Tuesday, August 23, 2005

When He Returns


Matthew 24:23-28 (New Living Translation)

23“Then if anyone tells you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah,’ or ‘There he is,’ don't pay any attention. 24For false messiahs and false prophets will rise up and perform great miraculous signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even God's chosen ones. 25See, I have warned you.
26 “So if someone tells you, ‘Look, the Messiah is out in the desert,’ don't bother to go and look. Or, ‘Look, he is hiding here,’ don't believe it! 27For as the lightning lights up the entire sky, so it will be when the Son of Man comes. 28Just as the gathering of vultures shows there is a carcass nearby, so these signs indicate that the end is near.”


Nancy and I spent Sunday afternoon and Monday in Kansas City visiting with her mother. On Sunday night her brother and his wife came over and, as almost always happens in the Catron house, the discussions turned to politics and religion. The discussion began when Nancy’s brother John and I started talking about blogging. John, who’s known on the blogosphere as “Webloafer,” complimented me on some of my work. I was very flattered. I complimented him in turn. From there the subject moved to politics and religion. I’m not sure how it all began. It could have been me lamenting the fact that so many younger bloggers have extremely short attention spans (some comment that the essays I write are “soooooo long”). Or it could have been the observation that John, because of his strongly held opinions, seems to have become a magnet for left-leaning fire eaters. All I can remember is that we moved very quickly from minutia to cosmic things.

The news that dominated our discussion was Israel’s pullout from Gaza and the West Bank. Nancy’s mother opened the discussion by expressing her concerns from her point of view, worrying that the pullout was tantamount to surrender to the Palestinian terrorists. John and I tried to reassure her, reminding her that, strategically, this was probably Israel’s best option. That didn’t seem to help. “What about the all the prophecy of the end times?” she asked. Before John and I could respond she answered for us. “We can’t abandon Israel. We just can’t.” I tried again to reassure her. “You can’t make Bible prophecies happen. We need to support Israel when she’s right, we need to support her when she makes strategic decisions and we also need to work toward peace for all parties in the Middle-East.”

I think in the end my words must have seemed much more like the words of Job’s comforters than words of wisdom.

We’re all feeling the strain of the times. The news is moving faster than our ability to make sense of it. Oil prices are skyrocketing and morality seems to be descending as rapidly. Public and political discourse is becoming fractured. The American economy is booming, with the lowest unemployment rate on record, while famine grips Niger. The international community laments the wars and famines, yet stands idly by while thousands die at the hands of tyrants. The unthinkable seems to be unfolding daily. Terrorists have caught the fancy of America’s political left who have picked up the murderer’s mantras. “America is the great Satan.” “Israel is a terrorist state.” In North Korea Kim is building atomic bombs while his people eat grass.

The events spiral out of control while creation groans under the weight of the mounting sins.

It’s now Tuesday and I’m remembering back to a Valentine’s Day two years ago now. The air was full of conflicting messages then, too. I expressed my thoughts that day with the following words:

Valentine’s Day
By
Phil Dillon
© 2003 Phil Dillon


Friday, February 14, 5:00 A.M. – I get up as quietly as I can and go out to the pickup truck to get the card and the gift. I shuffle through some old newspapers and dig them out. I go inside, make the morning coffee and plant the card and the gift next to the coffee pot. The gift is a piece of Czech crystal. I’m hoping it will bring Nancy memories of a trip we made to the Czech Republic a few years ago. In my mind’s eye I visualize Nancy reminiscing about dinners served at Milos O’Partney’s Inn. She’s sitting, dreamily, a fire warming her, Arnie the St. Bernard at her feet guarding her, and Milos and his wife serving exquisite food and wine and even more exquisite hospitality. The front of the card has a calico cat snuggling up to a golden retriever who seems to be basking in the glow of the attention he’s getting. The inside of the card reads, “Some relationships just can’t be explained.” As I pour my first cup of morning coffee I think, “Yeah, that’s us for sure.”

Friday, February 14, 5:22 A.M. – I have some time to sit, read, and think. I read Jeremiah’s words – “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. Peace, peace, they say, and there shall be no peace.” I then stop and consider the theme carried by three of Israel’s prophets who alternately tell us to “Beat swords into plowshares and then, paradoxically, tell us to “Beat plowshares into swords.” I gaze across the coffee table. Book titles gaze back at me –
The Two Faces of IslamThe Threatening StormWhy We FightMaking PatriotsPeace Like a River.

