Accepting God’s Correction


father-and-daughter-1064479-mNot many of us like to be corrected. Hebrews says the correction we received from our parents at the time seemed, not joyful, but sorrowful (Heb. 12:11). But in actuality it “yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”

The people of Israel, under Moses’s tutelage, experienced God’s correction from time to time. Most notable was His response to their rebellion when they reached the Promised Land.

At God’s direction, they sent twelve spies into Canaan to see what they were up against and what kind of land they’d be taking over. When they came back after forty days, ten of the spies concluded, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us” (Num. 13:31b). Because of this report, the people decided it was a mistake to try and take possession of what God had promised to give them.

All the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron; and the whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?” So they said to one another, “Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt.” (Num. 14:2-4)

Things got worse as the other two spies, Joshua and Caleb, tried to reason with them that God would bring them into the land, no matter what the obstacles. The people took up stones to put them to death. At this point God told Moses He’d had enough of their rebellion. However, Moses pleaded with God—not for the sake of the people, interestingly, but for God’s sake. He said, the Egyptians would hear of it and the nations around would hear of it and conclude that God simply wasn’t strong enough to give them the land. He made one of the great declarations of God’s character, then concluded with a plea for the nation:

“‘The LORD is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations.’ Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness, just as You also have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.” (Num. 15:18-19)

Moses had it right—God would by no means clear the guilty, though He would, and did, pardon their sin. In other words, there were consequences for what they did. God, by way of correcting them, gave them what they wanted. Those adults who said it was a bad idea to go into Canaan would not step foot in the land. Instead they would wander in the wilderness for forty years—a year for each day the spies were in the land.

The punishment had its desired effect. The people mourned and recognized their sin, but they didn’t accept God’s correction. Instead, they apparently thought, since they’d finally gotten with the program, God should cancel their punishment:

In the morning, however, they rose up early and went up to the ridge of the hill country, saying, “Here we are; we have indeed sinned, but we will go up to the place which the LORD has promised.” (Num. 14:40)

Nice try, Israel. But no, it’s too late, Moses said. Don’t go up aiming to win a battle because God isn’t with you.

You guessed it: they went anyway. The result was a good sound defeat at the hands of the Amalekites and the Canaanites on top of the forty years in the wilderness God had determined as their correction.

I notice a couple things in this story. One is how gracious God is. Because of their rebellion, the people of Israel deserved death. But God withheld His hand because of Moses’s mediation.

As he does throughout these chapters containing his story, Moses serves as a type of Christ. It is He who stood in the gap for us as our Advocate when we deserved death for our rebellion.

Third, the people responded incorrectly to correction. Sure, they were sorrowful—they didn’t want to wander in the wilderness for forty years! Who would? But a genuinely repentant heart would have responded with obedience, not more rebellion!

Today, God’s grace is poured out on His people so that we are clothed with the righteousness of Christ. Our sins are forgiven. And yet, we may suffer the consequences of our rebellious ways. Or not. Because of His mercy, God can and does stay His hand. But not always, and not forever.

Either way, God’s correction or His forbearance is not reason for our continued rebellion.

As He did for Israel, God may use circumstances to correct us today. Back then He told Moses what He was doing. Today we have the Holy Spirit to prod us to repentance when we go our own way.

Of course, the ideal would be not to rebel in the first place. ;-) If only! I would so much rather I didn’t have to face God’s correction, and yet, as Hebrews says, it yields the fruit of righteousness.

What’s more, it’s a sign that God is our Father:

It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. (Heb. 12:7-10)

In the end, holiness is the issue. God wants us to be like Jesus more than He wants us to have a rockin’ good time here and now.

Our response to His correction, then, should be quite different from that of the people of Israel. Sorrow, sure, but not because we’ve been caught or we don’t like the discipline facing us. Rather, it should be sorrow and acceptance, knowing that it comes from the hand of our Father:

When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong
Because the LORD is the One who holds his hand (Ps. 37:24)

Published in: on September 12, 2014 at 6:24 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Speaking Against God’s Authority


Moses067The book of Numbers records several rebellions against Moses, but perhaps the most costly in terms of human lives was the one led by a man named Korah, who was a Levite in the service of the tabernacle, and a couple of guys named Dathan and Abiram and On, who apparently were simple laymen.

These leaders collected a group of 250 prominent men, and together they challenged Moses’s leadership.

They assembled together against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, “You have gone far enough, for all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is in their midst; so why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?” (Numbers 16:3)

Of course, Moses and Aaron were not exalting themselves. They had responded to God’s call and were simply doing what He told them to do. In other words, as God spelled out, the rebellion wasn’t really against Moses and Aaron at all. It was against God.

But the LORD said to Moses, “Put back the rod of Aaron [which had blossomed over night when the rods from the other eleven tribes had not] before the testimony to be kept as a sign against the rebels, that you may put an end to their grumblings against Me, so that they will not die.” (Num. 17:10, emphasis added)

The horrific thing is, the 250 leaders died for their rebellion, but instead of repenting and turning to God, the people blamed Moses and Aaron for their deaths. As a result, a plague swept through the camp and another 14,700 people died. Moses interceded for them, then God instructed Aaron to make atonement for the people with an offering of incense.

