What God Thinks About The State Of The US Government

No, God didn’t speak to me audibly and tell me who He wants to win the Republican nomination for Presidency. Nor did He pass along His opinion of the job President Obama is doing. He did, however, give some pointed words in Scripture.

But first, let me lay out the situation. Last night I heard on the news (and today read articles from MSNBC and ProPublica which apparently broke the story) that the federally owned lending institution Freddie Mac is still involved in gambling investing gambling in the housing market.

It seems they have invested in “financial instruments that profit when homeowners are stuck in high-interest mortgages.” This is the company that is supposedly working to refinance so many of those troubled mortgages — reportedly 11 million of them were still in trouble as late as the end of last year. To put that number in perspective, a Freddie Mac rep says they have refinanced 4.3 million during the past three years. That’s roughly 1.1 million a year — not even a tenth of those that needed help in 2011.

It’s hard to believe that Freddie Mac is doing the best they can when they actually profit each time there’s a foreclosure connected with one of their “financial instruments.”

Just as troubling is the hand-wringing that the Federal Reserve is doing, saying that what Freddie Mac is doing is “difficult to justify.” Hmmmm. I thought government was supposed to give oversight to government owned organizations. But as part of the bailout, Freddie Mac was apparently ordered to get out of the risky investment business and they responded by “[doubling] down on securities that pay off when homeowners lose.”

As it turns out the regulatory agency that is … well, to regulate these mortgage institutions, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, now “plays the role of [Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae’s] board of directors and shareholders, responsible for the companies’ major decisions.”

What mystifies me is this: our society holds our athletes — those coddled iconic figures we keep in the green — to a higher standard than we do those in government and in finance.

College athletes — those in the top division of the NCAA — get nothing from anyone. No car (ask Reggie Bush about that), free lunches, watches, shirts, plane tickets home, extra tickets to games. Nothing. And if they break the rules, the powers that be come down with two feet squarely on the head of the entire program, not just the athlete. (Some people think it’s only one foot if you’re Ohio State and two feet if you’re USC, but the point is, there are dire consequences to pay.)

Pro athletes face restrictions, too. Theirs has to do with gambling. For this one, ask Pete Rose. Not only was he kicked out of baseball, he’s excluded from the Hall of Fame because of his indiscretion. Michael Vick went to prison for his part in a gambling scheme involving dog fights. Dogs, not people.

But our banks? They can gamble that Joe the factory worker and Juan the gardener are going to lose their houses.

Meanwhile, our Congressmen, unlike our college athletes, can accept all the lunches and plane trips and game tickets and campaign contributions they want from the very people who have a bill that they’ll be voting on in the next month or so.

What’s the disconnect here? Teach our kids to play it clean, make our athletes keep it fair, but our leaders — they get a different set of rules.

Which brings me back to what God thinks of this sort of shenanigan going on in our government. Take a look at Psalm 36 and notice the difference between the ungodly and God Himself (emphases in these verses are mine).

Transgression speaks to the ungodly within his heart;
There is no fear of God before his eyes.
2 For it flatters him in his own eyes
Concerning the discovery of his iniquity and the hatred of it.
3 The words of his mouth are wickedness and deceit;
He has ceased to be wise and to do good.
4 He plans wickedness upon his bed;
He sets himself on a path that is not good;
He does not despise evil.

5 Your lovingkindness, O LORD, extends to the heavens,
Your faithfulness reaches to the skies.
6 Your righteousness is like the mountains of God;
Your judgments are like a great deep.
O LORD, You preserve man and beast.
7 How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God!
And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings.
8 They drink their fill of the abundance of Your house;
And You give them to drink of the river of Your delights.
9 For with You is the fountain of life;
In Your light we see light.

10 O continue Your lovingkindness to those who know You,
And Your righteousness to the upright in heart.

11 Let not the foot of pride come upon me,
And let not the hand of the wicked drive me away.
12 There the doers of iniquity have fallen;
They have been thrust down and cannot rise.

Perspective. Hearing what God says puts everything in perspective.

