Monday, July 28, 2014


Just days ago, on July 25, militants of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) destroyed the traditional burial site of the biblical prophet Jonah, a holy site to both Christians and Muslims in the region.

The city of Mosul, where the shrine has stood for 800 years, is next to the remains of Nineveh, where the Bible records Jonah’s prophetic ministry after his whale-sized adventure. Unfortunately, many important religious and historical sites have been destroyed or defaced by Muslim extremists in adherence to strict traditions that cannot be found in the Koran, their holiest of books. Below are a few other examples of the destruction of Mideast sacred sites.

Jannat Al Baqi, the tomb of Mohammed’s wife (and several other sacred sites) was destroyed for fear that such sites would tempt Muslims into a kind of idolatry of such buildings. Other related structures nearby continue to be removed as Saudi officials declare a need to make room for an increase in annual religious pilgrims.

In the summer and autumn of 2012 many centuries-old religious shrines of Sufism were intentionally destroyed by the Muslim extremist group Ansar Dine, which claimed the sites violated Muslim teachings. They also burned many ancient irreplaceable manuscripts. UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) is working with the Mali government to help restore the historic sites.

Two gigantic statues of Buddha, carved from a mountain of sandstone, were completely destroyed. The statues had stood for 1500 years and survived previous attacks, but in March of 2001 Taliban leadership declared them idols and blew them up. I recall learning about the event on radio news, and it was the first time I'd ever heard of the "Taliban" -- the radical Islamists of Afghanistan. Today, in a post-9/11 world, the destruction of the two giant Buddhas certainly seems a haunting foreshadow of the devastation of two other massive twin structures just six months later in New York City.

Huffington Post: "ISIS Destroys Shiite Mosques And Shrines In Iraq." 

Saturday, July 26, 2014


It's nearly county fair season in America. People will soon be showing off their prize tomatoes and fattened pigs. Kids will eat too much and get sick on the rides, and folks will run into people they haven't seen in a very long time -- like I did.

I was browsing the art exhibit when I saw him on my right just a few feet away, and I knew I couldn't avoid him. After all, we had some unfinished business.

I turned to say hello. He looked up and gave a courteous nod. He didn't recognize me under my sparse beard and shorter hair, so I gave him my name.

"Oh. Hello, Don." He smiled politely. He still wore the same beige trench coat, looking more at home in the city than our lumbermill town.

"So, Lyle, you're still the juvenile officer here."

"Not for long," he said. "Moving to Olympia in the fall."

"Oh," I said. "Congratulations on the new job." I looked down, searching for my next words.

"I'm going to college now. It's my second year. I'm studying counseling and Bible." I watched for a sign of approval in his solemn face.

"I'm thinking of doing social work – maybe with teenagers." I shuffled my feet. "Or working as a counselor in a church."

"Oh, really." He raised his eyebrows and nodded.

I didn't want to bring up the past, but I had to. My palms got sweaty. I cleared my throat. "About what I did in high school, Lyle." I looked about cautiously. "You said there'd be some community service. Maybe a fine."

"Yes," he said, ignoring my nervousness.

"Well, it's been three years and nothing's happened. It's just that," I took a deep breath and looked him in the eyes, "for whatever reason you decided not to do anything to me, I just wanted to say thanks. Thank you very much."

Hands still in his pockets, he nodded and said, "Sounds like we made the right decision." He smiled. I wished him well in his new job, clumsily shook his hand, then went to find my parents.

I don't know how much Lyle struggled over his decision to waive the penalty for my teenage crime, but I am grateful he did, especially considering he had no guarantee that I would straighten out my life.

I didn't know Lyle to be a religious man, so it surprises me how much his actions remind me of someone else.

Christ had no guarantee I would take his mercy to heart. Even so, he made the risky and generous decision that canceled my penalty by paying it himself. Believe me, it had nothing to do with worthiness. If spiritual merit were a bank account, my balance would be zero. The apostle Paul said it best:

"While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8; NIV).

Since Jesus offers us such generous mercy, we would do well to accept it, repenting of our blunders and placing our lives in his hands. Then we can spend the rest of our lives giving humble thank-yous to the one who gave it all.

As a grateful receiver of Christ's mercy I want to live in such a way that, when I finally see him, he'll smile, nod his head, and say, "Well done, Don. I knew I made the right decision."