Afterward, as a visual sign for all the people, God instructed each tribe to provide Moses with a rod. He put all twelve in the screened portion of the tabernacle where the ark was. The next morning, Aaron’s staff had blossomed whereas the others remained the same—a clear picture that God had chosen him and his descendants to be His priests.

You’d think such a clear sign would bring an end to the grumbling and doubting aimed at Moses. It didn’t.

All this reminds me of today, We have much more than a blossoming rod. We have the written word of God. You’d think we wouldn’t rebel against God and His authority. I mean, how much clearer can He get? We twenty-first century Christians, who have multiple translations and commentaries and concordances and Bible dictionaries and Hebrew or Greek lexicons, surely must no longer have any doubts about God’s authoritative plans and will.

How ironic, then, that we are the generation with such false teachings as Rob Bell’s that proclaims universal salvation or Joel Osteen’s that reiterates the arguments of Job’s friends regarding suffering or the Progressive Christians’ that dismisses the Old Testament as myth and writes off much of the New as written by bigots.

The Bible goes too far, they seem to say. We’re just as holy as anyone else. The Lord is in us just as well as in you, so why do you elevate your understanding of the Bible over ours?

If we want to declare the God of the Old Testament to be a wrathful tyrant, a God who we’ve moved past to get to Jesus in whom there is no wrath in our view, then who are you to say we can’t?

If we want to say hell doesn’t exist, that it was the imagining of later writers who compiled Scripture or a misunderstanding of Jesus’s imaginative language, who are you to say we’re wrong?

If we want to say the passages in the Bible about homosexuality are misinterpreted or outmoded and no longer culturally relevant, who are you to contradict us?

If we want to say the instruction to women in the church to be subject to their husbands as is fitting in the Lord, that they must remain silent in church services, is cultural and not for the Church today, who are you to dispute the issue?

If we want to say that people can have a relationship with God through Christ, though they have never believed in Jesus, who are you to argue that actual belief is necessary?

Like Moses and Aaron in those days in the wilderness with the rebellious people of Israel, we who believe in the Bible and proclaim it, are not the authority. God is. People standing against the authority of Scripture are actually standing against God.

How many tears I’d be spared if I could write off hell as symbolic or a fabrication. How much less conflict if I could go along with the culture about homosexuality or feminism. How much easier to preach a gospel of health and wealth than one of cross bearing.

I’d much rather believe that Man is good than that we have sin natures. In fact, when I was young and first heard that all had sinned, I didn’t want to believe it. I mean, I couldn’t think of any of the Big Sins that I’d committed. So I decided, if I could just identify one person in the Bible who had not committed a sin, then I could be like him or her.

I decided Moses was a likely candidate. But my mom pointed out he’d committed murder. Horrors! Well, how about King David? No, he was guilty of adultery! Of course Abraham lied and Jacob cheated, the people during the time of the judges were a mess—in fact, a good many of the judges were a mess. The kings were mostly worse.

Then in the New Testament Peter denied Jesus, James and John were trying to one-up the other disciples by securing the best positions in Christ’s kingdom. Paul argued with Barnabas over John Mark, who had deserted them. And on and on.

No perfect people in the Bible. No sinless people that I’ve met either. So, maybe, just maybe, I have to admit, though I wish it weren’t so, I have a sinful heart, and Man not only isn’t good but isn’t capable of being good (which is not the same as doing good).

In the end, I’m no different from those people on their way to the Promised Land. I can believe the authority God has given me—the Bible—or I can rebel and “deconstruct” in one way or another, what He has said. As for me and my house, I’m embracing God’s word which is sure and tried and stands forever.

Published in: on September 11, 2014 at 5:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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Ray Rice And Forgiveness


Tony DungyTony Dungy, former NFL coach of the Indianapolis Colts, and before that, coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, spoke out yesterday about Baltimore Ravens running back, Ray Rice who made headlines this off season when a video surfaced showing him drag his unconscious fiancée (Janay, now his wife) out of a hotel elevator. Reports surfaced that he had knocked her unconscious.

Both Rice and Janay were arrested, with Rice eventually indicted on aggravated assault charges. Her charge of assault was later dropped.

Rice pleaded not guilty, then applied for and was accepted in a program for first-time offenders which, among other things, required him to attend regular counseling.

The NFL responded to the incident by suspending him for two games. Two. Games.

Many people were irate, and even those with no interest in football and no feminist ax to grind thought it was ridiculous that a man could knock a woman unconscious and receive a lesser penalty than someone who tested positive for a banned substance. The message seemed to be, it’s not good to hurt others, but it’s twice as bad to hurt yourself.

The NFL commissioner quickly saw the error of his decision and created a new policy for domestic abuse.

And then the public saw the punch for themselves. Ever-helpful TMZ aired a video of Rice and Janay inside the elevator which showed him delivering a blow that sent her against the railing, knocking her unconscious.

For some reason, seeing him hit her ignited a mob mentality against Rice, as if what people saw on film was a new and different incident from the one they witnessed after the fact, with him dragging her body off the elevator.

Rice’s team released him and some people are suggesting the NFL should give him a lifetime ban. As it is, they suspended him indefinitely.

Enter Tony Dungy, who happens also to be a Christian and is currently working as a football analyst for NBC. In an interview with WFLA, he was asked if Ray Rice deserves a second chance.

