Fantasy Friday Review: The New Recruit by Jill Williamson

Jill Williamson is one of the best writers I know, and the two back-to-back Christy Awards she won pretty much validate the point. I predict that she’ll be in the running again next year with her latest offering, The New Recruit (Marcher Lord Press), book one of the Mission League Series–a young adult contemporary supernatural fantasy.

The Story. Spencer Garmond seems like a typical freshman in high school–girl crazy, half-trying to balance the demands at home with the fun and games he wants for his life. Number one is his love of basketball and his ambition to play in college. And why shouldn’t he have that dream? At six feet five, he made the varsity and is hoping for a starting spot next year.

Standing in his way is … well, perhaps, himself. He gets angry way too often, ends up in fights, and his grandmother, who has raised him since his parents died, won’t take any more of his landing in trouble. He’s cleaned up as best he could, but there’s still C-Roc and then the mysterious men who show up looking for him. Are they there to take him to military school as his grandmother has threatened?

Not quite. The alternative to military school is for him to join a secret group of agents–Christians, with offices throughout the world. He’s to go into training, then participate in an introductory mission to Moscow during the summer.

Except, Spencer doesn’t hang with those churchers. And he has to swear off, well, swearing, and fighting, and drugs, and pretty much everything. Of course, he’s already quit doing drugs and no longer hangs with the gang that ended up in trouble with the law. The fighting and swearing–now those might be a problem, but he’s game to try to stop when he learns his parents once belonged to the Mission League. In fact, his mother wrote him a letter revealing her hopes for him.

Next to basketball and maybe girls, learning about his parents becomes the driving force in Spencer’s life. But the trip to Moscow uncovers more about his own life than it does about his parents’, and the adventures turn deadly so that he’s not worried about losing basketball as much as he is about losing his life.

You can read the first chapter of The New Recruit here.

Strengths. Jill writes compelling stories built around engaging characters. Spencer is a reluctant hero who has a lot of hurt he covers with enough swag to chase away any real relationships. His voice is strong, and he comes across as thoroughly believable in his role as tough guy trying to do better, trying to make it, and not feeling like he fits in with the churchers. His motives are clear, his choices understandable.

The plot speeds by, bolstered by the secrets Jill is adept at keeping from the readers. What happened to Spencer’s parents? Why does Nick hate him so much? What trouble was Spencer in before his new determination to keep his nose clean?

Then there is the suspense, both connected to the overall plot and to Spencer’s inner life. There are even relational questions that surface. On every page there is some question that pulls the reader forward.

The cast is not a small one, but for the most part, Jill did a masterful job giving each person unique, memorable, and sometimes quirky traits that made them seem authentic. Even the antagonists are painted well.

The thematic elements are woven throughout in a way that adds to the story, all without the taint of preachiness. Each character acts in a way consistent with his personality. Those of faith act in a way that is true to life–sometimes knowing and doing the right thing and sometimes not, often in the frantic zeal of not knowing what is best.

The story aptly shows a variety of responses to the gospel–some from unspeakable brokenness embracing faith, and others with advantages and privilege turning their backs. There is no easy believe-ism here, no one-and-done response to the first presentation of the gospel that occurs.

Above all, The New Recruit turns the idea of spiritual warfare on its head. Though this is far from an allegory, nevertheless, the reality of battle becomes strikingly real within these pages.

Weaknesses. This is definitely a story for Christians though the main character is not a believer. This is not a weakness that destroys the story, however, and many readers may actually find they prefer reading about authentic struggles and doubts and fears. Some of the most important thematic threads run through the minor characters’ storylines, so there is plenty of meat for Christians.

Recommendation. I’m enthusiastic about The New Recruit. It’s smart, contemporary (mentioned in text is Angel Eyes a novel by Shannon Dittemore that just released this year), fast-paced, insightful. It’s not brimming with speculative elements, so for those only satisfied with the weird or the dark, this probably won’t be weird enough or dark enough. But for anyone else who loves a fast-paced adventure with a few speculative elements, you will LOVE this book. If you’re a Jill Williamson fan, of course this is a must read. You will not be disappointed!

The New Recruit is currently on tour. Yesterday Christian Teen Fiction Devourer posted an article and tomorrow A Writer’s World will add thoughts about the book.

I received a review copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for my unbiased opinion.

