The Warden And The Wolf King – CSFF Tour, Day 3


Warden and the Wolf KingI’m going to eschew a formal review of The Warden And The Wolf King by Andrew Peterson, this month’s CSFF Blog Tour feature. I may renege and write one later (I do want to put one on Amazon, so it seems sensible to post it here, too), but today I want to tell you why I gave an unqualified recommendation of the book at the end of my Day 2 post. I mean, I called it a MUST READ book. What makes this one a MUST READ?

For me there are a couple requirements. First, it has to be a good story.

I was a lit major in college and during my four years of study, I read a lot of “must read” books, but not all of them were good stories. Some of them were flat out boring. Some I tried and tried to plow my way through and still came away with only the vaguest idea of what the “story” was about (Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad comes to mind. Don’t get me started on Melville’s Moby Dick or Ulysses by James Joyce.)

Another thing that puts a book into the highest category as far as I’m concerned is a character or characters with whom I can relate and for whom I begin to care. In Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga, I came to care for, not one character, but three. And I cheered on several others.

In my review of The Monster Of The Hollows, I gave one particular criticism—for a middle grade book, I was disappointed that the youth at the center of the story didn’t take the active part in bringing resolution to the story question. I’m happy to say, I have no such criticism in The Warden And The Wolf King.

The players who made things happen, who faced the evil head on, were the main characters—the children, the Jewels, the would-be King, Warden, and Song Maiden of Anniera. The cool thing, though, is that despite the presence of a host of adults—who also were fighting—the fact that the children took such a pivotal role was not forced or artificial. It was natural and believable.

So I really liked this concluding volume of the Wingfeather Saga not only because the characters were ones that engaged me, but also because they were active.

There’s more. This story—the whole of it, but particularly The Warden And The Wolf King—made me think. As noted in my previous posts, I contemplated the importance of song and the place of the Church in the broken world. But I also thought about sacrifice and courage and redemption and temptation and kindness and prejudice and unforgiveness and bitterness and responsibility and commitment and . . . well, a host of other topics.

The thing is, nowhere in the book was there a lecture on any of these subjects. Rather, I saw characters living out life in hard, dangerous circumstances. Some chose well—admirably, even. Some chose poorly with disastrous results, though they themselves didn’t know how ruinous the consequences would be.

I love books that catch me up short and call me to a higher standard. They make me wonder if I would be brave enough or wise enough or steadfast enough.

One more. This book made me weep. Yes, I laughed too, in different places. And I read far longer into the night than I’d planned to read, but I cried. And cried. This was not a little tearing up. This was full out, get the snot rag, because I needed to release some emotion this story generated.

I tell you, when a book makes me think AND feel, it’s a winner.

As Jason Joyner mentioned in one of his tour posts, these Wingfeather Saga books are great for reading aloud to kids. There are places to do a pirate voice and others for a Zorro-like rescuer. There’s Troll poetry to read and whispers to dogs and the sad ramblings of the SockMan tortured by memories of the past.

And the books are great for adults to read on their own, too.

So how about it? Are you ready to take the plunge?

Not a fantasy fan, you say? So what? If you’re a reader, these books are for you. They start light, and they become progressively more serious, but that’s the nature of conflict. It builds to a crescendo (I thought a music term would be appropriate here, considering we’re taking about an Andrew Peterson book. ;-) )

But now I’ve probably built up your expectations too high. Why not check them out for yourself and see if you agree with me or not.

The Warden And The Wolf King – CSFF Tour, Day 2


Warden_Wolf_King-banner

The Warden And The Wolf King by Andrew Peterson is an ambitious young adult fantasy, the conclusion to a wonderful four-book series called The Wingfeather Saga. Several participants in the CSFF Blog Tour, which is featuring this book that officially releases today, have given a summary of the first three books. I think that’s extremely helpful, and I encourage those interested in the series to check out posts by Jason Joyner and Meagan @ Blooming Books for starters.

Part of why I like the Wingfeather Saga so much is because Andrew Peterson does so much with his story. He’s painted a fantasy world with some depth; created characters that are interesting, even endearing; infused his story with humor and poetry and song; given us action and adventure. Above all, he’s given us something to think about.

I want to expand on one of those “somethings.” When I read book three of the Saga, The Monster In The Hollows,” I noted in my Day 1 CSFF Tour post that I saw parallels with the Green Hollows and the Church. I’ll reiterate here, Andrew Peterson is not writing allegory. However, there are similarities between his fantasy world and the real world.

One of those is the existence of a community defending against despoiling evil. However, without their king, they were merely hunkering behind what they believed to be an impenetrable barrier and living life without seeming regard for the rest of the world that struggled against slavery and kidnappings and transformations into evil creatures. They were content with their own safety.

Until, of course, the Igbys arrived and evil came after them. Remarkably, the Churc, I mean, the Green Hollows, came to their defense and fought to the point of sacrifice. In other words, when evil pushed in on them, they pushed back.

But they liked their evil clearly defined. Hence, the King of Anniera who looked like a Grey Fang was someone they didn’t fully trust—until he saved them. And when he decided to leave, there was a pretty clear indication that the Hollow folk were glad to see him go.

