The Poor Church That Is Rich


Painting of the Gulf of SmyrnaIn delivering messages to the angels of seven first century churches, Jesus generally confronted them about problem areas. But there was one church that didn’t receive any “here’s what you’re doing wrong” counsel: the church in Smyrna, known today as Izmir, Turkey.

Jesus first lets them know that He’s aware of what they’re up against. He starts by telling them He knew of their trouble and their poverty. Instead of stopping there, though, He contradicts the statement:

I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) (Rev. 2:9a).

They’re poor—Jesus didn’t say this was untrue. But they are rich. This could possibly be a comparative indicator similar to what we experience in the US: in comparison to “the one percent” most of us would say we are poor, but in comparison to the majority of the people in the world, we are rich.

More likely, I think, the statement shows the spiritual conditions versus the physical. The believers in Smyrna were in fact poor, but because of their relationship with Christ they were simultaneously rich.

God’s riches do not negate the conditions of this world. Our brothers and sisters who fled Mosul may be poor now. They’ve been forced out of their homes, have only the belongings they could carry, may not have a way to make a living in whatever refugee camp they’ve landed. They are poor and are suffering tribulation physically in the truest sense.

And yet they are still rich. They are heirs of the kingdom which God has promised to those who love Him. They have the Holy Spirit who lives in them, guides them, seals them, intercedes in prayer for them.

They have Christ whose work at the cross provides them with forgiveness of sins, redemption, the cancellation of their debt, who clothes them with righteousness, bears their burdens if they cast them on Him. In every spiritual way conceivable, they are rich.

The second thing Jesus said about the church was that He knew “the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” (Rev. 2:9b). Apparently pretenders were among them.

Jesus then moved to a prophetic message introduced by a command: Do not fear. They were about to suffer, Jesus said, and “the devil” was about to cast them in prison, they were about to face tribulation, though it would be for a specific, limited time.

He concluded with a command too: Be faithful until death.

Wow!

I’m not sure this message inspires me to not fear, and I’m not the target audience of this message. Or am I? I’d have to say, of course I am, as are all Christians who make up the body of Christ.

The details vary in our circumstances, but we are all rich regardless of our outward conditions. And we all have to cope with pretenders. We all are up against Satan’s attempt to imprison us in sin and guilt and the law.

Clearly, God does not promise us a Better Life Now here on this earth. He simply does not do so. This passage, written to the church in Smyrna, is still written, like all other Scripture, for all believers to receive doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness.

So, like Smyrna, we are to face what’s coming our way, unafraid and faithful until death.

The cool thing is, we, like Smyrna, have the promise for that faithfulness: the crown of life and, if we overcome, the escape from the “second death.”

Do I know what the second death is? No. But I figure it’s more important that I know how to overcome so that I won’t have to worry about being hurt by it.

But now I wonder if Christ isn’t the One who has already overcome. We know He has. And we know we who are in Christ will be like Him. So are not believers in the redemptive work of Christ already those who have overcome? Again, I think that’s the most logical understanding of the admonition.

In short, despite the way the world might look, with Ebola in Africa and tornadoes in Boston, with flooding in Las Vegas and bombs flying back and forth between Gaza and Israel, with Russian-backed terrorists fighting to divide Ukraine and ISIS attacking Christians, with Nigerian girls held captive by Muslim terrorists, the believer in Christ can laugh because we understand Jesus Christ has won and is winning and will claim His victory one day soon.

It’s not really complicated. We aren’t to fear, and we are to remain faithful for as long as God gives us breath.

Published in: on July 29, 2014 at 5:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Warning To The Church In Ephesus . . . Or In America?


An early Christian ichthys symbol carved into some marble in the ruins of Ephesus, Turkey.

An early Christian ichthys symbol carved into some marble in the ruins of Ephesus, Turkey.

A few years ago I wrote a post about the book of Revelation in which I drew this conclusion: “Revelation is a rich book because it shows us more about who God is than it does about what will happen someday.” I think that’s an accurate evaluation. A lot of the “someday” portion of Revelation is couched in picture language, and Biblical scholars don’t agree about their meaning.

But there’s a short section at the beginning of John’s vision that was quite contemporary to him. In these chapters Jesus comes to John and tells him to write “the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things.”

It is “the things which are” that I’m interested in because I wonder if they are not also the things which will take place.

Jesus delivered specific messages to angels apparently assigned to particular churches existent at the time of John’s writing: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.

I find it curious that only these seven churches are addressed. What about the church in Corinth or the one in Antioch? Why these seven? Were they unique?