Demons Have Good Theology

There were many interesting things I could have talked about in connection to The Telling by Mike Duran, this week’s CSFF Blog Tour feature. One of the elements is the portrayal of evil spirits. Interestingly, evil spirits–demons–held a prominent place in Sunday’s sermon by Pastor Mike Erre.

Well, “prominent” might be stretching things. But Pastor Mike showed us an important truth: demons have good theology.

Lots of people rubbing shoulders with Jesus were confused about who He was. John the Baptist boldly declared that Jesus was the Lamb of God only to later send messengers to Jesus to ask if He was the one they were looking for.

The Pharisees, at one point, said He was demon possessed or that He was a Samaritan (not sure which of those two accusations was supposed to be the lowest). One man approached Him as “good teacher” but withdrew the “good” once Jesus pointed out that only God is good. As reported by the disciples, others thought He was one of the prophets raised from the dead.

Only the evil spirits consistently got it right.

Whenever the unclean spirits saw Him, they would fall down before Him and shout, “You are the Son of God!” (Mark 3:11)

Also see Matthew 8:29, Mark, 1:23-24, Mark 5:7, Luke 4:34, Luke 8:28. Clearly, the demons knew who Jesus was even though the people around Him were confused.

No wonder that James, Jesus’s half-brother, who was present at least part of the time when Jesus was teaching and healing, said in his letter

You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. (James 2:19)

Impeccable theology and yet all it produced was fear, not obedience. Theirs was not belief unto salvation. For that they’d actually have to bow the knee, or as Peter admonishes, “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts” (1 Peter 3:15a).

Interestingly, Pastor Mike asked us if we believed God is sovereign. Hands all over the place. Then he asked why we worry about money. Someone in my row who I didn’t know mumbled, “Because I have to pay the bills.”

That pretty much summed up the point, I thought. We can say we believe God is in control, but when it comes time to trusting Him, to handing the reins over to Him, to abandoning ourselves to His will and His way … well, I’m the one writing the checks when the bills come due.

I know I’ve quoted this verse before, but I think it says so powerfully what Christians must come to if we are to act on our good theology:

Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the LORD,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. (Hab. 3:17-18)

I’m reading in Numbers right now. So often I think how “easy” the people of Israel had it–eating the bread of angels, supplied by God without fail. Except, they didn’t have the Bible to know how the story came out. They actually had to live going to bed wondering if there would be food the next day. I’ve been trying to imagine what that felt like, Saturday through Thursday, week after week.

Especially at the beginning, it took faith, not just a glib philosophical statement that God can do the impossible. For them, their existence hung on their belief. They either trusted or turned around and headed back to Egypt.

I have my Egypts. But I’d rather not be like the demons, filled with good theology that leaves me intimidated and fearful, not trusting and secure. Praise God He is merciful and True.

Published in: on September 27, 2012 at 6:14 pm  Comments (2)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – The Telling by Mike Duran, Day 3

Yesterday I’d planned on discussing setting and mood because I think Mike Duran excels in painting a scene, as evidenced by his latest release and this month’s CSFF Blog Tour feature, The Telling. Instead I got caught up in the comparison of Biblical prophets with the fictitious one portrayed in the novel. All that to explain the pictures in this post. They may seem unrelated, but if you look at the cover, and especially if you read the book, you’ll see they actually do relate.

The Review

The Story. Zeph Walker has a disfiguring scar on his face, but it’s as much a symbol of the scar across his soul as anything. Both paralyze him, but the town of his youth that has also become the home of his adulthood, needs him. In fact, the whole world may need him, if the prophecy is true. But that’s just it, how does he know if prophecy is true, especially the ones that once came from his own mouth?

Strengths. Mike Duran is a wonderful writer and a good storyteller. One reason I thought to devote an entire post to the setting in The Telling is because of Mike’s strong description. Here’s one early in the story:

She looked past the pines and boulders toward the Endurance basin. From here, US 395 snaked its way up from Death Valley, a dark, glistening ribbon that coiled, rose, and disappeared in the Black Pass farther north…These hills were full of tales. Indians. Miners. And Silverton, the ghost town hidden somewhere in the rugged foothills. Yet the most well-know of these tales was the one that placed the ninth gate of hell in an abandoned mine less than a mile from she stood. Tamra stopped and set her gaze in that direction. Morning fog wrapped the distant foothills in its hazy tendrils.

