“Lest we forget” – but not forget what? 

It was in a tiny bakery shop that a large red plaque with “Lest We Forget” written on it caught my attention. It brought back memories of the stories my Dad told of being shot down, captured, confined in a prisoner of war camp, escaping, being caught and force marched across Germany as the Allies pressed in, on rations of only one potato a day. 

He retold his stories to his youngest grandson too, so that’s two generations in our family that won’t forget what he went through. But is that what “Lest we forget” is for, to never forget those brave souls who gave up their careers, dreams, families, mental health and even their lives to protect us from tyrants? 

It’s become that way, yes, but that wasn’t what it was for originally. It was first used in a poem by Rudyard Kipling for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, that began with the line, “God of our fathers, known of old,” so it was actually a direct appeal to God – the appeal being, “Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet, lest we forget – lest we forget.”  

But not forget what? Well the rest of the poem makes that clear, that no matter how much power a nation has, or how great its military might, nothing lasts forever. And we seem to forget that, which is why Kipling ends his poem with, “For frantic boast and foolish word – thy mercy on thy people, Lord.”     

Because the “frantic boasting” and “foolish words” never end, do they? Presidents and Prime Ministers bang lecterns, shout with blazing eyes what they will do to anyone who dares threaten them – including their own people. They love boasting of their power, and become so infatuated with it they feel they can say anything, no matter how mad, callous, hypocritical or brazen lying it is. They utter words so dumb and foolish that they lose all respect, but don’t even notice it. And nor do many of their people, who just soak up their nonsense and vote for them anyway. No wonder Kipling begged God for mercy. 

But not in a negative sense, because despite the endless frantic boasting and stupid nonsense spouted by our leaders that pit nation against nation, and even family members against each other, Kipling remembers that God’s mercy is forever too

And without God’s mercy where would we be? He lets us primp and posture with our inflated egos, allows us to strut and threaten and head for yet another cliff, charging at its edge at full speed without even blinking – but for some incredible reason we’re still here, aren’t we? The planet is still intact. Madmen (and mad women) still rule us, but in every one of their lives their balloon of pride finally bursts, and their reign of nuttiness ends. Again and again, God only lets us go so far. 

Which is what the “Lest we forget” plaque in that little bakery shop reminded me of, that “The Lord God of hosts is with us yet.” Despite every madness we’ve done to the planet and to each other, he hasn’t given up on us, has he?  

“Love your enemies” – but even the evil, mad, and dangerous ones too? 

We’re sort of stuck because the Father, whose children we are, “causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous,” Matthew 5:45. And Jesus then says in verse 48: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” 

Which means, as Jesus points out in verse 44, that we are to “love our enemies” just as the Father loves them. And Jesus lived that way too, when asking the Father to forgive the evil, mad, and dangerous people who were instrumental in his death, “for they do not know what they are doing,” Luke 23:34

But does that mean we treat everyone with love, compassion and forgiveness, no matter how monstrous or hideous they are? 

Well, God set the boundaries on how we deal with people in John 3:17. Simply put, he’s not into condemning, he’s into saving. Which gives us a clue on how we love our enemies: our focus is not on wishing eternal death on them, it’s hoping that in some way they will wake up to their awfulness and want to put it behind them forever. 

For example: some of the most evil, mad, and dangerous people on the planet right now are those who want to sexually mutilate young children and teenagers through surgery to supposedly change their gender. Does God still cause the sun to rise on them and send rain on them? Yes. So he doesn’t condemn them, does he? BUT, he also sent Jesus to save them. 

Our hope, therefore, is “that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will,” 2 Timothy 2:25-26

This was Peter’s hope too, when he told Simon the sorcerer to “pray that the treachery of your heart may be forgiven you” in Acts 8:22. That’s because, Simon, “God is not mocked,” Galatians 6:7. He makes sure that “we reap what we sow.” We get what we deserve. We are held accountable for what we do. Paul put it bluntly in Romans 2:9, that “There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil.” And Jesus said of such people, “How will you escape being condemned to hell?” Matthew 23:33. So whatever one thinks hell is, it’s guaranteed for people with “stubborn and unrepentant hearts,” Romans 2:5.