The symbol Jesus used for them was a golden lampstand. Was the idea that these were golden somehow significant. I don’t know that any Bible scholar can tell us. However, we do know from various places in Scripture that believers are to be light to the world. So the image of a lampstand for a church certainly seems fitting.

In addition, the particular messages which Jesus delivered to the various churches, while uniquely fitted to each unique body, seem universal in their application. What He said to one church would seem to apply to any church with similar qualities or circumstances or failings.

So when Jesus delivers a message to the angel of the church in Ephesus and tells John to write it down, He would seem to be delivering the same message down through the church age to any body of believers who share the matters he addressed.

His message to this first church contained six parts: an explication, a confrontation, an admonition, a warning, a commendation, and a promise.

First Jesus gave an analysis of the church. This is what was true about the believers in Ephesus: there were things they’d done, work they’d performed. They’d persevered, which implied things weren’t always easy.

They also didn’t tolerate evil men. Instead, they tested those who put themselves forth as teachers. They held fast, endured, and don’t grow weary because of one thing: the name of Christ Jesus.

That’s a pretty fair evaluation. I wonder how the Church in America would stack up in these areas. Do we have a record of things accomplished and work we’ve performed? I suspect so. Have we persevered when things weren’t always easy? That’s harder to say because the church in America has had very little adversity.

Do we tolerate evil men? Sadly, our record there is spotty at best. We have tolerated evil men—false teachers and cult leaders who often got their start within the church. Perhaps this toleration is because we haven’t tested those claiming a position of leadership as we should have. Ironic, since we have God’s written word. We aren’t forced to rely upon hearsay or occasional letters or itinerant preachers sent from the apostles. Instead, all we have to do is test what a teacher says by comparing it to the Bible.

Finally, do we hold to our faith without growing weary because of the name of Jesus Christ? Or do we become disappointed with God when things don’t go our way? Do we complain and grumble when God doesn’t seem to answer our prayers?

In an examination of our over all condition, I’m not sure the Church in America would stack up all that well against the church in Ephesus.

On the other hand, Jesus admonished the believers in Ephesus for something that may be all to similar to the condition of believers in America: “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (Rev. 2:4).

Loving God first would seem to be the point here. Loving Him so that nothing else came ahead of Him. This confrontation seems like another way of saying, you’ve allowed idols to steal away your affection. I can think of a few idols the American Church has bowed to—ease, traditions, our nation, our families, to name a few.

Jesus next gave the church in Ephesus an admonition: remember what you used to do, repent, and get back to doing what you had been doing.

The Church in America used to evangelize and share with their neighbors, feed the poor and take the lead in things like establishing universities and leading the fight against slavery. The Church in America read their Bibles and went to prayer meetings. God was important and obeying His word was important.

Do we need to repent and get back to doing what we did before?

View_from_odeonJesus next warned the Ephesian believers—if you don’t repent, Jesus would remove their lampstand, their witness, from that place. This, remember, was the church Paul wrote to about putting on the armor of God, repeatedly telling them to stand firm. And what’s the condition of the church in Ephesus today?

Then His praise: they hated deeds Jesus also hated. These deeds are those of the mysterious Nicolaitans. I’ve not heard a pastor yet who claims to know who these people were. Apparently there’s no record of them outside the Bible, and there’s no other explanation of them or their deeds. But there really doesn’t need to be. Whatever they did, it was something Jesus hated. Scripture gives us plenty of things that would fall into that category.

So the question: are we tepid about things God hates or are we white-hot angry about the things He hates. If we’re unsure what God hates, we can start with this list from Proverbs:

Pride and arrogance and the evil way
And the perverted mouth, I hate (8:13b).

Or how about this one:

Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD (12:22a)

I’m not so sure Jesus would commend the Church in America for hating deeds He hates.

Jesus ended His message with a promise:

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’ (Rev. 2:7)

“To him who overcomes” seems directed to individuals rather than to the Church collectively. The promise is familiar. Eating of the tree of life harkens back to the Garden where God walked and talked with the man and woman He had made and found to be very good. It evokes the image of the feast in the parable Jesus told. It alludes to eternal life, and this promise is certainly for any in the American Church who “overcome.”

There isn’t much of a context clue to explain what “overcomes” means, but there are clear passages that deal with God granting eternal life, the most well-known being John 3:16.

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.

I surmise, then, that “overcoming” is tied with believing in Jesus. There are lots of “professing Christians” in America today who don’t believe in Jesus as the Bible reveals Him. But the true Church? Well, belief in Jesus is really the dividing point, isn’t it.