Published in: on January 31, 2012 at 6:04 pm  Comments (3)  

It’s Time To Revive Scripture Memorization

Recently my church did a survey as part of the process of looking for a new pastor. We’re quite deliberate about this, and I’m glad. First we are taking stock: looking at what Scripture says about the qualifications of a church leader, a shepherd of God’s people, and then looking at ourselves as an organization to see who we are and what we need most.

Recently the pastoral staff asked us to fill out a demographic survey. When they had compiled the results, they passed them along to us. As it turns out, we are an older congregation (no surprise there — a quick scan on a Sunday morning tells you this) but also a fairly mature one. The stat that jumped out at me was in answer to the question about reading the Bible daily. Seventy-five percent of those filling out the survey said, yes, they spend time reading God’s Word. Of course, not quite half of those who attend our church filled out the survey, so I suspect that number may be a little high for the entire congregation. Nevertheless it reflects the emphasis our pastoral staff put on Scripture reading the past three years.

Noticeably absent was Bible memorization. Absent. As in, it wasn’t on the survey. Prayer was. Church attendance, participation in a fellowship group (i. e. Sunday school class) or Bible study, participation in a ministry, meditation (in disguise), witnessing (also in disguise), and fasting all made the list. Not Bible memorization.

I suspect Bible memory went the way of old technology about the time educational professionals began disparaging memorization as a learning method. No more rote learning for us! That’s not real education!

I could argue that point, but I don’t really need to. Even if it were true, Scripture explains the benefits of knowing God’s Word intimately — meaning that even if all other memorization was worthless, learning what the Bible says, still has value. “Your word I have treasured in my heart,” Psalms says, “that I may not sin against You” (Psalm 119:11).

Take a look at a few others:

The law of his God is in his heart;
His steps do not slip. (Psalm 37:31)

I delight to do Your will, O my God;
Your Law is within my heart. (Psalm 40:8)

Listen to Me, you who know righteousness,
A people in whose heart is My law;
Do not fear the reproach of man,
Nor be dismayed at their revilings. (Isaiah 51:7)

These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. . . . then watch yourself, that you do not forget the LORD (Deuteronomy 6:6, 12a)

Are these “heart” verses necessarily talking about memorization? I think a case could be made against that position, but I don’t think anyone could show that memorizing Scripture leads away from a person becoming intimately involved with God’s Word.

Here’s the thing. As I’ve said elsewhere, I believe prayer is most effective when we pray for the things we know God wants for us and for us to do — things we learn about in the Bible. How can we effectively pray according to God’s revealed Word if we don’t know what His Word says?

How can we formulate a Biblical approach to politics or romance or work or suffering if we don’t know what the Bible says about these matters? Yes, reading the Bible and listening to preaching that explains it are huge parts of our being equipped to face our world.

But the fact is, when someone pulls me aside to tell me the latest bit of gossip, my pastor isn’t there beside me to remind me what God thinks about that. When I’m ticked off and looking for someone I can voice my complaints to, my Bible isn’t going to pop open to the verses about grumbling.

These are things I need to have as a part of me. They should be part of an ever expanding body of knowledge that the Holy Spirit can then bring to my remembrance when I need them. Because He is present when I face temptations or when I’m bowed in prayer. How powerful when He works by calling up the verses I need.

God’s Spirit bringing God’s Word to bear on the needs of God’s children. I’d say it’s time to bring back a little Bible memorization.

Published in: on January 30, 2012 at 6:31 pm  Comments (4)  
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Fantasy Friday – Introducing Karyn Henley

In case anyone isn’t noticing, young adult (YA) literature is hot right now, especially fantasy. Following this trend, any number of writers who published adult fiction now write for the YA market. Of late I’ve learned of several children’s book writers who are making the switch too. They may be well-known in one arena, but when they write for a new audience, they, too need an introduction. Such is the case with today’s author — Karyn Henley.

If her name sounds familiar, it isn’t surprising. Karyn is the author of the original The Beginner’s Bible which sold over five million copies during the fifteen years it was in print. She’s also an accomplished and award-winning song writer and has some 100 books to her credit — picture books, easy readers, curriculum, and parenting books. Throw in the numerous articles she’s written and the CDs she’s made, and it almost seems like Karyn’s should be a household name!