Friday, February 14, 6:30 A.M. – I can’t resist the temptation and go upstairs hoping to make just enough noise to wake Nancy without being too obvious. By the time I get to the top of the stairs I see that she’s already awake. I go back downstairs and wait. In a few minutes I hear the shuffling of her feet and then hear the words that have become so familiar to me over the years – “A gift for me? Oh, Philly, it’s beautiful…Thank you.”

Friday, February 14, 6:40 A.M. – Nancy sits, coffee in hand, in her wingback chair. I gaze at her. I smile and tell her “I love you.” She smiles back. “I love you too.” I try to think of something more profound to say but wisely give up. I sense that there’s something far deeper going on inside of me to be captured in words. I decide to just sit and gaze at her, hoping she’ll know what’s going on inside of me. She gazes back. I somehow sense that same something going on inside of her. It’s also too profound to express in words. We sit silently, accepting the moment for what it is. There are no “sweet nothings.” There’s only a morning silence pregnant with unspoken sonnets flowing between us.

Friday, February 14, 6:55 A.M. – Nancy breaks the silence. “You know, I’m really wondering about the trip to Ireland right now. I mean, it’s probably nothing. It’s not that I’m afraid. I think it’s just the times. I’m sure everything would be okay, but I’m not sure we could enjoy the trip with all that’s lingering in the air right now.” I listen and gather my thoughts. There really is something in the air. It’s not anthrax. It’s not VX. It’s just…something. I think ahead a few weeks. The unthinkable has now become thinkable. We’re going to be getting on a jetliner in Chicago bound for Dublin. Thoughts seemingly dredged up from some pit now race through my mind. “Thousands of gallons of fuel.” “A tempting target.” I pause. The thought of being eulogized by Peter Jennings, Chris Matthews, and Aaron Brown now becomes more than I can bear. The thought of Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon pleading for “Peace, peace,” as my DNA is being splattered all over the Sears Tower brings me to the brink of the abyss. I try to put a brave face on my thoughts. “Let’s give it a few days before we decide.” I think it’s my way of compromising with the current reality.

Friday, February 14, 7:15 A.M. – It’s Valentine’s Day. Love is in the air. But, I know somehow there is more. It’s all wound up together on this special day. The deep, profound love that I have for Nancy is also wound up with other things in the air. It’s a beautiful evening meal in Prague. It’s tea at Beuley’s in Dublin. It’s September 11, 2001 in New Mexico. It’s Osama. It’s Saddam. It’s the “Orange Alert.” It’s all wound up together. I’m told that the German theologians have two terms for expressing history, one expresses the facts and dates, the other expresses what they view as the unseen hand driving history to “some” conclusion. They’re not sure what that conclusion is and that, of course, is what makes German theology German theology. Nothing, as they see is either firm or certain. They call the two schools “history” and “high history.” As I sit and cast another gaze at the one I love I can almost see two rivers colliding. One, as the poet has said, is filled with “Armies on the march and evil reports.” The other is filled with unread sonnets and gazes cast from heart to heart and eye to eye, expressing love too deep for words.

Friday, February 14 – 8:05 A.M. – I leave for work, my daily pilgrimage south through the Kansas Flint Hills to Wichita. As I ease on to the Kansas Turnpike I reflect once again on all that’s in the air. It’s Valentine’s Day in the shadow of September 11, Osama, and Saddam. I turn the radio on to 89.7, National Public Radio. A sultry New Age voice is now reminding me that I’ve also got to worry about Kim. I turn, momentarily, my eyes straining as they try to focus to the east across the highway, hoping to see something that will drown out the added burden brought so seductively to me. I search the horizon and wonder what the day will bring as I begin to see clouds gathering in the east. Anthrax? VX? I plead to Heaven. “You’ve promised You’d split the eastern sky. It’s all twisted, Lord. It’s all twisted. The pretty people, the beautiful people, the people with the straight teeth and the crooked smiles seem to be ruling the day now and they’re calling good evil and evil good. Maranatha…Maranatha.”

Friday, February 14, 8:38 A.M. – I turn the radio off. It’s Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2003. As I move south along the highway I think of all that’s in the air. I think of love. I think of war. I think of sonnets drifting slowly across the Flint Hills. I think of menacing words hissing across the airwaves. I think once more of love. It’s Valentine’s Day and I sense deeply that the air is…..full.