“He doesn’t deserve a second chance yet,” Dungy said. “Second chances come to those who show that they have changed. Now to me, if he does that, then yes, we should give them a second chance. I’m not one to say one mistake is the end of your life.” (EXCLUSIVE: TONY DUNGY ON RAY RICE: “He does not deserve a second chance – yet”

I have to say, the latest events baffle me. I personally found the most disturbing part of this story to be Rice dragging Janay’s body from the elevator. How lacking in compassion. If one of his teammates was lying unconscious on the field, would he grab hold of him and drag him to the sidelines?

The NFL has all kinds of protocols for head trauma and neck injuries. How did Rice know Janay didn’t have a serious, life-threatening injury? Instead of caring for her, though, or calling for help, he dragged her off the elevator.

To me that act was unconscionable.

But guess what? Her body sprawled on the floor of the elevator had a cause. The arrest and subsequent charges, followed by Rice’s decision to apply for the first-time domestic violence offenders program, made it clear she didn’t spontaneously drop to the ground. In fact, Rice was the cause.

So why was everyone shocked when the video came out showing that yes, Rice was the cause? Now that people can see it with their own eyes, is the act somehow worse? Worse than him dragging her body along the floor and out of the elevator?

Ultimately, Tony Dungy is right, though. We all need a second chance, though we don’t deserve one. The only thing that qualifies us for a second chance is change. But Dungy pointed to the fly in this NFL messy ointment: “Hard thing is, how can you prove you’ve changed, changed the way you live.”

Truth is, people can change on the outside, but their inner nature remains the same. Alcoholics who enter treatment learn, once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic. However, those who recover determine not to act according to their nature.

So much sinful behavior seems to have this addictive component, if the experts are to be believed—pedophilia, drug use, domestic violence, pornography.

So where does forgiveness fit into all this? And second chances. I suspect Tony Dungy was answering the question in the interview from a pragmatic perspective. But as a Christian, he knows change not only doesn’t come over night, real change doesn’t happen as a result of self effort.

Instead, Ray Rice needs a fundamental change. He needs to lay aside the old self “with its evil practices,” as Paul put it in Colossians, and put on the new self who is being renewed “according to the image of the one who created him.” This is the fundamental change of new birth—spiritual birth.

Peter makes the process of this change clear:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3)

Later in that chapter, he makes it clear that the tool God uses to bring about this change is His word:

for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. For,
“ALL FLESH IS LIKE GRASS,
AND ALL ITS GLORY LIKE THE FLOWER OF GRASS.
THE GRASS WITHERS,
AND THE FLOWER FALLS OFF,
BUT THE WORD OF THE LORD ENDURES FOREVER.”
And this is the word which was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:23-15)

In reality, forgiveness precedes change, but it’s God’s forgiveness that He initiates because of His mercy and through the work of His Son, a forgiveness that we learn of through the preaching of His word.

Then, and only then, can lasting change, fundamental change, take place.

Is The Lord’s Power Limited?


quail-2-703602-mI suspect if most Christians who believe the Bible were asked if God’s power is limited, we’d say, No, of course not. Some who identify as Christians but think Peter walking on water was symbolic and Daniel’s friends surviving a fiery furnace was myth, probably have some reservation about God’s power.

The thing is, whether we say God’s power is not limited or if we hedge the question, we mostly live as if we don’t think God has unlimited power. Not a surprise really. Even Moses wasn’t so sure about God’s power.

This would be Moses who saw a burning bush that didn’t burn up, who talked with God, who had his staff turn into a snake at God’s word, who initiated the plagues of Egypt, who parted the Red Sea, who met with God to receive His commandments.

Yes, that Moses wasn’t so sure about God’s unlimited power.

The situation was this: after more than a year of manna for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, the people of Israel started to complain. Seriously complain. There was a Back to Egypt faction, and a Down with Moses faction brewing. Already they were looking back at their old life with nostalgia. Things were better in Egypt. They could get good food for free. Never mind that they’d been slaves, so nothing from the Egyptians was free. Still, their complaints mounted.

Finally Moses brought the matter to God. The people were too much for him. He couldn’t handle the pressure alone. God gave him a group of elders to share the burden, but still there was the matter of food. The people specifically wanted meat.

God, as He so often does, said, Fine. They want meat, I’ll give them meat. In fact, I’ll give them so much meat they’ll be sick of it:

Therefore the LORD will give you meat and you shall eat. You shall eat, not one day, nor two days, nor five days, nor ten days, nor twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you; because you have rejected the LORD who is among you and have wept before Him, saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?” (Num. 11:18b-20)

Excuse me, God, Moses answered. You may be forgetting something. We’re talking about 600,000 people, and You’re saying You’re going to give them meat for an entire month? Actually it was Moses who was forgetting something. The rounded off number of 600,000 was the men listed in the census and did not count women and children. The total could easily have been a million and a half.

But even underestimating the number of people who needed meat, Moses didn’t see any way God could do what He said He’d do. No way, Moses said. If we killed off all our livestock, there wouldn’t be enough meat to satisfy the demand for a month. Even if we over fished the sea we’re camped beside, there wouldn’t be enough for the whole company.

Here was an odd situation: God said it; Moses didn’t believe it.