Not only does this kind of description give an image the reader can imagine, it paints a mood. Mike successfully uses his setting–often bleak and rocky, with splashes of ominous color–to add to the mystery and sense of foreboding and danger that steadily creeps from page to page.

Along with the setting and the mood it helps foster, Mike knows how to create suspense. He is a master at keeping secrets from readers, dropping hints at just the right time and in just the proper quantity so that the reader ends up with more questions and therefore a greater desire to know.

Suspense merged with a dark mood and a disfigured main character hardly seems to be the recipe for thought-provoking fiction, but Mike manages to stir the pot and make this horror story as much about faith and overcoming abuse as about escaping danger.

Weaknesses. Of course I’ve left out a great deal of the story–I detest giving spoilers in the summary. And yet, it’s hard to give a fair analysis without looking at some details. Consequently, I have to declare a SPOILER ALERT for this section.

My greatest issue with the book had to do with certain plot points–I call them holes for lack of a better term.

First, the story opens with Zeph discovering that a man who looked exactly like him is lying dead in the morgue. As the story unfolds, the reader comes to understand that others have a duplicate too, except the originals have been replaced and, in fact, turn up dead.

As I recall, when all this is revealed, there is no explanation given how Zeph managed to be duplicated without knowing it and without being killed.

Later, when Zeph is on his way to do what he believes he needs to do, he’s attacked, but again, he doesn’t die, and I don’t recall an explanation (or at least one that satisfied so it stuck with me), why he wasn’t killed. Two friends find him–but don’t really rescue him–and together they set off for a different place to locate the real site from which evil is escaping.

Except they separate. The mysterious armed Indian, heads off to confront an evil force, leaving Zeph and the brave girl who chooses to stay with him.

Two things here: This sudden and fast friendship between Zeph and Tamra didn’t work for me. I believed the early interest and even the attraction, but when she says something about having to stay with him, I thought, Why? I don’t see why she would choose Zeph over her grandmother.

In addition, Little Weaver’s departure felt too much like those silly girls in horror movies who hear a noise and go into the dark to investigate. Stay together, I said. Stay together. But no, they must split up.

But why? Later Little Weaver turns up, with an injury but still alive, in the same place as the grandmother, which is where Zeph and Tamra finally go. So again, I wonder what was the point of them splitting up in the first place.

There’s also a government conspiracy thread to the story, which I thought worked, but I would like to have had the character responsible for the events associated with this be more active in the story. He lurked far too long, I believe.

Along that line, I’d like to have seen Little Weaver have a significant role in Zeph’s life–one that would fit Zeph’s emotional reaction at the end. It seemed odd to me to respond as he did to the loss of someone who he freely admitted he didn’t understand and didn’t trust. [END SPOILER ALERT]

But the thing is, the people who love this genre, whose reviews I’ve read, made little mention, if any, of these plot holes. The fact that the suspense and the mystery pulled the story along in such a way that apparently few readers were trying to make things add up, speaks volumes to Mike’s storytelling ability.

Recommendation. As I say every time the CSFF Blog Tour features a novel in the supernatural suspense genre, I am not the target reader. Those who enjoy the spooky, the dark, the slightly warped, will like this book. A lot. Those who like myths and mysteries and Indian legends will like it too. It is well written, filled with beautiful description, and brings to mind some big issues that the thoughtful reader will appreciate. Highly recommend this one for any in that group.

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

Published in: on September 26, 2012 at 6:10 pm  Comments (4)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – The Telling by Mike Duran, Day 2

“A prophet never loses his calling, only his way.” So reads the tag line for Mike Duran‘s recent release, The Telling, a contemporary supernatural suspense.

The premise brought to mind a couple Biblical prophets. The first was Jonah, a good model for the main character in The Telling, in my opinion. Both received a call from God, both renounced that call, both suffered consequences and came to a place of despair, only to have God pull them out of the depths and give them another chance to obey Him. Of course, Jonah’s story doesn’t end there whereas the fictitious Zeph does experience redemption at the end.

Jonah “pulled up a chair” to watch the destruction he had prophesied. When it didn’t come, he sulked. God gave him an object lesson to show him how lacking in compassion he was.

The fictitious Zeph wasn’t lacking in compassion. He simply didn’t realize that his lack of obedience was causing others to suffer. Once he came to that realization, things began to change.