The same conflicting images that burdened me two years ago have come back to haunt me today. It is now, as it was then, all twisted. While I know the end is good, I must admit that it’s hard to see. Like the marathoner at the wall, I feel a sense of weariness, of helplessness. I know the end, the goal, is truly near, but the events of my time are conspiring to drown out the hope of their coming. The realities of these days seem to be at war with the realities to come.

I think now of the words of comfort I offered Nancy’s mother Sunday night. We cannot make it happen. All we can do is our best to sow in hope, to live as if we really believe that in the end good will triumph over evil, justice will prevail, and all the tears will be wiped away.

As I close I think of the words of a fellow pilgrim, expressing the hope I must cling to:

“The iron hand, it ain’t no match for the iron rod,
The strongest wall will crumble and fall to a mighty God.
For all those who have eyes and all those who have ears
It is only He who can reduce me to tears.
Don’t you cry and don’t you die and don’t you burn
For like a thief in the night, He’ll replace wrong with right
When He returns.”

“Truth is an arrow and the gate is narrow that it passes through,
He unleashed His power at an unknown hour that on one knew.
How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?
Can I cast it aside, all this loyalty and this pride?
Will I ever learn?
That there’ll be no peace, that the war won’t cease
Until He returns”

“Surrender your crown on this blood-stained ground, take off your mask,
He sees your deeds, He knows your needs even before you ask.
How long can you falsify and deny what is real?
How long can you hate yourself for the weakness you conceal?
Of every earthly plan that be known to man, He is unconcerned.
He’s got plans of his own to set up His throne
When He returns.”

The words may seem illusory, but they are trustworthy and true. He will return! While I cannot make it happen, I know that one day He will split the eastern sky. He will return!

12 comments:

jamal said...

You was right, it was Israels best option.

Best option to keep hold of their stolen land..

...best option to maitain their opression of the people of Palastine.

Youll find a few articles about this on my blog if your intrested in hearing another point of view to your own.

Nan said...

It just caught my eye while reading your blog that you say that especially younger bloggers thinks you are making very long entry's - and you are - but they are awesome to read. Thank you.

James Fletcher Baxter said...

The Word of God declares the Holy Land and Jerusalem are God's.

By Covenant, God placed the land into Israel's hands of stewardship forever. Not ownership.

Israel does not have God's permission to give away any of His land in the name of 'Peace.' God does not break Covenant.

Israel and descendants are the stewards to be held responsible and answerable for the land. No man-made religion has any standing in the Covenant and is already outside the will of God.

Any nation or peoples having any part in the surrender of God's land is in serious jeopardy, including the USA. Toss out human opinion - read The Book.

The Holy Bible. selah

Gone Away said...

Amen.

Anonymous said...

I've read the Book. You premills want the same kind of savior the Jews were looking for when they rejected Jesus. BTW, Phil's comments were good! --Hawkeye Gold

Rob in L.A. said...

I was stunned to read this sentence:

“Terrorists have caught the fancy of America’s political left who have picked up the murderer’s mantras.”

What on earth does it mean? It seems to be saying that American liberals support and cheer on the terrorists, that to be an American liberal is to be in league with those who attacked America on 9/11 — which, of course, is nonsense. This country was built on the right to disagree with your government. Dissent is not disloyalty. I hope that my understanding of this sentence is incorrect.

Eddy said...

Wouldn't be great if we had Prophecy Sunday at Church where once and for all pastors teach what prophecy is and isn't so that people like your mother have an educated understanding of the Bible and prophecy?

intheloop said...

My heart goes out to all of the Jewish people being uprooted from their land.

Phil Dillon, Prairie Apologist said...

Rob

There are firebrands on the left like Lynne Stewart who hsd been convicted of aiding terrorists. There are firebrands on the right like Fred Phelps who view what the terrorists are doing as God's judgement on America for its stance on homosexual rights. That's what I was referring to and I stand by what I said.

Eddy

I suppose, but I guess that my mother in law is much more educated than most pastors, more than you and me for sure. I know her heart is in the right place.

As I see it there are few, if any, experts on the end of time. i just know that Jesus himself promsied he'd come back and I believe that. When that will be is beyond my thinking. When I see things going as they are in this world all I can say is that I hope it's soon.

Rob in L.A. said...