Of course, their feelings for Clovenfast, the neighboring community which they never realized existed, and for the clovens who inhabited it, were equally distrustful. After all, these were half changed citizens, trapped between the transformation from human to fang. What were they? Enemy? Monster? Friend? How much easier to pretend they did not exist, to drive any who wondered into the Hollows back into the dark forest.

I’ll admit, the section of The Warden And The Wolf King about the clovens had me both excited and uncomfortable. Excited because I had an inkling of what might take place (I was only partly right), and uncomfortable as the story unfolded because I saw the Church too clearly in the Hollish folk.

The fact is, evil wounds more often than it kills.

In the Wingfeather Saga, some people were transformed into Fangs, making them as good as dead to the life they’d known as humans. Now they lived to server Gnag the Nameless and to do damage to everyone else in the process.

But then there were the cloven, those injured in the transformation. They were broken Fangs, no longer human and no good as servants of Gnag.

In real life there are those who love the King of Kings and follow Him, and there are those who purposefully battle against Him, choosing instead to serve the Enemy of their souls. A great host in between make no choice, not realizing that standing still means they are not following. Hence, their not choosing is a choice.

They are the ones often damaged. They aren’t surrounded by the protective community of the Hollow, uh, of the Church. They live in the in-between, not wielding evil to get what they want, but not protected from those who plot against them.

They live in forgetfulness—an unconscious choosing of ignorance rather than the painful remembrance of what could have been, what they have lost and what they have no hope to recover.

But why don’t they have hope? What if the Green Hollows took them in? What if the Church welcomed the afflicted and needy? What if the Church put an arm around the homeless lady or the ex-con or the foster kids or those with disabilities and brought them inside? What if the Green Hollows was the place of comfort and a place to point them to the life-giving water that would make them whole?

Seeing the Green Hollows and their fight against evil, their reaction to the clovens, before and after the battle, I am challenged. I want to spread the word that the Church can be different—braver in the face of evil, kinder too, less focused on ourselves and more giving. More like Christ.

These thoughts about the Church are only some of the Big Things The Warden And The Wolf King brought to the forefront. I’m of the opinion that any book which challenges me in my real life, in my spiritual life, is a true winner.

I’ll get into a proper review tomorrow (or not), but I don’t want to hold off on my recommendation. This book—actually this series, because The Warden And The Wolf King really can’t be read in isolation—is a must read. No limits—a must read. This story is the next thing to Narnia. It’s one you won’t want to miss.

The Warden And The Wolf King – CSFF Tour, Day 1


Illustration by Andrew Peterson

Illustration by Andrew Peterson

The Warden And The Wolf King by Andrew Peterson is the fourth and final installment in the Wingfeather Saga. It’s a worthy conclusion to this wonderful series. Coming in at over 500 pages, you might even say it’s an epic ending. Not that length alone makes something epic, but that’s a discussion for another day.

First I want to offer an alternative title to this young adult fantasy—one I’d be surprised if Andrew Peterson didn’t consider. Half way through the book, which picks up the Wingfeather Saga right where The Monster In The Hollows left off, I thought, Shouldn’t the Song Maiden be in the title? I mean, it seemed at that point that the Song Maiden played as significant a part in the unfolding events as did the Warden and the Wolf King.

I eventually dismissed the idea, thinking The Warden, The Song Maiden, And The Wolf King might be too cumbersome a title. (Although, it would be right in line with book 1, On The Edge Of The Dark Sea Of Darkness. ;-) )

Since then, however, I thought, why not keep it simple? Why not The Jewels Of Anniera, the jewels being none other than the Song Maiden, the Warden, and the Wolf King. But alas, Andrew didn’t ask my advice, so I’m left, of necessity, to devote at least one post to song and the Song Maiden.

Since Andrew Peterson is a singer and song writer by day and a novelist in his “spare time,” it’s really no surprise that Song takes a prominent place in the story, starting with the inside of the book jacket which displays what I conclude to be the words of a song, since they are ascribed to Armulyn the Bard:

The world is whispering—listen child!—
The world is telling a tale.
When the seafoam froths in the water wild
Or the fendril flies in the gale.

When the sky is mad with the swirling storm
And thunder shakes the hall,
Child, keep watch for the passing form
Of the one who made it all.

Listen, child, to the hollish wind,
To the hush of heather down,
To the voice of the brook of the stony bend
And the Bells of Rysentown.

The dark of the heart is a darkness deep
And the sweep of the night is wide
And the pain of the heart when the people weep
Is an overwhelming tide. . .

The Bard himself played a part early in the Saga. According to the Encyclopedia of terms at the Wingfeather Saga website, the Bard is

a songwriter and singer known throughout Skree for his soul-stirring songs about Anniera. He claimed to have been there once in his youth, and sang about it ever since. Armulyn was famous for his bare feet, his raspy voice, his kindness, his rascally disposition toward Fangs and oppressors, and his sharp odor.

You’ve heard of fan fiction, I’m sure. But what about fan music? Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga, and particularly Armulyn the Bard inspired a soulful piece you may wish to hear.

The song inside the dust jacket is only a hint of what is to come inside the book. As it happens, music is a major aspect of the plot, and of course the star of much of it is the Song Maiden—Janner’s little sister, Leeli.