Some how, because Moses questioned the limitless power of God, I feel a little better about the times I question God’s ability to do what He says He’ll do. I shouldn’t feel better. My excuse is that Moses had the advantage over me because He got to see God turn water to blood and cause darkness to fall on the land for three straight days and to send locusts to eat up their crops and hail to strike any living thing left in the fields. He saw the angel of God pass over Israel and strike down the first born of Egypt. Of course He should have believed God could do the impossible. He’d already seen it. Advantage Moses.

Except, I have the advantage of the cross and the risen, resurrected Lord Jesus. I have God’s written revelation chronicling fulfilled prophecy. I have His Holy Spirit living in my life, guiding me into all truth, acting as my Advocate with the Father.

Advantage Becky.

The point is, Moses didn’t really have a more sure way of knowing that God would fulfill His word. He had to trust and I have to trust.

Moses, quite frankly, thought God couldn’t pull it off. But to his credit, he didn’t start painting Return To Egypt Or Bust signs. His questions went straight to God.

You’re kidding! Six hundred thousand people? Meat? For a month?

God simplified things:

The LORD said to Moses, “Is the LORD’S power limited? Now you shall see whether My word will come true for you or not.”

Somehow, miraculously, God sent quail up from the sea. The birds surrounded the camp within a day’s walk. There were so many of them they stacked up a yard deep.

summertime-wild-flower-meadow-2-1354217-mIs the Lord’s power limited? Yeah, that would be NO.

If He wants to send quail to teach a lesson to His people about craving more than what He’s given, then He can send an impossible number of quail. So, too, today. If God says He will not fail or forsake His people, we His people can know He won’t fail or forsake us.

His word is sure, settled in Heaven, and unlike the flower of the grass that withers, it will stand forever.

Published in: on September 9, 2014 at 6:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Books Of The Bible I Used To Skip


10_Commandments008I’ve mentioned before in posts about the value of reading the Bible through that it’s fine to skip the hard parts—better, in fact, than letting them defeat the whole program to read through the Bible. As it turns out, the way the Bible is constructed one passage builds upon another, and before I realized it, I was reading the hard passages and even taking notes and asking questions.

Specifically I’m referring to the books of Leviticus and Numbers. There were other passages—a portion of 1 Chronicles, for example—that dive into genealogies, and they were on my “To Be Avoided” list, too, but primarily, I dodged Leviticus and Numbers.

I’m not at all sorry I did because I’m convinced that decision kept me from quitting yet again as I tried to work my way through the entire Bible.

The amazing thing is that God has turned around my attitude toward those books. I realized it anew last week as I felt a sense of saddness that I was finished with Leviticus and moving on to Numbers. When did that happen? And how?

God did His work, is what happened. How? By the power of His Spirit and the incisive word that cuts to the heart. I don’t honestly remember when I decided to keep going when I finished Exodus.

To be honest, there are big parts of that book that are not your edge-of-the-seat fare. It’s there that God gave the specifics of the tabernacle—its construction and furnishings—as well as the Ten Commandments and a variety of other laws.

Leviticus, then, sort of slides right in behind, carrying on where Exodus left off. The thing is, the more familiar I become with the rest of the Bible, the more these books of law and records make sense to me, and the more they help me understand other parts of the Bible. Cyclical, I know.

Not that I don’t also have questions about them. I do. Questions and observations.

Here’s one note, for instance, across from Exodus 21:16—“He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death.”

My note: By this law, Joseph’s brothers would have been put to death.

Joseph’s brothers—the patriarchs by whom the twelve tribes were named. Their sin against Joseph was of the nature that should have cost them their lives. Instead they were forgiven and given places of prominence among the nation of Israel for all time. Who could do that but a God of grace?!

Or how about this note next to Leviticus 17:11-12—“For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement. Therefore I said to the sons of Israel, ‘No person among you may eat blood, nor may any alien who sojourns among you eat blood.’ “

My notes: How radical was Jesus’s statement “This is my blood . . . drink this . . . ” ! The blood is the life, so Jesus’s blood spilled for sinners was His life spent for the atonement of sinners. And the cup of the Lord’s supper? His life in us symbolized by our drinking of the cup.

This last was compiled over at least three different readings of the passage. Each time something new about the passage comes clear and one thought builds on another.

Or how about Numbers 7. It’s 89 verses long, but most of it is repetition enumerating the dedication offerings for the altar. Each day for twelve days a leader of one of the twelve tribes brought the exact same offering, and these are listed throughout the chapter, one after the other. All twelve of them:

and his offering was one silver dish whose weight was one hundred and thirty shekels, one silver bowl of seventy shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, both of them full of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering; one gold pan of ten shekels, full of incense; one bull, one ram, one male lamb one year old, for a burnt offering; one male goat for a sin offering; and for the sacrifice of peace offerings, two oxen, five rams, five male goats, five male lambs one year old. This was the offering of [tribal leader] the son of [father of tribal leader].

I don’t know why God repeated those lines twelve times, inserting, of course the different tribal names and their respective leaders and their fathers. But what I’ve noticed is that the margins of my Bible are covered with notes here (mostly questions). This was a passage I once skipped, then skimmed, then started trying to memorize, then began to ask questions about and notice details.