The second Biblical prophet I thought of was Balaam, perhaps not as well known as Jonah. He was hired by one king to curse the people of Israel. God’s people. Apparently Balaam was a prophet of God, so this was an ironic situation, a prophet of God asked to curse God’s people. Balaam had the sense to say he would only speak the word which God gave to him. But somewhere in the process, he lost his way. We know this because of context and the interpretation of other Scripture verses.

First the context. God gives Balaam the OK to accompany the messengers to see the king who wants to hire him, but He says Balaam must only speak His words. On the way, an angel comes out to kill Balaam. Say what?!?

Clearly, something happened between God giving His permission for Balaam to go and the angel waiting in ambush. I can only surmise that Balaam lost his way and planned in his heart to speak words God did not give him to speak.

As it turned out, Balaam’s faithful donkey saw the angel, three times, and saved him by refusing to pass within the angel’s reach. Who knew an angel was limited in such a way that a donkey could thwart his intentions?

At any rate, Balaam arrived at the spot where he met the king. Three times this monarch asked Balaam to curse the people of Israel and three times he blessed them instead. But his story doesn’t end here either. Apparently after delivering God’s blessing, he then advised the king how he could trip up Israel. This we know from other scriptures interpreting the original story, culminating with Revelation 2:14b.

You have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality.

I’d say Balaam lost his way. I’d say Jonah lost his way. I’d say the fictitious prophet Zephaniah lost his way when he renounced the gift God had given him because of the bitterness and anger and doubt and despair that filled his soul.

Other prophets faced similar depression, if you will. Elijah, after triumphing over the 450 prophets of Baal ran off when he received the message that Jezebel was going to kill him. He hid and in the process cried out to God bemoaning the fact that he was the last (he thought) to believe. He simply wanted to die.

God responded by giving him a break, a companion, a promise, and a vision of the future.

Jeremiah was another depressed prophet. In fact he is called the weeping prophet. His emotional condition was a mixed bag, I think. He did feel forlorn because of his circumstances. He was targeted for death, after all, because he was prophesying that Judah would face consequences for their sin. But he also lamented for his nation. He knew that the exile was coming. He counseled the king to repent, to surrender, knowing that this would spare Jerusalem and save many lives. How each passing day of disobedience must have grieved his heart.

Clearly Jeremiah, though pushed to the limit, did not lose his way.

It’s an interesting study, I think, to consider why one gifted man of God would lose his way and another of like stripe would not. The Telling is a tale about one who did lose his way. There’s much in Zeph’s background that explains why he made the choice he made, but there’s enough there to make me wonder, was he in fact a man gifted by God or a man used by God? Is there a difference? I think so. God can use even the rocks of the field to give Him praise, but He called twelve men to come and follow Him.

Published in: on September 25, 2012 at 4:00 pm  Comments Off on CSFF Blog Tour – The Telling by Mike Duran, Day 2  
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CSFF Blog Tour – The Telling by Mike Duran, Day 1

I find it ironic that the CSFF Blog Tour is featuring back-to-back books dealing in a fictitious way with very real spiritual entities. In August the subject was make-believe angels and here in September our featured book The Telling by Mike Duran deals with make-believe demons.

In some ways The Telling is more controversial, in my opinion. Whereas there was little resembling Biblical angels in Eye of the Sword and hardly any mention of God, The Telling refers often to prayer, faith, prophecy, the Bible, and God. And fallen angels. In fact the physical appearance of these fallen angels fits the Biblical description of certain angels found in several passages (see for example Ezekiel 1:19 and Revelation 4:7).

But there is a departure with what these fallen angels/demons are capable of doing. In Scripture they are described over and over as possessing a human and being “cast out,” implying, of course, that they are in. The pretend demons of The Telling act in an entirely different way. They, in fact, are not your run-of-the-mill demons operating in rebellion to God, but they have broken free from God’s confinement of them–also a pretend event since it would be pretty impossible to break free from omnipotent God.

So the question comes up again: how OK is it to portray real beings in a fictitious way? Some might compare this kind of portrayal of the supernatural to that of humans as good rather than sinful. Or immortal rather than mortal. Or capable of shedding the human body in order to imitate a supernatural spirit rather than joined inextricably, body and soul and spirit.