I’ll take this opportunity to mention that tomorrow, July 22, 2014, the official release party for The Warden And The Wolf King will take place in Nashville. I mention this because, among all the delightful happenings in this party that sounds like it really is a party, Andrew’s daughter Skye (the inspiration for Leeli Wingfeather) will be on hand to sing “My Love Has Gone Across the Sea” (from The Monster in the Hollows) with none other than the author himself. (You can see all the details for the party at the Wingfeather Saga site, and those in the Nashville area would be remiss if they didn’t attend.)

I’ll be honest. I’m trying to discuss song in The Warden And The Wolf King without giving any spoilers. The problem is, at every turn it seems impossible to discuss the use of music without saying too much.

In the end, the music of the book is much the same as the music of real life. It defeats doubt and darkness and the evil that would come against us. It summons beauty and power. It opens doors and heals hearts. It’s simply one of the greatest weapons a child of the true King has over the Evil One. And yet it takes a person of courage and conviction and perseverance to continue giving the music in the face of discouragement and exhaustion and fear, sometimes even despair.

Perhaps I should stop trying to explain what music means to this story and let the epigraph by George MacDonald say it for me:

“I dreamed of a song—I heard it sung;
In the ear of my soul its strange notes rung.
What were its words I could not tell,
Only the voice I heard right well,

A voice with a wild melodious cry
Reaching and longing afar and high.
Sorrowful triumph, and hopeful strife,
Gainful death, and new-born life. . .”

I’ll add one more tidbit. The use of song in this story reminded me of one of my favorite Bible verses:

He put a new song in my mouth,
A song of praise to our God;
Many will see and fear
And will trust in the LORD. (Psalm 40:3)

For me, the new song is actually a story, but how cool that for Andrew Peterson, his is a song and a story.

See what other participants in the CSFF Blog Tour for The Warden And The Wolf King are saying.

Understanding Unconditional Forgiveness


tangled-pathway-in-the-woodsWith all due respect to Christians like Kevin DeYoung and Stephen Burnett, I’ve taken the position that the Bible teaches Christians to forgive unconditionally. Jesus seems quite clear in His teaching: our experience of forgiveness made possible by Christ’s death on the cross is to be mirrored in our treatment of other people.

In reality, we have to look no farther than the Lord’s pray, and Christ’s follow up instruction, which connects our forgiveness of others with God’s forgiveness of us.

‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors . . .

For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions. (Matt. 6:12, 14-15)

What would a person’s life look like if he couldn’t be party to forgiveness unless the person who offended him repented? Would the Father’s forgiveness of him then be contingent upon the offender’s repentance as well?

I’m confident that isn’t what Jesus taught.

In fact, though He gave clear instructions for His followers to forgive as an outgrowth of the forgiveness we have received, Scripture makes it clear that God is the one who forgives sins.

The Pharisees understood that God alone forgives sins, and Jesus capitalized on their knowledge of right doctrine to present them with the truth that He is God. First He told the paralytic man that his sins were forgiven.

But some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:6-7)

Jesus then proceed to heal the man “so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” (Mark 2:10) I find it interesting that Jesus forgave the man’s sins though we have no record of him repenting.

However, my point here is that God’s forgiveness and that extended by people are not the same things. Except, Jesus did tell His disciples that whoever they forgave on earth, would be forgiven:

“If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” (John 20:23)

Of course some people believe this was a special provision for the Apostles alone.

And yet, God makes clear throughout the New Testament that we are to forgive.

Jesus, in answer to Peter’s question about how many times we are to forgive, indicated by His answer that our forgiveness is to extend beyond anything we humans would consider doable.

And yet, though forgiveness is a clear command, there seems to be more text in the New Testament dealing with unity. Paul didn’t tell the two women in Philippi who were not seeing eye to eye that they needed to forgive each other. Rather, the instruction was that they were to live in harmony in the Lord (Phil. 4:2).

I tend to think the following verses were Paul’s formula for harmony: Rejoice in the Lord; show a gentle spirit; be anxious for nothing; let God’s peace rule; think on things that are true, right, honorable, pure, lovely, of good repute (Phil. 4:4-8). That latter point seems to be saying, have a charitable focus; give people the benefit of the doubt (I know—not the way we normally read Phil. 4:8).

All this to say, along with forgiveness Scripture also teaches reconciliation. We are to forgive and we are to work for peace with all men. All men. That’s a bit shocking, but that’s what God’s word says: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Rom. 12:18).

Of course, reconciliation is not only up to us. It takes two to reconcile. Some people refuse to make peace. Nevertheless, our stance is to be open-handed—for one basic reason: we are not the Judge. God is.

The third aspect of relationships between offender and offended is that vengeance is God’s. We are commanded to get out of God’s way, essentially. We are not to take our pound of flesh because God might count that as the punishment the offender is to bear. Rather, we are to yield the floor to God who judges righteously.

Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom. 12:19-21)

I think that’s a clear statement that God will not let the wicked escape. We don’t have to “fret because of evildoers” (Psalm 37:1a).

We actually know on a personal level that there are consequences for sin even though God provides forgiveness. After all, unless Christ comes back to take us with Him, we will die—a consequence of the sin endemic to our nature.

So we are to forgive, we are to work for reconciliation (peace with all men), and we are to let God work His justice.

But what about putting ourselves in the line of fire. Do we keep forgiving the abuser who is sorry, so very sorry—until the next time he becomes angry?