For instance, the order in which the tribes presented their sacrifice is not the same as the order of birth of the patriarchs or their listing by the name of their mother (the two most common ways they are listed throughout the first five books of the Bible). Instead, they’d been grouped in companies, three tribes to a group, each under the leadership of one particular tribe. By the order of these companies they were to camp and by the order of these companies they were to travel. It is this order, then, that they presented their sacrifices.

Significant? In thinking about the dynamics of the nation, it’s interesting and informative, especially in relation to its division into two kingdoms later on.

Back to the sacrifices: part included flour or incense offered in 12 bowls, 12 pans, and 12 dishes. Only the pans holding the incense were to be made of gold. The others were silver. Is there a reason for that? Was the incense a particularly important part of the worship or was it a practical matter—the blend of burning spices would have tarnished silver?

I don’t know, but it’s interesting to note that in Revelation the prayers of the saints are referred to as incense.

When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. (Rev. 5:8)

All this to say, there are all kinds of interesting connections, some literal and some symbolic, that I am beginning to see, especially in the New Testament, as a result of reading Leviticus and Numbers. I understand the book of Hebrews better, for instance, and a number of things that the gospels chronicle make more sense.

I have to mention this one: one of the laws in Leviticus was that a person with an “issue of blood” would be unclean—i.e. not able to join in the worship ceremonies and feasts. Furthermore, anyone that person touched would also be unclean.

So in the New Testament when the woman with the “issue of blood” touched the edge of Jesus’s clothing, she didn’t want to touch Him to cause Him to become unclean. He, on the other hand, didn’t rebuke her, but had compassion on her because her suffering had been much deeper than the physical. She’d been ostracized and separated from worship for all those years. And still she believed.

So today, I’m especially grateful for the books of Leviticus and Numbers and for the way God makes His word come alive. He is a faithful God.

Published in: on September 8, 2014 at 6:35 pm  Comments (1)  
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Merlin’s Nightmare – Tour Wrap


Merlin SpiralThis week the CSFF Blog Tour featured Merlin’s Nightmare, book three of the Merlin Spiral by Robert Treskillard. For the group, I think the tour was a huge success. For me individually, not so much. Because of a confluence of events, I was not able to post the last two days, including the last day of the tour. Suffice it to say, my review of Merlin’s Nightmare is forthcoming.

Apart from me, however, the tour carried on in fine fashion. Many participants stopped by other blogs to read and comment. There were also many thoughtful observations along with critical reviews.

The most oft repeated criticism was that the ending of this trilogy was not actually an ending but more nearly an introduction to the next trilogy, the Pendragon Spiral. Not that readers mind more Merlin and Arthur stories from author Robert Treskillard. Rather, it seems some wanted, even expected, more closure.

A couple things surfaced repeatedly in the “this is great” camp. One was the historical connection and the research that went into giving the book and series such an authentic feel. Another was the action that drew readers into the story and kept them turning pages.

I may have missed someone, but I didn’t see a single participant who was disappointed with the book or sorry they’d read it or recommended others not bother with it. Positive consensus like that isn’t easy to come by. Perhaps the fact that these readers, reacting thoughtful with the story and even criticizing aspects of it, nevertheless agreed that this book and series was worthwhile, says more than anything about how good it really is.

In the end, twenty-four bloggers posted thirty-nine articles discussing Merlin’s Nightmare this week. That doesn’t count the article I wrote at Spec Faith or the handful of reviews (my own included) still to be posted.

One of the more interesting posts, I thought, was Megan @ Blooming with Books, Day 2 post examining fealty and its application to today.

A must-read post, from my perspective, is Elizabeth William’s day two post about the fantasy elements of the story. Here is the meat of her article:

First, in this version, Merlin is not the last of the old, but the start of something new – a Christian, united Britain, which breaks down the tribal barriers and becomes a thing larger than the sum of its parts. With his scars, his history, and his harp, Merlin also has the traditional links to the past. But this book is not so much about saving the past as it is ensuring the future.

Secondly – power, magic, and awe belong not just to the druids and the devil-linked deals with demons, but also to the people of God. The miracles of God are less flashy than the “power” displayed by the various antagonists of the ‘bad guys’ – but there is distinct, overt magic there. More importantly, the magic and miracles are shown to be linked to the use of prayer, but not in a directive way.

The difference, as I see it, is thus: Morgana draws in the dark power and stabs at things with her fang. Merlin prays for strength and deliverance. (And God delivers, natch.)

CSFFTopBloggerAug14In the end, despite a number of top notch posts from a number of tour participants, I’m going to award this month’s CSFF Top Tour Blogger Award to Audrey Sauble for her three excellent articles at The Lore Mistress. I especially enjoyed her day three post about how the Merlin Spiral books fit into the Arthurian legends.

If you haven’t taken time to see what tour participants are saying about Merlin’s Nightmare, I hope you do so this weekend. The book is worth your consideration, and you have a wealth of insight at your disposal. Links to the tour articles are available at the end of my day one post.

Fiction And The Supernatural – Merlin’s Nightmare, CSFF Tour, Day 2


Robert Treskillard at book signing2Merlin’s Nightmare, third in the Merlin Spiral young adult fantasy trilogy by Robert Treskillard, depends upon the supernatural, both the evil and the good. As such the story is labeled as fantasy, but should it be?

Isn’t the supernatural real?