But what if these stubborn, unrepentant, evil, mad, and dangerous people realize what they’ve done is “evil in God’s sight,” Psalm 51:4, like King David did? And again, like David, they beg God for the chance to “teach transgressors your ways, (so that) sinners will turn back to you,” verse 13? It happened to Saul the psychopath, who “was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief,” 1 Timothy 1:13, who then became Paul the apostle as evidence of “God’s unlimited patience,” verse 16. And how many sinners did Paul then turn back to God? 

So amazing things can happen to evil, mad, and dangerous people, because God is God and he can get through to the worst of them – and maybe through how we deal with them too. We love ‘em – BUT – we also wish upon them whatever it takes to wake them up.    

A Remembrance Day prayer – with a difference

“Let us pray,” the minister mumbled into the microphone. Here we go, I thought, another tired old prayer on Remembrance Day. 

But this prayer was different.

“Great Father of us all,” the minister began, his voice rising, “We, your suffering children, come to you in our embarrassment and shame to say how sorry we are for all the death and misery you’ve had to witness for yet another horribly violent year. And here we are on Remembrance Day, sorry yet again that we have to put you through the same old routine: we march, we cry and we pray, and we get terribly serious about the horrors of war and we seek your comfort for the bereaved – but nothing changes. Year after year it’s the same; we never bring you good news, only bad.”

“We think of you shaking your head at our blindness, because you told us in your word how wars happen, but do we see it? You’ve given us warning and wisdom like a good Father should, but do we heed it? You told us what to do when evil threatens, but have we listened? You told us of powers much greater than ours we can trust in, but have we believed you? You told us you sent your Son to bring us peace, but are we interested? So now you have to watch us shuffle off home for another year, and we’re none the wiser, as usual. And we’ll be back at this time next year too, with more sad stories to tell you of those who died in wars, and our helplessness in protecting the innocent – as if you haven’t heard enough of such stories already.”

“What must it be like to be a Father to children like us? Could we ask you, therefore, to do something for us, that would bring some joy to this day instead? Could you give us the sense this year to go home and read what you wrote about peace and for you, then, to help us understand and believe it, so that next year we can come to you with different stories, of the courage you gave us to try your way, and how surprised we were by its success.”

“And could you really bless those who are seeking peace your way? Those  who, this coming year, take up your offer and your challenge to be living proof now of your promise that peace will reign on this amazing planet you created.”

“In conclusion, we humbly seek your forgiveness and boldly seek your power, dear Father, because we, your struggling children, are in desperate need of help.”

Who is our real enemy – the devil, or each other?

How tragic that we humans see each other as the enemy. Think how many wars have been fought between people who, in peace-time, could well have been the best of friends. And think how many people live and work happily together all their lives who then ferociously turn on each other in a time of war.

How do we get so twisted up that we view each other as enemies? How can millions of people through the centuries be hoodwinked over and over again into picking up arms and killing their fellow humans, when they have nothing personally against them? How can we fall so easily for charismatic leaders justifying the invasion of other countries and killing innocent children? And how come bullying is such a problem in schools and the workplace, as though we actually hate each other and love hurting people? Something is tragically wrong.

Yes there is, but Jesus came to change it. How? 1 John 3:8 – “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work,” because our real enemy is the devil. It’s not each other. And that really struck me while following a slow driver. For mile after mile a whole trail of us were stuck behind him travelling well below the speed limit, and when, at last, the opportunity came to overtake him he immediately swerved out in front of me without signalling, forcing me to take evasive action. Whether he did it on purpose or not, I do not know, but I realized at that point he wasn’t my enemy. The fact that we’re all driving cars on packed roads with few opportunities to overtake isn’t his fault. The reason we’re all stuck in these ridiculous circumstances is because the devil got to us from the very start.

He’s the enemy, because he got us all thinking we could do without God, and look what we’ve got as a result. We’re into endless situations cropping up where we think of and treat each other as the enemy. I watch siblings, for instance, who stir and poke each other to get a reaction and make the other cry, but when faced by a common enemy they join hands in mutual support. It’s insane. They’d die for each other when others oppose them, but when there’s no opposition they fight each other.