Scripture doesn’t speak to that exact situation, so I can only look for principles that would address the issue. First, working for peace seems contradictory to putting yourself in a situation where you know peace will not come about. So if we are to work for peace, there may be times when to achieve peace, we withdraw.

Second, Paul clearly instructed the church in Corinth to withdraw fellowship from the man living in open sin. Anyone who steals and doesn’t make it right, who treats another person with cruelty, or a variety of other sins, may need to experience a break in fellowship in order to bring about repentance and eventual restoration.

Sadly, churches today do little church discipline. I don’t think an individual was ever intended to figure out when withdrawal from fellowship is the answer. At one point, Paul said he’d given a certain person over to Satan! Now that’s a pastor taking a hard line against sin. Of course, today some people would accuse such a pastor of abuse himself, so there’s no wonder that we’ve moved away from the Biblical principle of church discipline.

Nevertheless, I think a believer needs to be plugged in with a group of mature brothers and sisters who know God’s word and can offer Biblical counsel, not emotional counsel. Above all we should resist the temptation to follow the advice of the world simply because it sounds easier or somehow more “user friendly.”

Sometimes God calls us to walk a hard road, a lonely road, a thankless road. And we should be willing to walk wherever He sends us—whether that’s to reconciliation or to a break in fellowship.

And as I see it, we are to offer forgiveness along either path.

Published in: on July 18, 2014 at 6:20 pm  Comments (5)  
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Christian Forgiveness: Conditional Or Unconditional?


The_Crucifixion001I read a new thing about forgiveness today—well, new to me. The idea popped up on a post at Spec Faith by Stephen Burnett, then expanded as I followed a link to a post by Kevin DeYoung. I respect both of these men, but I have to admit, I think they’re missing something important about Christian forgiveness.

As I understand the principle they’re presenting, they believe there are two ideas about forgiveness: one, a therapeutic forgiveness that is popular today even in the secular world, and two, a Biblical forgiveness that is dependent upon the repentance of the offender.

In his article about these two types of forgiveness, Mr. DeYoung goes to pains to explain that the second type of forgiveness in no way condones an attitude of bitterness or revenge:

We should always love our enemies. We should always fight against bitterness. We should cast all our cares on the Lord. We should learn to trust God’s providence. We should be eager to forgive those who hurt us and be reconciled to them.

The foundational thought to this idea that a Christian only forgives those who repent, is that we are to forgive like God forgives and He forgives conditionally—that condition being repentance.

Let me back up and explain “therapeutic forgiveness.” I’d not heard the term before, but I think it does describe a humanistic co-oping of a Biblical principle. The idea here is that giving forgiveness makes the person doing the forgiving feel better. There is no intent to reconcile, however. It’s just a way of escaping negative feelings like anger and bitterness.

Many Christians, influenced by Lewis Smedes and a lot of pop psychology, have a therapeutic understanding of forgiveness. They think of forgiveness as a unilateral, internal effort to get our emotions under control. (“What Is Forgiveness?”)

The Biblical view, according to Mr. DeYoung, is that forgiveness is the means to reconciliation. Hence, the Christian should always be ready to forgive, but true forgiveness only comes when both parties move toward one another, repenting and receiving or offering forgiveness as necessary.

Again the rationale behind this concept is the Scriptural statement that we are to forgive as Christ forgave us.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (ESV, Eph. 4:32)

I’ll admit, I have problems with this approach. First, I don’t think there has to be two choices: either therapeutic or Biblical conditional forgiveness. I think there can easily be a third option: Biblical unconditional forgiveness.

Part of my thinking is that some Bible scholars get tied up trying to think the way God thinks. Mr. DeYoung, then, says God’s forgiveness is conditional and therefore ours should be too, as if it’s possible for us to understand the conditional nature of God’s forgiveness.

Ah, but doesn’t Ephesians 4:32 say that’s how we are to forgive? I don’t think necessarily it does. I don’t read the verse as saying we are to forgive in the same manner that God forgives, but that we are to forgive because we received forgiveness.

Paul says essentially the same thing in Col. 3:13:

bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.

The intent does not seem focused on forgiving in like manner but extending to others the forgiveness we received.

In other words, I see these verses mirroring Jesus’s instructions to forgive in response to the forgiveness we received. See, for example, the parable He told about the slave who received forgiveness for his debt only to turn around and withhold forgiveness from his fellow slave:

Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ (Matt. 18:32-33; see the entire parable in vv. 23-35)

It seems apparent to me that this “in the same way” is not talking about manner or even condition. In reality neither slave asked that their debt would be forgiven. They asked for more time to pay it off themselves. The act of forgiveness was an extension of mercy—the undeserved offer to cancel the debt.

This is what Christ did on the cross

When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. (Col. 2:13-14)

As I read those verses, I’m convinced that God didn’t forgive us when we had put ourselves in a position to deserve it by repenting. He went to the cross while we were yet sinners.

Consequently, I don’t believe as Mr. DeYoung does that God’s forgiveness was conditional. He gave His forgiveness to anyone and everyone, but not everyone has accepted it. When Scripture says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16), I think the words “world” and “whoever” remove conditions from God’s side of the equation.

When Paul instructed Timothy to pray for all men, he explained his reasoning this way:

This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.