I know many people, even some professing to be Christians, say belief in the supernatural is nothing but superstition. Those whose worldviews lean toward rationalism determine what is real by one or more of their five senses. Consequently, since you can’t smell demons or touch them or see them, they don’t exist.

Still others lean toward mysticism, but this bent seems more inward looking, more centered on the mind and emotions. There seems to be little awareness of a being or beings outside ourselves. Rather, the mystical puts us in touch with other living things—meaning, other natural beings that can be identified through the five senses.

Christians, on the other hand—true Christians who believe in the Bible—know that God is Spirit, that the Holy Spirit is Spirit, that Jesus has a spiritual body. Consequently, it should be a given that Christians believe in the supernatural.

Surprisingly, however, there’s an arm of evangelical Christianity that basically closes the door on supernatural activity within the Church. The Bible, the reasoning goes, is God’s final word and speaks authoritatively. It is sufficient for salvation and there is no other revelation that will be added to it.

Consequently, the office of prophet has ended. In addition, according to 1 Corinthians 13, tongues—the ability to speak unknown and unlearned languages–will cease. Presumably that means the gift of interpreting tongues is no longer necessary. I’m not sure how the gift of healing was included, but these “ecstatic gifts,” according to this line of thinking, ended with the first generation Christians, or there abouts.

In short, according to this view, the Christian no longer has any involvement with the supernatural. Of course unbelievers don’t either and never did have anything to do with the supernatural.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are evangelicals who believe that demons and angels are everywhere, that Christians must exhibit ecstatic gifts, especially tongues, or they aren’t really Christians.

Many of the latter have shown by their lives that their “conversion” isn’t genuine. They embraced a “spiritual high,” but not the God who they claimed to be the source of their joy. On the other hand, those denying supernatural activity have been accused of turning the Bible into the third person of the trinity in place of the Holy Spirit.

So what is the truth about the supernatural?

Those who don’t discount the Bible as myth, who believe that Jesus actually did walk on water and heal the blind and raise Lazarus from the dead and cast out the legion of demons, believe in the supernatural. The question then becomes, is the supernatural still active? Or is it active in the sense that it intersects the natural world?

Enter fiction and stories like the Merlin Spiral that explore the supernatural from both the side of evil and the side of good. Is there power in the hands of evil? Can mortals defeat it? What is the source of power for good? Can mortals access it?

Merlin’s Nightmare begins an exploration of these elements from the beginning. Here’s a sample:

Morgana reached into her bag once more and pulled forth the orb, another gift from the Voice. Like the fang, she had found it beneath the Druid Stone. It had many powers, but tonight she would use it differently.

Out from the trembling, roaring hole appeared a translucent image of Gorlas that only Morgana could see—his soul emerging from his body. Quickly she held the orb out, and Gorlas’s soul glittered, faded, and then began to sink once more into the pit. The apparition’s face twisted in agony. Oh, but she would save him from this pain. She began to chant;

    Soul of earth, soul in death, come now to me.
    Skin of dust, skin in rust, come and serve me!
    Merlin’s end, Merlin’s rend; yes, you must be
    Arthur’s bane, Arthur’s chain; yes, you must be!
    Power of night, Power of fright, come now, my prize.
    Flesh astrewn, Flesh of moon; yes, you shall rise.

. . . Gorlas’s soul shimmered its last, and then the orb sucked it in like a black liquid swirling down through a funnel. A scream whistled upon the air, and then all was still.

It was done! For inside the orb, surrounded by purple flame, glared the weeping visage of Gorlas. (pp. 19-20)

In the world of Merlin, fanciful though it is, the supernatural exists. How does that help readers to process and understand evil and good at the supernatural level? Because it is imagined by the writer—in this case, Robert Treskillard—does that negate its truth?

I submit that fiction dealing with the natural is still made up, or pretend, if you will. And yet such stories can show a young man coming of age or a brave widow overcoming tragedy or an estranged couple finding reconciliation. Those stories resonate because readers see the truth in them, though the characters are figments of the author’s imagination.

In the same way, an author, though using the medium of fantasy, can pull the curtain back a little on the supernatural. Not in a precise, this-is-exactly-how-it-is way, but in a It-Is way. It is, and it is real—the evil, but also the good.

The next question is, how does the natural man deal with the supernatural? For that one, I suggest you read the Bible. But you also might find Merlin’s Nightmare an intriguing, thought-provoking story that shows one person’s struggles to overcome.

Be sure to check out what other CSFF members participating in the tour have to say. You can find a list and links to their articles at the bottom of the Day 1 post.

To read a sample chapter, click here. To find out about the current series contest stop by the author’s website.

Merlin’s Nightmare By Robert Treskillard – CSFF Blog Tour, Day 1


Merlin's NightmareThis month the CSFF Blog Tour is featuring a young adult fantasy, Merlin’s Nightmare, Book 3 of the Merlin Spiral by Robert Treskillard, who is one of the CSFF members!

I know I’m picky when it comes to fantasy. I have firmly fixed in my mind the way I think fantasy should be done. A map is one of the requirements. A list of characters and/or a glossary is another. In the case of a series, a review sheet reminding readers what went before is highly recommended, if not exactly a requirement.

I’m happy to report that Merlin’s Nightmare includes all three.

First of all, the map is actually three different maps. There’s the overview—a map of Britain during the fifth century. Next, there’s a map of a more localized portion of Britain, and finally there’s the map of a particular village. If readers aren’t clear about the logistics of the story, it certainly won’t be because of a want of a map.