Karyn is a native Texan, though she now lives in Nashville, Tennessee. Growing up in Abilene, she was a great reader, even reading as she walked to her grandmother’s house from school. Her love of books carried into adulthood. After graduating from Abilene Christian University with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Education, she became a preschool teacher, and her favorite time of the day was story time when she read aloud to her children.

Her migration to YA fiction came as a direct result of her continuing education. She received her Masters of Fine Arts Degree from Vermont College in 2004. One of her advisers, Kathi Appelt, became a great supporter and encouraged Karyn to grow as a writer. She accepted the challenge and began to write a novel. It soon became apparent from the language and the issues the protagonist faced, that the story was most suited for young adults.

Writing fantasy seems to be a natural fit, too. Karyn’s early reading included a generous dose of myth and fairy tales. She also appreciates specific aspects of writers such as Ursula LeGuin and Orson Scott Card. Consequently when she started writing, she naturally gravitated toward fantasy.

Some may think of her work as paranormal romance, but Karyn differentiates because her series, The Angelaeon Circle (Waterbrook Multnomah), takes place in an ancient time where an acceptance of the supernatural was … well, more natural. Consequently, she considers her work to be high fantasy.

I like ancient and medieval settings for fantasy, because the worlds are slower and very different, and I don’t have to know the latest technology. Besides, when I go into the world of a book, I like to be transported far away. Working within an ancient world allows me to explore very different ways of life and places where the rules are different. For me, characters in ancient settings can be closer to the earth, rawer in their emotions, more deeply connected to the big struggles of survival that fantasy addresses so well. (excerpt from “Blog Tour Interview: Author Karyn Henley“)

Karyn was literally transported far away this summer when she traveled to Norway to attend her son’s wedding. She planned to do a little research for the third of her series.

Book one, Breath of Angel, debuted last June, and the second, Eye of the Sword, is due out in March.

Besides writing, Karyn lists reading as one of her hobbies. She also bakes bread, gardens (though she doesn’t have a green thumb), and bird-watches. She loves chocolate, prefers spring and fall to either winter or summer, and finds inspiration for her writing in Greek and Roman mythology.

To learn more about Karyn, visit her Facebook page, fiction website, and blog. To read an excerpt of the upcoming release, visit her publisher’s Sneak Peek page.

Published in: on January 27, 2012 at 6:22 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Thing About Household Chores

I’m not big on household chores. They’re just so daily! Dishes you washed yesterday are dirty again today. You no more than finish vacuuming the floor than some new piece of lint finds it’s way onto the carpet. The trash cans never stay emptied. And don’t get me started about dust!

It’s never ending. The laundry needs washing, the plants need watering, the mail needs dumping reading filing. Then there is grocery shopping and getting gas and answering email and … well, to be fair not all these things are daily, but they are repetitious. They raise their heads over and over and over again. There is no chance of stamping the job with a finished sign, and if you cross it off the “To Do” list, you just have to put it back on in a matter of days or hours.

So why do we do it? Why do we keep chugging away at the same jobs over and over? In the end, we do chores because we like life better that way. We prefer clean clothes and clean floors and clean dishes. We operate better with gas in the tank and food in the refrigerator. In other words, we’re willing to put in the time to get a known and desired result.

I wonder if the same is true about “spiritual chores.” Are we willing to put in the time to get a known and desired result when it comes to spiritual things?

I suppose first we have to determine if the result is desired. I mean how important is it that I dust the bookcase? If I’m having company, the importance increases ten-fold, so some days it’s very important, but on others — not so much. Is that the way things are spiritually? Are Sundays “spiritual days” and the rest of the week, not so much? Or are spiritual results important 24/7?

And if they are, is there actually a known result of doing “spiritual chores”? What particularly are spiritual chores? I suggest they are things we can point to in Scripture that have been commanded or modeled for us, involving our relationship with God. I’d put things like reading God’s Word in the list of “spiritual chores.” Praying would be there too, and church attendance, Bible memorization, praising God, tithing.