In other words, does a Christian writer anchoring his story in reality (as opposed to creating a fantasy realm) have a responsibility to convey the supernatural truthfully, reflecting what Scripture says? How much leeway is there for the imagination?

Frank Peretti was one of the first contemporary novelists who explored the spiritual world using his imagination. Reportedly, he had no intention of showing demons as they actually are, if for no other reason than that Scripture is largely silent about the appearance of “unclean spirits.”

We know what they believe (that God is One–and it makes them shudder). We know they are the object of spiritual warfare, that they possess people, that they can produce supernatural feats, that they recognize who Jesus is. We do not know how they look or even if they can be seen. At various times Scripture records people seeing angels. I don’t recall an incident in which they saw evil spirits.

So how should someone read a book like The Telling which portrays demons as real, with the capacity to take from a human and acquire a body? It’s fanciful, though couched in the context of a man wresting with his faith and his calling. Can readers embrace the one and dismiss the other without the two becoming entangled? And if they mistake error for truth, is the author responsible or the reader?

Do novels need disclaimers these days–the events you are about to read are fictitious; any similarity to actual events or people is purely coincidental.

I suppose we should also discuss whether the label “Christian” adds a particular burden of truthfulness to a novel.

I’ve lobbied for the distinction between truth and Truth in fiction–the former portraying the human condition truthfully with no attempt at presenting the greater spiritual Truth, whereas the latter aims to incorporate both. But what about a novel that portrays some spiritual Truth on the way toward addressing the human condition truthfully? Does some Truth negate the inclusion of the imaginative that might be mistaken for more Truth?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

I’d also recommend you visit other CSFF members participating in this tour for The Telling (links below, with a check mark linking to a tour article). I suspect this subject might be visited by one or two others.

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Fantasy Friday – The Fall Writers’ Challenge

Technically this Fall Writers’ Challenge isn’t strictly for fantasy. In fact, we’ve already had some entries that would best be described as science fiction or post-apocalyptic. Very creative. But let me back up.

The Challenge I’m referring to is over at Spec Faith. And before those of you who are not writers or who do not favor speculative literature stop reading, let me mention that we especially need readers. But first things first.

We have just two more days for writers to enter a 100-200 word piece into the Fall Challenge. I wrote a first line as a prompt, then your job, should you choose to accept it, is to write what comes next.

Already readers have weighed in, either with comments or the plus side vote–the thumbs up. But starting Monday the Challenge will be all about readers. Then the following week we’ll take the top three and put the challenge to a vote, letting readers pick the best entry and thus the winner of the Spec Faith Fall Challenge.

So, you see why we need both writers and readers. Both are welcome for two more days, then writers will be forced to the sidelines (well, as readers, of course, they can still play. 😉 )

Just to pique your interest a tad more, here’s the first line prompt:

    If dragon hopping was safe, then I wouldn’t have any interest in it, but of course it’s not, so guess where I’m heading.

Now it’s your turn. Why don’t you hop (dragon or otherwise) on over to Spec Faith and join in the fun. 😀

Published in: on September 21, 2012 at 6:07 pm  Comments Off on Fantasy Friday – The Fall Writers’ Challenge  
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Offerings, Leprosy, And Issues Of Blood

On one Christian radio program I listen to, the pastor is doing a “fly by” of the entire Bible so that listeners can get the panoramic view of Scripture. Not only do we need to see the particulars of an individual passage or its immediate context, his reasoning is, we also need to see how it fits in with the big picture.

No disagreement. But far better than listening to someone else sketch out the whole, in my view, is to read Scripture in its entirety and see the big picture for myself.

Hence I find myself reading in the book of Leviticus, that portion of Scripture I used to skip lest it defeat my entire journey through the Bible. The fact is, as I’ve put in various other pieces to the grand view of God’s revelation, without realizing it, I was laying the necessary framework to understand, at least in part, this book of Israelite laws for living in community as God’s chosen people.

From the kinds of sacrifices and how they should be performed, on through to the treatment of “leprosy” (which may have included the disease we know as leprosy today, but was not limited to it) and the religious cleansing from handling anything unclean like a dead body or human waste to the same cleansing after sex or childbirth, Leviticus is regulatory.

In reading the book, it doesn’t take long to realize that no one was ever going to be exempt from the need to perform cleansing sacrifices. In other words, Leviticus shows how inescapable sin is.