But, as Peter writes in 1 Peter 5:8, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” It helps explain the utter insanity and cruelty we inflict on each other. Somehow the devil has made us into enemies, when, in fact, our only enemy is him.

Should Christians go to war, to fight and kill?

Yes, some Christians say, it’s our civic duty and right to defend family and nation against evil, and what greater sacrifice can one make than giving one’s life for one’s friends? If someone broke into your home with murderous intent, would you not have the right and the responsibility to protect yourself and your family, using whatever means it took to subdue the villain, which might include killing him?

Other Christians, however, challenge that view, quoting several obvious scriptures in reply like, “Do not kill, love your enemies, don’t repay evil with evil, overcome evil with good, and ‘vengeance is mine’ says the Lord.’” And what about Jesus’ statement in John 14:27? “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” It’s the world that uses war to create peace, not Jesus.

But doesn’t Jesus use war to create peace, too? In Revelation 19:11 he “makes war,” and “out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations,” verse 15. Ah but, other Christians reply, Jesus can kill because he’s God and God can resurrect people back to life again, whereas we can’t. And besides, haven’t these verses been used to justify the Crusades and other monstrous cruelties by Christians?

And on and on the debate goes, scripture versus scripture – but what an awful irony it creates, of Christians fighting each other over whether we should fight, or not. But what’s the answer, when scriptures can be found that support both views?

I don’t know because I have no idea what I might do if someone attacks my home or country. It depends very much on my understanding of Scripture and my relationship with God at the time, I imagine, so how I react now may be very different to how I react in five years time, when my understanding of God has grown. Peter, the disciple of Jesus, for instance, sliced off a man’s ear with his sword in John 18:10, but later in his life, in 1 Peter 1:5, he talks of being shielded by God’s power through faith. He was now totally trusting in God, not his sword anymore. As our understanding of God grows, so will our actions.

What’s helped me in this dilemma is Romans 14, because Christians can have different views, based on their beliefs at the time (verses 3-8), but still be at peace. And isn’t that what this world needs to see? It’s not Christians fighting over whether they should fight, or not, it’s Christians who are living the way of peace with each other (verse 19).

Should Christians always do what their governments tell them to do?

Christians on both sides of World War 2 did what their governments told them to do and they went to war – the result being that millions of Christians killed and maimed each other. But what were those Christians supposed to do instead when Romans 13:1 says, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities (because) the authorities that exist have been established by God,” and in verse 2, that  rebelling against one’s government is “rebelling against God,” and in verse 8, that “it is necessary (therefore) to submit to the authorities”?

But what is the context of Romans 13? Is it about international warfare and giving a government leader the divine right to declare war against another nation, and his people must support him? Is it giving a national leader the authority to decide who is right and who is wrong on the world stage, and to use whatever means he deems necessary to stop what he believes to be evil? But doesn’t Romans 13 also give the leader of the other nation those rights as well, since he too has been “established by God”? So, which of the two leaders should people now obey?

If that is the context of Romans 13 it’s very confusing. But what if the context of Romans 13 is simply about Christians being responsible citizens in their own home countries? If so, then Romans 13 is very comforting, that so long as one’s government is not pushing anything against God, Christians have nothing to fear, “For rulers hold no terror for those who do right,” verse 3. And God has rulers in place who really do try to make their countries a good place to live in, and where that is the case a Christian can happily obey his or her government and live in peace.

“That’s also why you pay taxes,” as The Message continues in verses 6-7 – “so that an orderly way of life can be maintained. Fulfill your obligation as a citizen. Pay your taxes, pay your bills, respect your leaders.” The context of these first few verses in Romans 13 are clear, then, that God works through government to keep order in a country for the benefit of its citizens, and where such a country exists a Christian should definitely and absolutely do what his government tells him to do.

The only exception to that is when a government (or religious leader) is pushing something that God would clearly not approve of, in which case a Christian could not go along with it, because obedience to God has priority over obedience to man (Acts 4:19). Perhaps if more Christians had believed that, they would have resisted killing their fellow Christians in World War 2 as well.

