling (outside of the current context of athletes and the National Anthem) the main idea that comes to my mind is submission. A subject kneels before her King. A servant kneels before his master. A defeated foe kneels before the victor.

As I think of significant times that I have knelt, I recall kneeling at an altar, submitting to God as Lord. I remember going down on one knee as I presented the flag from a coffin to a grieving loved one. I can think back to times when on field exercises, when a military superior would tell us to “take a knee” so he could impart to us his wisdom.

On the flip side of kneeling, the act of purposely standing has meaning as well. In the military, we stand when a superior officer enters a room. Proper manners dictate that we stand when someone greets us and offers his/her hand to shake. It used to be that when a woman joined you at the table, the men would stand. When we want to honor a speaker or performer beyond simple applause, we stand to our feet. Often we stand to show admiration for a special guest or recipient of an award.

Submission, respect, honor. We can offer these things when we kneel as well as when we stand but standing or kneeling at the wrong time could have the opposite effect of what it would in another situation.

Context is everything.

It rings hollow when we try to say that we mean no disrespect when doing something opposite of what is normally the respectful thing to do. If in a given situation, the norm is to stand to show respect, to refuse to stand is a clear act of disrespect no matter how hard one tries to rationalize it.

americas-celebration-4th-of-july-flagI’ve stated many times on my blog that I am a very patriotic person. I study and admire the historical figures who had a vision for a country where people could live and worship freely. I’ve devoted a good portion of my life to minister to men and women who have committed to fight and, if necessary, die to defend the freedoms that are ours as Americans and to bring them to oppressed peoples around the world. I have deployed to war zones, like many other military members, in service to my country. I have lived in and visited other countries and am always excited to return home to my country. I often shed a tear as I gaze on Old Glory while singing the National Anthem at ceremonies and services.

So for me, the thought of doing anything but standing at attention during the National Anthem is anathema.

However, I am also quick to defend your right to choose to protest this or that by not standing during the National Anthem if you think it will accomplish something good. I may not like it and honestly, I’ll probably think a little less of you (though I’ll try not to show it), but your right to protest is one of the freedoms that make the United States the great country that it is.

So go ahead and kneel, stand, sit, do somersaults if it will help, but do it sincerely. Do it humbly. Do it selflessly. Do it respectfully.

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