No, having an infection wasn’t sin, and neither was childbirth. But these human conditions required cleansing–not just physical but religious. They stood as reminders that God is pure and Man is not.

Eventually we come to the passage about bodily discharges and the process of cleansing for each. Then this verse: “Now if a woman has a discharge of her blood many days, not at the period of her menstrual impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond that period, all the days of her impure discharge she shall continue as though in her menstrual impurity; she is unclean” (15:25). Unclean people were forbidden to be a part of worship activities. Anything they sat on or lay on would become unclean, anyone who touched them would become unclean.

Flash forward hundreds of years to a dusty Judean street where crowds pressed in around Jesus as He made His way toward Jarius’s house and the little girl who lay dying. From among all those people, a woman with a hemorrhage, who had sought help from the physicians for twelve years, reached out and touched the fringe of Jesus’s cloak.

Twelve years! This woman didn’t just have a medical condition. According to Levitical law, she was cut off from worship and isolated from normal community activities. Anyone touching her would become unclean.

But what happens when that human contact has a reverse effect and instead of the other person becoming unclean, she becomes healed, whole, and clean? Is the other person still unclean? This, I suspect, was one of the dilemmas the Pharisees grappled with when it came to Jesus, because He was constantly touching people that by Levitical law should have made Him unclean, and yet the diseased became well.

What a vivid picture of Jesus imparting His righteousness to those who stand before Him helpless and hopeless and forever cut off from worship because of our uncleanness. What we cannot accomplish, He does with a touch.

At the cross, however, He bore our sins.

Back in Leviticus, a chapter after the law about discharges, God instituted an atonement ritual that involved two goats–one to be sacrificed and one to be released bearing the sins of the nation:

Then Aaron shall lay both of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the sons of Israel and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins; and he shall lay them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who stands in readiness. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities (Lev 16:21-22a)

Christ imparting righteousness, Christ bearing our sins in his body on the cross (see 1 Peter 2:24)–it’s all pictured in Scripture. Leviticus sets it up, the gospels take it home, and the epistles explain it all.

Sixty-six books, but one grand story of God redeeming a people for Himself.

Published in: on September 20, 2012 at 6:10 pm  Comments (2)  
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Who’s In Charge?

Sometimes the world seems askew. Terrorists, economic disaster, drought here and flooding there, political unrest, relational upheaval. Who’s in charge?

That’s the real question, isn’t it. Atheists say, if there really were a God, things should be different. Or, because people believe there’s a God, they storm embassies and make videos that mock other people’s god-beliefs.

Those same atheists will tell you, undoubtedly, that if anyone’s in charge, it’s Man. Ironically, I heard a tele-preacher say the same things a couple weeks ago. God isn’t sovereign this supposed Christian said. He deeded the world over to Man.

Even I did a four part series entitled “Who’s World Is It?” (See part 1, 2, 3, and 4). Why then would I want to re-visit the topic?

I have this sense that a lot of people in America, including Christians, think things are spiraling out of control. We need to remember, constantly, that God is still God.

Yes, in essence He gave Mankind our head–even letting us take the bit in our teeth and run our own way–but He’s still holding the reins. He’s still able to pull us in, He still knows when we’ll run out of steam, and He knows how to take us home.

We may think we’re in charge because we’re going where we want, but if God hadn’t determined that this was the best way to initiate His judgment, we would not proudly be running after the lusts of our hearts.

The amazing thing to me is the way in which God works all things according to His plans all the while caring for each sparrow and numbering each hair on each person’s head.

Nothing happening in the world today is catching God off guard. His great love means He rescues His children from the dominion of darkness, He Has nailed our certificate of debt to the cross, and He has called us for the very purpose that we might inherit a blessing.

What’s more, we have a special relationship with Him. Adam and Eve walked in intimacy with God. The people of Israel enjoyed His presence leading them as they traveled the wilderness. The disciples in the first century enjoyed God Incarnate, living with them. But His Church? We have His Spirit residing in us.

It’s an advantage, Christ said. A huge advantage. Yet too many of us today ignore or quench the Spirit or we try to turn Him into a sideshow.

Instead, His presence alone should remind us that God is, in fact, still in charge. Let Satan think he’s winning. He’s not. Let Man rebel. He’s not going to overthrow the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He Whose ways and thoughts are higher than ours is still on the throne.