Published in: on July 28, 2014 at 6:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Warden And The Wolf King Tour Wrap


WingfeatherSagaWhat an awesome tour CSFF put on for the finale of the Wingfeather Saga, The Warden And The Wolf King by Andrew Peterson. We enjoyed stories of personal interaction with the author, reviews of the earlier books, and a thoughtful look at the twisting of an existing myth about names into something deeper, something born from the Christian worldiew.

In all, twenty bloggers wrote thirty-four articles introducing this middle grade (though some refer to it as young adult) fantasy, and the final book of the series in particular.

I’m happy to announce that we have a winner of the July CSFF Top Tour Blogger Award: Bruce Hennigan. If you haven’t already, you can read all three of Bruce’s excellent articles on his site: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3.

Besides these posts, I encourage you to read Shannon McDermott’s “A Superstition Transformed” dealing with names and myth and an effective twist of the established fantasy trope.

You can also read Keanan Brand’s Day 2 post in which he shares a few passages from The Warden And The Wolf King, illustrative ones if not favorite.

I think there are a number of quotables in this book, but unfortunately I got so caught up in the story that I forgot to write them down. Here’s one, though, and a good one, too:

The set up: Armuly the Bard is talking to Sara Cooper who thinks “all this talk” about the Shining Isle of Anniera is wishful thinking.

“I’m sorry, but the Shining Isle is a long way from here.” Sarah looked down. “So is Janner.”

“That doesn’t mean it isn’t true. The Shining Isle exists as surely as the floor you’re standing on. It may be hard to believe, but it’s real, I tell you. Sometimes in the middle of the night, the sun can seem like it was only ever a dream. We need something to remind us that it still exists, even if we can’t see it. We need something beautiful hanging in the dark sky to remind us there is such a thing as daylight. Sometimes, Queen Sara”—Armulyn strummed his whistleharp—“music is the moon.”

I think Christians can be the moon, too. So go out and be the moon to someone today. ;-)

Dogma And Snark


Preacher_(3558380993)False teaching has existed for as long as the Christian church has existed. Paul, Jude, and Peter all addressed the topic. In fact, Jesus Himself warned of the same thing: “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matt. 7:15).

Today false teaching seems to be as strong and healthy as ever, but now it comes with two sidekicks: dogma and snark. Dogma is a set of principles laid down by someone claiming authority—such as a false teacher—as if these are undeniably true. Snark, as used in the vernacular, refers to opinions rendered with a bite, often humorous, but at the expense of someone holding a different view.

The astounding thing is that false teaching often comes about as a criticism of dogma. Progressives want to stand against “those dogmatic fundamentalists,” for example. But the result simply is new dogma, repeated over and over, without supportive evidence, as if it is a known truth.

Snark has also become the false teacher’s friend. Make people laugh a little, or more accurately laugh at the person with whom they disagree, and the point, whatever point that may be, has been made.

Discernment, then, has become that much harder. First we have to get past such things as bombast and political correctness and categorical statements (“Fundamentalists are all legalists” or “Porn stars all hate themselves” or “a person who says homosexuality is sin is a homophobe.”)

Second, we have to get past the brash, often condescending tone of so much rhetoric. People’s opinions now come with barbs, and at any time that sharp point might swing about and take aim on you. On the other hand, the attack might be pointed at a person or set of beliefs that you want to see taken down. However, the humor masks the vapid support for that position. At best it serves as a springboard for more mockery.

Dogma and snark are an unhealthy mix, but add them to false teaching and you have a deadly cocktail.

The only sure counter to false teaching, to dogma dressed up as politically correct tolerance, to snarky but baseless opinions is God’s sure word.

This week some comment has arisen because of an article at Pathos—an excerpt from a Frank Schaeffer book—that vilifies the writers of the New Testament on its way to saying that Jesus was not a Bible-believer.

Dogma. Snark. And false teaching.

I fear this may be trending.

But God’s word, no matter what the false teachers like to say, is sure. It will stand firm forever. It is tried and it stands.

Peter has much to say about these matters in both his letters. First, he makes a clear statement about God’s Word (and in 2 Peter he gave Paul’s letters equal status to other Scripture):

for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. 24 For,
“ALL FLESH IS LIKE GRASS,
AND ALL ITS GLORY LIKE THE FLOWER OF GRASS.
THE GRASS WITHERS,
AND THE FLOWER FALLS OFF,
25 BUT THE WORD OF THE LORD ENDURES FOREVER.”
And this is the word which was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:23-25)

Then at the end of his second letter, he gives an admonition and a prayer.

You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, 18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (2 Peter 3:17-18)

I can’t think of a better response to false teaching, even that married to dogma and snark.

Published in: on July 24, 2014 at 6:26 pm  Comments Off  
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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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