Next, the needed glossary and the desired summary of events from the previous books are cleverly combined. Rather than giving an alphabetical listing of terms, the names and places that appear in the front matter are organized sequentially. First are those that came into play in the first of the series, Merlin’s Blade, then those that were significant to the second, Merlin’s Shadow. After reading through these lists, a reader will have received a nice review of the opening two books.

For those who don’t have the previous books and would like to know what went on before, I recommend Carol Gehringer’s introductory post (with links to her reviews) and Megan @ Blooming with Books excellent review article that summarizes each of the first two books in the trilogy.

Member Jojo Sutis also gives a review of the first book in the series, but her approach is unique. First she posted the book trailer video for Merlin’s Blade, then her own video review of the book.

Interestingly, some of the CSFF tour participants have noted how much they enjoy stories based on the Arthurian legend. I came at this series from the opposite side of the spectrum–story weariness which I defined in my article at Speculative Faith as “familiarity with a story to the point that another rendition seems needless and unappealing.”

Nevertheless, Robert hooked me in the first book and held my interest even as he has did those who love new iterations of the legend. How did he do so? I offered a couple possibilities in “Story Weariness.”

As the week wears on and the tour heats up, you’ll see the number of posts (indicated by check marks) grow. Take time to see what each of these bloggers has to say about a series that captures readers coming to it with contrasting perspectives.

Thomas Clayton Booher
Beckie Burnham
Jeff Chapman
Vicky DealSharingAunt
April Erwin
Carol Gehringer
Victor Gentile
Rebekah Gyger
Carol Keen
Emileigh Latham
Jennette Mbewe
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Joan Nienhuis
Nissa
Jalynn Patterson
Writer Rani
Nathan Reimer
Audrey Sauble
Chawna Schroeder
Jojo Sutis
Robert Treskillard
Phyllis Wheeler
Elizabeth Williams

God Is Greater


Mountain_Stream_Sun_ValleyRecently I’ve been made aware of corruption in any number of societal institutions here in the US.

When I was in high school and college, I learned about Big Business and its evils which required new laws to curb monopolies and to protect labor movements. Except, the results contributed to Big Government and Big Labor.

Now we also have Big Entertainment and Big Banking and Big Media and Big Education.

Honestly, it’s easy to feel squeezed, to feel defeated. Who can fight city hall? Or cable TV? Or union dues? Or bank foreclosures? Or the department of education?

Worse still is that the operating principle in each of these Big Systems is primarily greed—get mine and make it as big as possible. The idea of cooperation, the idea of working for the greater good—those are archaic notions, nostalgically remembered but no longer practiced apart from a few mom and pop stores and a smattering of charities.

Even medicine is trending toward Big and Profitable. The prescription drug industry is right there as well.

How odd that in a country build on rights and freedoms, there seems to be less and less within the individual’s control.

In many respects, our institutions operate much like mountain runoff. It starts as a pleasant and pure stream high above timberline where it waters meadows and wildflowers, but ends up funneled into a muddy and polluted river.

Rivers can be incredibly powerful. They can overflow their banks, sweep through an area, and wipe out homes and fields. They can carve canyons from stone and generate enough force to run electric plants.

But greater than any river is God who made them all.

Too often when we see news about shootings and clashes with the police and racial tension and young girls kidnapped and thousands of people trapped on top of a mountain and public beheadings, it’s easy to forget how great God is.

Things feel out of control.

Evil seems to be winning.

It’s easy to forget that God is greater. The truth is, He rules the universe, so it’s not much of a leap to realize He’s also in control of all our societal machinations. Psalm 37 says

Do not fret because of evil doers;
Be not envious toward wrong doers
For they will wither quickly like the grass
And fade like the green herb. (vv 1-2)

If we think of God as higher and over all the multiverse—and we should, because Isaiah 40 says He knows the stars by name, that because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, not one of them is missing—then surely God is over the climate change on earth and the clash between nations and terrorist plots and political intrigue and all the other problems we so often focus on or hide from.

God is in control.

Psalm 37 again.

The wicked plots against the righteous
And gnashes at him with his teeth.
The Lord laughs at him,
For He sees his day is coming.
The wicked have drawn the sword and bent their bow
To cast down the afflicted and the needy,
To slay those who are upright in conduct.
Their sword will enter their own heart
And their bows will be broken. (vv 12-15)

On the other hand, if we think of God as Ruler of the heart yielded to Him, what can’t He overcome? Greed? Not a problem. Pride? He abases the proud look and humbles man’s loftiness.

A few song lyrics are floating through my head as I think about God’s power over our sin. One is “Marvelous Grace Of Our Loving Lord,” which has this chorus:

Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin.

The other is “The Wonderful Grace Of Jesus” with this first verse:

Wonderful grace of Jesus, greater than all my sin;
How shall my tongue describe it, where shall its praise begin?
Taking away my burden, setting my spirit free,
For the wonderful grace of Jesus reaches me!

Yes, God is greater than any of the big institutions that crowd in on top of us and threaten to distract us from what has eternal significance. And God’s grace is greater than any of the sin that weighs us down and holds us captive.