But that brings me back to the “known result.” Do these spiritual chores have a known result? Yes and no. There is no extrinsic reward — no “Best Church Member” sticker or “Faithful Bible Reader” club. There’s not even a promise of health and wealth if we just do our part. But there’s a definite intrinsic result. As with anyone else, the more time we spend with God — in His book or in His house or talking to Him about stuff that’s on our mind — the better we get to know Him. The next thing we know, our spiritual life is showing all kinds of signs of fruitfulness, the most easily spotted one being that the spiritual chores no longer feel like chores.

I actually have a friend who likes to clean. Seriously! She does it to relax. I’m not there, but I can imagine that the routine of doing spiritual things and seeing the desired and known results flourish can transform us into people like my friend — we no longer look at “chores” or “duties” or “responsibilities” but at the best part of the day when I get to

The thing about household chores, they are so daily. But maybe that’s exactly the way to turn them from chores to challenges to cherished moments. Some day. But honestly, I hold out more hope for the spiritual chores than I do for the household ones. 😉

Published in: on January 26, 2012 at 5:30 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Christian And Politics, Version 2012

A democracy can be a perplexing animal, at least for a Christian. On one hand, we, The People, are in charge, so when something goes wrong, the buck ought to stop with us, at least to some degree.

Practically speaking, of course, The People aren’t in charge; the politicians are. But that being the case, isn’t our government just like a kingdom or a Pharaoh-dom or a Caesar-dom, subject to the same principles Scripture lays out for believers in an autocratic system? Principles like these: Be subject to your rulers. Pay your taxes. Honor those due honor. Don’t resist authority or you’re in opposition to God’s ordinance. Fear authority only if you’re doing wrong.

The overriding truth is this: “There is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God” (Romans 13:1b).

So God establishes our President, by means of we, The People. We are responsible and therefore should do our best to bring the best into the office — into all the governmental offices, in fact, since we have a three-branch form of government. What good is it to have a strong, godly President if we don’t have a legislative branch that will work with him? And what use is it to have a Congress that passes good laws if we have a court system that overturns them?

But ultimately, God is working through this system of ours and will sovereignly oversee the process so that the “right” leader is in place. This is a hard truth. Hitler was “right”? Chairman Mao? Stalin? Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is “right”?

I’m sure the Christians who received Paul’s letter to the Romans were asking the same question. Excuse me, Paul, have you heard the latest about the Caesar and his household? Do you know what he’s planning for us followers of Jesus? And you are telling us, God has put this guy in place and we are to subject ourselves to him?

Actually, Paul said there was more than simply subjecting ourselves. He said, Bless those who persecute you; never pay back evil for evil; do not take revenge; overcome evil with good; so far as it is possible for you, be at peace with those in authority over you (since they are part of the “all men” Paul names).

Peter expands this same principle and its corollaries in his first letter to believers “who reside as aliens” scattering throughout various regions of the Middle East.

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. (1 Peter 2:13-17 – emphases mine)

Nowhere do I see that our treatment of the authorities over us is conditional — we are to honor them, only if we agree or only if they are abiding by God’s law. Rather, Peter’s instructions were to those who had no friends in high places. These Christians were looked at as kooks, at best, and as enemies at worst. Paul was giving direction to believers who faced increasing persecution of a hostile and immoral government.

Bless, don’t curse. Make peace if they’ll let you, give them honor, obey, be subject to them. Why? Because God put them in place. By treating these authorities properly, you’re obeying God and cutting the legs out from under the criticisms leveled at you.

What timely words for the Christian today. How should we do politics? “Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.” (Rom. 13:7) I take that verse to include fulfilling our responsibility to vote, but that might just be me. One thing I do know, speaking about our President with disrespect is sinful, and by doing so, Christians are giving those opposed to Christ ammunition for their attacks against us.

In short, then, we should do politics the same way we should do all of life: by obeying the dictates of Scripture.

We also would be wise to do so with a healthy dose of thanksgiving for the privilege of living in a country where we can voice our opinion and not fear being thrown in jail because of it. We can moan and groan about the direction our country is going, but we ought to be thankful it hasn’t gone there yet; we ought to pray God brings revival instead.

Published in: on January 25, 2012 at 6:38 pm  Comments (4)  
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In some ways, the Internet has allowed all of us to be Monday quarterbacks — amateurs who freely give our opinion about what should have been done. The added element, however, is that we no longer have to wait until after the fact. We can jump right in with the news pundits and analyze, criticize, philosophize, and “prognostisize” to our heart’s content.