The conundrum that is Remembrance Day

Remembrance Day brings into sharp focus a conundrum, that humans are willing to sacrifice their lives. It doesn’t matter whether you’re Christian or non-Christian, or which side you’re on in a war; the instinct to give up our lives for a cause we believe to be right is shared by all.

We acknowledge that instinct on Remembrance Day as we remember the men and women who gave up their lives to free the world of a brutal evil. But where did such an instinct come from? It flies in the face of Evolution for a start, which talks of creatures and plants doing whatever they must to survive. But all through our history humans have put aside their instinct to survive, and in the prime of their lives they do what Evolution would never support a species doing. Where in Evolution, for instance, does a species give up its life when it’s at the top of its game?

So where did this conundrum of self-sacrifice come from? Well, from God, of course, because it helps us to understand him. We see God best “in the face of Christ,” 2 Corinthians 4:6, and what we see in Christ is God willing to give up his life in his prime too, and for the same reason we are willing to give up our lives – to rid the world of evil.

What Christ did rings a familiar and honourable bell in a human heart, because the most honourable thing a human being can do is give up his life for others, especially in his prime. But it’s in us to do that. It’s instinctive in us to give up our lives to crush evil. And we recognize that instinct every year on Remembrance Day.

Remembrance Day, therefore, shines a light on the amazing phenomenon of a species being willing to give up its life, and it also shines a bright light on God – because we’re not so different, we humans and God, are we? He was willing to rid the world of evil by self-sacrifice, and so are we. It makes it very easy for us to understand God, then, because tucked away inside us is the same heart he has.

No wonder the Christian message “commends” itself, or rings true, “to every man’s conscience,” verse 2, because the sacrificing of a life to rid the world of evil is what we already believe as good and true as well. Remembrance Day isn’t really such a conundrum, then, because self-sacrifice is a desire God has given us to help us understand him.

“In their greed they will exploit you with stories they’ve made up” 

That’s a quote from 2 Peter 2:3, but no greedy people in our world, thank goodness, and certainly no one daring to exploit us with lies and made up stories to make money.

If only.

Unfortunately, as in Peter’s day, we have our “experts in greed” too, verse 14, who spin their cunning little webs to exploit our human fears and weaknesses (verse 18) with promises of freedom for us but they cannot free themselves (verse 19).  

That’s because greed is a terrible addiction. Enough is never enough, it must have more. It’s a monster that cannot be reined in. So its helpless offspring cannot stop lying and hiding facts when there’s money to be made.   

But Peter has a couple of words for us that hopefully act like a cooling flannel for our fevered brow, the two words being: Think Justice.   

Fortunately, God is a God of justice and he’s fully aware of what the greedy people who exploit us are up to, so through Peter he tells us that “Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping,” verse 3. And if that condemnation doesn’t happen in their lifetime now it is held in store “for the day of judgment,” verse 9. We can rest assured, then, that “They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done,” verse 13. Justice will be done.

In the meantime, however, Peter also tells us that “in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own evil desires,” chapter 3:3. They laugh among themselves at how easily they can play us, like making us cut back while they live in luxury, knowing there’s nothing we can do about it. And for what purpose, pray tell? So “they can follow their own evil desires.” Oh yes, God knows exactly what they’re up to.  

But God also judges with mercy, expressed through Jesus on the cross when he cried out, “Forgive them because they have no idea what they’re doing.” He took into account that even these greed-addicted swindlers have been played too, so any punishment God inflicts on them is in mercy too, to wake them up to the grim realization that they too have been puppets in the hands of an even craftier enemy, who played them just as callously as they played us.  

Halloween – what a load of nonsense. Or is it?

To some it’s an unbelievably daft idea indoctrinating children on dressing up in costumes to roam around on a cold evening getting junk food from mostly total strangers. I mean, who on earth came up with this nonsense? 

But that’s the eye-opener, because the ones who “came up with this nonsense” didn’t think it was nonsense at all. It was deadly serious. Two thousand years ago the Celts thought the evening of October 31 was the one time in the year when the divide between the physical and spiritual worlds, and between the living and the dead, could be crossed. And that was scary, because they really thought the dead could appear among them as ill-intentioned ghosts. So the Celts wore masks when leaving home after dark to avoid being recognized by the ghosts – and they put out food for the ghosts too, to appease them.     