There are literally dozens of verses throughout the Bible that carry this same idea. But one of the most telling, for me, is 2 Thess. 2:10ff which looks at salvation and forgiveness from the side of those who do not accept it:

[the lawless one will come with all power and signs and false wonders] 10 and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. 11 For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, 12 in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness. (Emphasis added.)

These who perish did not receive, implying that they could have received. They took pleasure in wickedness, implying that they could have refrained from taking pleasure in wickedness. They did not believe the truth, implying they could have believed the truth.

All this to say, the third reason I don’t believe forgiveness for the Christian is conditional, based on the repentance of the offender, is because I don’t believe God’s forgiveness is conditional.

I understand there are believers of a different doctrinal persuasion from mine who will disagree, but maybe two out of three reasons will be enough to make the case against this idea that forgiveness needs to be earned by repentance.

The Difference The Christian Worldview Makes


The-Amazing-Spider-Man-2-PosterThree particular works of fiction, two on TV and one on the big screen, have me thinking about the difference the Christian worldview makes. SPOILER ALERT FROM THIS POINT ON

The movie I saw was The Amazing Spider-man 2, the surprisingly well-done remake of the recent Spiderman series with Toby McGuire. This new, and very different, version stars Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone.

As you might expect from a superhero movie, Spiderman must confront Evil intent on wiping out all of New York City and/or dominating the world. The thing is, Spiderman himself is under scrutiny and criticism, but in the guise of Peter Parker, reveals the movie’s theme: Spiderman gives people a reason to hope.

In the end, though, I’m left wondering—are most people leaving the theater and thinking, Yes, Spiderman gives me hope? I doubt it for one simple reason: Spiderman is imaginary.

In reality, if very many people think about it, their plight is similar to the little boy facing the mechanized and weaponized criminal in the movie’s denouement. He’s alone and small and void of any means of defeating the adversary.

Nevertheless, standing in his little Spiderman costume, he faces the criminal down, his only hope being that the real Spiderman will return. And since we know Spiderman is imaginary, where does that leave us in the real world?

As a Christian, though, I have a different view. I can look at that movie and think, Spiderman may be imaginary, but Jesus is real. He gives real hope, eternal hope. Consequently, I’m uplifted, reminded that I’m not alone, that one greater than the evil I see in the world has taken it on and triumphed.

Yes, the defeated enemy is trying to do as much damage as possible in his final throes, but victory over him is sure. Therefore, I can stand against him confident that I am not alone, that at the right time, the soon and coming King will return.

The second bit of fiction that has me thinking about the difference a Christian worldview makes, is the new version of the Fox hit TV show, 24. Monday the season finale aired and as promised it held some shocking twists. As I’m watching these characters mourn unspeakable loss, all I can think is, this hurts them so much because they have no hope. Their whole life and purpose for existence were wrapped up in this relationship that has been taken from them, and now they have nothing to live for. On top of that, they have no hope of ever seeing that person again. For them, the person they love is forever gone.

In contrast, the Christian grieves death, but for two reasons our grief is different. First, even when a loved one is gone, the Christian still has, through Jesus Christ, the sure relationship with God, who will not fail us or forsake us, and we have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit who gives us comfort.

Second, we have the hope of being united with believers who have gone on before us:

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words (1 Thess. 4:13-18).

Those with a different worldview have no such comfort.

Which brings me to the third piece of fiction, the old TV show called Numbers. I’m convinced that’s one of the best shows ever made, and one reason has to do with the fact that the writers were consciously exploring spiritual themes. No, they certainly weren’t doing so from a Christian point of view, but neither did they take a position that ruled out God, such as the writers understood Him to be.

Their main characters were of Jewish heritage. One took a hard line against the existence of God, another accepted some of the Jewish tradition void of belief, the third came to a point where he thought there had to be something more in life, so he began attending temple.

A station that specializes on “previously viewed” shows, is airing Numbers a few times a week. In the episode I recently saw, the character who’d started going to temple, an FBI agent who had survived a near-death attack, was contemplating his life. He said the attack made him realize how fragile humans are—that we are little more than a bag of bones and blood.

He also wondered about God in light of his attack. If He existed, why had He allowed this attack? The character thought perhaps the message of it all was that perhaps God didn’t exist after all.

While I appreciate the show bringing up the question, I was a little surprised with the juxtaposition of these two thoughts, coming from the same character. Stripped to their bare essentials, he was saying, Humans are weak and therefore, there is no God.

It’s a pretty honest assessment, apart from a Christian worldview. Man is weak. Humans are just like that little boy in Spider-man, in futility facing down insurmountable evil.

The stunning part is the conclusion that there is no God. As a Christian, I would praise God for staying the hand of the attacker so that the blow he dealt didn’t kill me. But to the character who thought there had to be more to life, God allowing the blow at all was proof, or at least a strong bit of evidence, that God didn’t exist after all.

I don’t know if there’s a more depressing conclusion: humans are weak and we are alone.

Those of us with a Christian worldview, of course, agree that we are weak, but we revel in the fact that we are NOT alone. Consequently, we have hope. And that makes all the difference.