Frankly, I like the fact that I can say on my Facebook page that Newt Gingrich won the Republican primary in South Carolina for no other reason than that he’s a good debater — and actually have a few dozen people read it and respond. I like the fact that I can voice an opinion about how the media seems to be driving the public toward an Obama/Romney election.

What a world! Ten years ago, I had such opinions but the only people who heard them were the few others in my circle who were also interested in politics (or sports or whatever else the subject might be).

But along with having a voice, saying what we believe, and having a group of people who listen, comes great responsibility, especially for Christians, and it troubles me that so few seem interested in talking about our talking.

I can almost hear the “yeah-yeah-yeah’s — we’ve covered this already; move on” coming through cyberspace. Except it’s not enough for us to know what is right; we need to do what is right.

Is it right for us to call our President names? Things like “arrogance with a teleprompter” or “the epitome of hypocrisy”? Since arrogance and hypocrisy are sins of the heart, are we able to accuse someone of those without falling into the sin of judging?

I really don’t understand the thinking when I read from a Christian, “Newt Gingrich is not repentant about his adultery.” Supposedly the idea is, if he were repentant he would leave his present wife because it was she with whom he cheated when he was married to his second wife. But is that what it means to be repentant — to “fix” our sin? I thought being repentant meant we accept Jesus’s work to fix what we can never fix.

But the actual issue aside, isn’t there a way to confront such topics and give our opinion about public figures without wearing a judge’s mantle? And shouldn’t we?

Scripture says we aren’t to judge our brothers — other Christians — that we are to love our neighbors; love our enemies; let our speech always be with grace; put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; all because we are new creatures in Christ.

I’m not sure how vilifying others identifies us with Christ. Yes, He called the Pharisees such things as vipers and white-washed tombs, but as it turns out He is the Judge, and He is omniscient, so He knows the heart of everyman.

This issue is complex. Christians are to confront brothers who sin against us, and we are to be discerning — to recognize false teaching and point out the error. But what about our political leaders?

If one says he’s a Christian, do we take his word for it? If so, we need to treat him like a brother — confront him, correct him, pray for him, if he is in sin. But lambaste him, call him names, ridicule him? I don’t see that approach presented in Scripture.

But if we say he is using the name Christian without understanding what it means, should we then treat him like a non-Christian? If so, it seems the verses in 1 Corinthians 5 apply:

I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler — not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. (Emphasis mine.)

What’s the bottom line? I don’t think God calls us to refrain from voicing an opinion about those with whom we disagree. On the other hand, mean-spirited, contentions, even slanderous speech is sinful, no matter who the target is. Believers can disagree without becoming odious in the process, but too often our right beliefs blind us to the requirement of right action in carrying them out.

Isn’t that why Jesus taught us to look first at ourselves before we go about trying to correct anyone else? How differently the world would view us if we religiously obeyed at least that one point.

Published in: on January 24, 2012 at 6:21 pm  Comments (5)  
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Review – A Diamond In The Desert

I discovered author Kathryn Fitzmaurice when I participated in a blog tour for her debut novel The Year The Swallows Came Early. Because of that review, I had the opportunity to read Kathryn’s upcoming release A Diamond In The Desert.

Her two books could hardly be more different from one another. The first features a girl protagonist, the newest, a boy. The first takes place in a small sea coast town in Southern California, the second, on an Arizona Indian reservation away from pretty much everything. Swallows is about forgiveness and looking past exteriors to what’s going on inside a person, Diamond is about choices and consequences. The first is a contemporary, the second a historical.

The thing the two books have in common is their talented author who writes beautifully in both. Kathryn’s words color the story, each laden with emotion. It’s hard to explain. Poetic? Yes, but not in a burdensome way with long passages of description or lines written to be admired for their own sake, not in an over-dramatized way where symbols aren’t first the objects the story needs them to be. Perhaps the best way to explain is by letting the writing speak for itself.