Weird though that sounds, it took root in England and Ireland where putting out food to appease the spirits on October 31 continued. But then some bright sparks got the sneaky idea of dressing up in creepy costumes to get people to give the goodies to them instead. It was called “mumming” back then. “Trick or treating” today.

Enough history is known, then, that the customs of our modern Halloween mimic quite shamelessly the pagan oddities of the past. Criticism by Christians is hardly valid, though, since the Christian church also took pagan customs and made them into Christian traditions that still exist today as well. 

So a lot of people through the last 2,000 years have made Halloween, in all its evolving forms, names and traditions, into a special time – first as a pagan festival, then a Christian one, and now as a bit of “harmless fun.” 

But it wasn’t a bit of harmless fun to the Celts who started it, and maybe it isn’t now either, because I just finished reading an article about the need to ease young children into Halloween because it can be, quote, “scary,” so “be on the lookout for fears and anxieties.” Oh, brilliant, let’s scare the children. I sometimes wonder if we parents have vital bits missing in our brains. 

But that’s not to bash us parents too much, because those pesky Celts really caught people’s imagination about spirits with evil intent. And history, both secular and biblical, is on their side too – that evil and evil spirits are real. Could it mean, then, that those Celts got it right, that there really are evil spirits that can enter our world? 

In that case, Halloween isn’t so much nonsense after all – if it takes us back to what those Celts did, which was treat evil seriously and take determined steps to protect themselves from it. 

“Lead us not into temptation” 

The quote above from Matthew 6:13 was stirred by things I’ve been excruciatingly tempted to write in furious and sarcastic reaction to some of the ruinous ideologies being spun and enforced by those in power and by those claiming to be in the know. 

But who am I to write about such things? I’m no expert. And how is getting myself all twisted up in a negative, emotional knot going to benefit anybody, including myself? It became obvious, then, to say to God, “Lead me not into that temptation,” or “Please don’t let me go that route, because I could make a horrible mess of things if I do.”  

I can see why Jesus coupled “lead us not” with “deliver us from the evil one,” because temptation is the devil’s weapon of choice in messing us up. He used it on Adam and Eve, and again on Jesus – tempting Jesus to feel the need to prove he was the Son of God by magically turning rocks into loaves of bread, by flinging himself off the highest point of the temple wall to be saved by angels, and by grabbing the chance to create a new world order, a great reset that would solve all the world’s problems right away. All excruciatingly tempting. 

I feel a pang of sympathy, therefore, for those in rulership and influential positions today, because they face enormous temptations too, having learned from the pandemic how much power they’ve got. They can shut down entire nations’ economies, and through fear and intimidation create compliance to their most draconian decrees. And the wealth they accumulated too, by forcing people to buy online rather than local businesses, and by claiming we’ll only be safe if everyone is injected, the profits from which have been (and still are) astounding.

Think of how tempting it must be, then, for those in government, media, and corporations to believe they have the power of gods. And to realize they can bully, lie, deceive and be hypocrites to their heart’s content, and amazingly get away with it. And if people resist, well that just plays into the hands of those seeking to set up a police state to control our every movement. 

Imagine what having that kind of power, therefore, might tempt people into doing, that’s not only dangerous for us but for them too, taking into account Jesus saying “it’s easier to gallop a camel through a needle’s eye than for the rich to enter God’s kingdom” (Matthew 19:24) – and especially when the rich justify their quest for power and money with moral sounding platitudes.

But in this world it looks like the rich and powerful have got it made. Allowing themselves to be led by temptation, however, is dancing to the devil’s tune. He has them by the nose. And what strength do they have to resist? Do they even want to resist? Which is troubling because King David wrote in Psalm 37:35-36, “I (too) have seen a wicked and ruthless man flourishing like a green tree in its native soil, but he soon passed away and was no more; though I looked for him, he could not be found.” One day no one will know these ruthless profiteers of today even existed.  

So I have to ask God to not let me fall for the temptation of hating them, because my hate won’t do them any good, or me. What they need, just as desperately as I need it, is the power to see temptation and resist it, because in “resisting the devil he will flee from you,” James 4:7.