Published in: on July 16, 2014 at 5:43 pm  Comments Off  
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What God Says About Wealth


Worship the dollarFriday, because of a verse in Scripture I’d been thinking about, I wrote my post here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction about greed. Then Sunday my pastor, Mike Erre, preaching from Luke 6 talked about what Jesus meant when He said those who are poor are blessed. Today I reviewed a portion of 1 Timothy which contains some pointed words about wealth.

I tend to think, when God brings the same topic to me from various sources, He’s trying to get my attention. Often I can figure out why, but not this time. So in all honesty, I’m writing this post (as I do a number of others—I just don’t usually announce it) to explore the things I’m learning about wealth. I have no end game in mind, so this article could come to an abrupt end at any moment. ;-)

As I look over 1 Timothy 6 again, I’m reminded that the passage about wealth is part of a warning against false teaching, something Paul brought up in both his letters to “his son,” the young pastor he was instructing. People who advocate for a different gospel, one not in agreement with the words of Christ, are conceited, Paul says, but are raising up controversies and stirring up strife for one main reason: they “suppose that godliness is a means of gain” (1 Tim. 6:5b). The implication seems to be, financial gain, as if these false teachers could preaching godliness as a means to get rich. That idea is born out by what comes next:

But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

But flee from these things, you man of God (6:6-11a)

Contentment, Paul says essentially, should replace the desire to get rich. If we have food, if we have “cover”—clothes and shelter—then what’s to keep us from being content? After all, we came into the world with nothing, and we’ll leave the same way. So if our needs are met right now, why do we work so hard to get rich?

Here’s where my pastor’s sermon kicks in. I can’t trace the path through Scripture he took us, but the conclusion he brought us to is this: Poor and poor in spirit are not the same thing. Those poor in spirit are the contrite, the humble.

Zaccheus, a chief tax collector, was undoubtedly rich, but when he encountered Jesus, he humbled himself and repented. The rich young ruler, on the other hand, went away in sorrow.

Both men were rich, both sought Jesus out. One was changed, the other unchanged. The issue was not their money. It was their heart. One released his riches, the other hung onto them for dear life.

Pastor Mike’s point is that wealth can become the thing some people look to as that which makes life work. Instead of God.

Paul picked up the thread about wealth again in his letter to Timothy:

Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed. (1 Tim. 6:17-19)

Clearly Paul is implying the rich can become conceited and can fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches rather than on God who gives us what we have for our enjoyment.

But they don’t have to.

Being rich doesn’t equate with ungodliness, and poverty isn’t the answer to an inappropriate dependence on wealth. News flash: poor people can be greedy too.

I saw a short clip on a TV show, something about What Would You Do or something like that. They had an actor go to a place where pizza was served and move from table to table, asking if he could have a slice of pizza. Not a person gave him a slice. Then he went to a homeless person who had a pizza (I wonder how that man got a whole pizza!) and the actor asked him if he could have a slice, and the homeless man gave it to him at once.

The conclusion the show wanted us to draw was that people with little are more generous than people with much.

Except, that isn’t necessarily true.

Poor people can be generous, surely (see the widow who put her last coin into the temple offering), but so can rich people. Poor people can be greedy (see Elisah’s servant who lied to get money from Naaman the Syrian Elijah healed of leprosy), and so can rich people.

Money, riches, wealth, then, is not the problem. Rather, it’s our attachment to it.

I wonder if any of us can know what riches would do for us. Or to us. We can think, Money won’t change me, but is that true? How can we know? How do we know how strong our love for God is, how deep our trust, how great our commitment, how total our dependence?

Have we ever stripped down to the bare essentials and walked forward in obedience to God, saying as Queen Esther did, If I die, I die. Or do we have to hedge our bets, have a fall-back position, craft a Plan B?

Paul had two options: to live is Christ and to die is gain. His attachment in both was to God, not to “fleshly lusts that wage war against the soul.”

That last is from Peter in his first letter. Interesting that his focus was also on the heart attitude—the fleshly lusts.

But back to the pizza story. If I’m right, the TV producers gave the homeless man a pizza. He was willing to share what he’d been given because all of it was an unexpected, happy provision he didn’t deserve. So of course he was willing to share what he didn’t actually perceive to be his.

That, I think, might be the place God wants His children to come to in regard to wealth. Whatever we have isn’t ours. It’s a gift from our good God, so of course we should freely share what we’ve been freely given.

Published in: on July 15, 2014 at 5:11 pm  Comments (1)  
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Despising Youth


McCainFatherandGrandfatherWhen I was young, I loved Paul’s counsel to Timothy not to let anyone look down on him because of his youth. Now that I’m likely in Paul’s generation at the time of his writing that letter, I’m less certain it’s such a good idea for young pastors to lead the elders.

Of course it was a great idea in Timothy’s case. Paul described him like this to the Philippians:

But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition. For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father. (Phil. 2:19-22)

Timothy was Paul’s kindred spirit. He was genuinely concerned for the welfare of the church in Philippi. He didn’t seek after his own interests, but those of Christ Jesus. He’d proven his worth in the past, publicly. He’d served with Paul to advance the gospel. He’d worked for Paul the way a child would for his father.

Those are a lot of pluses, but there’s more. In Paul’s first letter to Timothy he tells him to

remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith. (1:3-4)

Young though he was, Timothy could discern between strange doctrine, myths, endless genealogies, speculation and the truth about God. He wasn’t fooled, though apparently men his senior had fallen into such error—people Paul had “handed over to Satan.”