Tetsu’s father has been taken into custody shortly after Pearl Harbor because he is a leader in the Japanese-American community. Tetsu, his sister, and mother have been moved to the Gila River internment camp. They gave most of their things away, including their dog, because camps didn’t take dogs. Shortly after they arrived, they got a letter from the man who had taken their Lefty, saying the dog had run away.

And Kimi said, “Lefty’s making his way back to our old house.”

And we all agreed that’s what he was doing.

For the rest of the day, we reminded each other that Lefty was going home. And it was enough to keep us moving.

But I kept thinking that when Lefty got there, I wouldn’t be there to fill his water dish or take the thorns out of his paws that he’d get when he ran through the boxwood along the highway. I wouldn’t be there to pull foxtails from his fur.

It was Kimi who taught Lefty to shake. After Papa brought him home, five pounds of short-haired black-and-white spots, a country mutt. No matter how many times she tapped his right paw, he lifted his left. Because he was a lefty.

I told Kimi he was like Lefty O’Doul, left fielder, left-haned batter, left-handed thrower.

Nothing anyone can do to change a lefty.

In such a short segment we learn so much about the characters, in particular that Tetsu knows baseball. Little surprise, then, when baseball becomes a focal point of the story.

Here are a few of my favorite lines:

    And when the sun was rising up after breakfast, and the smell of summer blew in strong, sometimes I’d see my old team.
    “It’s all my fault,” I said, each word a flash of lightning tearing apart our sky.
    There were no words between us.

    But there was plenty being said by our twisted hands, and our stiff shoulders, and our silence.

    I felt life rush in and out of my lungs.
    Papa walked slow enough to give me room to talk if I wanted.

I could keep on. The language is simple but profound. The voice seems so realistic for a young boy having to grow up too soon.

This is a book that will capture you quickly and hold onto you until the end.

I highly recommend this story for anyone who likes to read. This one may be marketed for middle graders, but it is no less for adults. It shows historical things all of us need to read; it causes us to think about the consequences of our choices — something that is timeless and universal.

Fantasy Friday – Introducing Chuck Black

Speculative authors come in all shapes and sizes and from any number of backgrounds, but apparently flying planes stimulates the imagination. Along with former astronaut candidate Austin Boyd, fantasy writer Chuck Black joins the ranks of military men who love Jesus Christ and choose to influence others through story.

Born and raised in North Dakota, Chuck grew up wanting to fly planes. He studied Electrical and Electronic Engineering, receiving a degree from North Dakota State University in Fargo. Soon after, he entered the US Air Force and eventually became a fighter pilot.

After nine years in the service, he returned to North Dakota where he now works as a product design engineer and partner in a plastics company. More importantly, Chuck is husband to his wife Andrea and father of their six children who range in age from 14 to 24.

Because of his role as father, Chuck became a writer. He’d never envisioned doing more than crafting a story for his children, but after he completed his first Kingdom series book, Andrea encouraged him to look into publishing. With additional encouragement from a group of objective readers (Chuck used a pen name), he agreed to pursue publication. Because he didn’t want the long wait associated with traditional publishing, he chose to self-publish.

During the next five years he completed three additional books in the series, and apparently sold enough copies to catch the interest of Multnomah Publishing which reproduced all four titles and contracted two more. Since then, Chuck has added six additional books in the Knights of Arrethtrae series.

He is now working on an ultra secret new fiction series while at the same time penning a non-fiction book of advice and encouragement for dads.

Several things set Chuck apart from other writers of fantasy. For one thing, he is not a big fantasy reader. As far as influence is concerned, he mentions science fiction by John Christopher and Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness. He also seems to purposefully steer away from traditional fantasy elements such as magic and wizards.

In addition, he is not shy about the fact that his work is intentionally allegorical and that he wants to communicate truth through story. During adolescence and into his early adulthood, Chuck struggled with doubts and questions about his faith. God rescued him, he says, through prayer, study of God’s Word, and wise counsel. In turn, he wants his writing to point young people to truth.