Phil,

Thanks for responding, but your original sentence does not reflect the meaning in your more considered reply to my post. Your original sentence — indeed, your original paragraph — mentions neither “firebrands” nor the political right. Rather, it places the opprobrium for terrorist sympathy entirely on “America’s political left” — presumably including Democrats. It’s the kind of hyperbole that I had hoped your blog was trying to avoid. If you meant to spread your comments more evenly along the political spectrum, then, frankly, they could have been better expressed.

***

I wasn’t originally going to comment on this, because it opens a real Pandora’s Box which isn’t going to be closed anytime soon, but it’s been bugging me all morning: I’m really disturbed that when Nancy’s mother heard about the Gaza pull-out, her first thought was that it was an impediment to the End Times. Now, I hasten to add, I’m glad that her thoughts soon turned to a more practical, here-and-now way of looking at the situation. Also, she obviously holds a strong biblical orientation, which I don’t want to make light of or seem disrespectful to. I’m not saying this as a personal attack.

But the Gaza pull-out is one step in possibly bringing peace to a situation that has, for decades, been cursed with relentless and deadly violence. While too early to tell if it will have the desired results, it may be the first step in many lives being saved. Looking at the event primarily with concern about how biblical prophecy will or will not be fufilled seems to me rather un-Christian. As someone once said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”

As I said, my purpose in writing this is not to attack Nancy’s mother. However, my concern is that some people in power — people who may directly influence the success or failure of peace in the Middle East — share her views and are not as quick to change their minds and look at the situation differently. This is my concern whenever I see a self-proclaimed Christian fundamentalist running for high office. I think to myself, “Is this person seeking political power in order to govern by Christian values — love, peace, ‘doing unto others’ — or to fulfill biblical prophecy?”

I don’t see much difference between someone sanctioning life being taken to fulfill the premonitions in the Bible and an Islamic extremist who sanctions life being taken to fulfill those in the Koran.

My ruminative thoughts were disturbed even more when I read that the “Christian” evangelical minister Pat Robertson — on his TV show The 700 Club, Monday, August 22, 2005 — advocated that the U.S. government should assassinate Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez :

“We [the U.S.] have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. We don’t need another $200-billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It’s a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job, and then get it over with.”

Now, I know that Robertson doesn’t speak for all Christians. (I’ll try to resist any remarks about Karl Rove “outing” the covert operatives.) It may even charitably be said that Robertson is hoping to avoid the taking of many other lives by avoiding yet another war. But the fact that a minister with such a large following and many years of experience would, so quickly and so cavalierly, turn his back on the Sixth Commandment, turn his back on centuries of Christian teaching, and advocate the taking of another human life is not only un-Christian, but the height of hypocracy. I would have thought that he, as a Christian, would try to change Chavez (or at least reconcile their disagreements) through love, understanding, and Christian principles. Advocating the assassination of a political opponent is the kind of earthly expedient — to put it politely — that Jesus cautions against.

Forget about posting the Ten Commanments in public schools. I think that they need to be posted in Pat Robertson’s office.

Christianity ought to be about living one’s life according to Christian principles — as I believe Phil tries to do. It should not be about facilitating biblical prophecy or forcing sectarian religious dogma down our throats, especially at government expense. It’s when self-proclaimed Christians lose sight of this that I get nervous.

Phil Dillon, Prairie Apologist said...

Rob

I can assure you that Nancy's mother tries her best to live a Christian life. She's an honorable woman.

I wasn't really writing about the Israel/Palestine issue. The essay was more a stream of consciousness piece about what I felt two years ago and what I was feeling yesterday.

The Israel/Palestine issue is a very difficult one. I hope and pray that there's an answer for both side, but I don't know.

I had a very close friend in NJ who was a devout Muslim. We used to talk about this a lot. We always hit a wall when I would try to find avenues for both parties. He said that Palestinians and all other Arabs have a life goal of destroying Israel and exterminating the Jews.

The thing that was concerning Nancy's mother was that in the current circumstance Israel is giving territory in hopes of buying peace and secure borders. She did not believe that one will buy gthe other. Myself? I'm not sure. I hope and pray that peace will come, but I honestly don't know.

dog1net said...

Phil:
Much to think about here. You make a good point when you say, "We're all feeling the strain of the time." Reflecting on the events that have transpired since 9/11, it's not a stretch to say we have entered into a new era. World events are happening at a pace quicker than what most people are capable of thinking or caring about.
Scot