In fact, Paul told Timothy to be an example to others by his speech, conduct, and quality of godly living.

Is it so hard to imagine that young people today might not have the same qualities Timothy had?

I don’t think Timothy was one of a kind, but at the same time, I don’t think his validation in Scripture is cause for the church to rubber stamp someone because he is young.

In other words, in the same way Timothy’s youthfulness was not to be a reason for people in the church to discount what he said, his youthfulness was not the reason they were to pay attention to him, either. Rather, Paul was saying Timothy had a spiritual gift and had served with him and had the ability to discern error. Because of his godliness and service and work for the gospel, his youthfulness wasn’t to prevent him from ministry.

In Colossians Paul said that in the family of God there is neither Jew nor Greek, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Sythian, slave, or freeman, but Christ is all and in all. In Ephesians, he added male and female. In many ways, though he didn’t list it, he was making a case in 1 Timothy for old and young being included with the others.

Today I see a sad turn of events in the church—division based on age. Maybe I spent too many years teaching junior and senior high schoolers, but I happen to enjoy the Timothys of the church. As I’ve heard from several sources lately, they aren’t the future of the church; they are it’s present, just as much as I am.

Age divisions aren’t new. I experienced the “generation gap” when I was growing up. It’s simply ridiculous, as if youths have nothing to contribute because they haven’t lived long enough and older folk have nothing to contribute because they’ve lived so long.

Isaiah says that “vigorous young men” can stumble badly and that those who are weary and tired can gain new strength by waiting on the Lord.

In other words, old age is not an excuse to retire from Christian service, and youth is not an excuse to avoid it. Older saints serve an important role in the church—they are “like fathers” and “like mothers” to younger members. But youths play an important role too, some, in fact, as significant as Timothy.

More important than the believer’s age is their heart-attitude. Timothy was Paul’s kindred spirit. Any young person who thinks like Paul and cares like Paul and serves like Paul should most definitely not be despised because of his youth.

Published in: on July 14, 2014 at 5:53 pm  Comments (1)  
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Idolatry Masquerading As Greed


Durga_idol_2009“Consider your earthly members as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desires, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.” So said Paul in Colossians 3:5. But as I read that verse this week, I saw a little footnote next to “amounts to” I’d ignored in the past—a simple, terse statement, actually: “Lit., is.” The literal translation of the Greek which appears in the NASB as “amounts to” is, “is.”

The verse, then, would read “. . . greed which is idolatry.”

So I started thinking, in what way is greed, idolatry?

Well, that didn’t take long. Idolatry is putting something or someone in the place God alone holds. The people of Israel coming out of Egypt worshiped God, but they also held onto the gods they’d been bowing to for the last several hundred years. Even after they got the Ten Commandments that said, No other gods, no idols, they did not put away those false gods.

They worshiped God, no mistake. But they did not hold to Him exclusively as the One True God.

Hundreds of years later, Jesus told the crowd of people listening to Him, You can’t serve both God and wealth (Matt. 6:14). His statement was a reminder of the requirement of exclusivity God demands, but it also revealed the nature of idolatry. Serving wealth puts it in the place of God in the exact same way the Egyptian gods had taken God’s place earlier.

For some reason, western Christians don’t seem too concerned about greed and its true identity: idolatry. Just this summer I read an article in my alumni quarterly magazine in which the author referred to himself growing up as a greedy little kid. Granted, he called himself greedy in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek way, and the point of the article was how to teach kids NOT to be greedy.

But I can’t help but think, we would not be so cavalier about other sins: I was a snarky little racist growing up or I was a spoiled little baby killer at age five. Such admissions of sin would not be great opening lines for a cute little childhood anecdote.

But greed is?

It ought not be. Not if we truly understood it to be idolatry.

Honestly, it’s pretty much the perfect idol for a capitalist society.

We Christians have Biblical admonitions about being good stewards and working with our hands that fit nicely with the concept of earning more to make more to earn more. Consequently we can be greedy and believe we are doing what we ought to be doing—investing wisely and saving for our children’s education, for the down payment on a bigger home, for a second honeymoon, for retirement.

All the while, we’ve also accumulated a second car, two or three TVs, a laptop computer and a tablet and an iPhone, closets filled with clothes, rows and rows of shoes, a collection of DVDs, books, games, and music. In fact, most of us have so much stuff, we have to store some of it in a garage or shed or basement or storage facility.

And yet we want more.

When the next cool techno gadget comes out, we want to be in line. When the newest style replaces what’s in vogue today, we’ll shop til we drop. When the upgrade becomes available, we have to have it.

In fact, our entire economy is built upon “consumer confidence”—the idea that people feel secure enough to keep spending money on stuff they may not need.

In what way, then, are Christians choosing to serve God and not serve wealth?

Don’t get me wrong. God has placed us in the culture we’re in, at the time when greed is rampant. I don’t think the solution is for Christians to sell all and move to the desert. Not unless God calls someone to make such an extreme move. I don’t think He’s done that in His word, surely.

I do think we need to see greed for what it is: idolatry. We need to unmask it, shine the light of truth on it, see it as the tool of the enemy intended to unseat God from the throne of our hearts. We need to hate it—as much as we do racism, murder, child abuse.