I wrote Kingdom’s Edge, the third book in the series but the first book written, for one reason only — to inspire my children to study the Scriptures and to create a zeal for God’s Word … The Kingdom Series provides an action/adventure story for our youth that teaches Biblical character without the use of magic, witchcraft, or wizardry. The romantic medieval time period provided an excellent setting to write an allegory that children from ages eight to adult simply love. Each scene and character are directly symbolic to Bible stories. (from an interview with Shelley Noonan of Second Harvest)

While some might think allegory is a kind of second rate type of writing, I disagree. I think it’s hard to do well, but in my review of Sir Kendrick and the Castle of Bel Lione, I found the truths to be “well-woven into the lives and actions of the characters.” In other words, the allegory did not feel in your face so that it detracted from the story. That may seem surprising in light of what Chuck hopes his readers will take away from his books:

I earnestly want to inspire and excite young people in their faith in Jesus Christ. I hope to impart to them a keen sense of the spiritual warfare that is being waged around them. I hope to help them understand that they have an important role as a child of the King to take up the armor of God and go to battle tearing down spiritual wickedness in high places. I hope these books help them realize that they can have a deep personal relationship with the Creator of the universe. And finally I hope that they grasp that there is a greater purpose in life than to grow up, get a job, work, and die…we are all eternal kingdom builders…Knights of the Prince! (from “Interview & Giveaway – Chuck Black”)

It requires skill to write a good story that simultaneously conveys rich spiritual truths, but that’s what Chuck does. Good for him! It’s time more readers discovered his books.

Published in: on January 20, 2012 at 6:21 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Privilege Of Religious Freedom

I don’t know when I’ve heard of a unanimous Supreme Court decision before. The ones I’m aware of are generally 5-4 or 6-3 splits. I seem to recall a 7-2 vote once, too. But a week ago or so the Court handed down a 9-0 decision, and I have to say, it was one of the most encouraging bits of news I’d heard in a long time.

Of course, I heard it more in passing than anything else. As key as this decision is, I’d think it would merit more than a fifteen second spot on the nightly news, but be that as it may, at least our Supreme Court justices, even the liberal ones, are willing to uphold the First Amendment.

Never mind that the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals was not so willing. We’ll concentrate on the good news.

The case in question involved a woman teaching in a Christian school. She had been ill and after some time on disability was diagnosed with narcolepsy, a “disorder that affects the control of sleep and wakefulness.” She was treated and reportedly was able to return to work without restrictions. Instead, the school apparently asked her to resign. One report said they had (understandably) hired someone else to replace her. She refused, threatened a lawsuit, and was consequently fired because school policy, consistent with the tenets of their denomination, requires disputes to be handled internally. Which, I might point out, is also consistent with Scripture.

She then filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and won that, which gave her the right to file suit. The matter worked its way through the courts until it reached the Supreme Court. The question at hand:

Does the ministerial exception, which prohibits most employment-related lawsuits against religious organizations by employees performing religious functions, apply to a teacher at a religious elementary school who teaches the full secular curriculum, but also teaches daily religion classes, is a commissioned minister, and regularly leads students in prayer and worship?

Nine to zero, the answer came down: yes the ministerial exception does apply even though this woman’s teaching duties included only a 45-minute period of religious instruction.

As I see it, the conflicting values are these: an individual’s right to employment despite disability versus a religious organization’s right to employ who they think represents their beliefs, standards, and goals and who is willing to abide by their church’s teaching. Here, in part, is what Chief Justice John Roberts said in defense of the ruling:

“Requiring a church to accept or retain an unwanted minister, or punishing a church for failing to do so, intrudes upon more than a mere employment decision. Such action interferes with the internal governance of the church, depriving the church of control over the selection of those who will personify its beliefs. By imposing an unwanted minister, the state infringes the free exercise clause, which protects a religious group’s right to shape its own faith and mission through its appointments. According the state the power to determine which individuals will minister to the faithful also violates the establishment clause, which prohibits government involvement in such ecclesiastical decisions.” (as quoted in “Supreme Court delivers a knockout punch to the White House” by Peter Johnson Jr.)

Why is this so significant? For several reasons. One, religious freedom is a Constitutionally protected right, whereas employment is not. That the current administration sought to force a religious institution to employ someone they wanted to fire would seem to indicate that some in government see other rights not protected by the Constitution as more important than religious freedom.

In addition, this case advances the idea that separation of church and state protects churches and their subsidiary institutions from interference by the state.