God provides hope and help—release from sin; advocacy in our need. Once more from Psalm 37

For the Lord loves justice
And does not forsake His godly ones. (v. 28a)

Great is His faithfulness. Greater is He than . . . well, anything.

Published in: on August 22, 2014 at 6:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Christians And Ferguson


Riot_Police_tear_gasRioting and looting broke out in the town of Ferguson, Missouri, last week, and calm has only just been restored in the last day or two.

The issue that incited the unrest was the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed eighteen-year-old who’d been caught on a surveillance camera walking out of a story carrying some merchandise. As he left, he thrust an arm against the throat of an older man who seemed to be confronting him.

At some point he and a police officer came into conflict. Witnesses reported that the unarmed young man had his hands up and was in compliance with the officer, who nevertheless opened fire and killed him.

The officer, Darren Wilson, who received a broken eye socket and other facial injuries, reportedly shot because he feared for his life. One report says he was beaten almost unconscious, another that Mr. Brown tried to take his gun from him.

Soon after the shooting, sides were being drawn. Any number of people jumped in to make a political statement of some kind—about racist America (since only a small percentage of the Ferguson police force is African-American), police brutality (since the man who died didn’t have a weapon), gun violence, the undermining of American society.

The media carefully framed the story by introducing it, nearly without exception, as about an unarmed teen shot and killed by police. The exception I heard was “an unarmed black man shot and killed by police.”

The problem, of course, is that those sparse details, while sounding factual, are actually painting a one-sided picture. Buried in the story was why the officer confronted the young man or where he was coming from and what he’d just done.

On the other hand, the small number of African-American officers on the Ferguson police force made its way into the story about one officer and one alleged robber (though he was confronted for walking in the street, not for robbing the store)—somewhere near the lead.

Evidence has surfaced that indicates Mr. Brown may have been moving toward Officer Wilson, as he reported and in contradiction to the witnesses who claimed he was backing away with his hands up.

The media reports generated a burst of anger from around the country. Soon Ferguson was the poster town for racial violence as rioting and looting, military-style police presence with tear gas and curfews brought an escalation of the tension.

In that mix, outsiders arrived—those who simply wanted an excuse to steal and those who wanted to exploit the situation for their own political or social agenda. Still others wanted to perpetrate hatred. According to one source, outside agitators who joined the protest began calling for the death of the officer:

Just prior to Saturday’s governor-ordered curfew in Ferguson, Missouri, New Black Panthers leader Malik Zulu Shabazz led a crowd in a chant, calling for the death of Darren Wilson, the officer identified in the shooting death of Michael Brown:

“What do we want?” “Darren Wilson.”
“How do we want him?” “Dead.” (“New Black Panthers Lead Death Chant Against Officer Involved in Ferguson Shooting“)

My first thought is that this kind of behavior reminds me of the old stories about the Wild West when mobs formed their own opinion and went after the person they determined to be guilty with the intent to lynch him.

The French Revolution also comes to mind, with their nominal trials of those who had once held a place of influence in society, which always led to the guillotine.

Of course there are also the recent beheadings that have taken place in Iraq.

If nothing else, the latter should cause Americans to pause and think. Is this the kind of “justice” we want?

But more importantly, what should we as Christians think? It’s hard not to form an opinion, certainly. I mean, when an eighteen-year-old dies, no matter what the circumstances, it’s a sad story. Someone who drives drunk and dies isn’t “deserving” of death any more than a looter would be or someone committing adultery and caught by an enraged husband.

Understandably parents, friends, and loved ones will be grieved. How media people think it’s OK to shove a microphone in the face of someone who’s just lost a person they care about and say, “How do you feel?” is beyond me.

So the first thing I think that should frame a Christian response is compassion. Someone died—and people are rightly devastated.

The second thing I think that should guide a Christian response is a desire for truth. Consequently we should avoid forming a definitive opinion until the facts are known.

Often times, the side which gets to tell their story first is the one many people believe, but “first” doesn’t count in a court of law. According to our judicial system, a person is innocent until proven guilty, and that applies to police officers as much as to a home owner who shoots someone because he says he thought his life was in danger.

Christians should refrain from repeating as fact a statement, even if it comes from the press, about the guilt or innocence of individuals until such time as both sides have had their say and the experts have weighed in with their evidence. Anything else is gossip. It serves no constructive purpose.

Third, Christians should be advocates for changing the culture that creates antagonism between police and citizens and that tolerates looting and violence as a way to protest. What can we do differently to bring communities together?

Ferguson has come up with some creative ideas in the last few days. But what if Christians around the country or the world, did what we could to bring our own communities together without waiting for a crisis such as Ferguson has experienced? What if we did random acts of kindness? What if we showed the love of Jesus to our neighbors? What if we made a lifestyle of serving others?

One more thing. We Christians can turn the heat down on the debate. For one, we can point out how media slants articles (watch for loaded words, either particularly negative or positive, and watch for what details get into the beginning of the story), and we can determine not to be bandwagon jumpers—on either side. We can be more concerned about speaking kindly to others and discussing rather than debating.

Christians should not be silent about events like the shooting death of Michael Brown or its aftermath, but we should have kingdom purposes for what and how we enter into the conversation. Let’s put away political agendas and think long term—about people and their need for a Savior—and may that guide what we say.

Published in: on August 21, 2014 at 6:14 pm  Comments (1)  
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