We need a little holy jealousy on God’s behalf—we should be angry that loving stuff has wormed its way into our lives so that our first love, our love for God, isn’t as strong as it once was.

Most of all, we should repent.

Then we should lay our wealth before God. We should give it all to Him. All of it. Every dime. Then we can ask Him what He wants us to do with His stuff.

Published in: on July 11, 2014 at 6:36 pm  Comments Off  
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Louis Zamperini, b. 1917 – d. 2014


Louis_Zamperini_at_announcement_of_2015_Tournament_of_Roses_Grand_MarshalA great number of people may not be familiar with the name Louis Zamperini, but the man’s fame is beginning to spread. In May the Whittier Daily News carried an article reporting that this ninty-seven-year-old would be the Grand Marshall for the 2015 Rose Parade, this after the book about his life, Unbroken, hit the New York Times best-seller list. On top of that, a movie based on the book is due out this coming December.

The only sad part of this story is that Louie Zamperini passed away earlier this month. The joyous part, besides his successful athletic career and his World War II heroism, is his transformed life. Some might even say Louie was a miracle.

As a fifteen-year-old, Louie was bordering on juvenile delinquency, though I don’t know if that term was in use yet.

Thankfully, his success as a runner provided him with a meaningful channel for all his energy and drive and got him off the streets and into school. After setting records at USC, he made the 1936 US Olympic team.

However, another turn in his life lay ahead. World War II dashed his hopes of returning to the Olympics to run for a medal.

While serving in the Air Force Louie’s plane was shot down. He and two others survived, only to be adrift on the Pacific Ocean for forty-seven days (one man died a month into the ordeal). Unfortunately the two US servicemen were “rescued” by the Japanese and consigned to a prisoner of war camp. The treatment there was cruel.

Once again, events in Louie’s life changed him:

He returned from the war a haunted man, filled with bitterness and rage, his once promising running career over. Suffering from what today would be recognized as post-traumatic stress disorder, Zamperini took to heavy drinking. (Obituary, Whittier Daily News)

God had preserved and protected this man for a reason, though. He had not seen the last of dramatic twists in the direction his life would take. In what I consider to be Apostle-Paul-like fashion, Louie changed again, this time not because his circumstances were different, but because he was.

Then everything changed.

After attending a 1949 Billy Graham revival tent meeting on the streets of Los Angeles at the insistence of his wife, Cynthia, Zamperini said he experienced a rebirth and Christian conversion that was to guide the rest of his days. (Obituary, Whittier Daily News)

Probably the greatest evidence of his changed life was his ability to forgive those who had tortured him, in particular the commander in charge of both the prisoner of war camps in which Louie was taken. In essence, when he met Christ, the supernatural power of His Spirit brought peace to Louie’s life.

After Louie met Billy, the former POW never had another prisoner-of-war nightmare. He lost his desire to kill the Bird [the commander responsible for his torture]. He no longer hated the guards who’d tortured him. He forgave Jimmie Sasaki [a Japanese man who had graduated from USC] for pretending to be his friend when he really was his enemy. The turmoil of his life was replaced by calmness and a conviction that he’d found the right path.

Zamp began to speak about his experiences. He wasn’t afraid to talk about his new faith, but he resolved that he would never push his thinking on anyone (Awesome Stories, p. 12).

No need for Louie to try to make people listen. God clearly has opened a door for the world to hear bout this one changed life.

I don’t know if the movie will mention Louie’s coming to Christ or even Victory Boys Camp, the organization he founded in 1952 for troubled teens. But that’s OK. Louie Zamperini’s life can be an example that prepares soil for some or shines the light on the path to Jesus for others. God can use him even now after he has heard the “Well-done, good and faithful servant,” from the Master he served.

When he was adrift on that raft back in 1943, he’d prayed

If you will save me,
I will serve you forever.

For years he struggled to live the life God had saved without serving Him in return. I don’t really believe in “bargaining with God,” but it’s apparent that God in fact wanted Louie to serve Him.

Louie fought against God’s call on his life. His wife wanted him to go to listen to that preacher Billy Graham, and Louie said no. Over and over he said no. When he finally gave in, he left early. His wife asked him to go back. Finally he agreed, only if they would leave at the point that the preacher would tell them to bow their heads.

Zamp returned to the tent, fully planning to leave at the predetermined time. Then, he heard Billy say these words:

    What kind of life are you living? Are you satisfied with your life?

Louie reacted to Dr. Graham’s words:

Just then, my whole rotten sinful life passed before my eyes and I began to get an inkling of what I feared I had to do. Only I didn’t want to do it. Why? Men prefer darkness to light. How could I give up the parties and the liquor and living for the moment and the fun? (Devil at My Heels, page 241.)

Zamp grabbed Cynthia’s hand and told her they were leaving. When he got to the aisle, something made him change his mind:

…I got to the aisle. I stepped onto the sawdust path and knew it was my crossroads of decision. I fought against it, perhaps harder than I’d ever fought, but in the end I made my decision, turned right, toward Billy Graham, released Cynthia’s hand … (Devil at My Heels, page 242.)

(Awesome Stories, p. 11; quotes from Louis Zamperini’s autobiography)

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