Third, the ruling protects churches who still believe that women shouldn’t be preachers, from gender discrimination lawsuits and those still viewing homosexuality as sin, from suits dealing with sexual preference discrimination.

Despite the 9-0 ruling, some in the media are voicing criticism (for example, the Metro Times and the Washington Post), as if this decision to let religious institutions set their own rules without the control of the government is somehow unwise and unhealthy for society. One critic suggests this ruling allows churches to engage in “blatant discrimination” which is “a social evil.” The implication is that social evils are to be eradicated even when they contradict Scripture, and this from someone with the title reverend in front of his name.

Well, I guess we can’t avoid the bad news even when we read about the good.

The Way We Speak To One Another

The public is often appalled at the negative ads on TV during election campaigns, and once again much is being said in the news about all the trash talk flying over digital transmissions and into average voters’ living rooms, and cell phones, and tablets.

How odd, I think. Mitt Romney is going after President Obama, accusing him of all kinds of things. But apparently he doesn’t realize that something like 48 percent of voters still approve of what the President is doing.

Why, I wonder, can’t politicians wake up and realize that everyone they attack has fans who in turn may become defensive and much opposed to the one on the attack. Wouldn’t it be wiser to give the opponent the benefit of the doubt as another citizen who wants to do what’s best for the country, but who has a different vision for how to achieve that?

Seems to me, then, that people who are tepid about the President’s performance just might embrace this kinder, gentler approach that doesn’t tear down the man or besmirch the office, but that lays out a plan that will bring about different results.

But no. We live in the age of Jerry Springer.

Yet, how we talk to one another isn’t so different from how people talked to each other down through the centuries. Job’s friends prove this. Though they are often characterized as having bad theology, which they did, they also ended up getting into a sparring contest with Job, as if it was more important to win an argument with a man devastated by grief and loss than it was to let him talk out his problems.

In chapter 16 Job called them mockers, and apparently Bildad took offense. He responded in chapter 18, “Why are we regarded as beasts,/As stupid in your eyes?” But he wasn’t content to ask Job why. He himself went on the attack. Some of what he said doesn’t sound so bad — until you remember who is sitting across from him: a man who lost the bulk of his wealth, whose children had all been killed, who was covered with oozing sores, and was sitting in an ash heap.

Indeed, the light of the wicked goes out,
And the flame of his fire gives no light.
The light in his tent is darkened,
And his lamp goes out above him.
His vigorous stride is shortened,
And his own scheme brings him down.
For he is thrown into the net by his own feet,
And he steps on the webbing.
A snare seizes him by the heel,
And a trap snaps shut on him.
A noose for him is hidden in the ground,
And a trap for him on the path.
All around terrors frighten him,
And harry him at every step.
His strength is famished,
And calamity is ready at his side.
His skin is devoured by disease,
The firstborn of death devours his limbs.
He is torn from the security of his tent,
And they march him before the king of terrors.
There dwells in his tent nothing of his;
Brimstone is scattered on his habitation.

His roots are dried below,
And his branch is cut off above.
Memory of him perishes from the earth,
And he has no name abroad.
He is driven from light into darkness,
And chased from the inhabited world.
He has no offspring or posterity among his people,
Nor any survivor where he sojourned.

Those in the west are appalled at his fate,
And those in the east are seized with horror.
Surely such are the dwellings of the wicked,
And this is the place of him who does not know God.
[emphases mine]

Here’s Bildad’s speech in summary: So, Job, all the horrible things that have happened to you? That’s what happens to people who don’t know God. Guess what that means about your spiritual condition!

I’m sorry, but that was nothing short of mean!

Of course, the apostles weren’t far from this same way of thinking when they asked Jesus if they should call down fire on the Samaritans who didn’t welcome Him because he was headed toward Jerusalem (see Luke 9:52-54).

In contrast, this is what Paul said to the Romans:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. (Rom 12:14-15)

Jesus makes a radical difference in how we talk to one another — or should. I wonder how a Christian campaigning like a Christian would fare in today’s political climate.

I wonder if Tim Tebow would consider running for office. 😆

Published in: on January 18, 2012 at 6:27 pm  Comments (2)  
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