Published in: on September 19, 2012 at 6:54 pm  Comments (1)  
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Political Tactics

The Democrats have what appears to be a winning formula–wait until the home stretch of a political race and then spring a scandal. Short of a scandal, expose a “political gaffe.”

In that light the liberal “investigative magazine Mother Jones,” posted a video clip of Mr. Romney speaking at a Florida fundraiser back in May.

You caught that date, right? May. And this is September. The forces behind the leak sat on the video for four and a half months just so they could spring it late in the race when the opponent would have less time for recovery, when he’d have to leave his own agenda to defend himself against whatever attack the other side decided to level.

In this case, according to the BBC article “Mitt Romney secret video reveals views on Middle East” and the accompanying analysis, the Republican candidate made “unguarded and undiplomatic remarks [which] may reinforce the perception that he is an ingenue in the art of foreign affairs.”

Of course his comments were never intended for the public at large, but beyond that, he only said what Hamas, the main Islamic movement in the Palestinian territories, has stated in their own (public) charter (See Part III, Articles Eleven and Twelve).

The summary of their position is as follows:

The Charter identified Hamas as the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine and declares its members to be Muslims who “fear God and raise the banner of Jihad in the face of the oppressors.” The charter states that “our struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious” and calls for the eventual creation of an Islamic state in Palestine, in place of Israel and the Palestinian Territories, and the obliteration or dissolution of Israel. (see “Hamas Covenant” – emphasis mine)

The point for this article is that those leaking the video in question and the pundits who are claiming Mr. Romney made some horrific foreign policy error must not have much to work with, and yet they are pushing through, using the old, tried and true playbook: catch the opponent with his political pants down and accuse him of being less than bright.

I’m a little astonished that the Republican party doesn’t expose these tactics for what they are. Where are they comebacks saying, Subversive leak, right on schedule according to the Dems’ “Way To Conduct A Campaign, 101.” Followed by “He’s so stupid.” Yep, right on schedule. I’d follow that up by saying, Is that all they’ve got??

Alas, the public is left to sort through the tactics on our own. Those who are fairly new to the political wars may not realize this ploy is … well, a ploy. They may not realize that Mr. Romney, far from saying something untoward about the Palestinians, was simply stating the position their leadership has already made public. But somehow his opponents are selling his statement as “undiplomatic.”

Politics. It’s all become a game, a giant con in one respect. It reminds me of the ABC show The Bachelor (or The Bachelorette). Inevitably, some contestants aren’t as concerned about finding someone they hope to marry as they are about winning.

It seems to me, the voter’s real job is to figure out which candidate is “there for the right reason,” which one isn’t all charm and no substance. When I see the same old tactics being played that have been around for twenty years or so … well, this is one voter that feels a little insulted.

Published in: on September 18, 2012 at 6:07 pm  Comments (2)  
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What’s The Take-Home

Writers of non-fiction generally are advised to answer the question, What’s the take-home value of your article or book? Behind this question is the belief that readers come to non-fiction to gain something–knowledge, insight, inspiration, instruction.

The fact is, the question fits Western culture. Generally speaking, we are a people asking, What’s in it for me? What can I get out of it?

Interestingly, John F. Kennedy moved a generation when he turned the question on its head: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” That may have been the last time any leader has challenged those of us in western society to altruistic behavior.

Most appeals come with a list of benefits: do this because you will gain x, y, and z.

No wonder, then, that this mindset has spilled into the church. Come to Jesus, the appeal goes, and receive health and wealth. Or come to Jesus and your marital problems will be answered or your addictions will vanish or your fears will dissolve.

The truth is, God is a benefit-giving God. Throughout the Bible, He laid down choices–do this and you’ll be blessed, but do that and you’ll suffer the consequences of your sin.

The problem is, too many of us are missing the grand prize for coming to Jesus: Jesus. We’re like the man in the parable who found a treasure, then went and sold all he had so he could buy the field where it was hidden.

Except, once we have the field, instead of claiming the treasure, we’re busy collecting rocks. The rocks might be good and helpful, but they aren’t the treasure. They aren’t the reason we took up our cross.

Obeying Jesus and following Him does so often bring peace and joy; His ways are right and good. But those aren’t the Christian’s “take-home.” Jesus is. Peter, in a line that reminds me of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, said

Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. (1 Peter 3:13-14a – emphasis mine)

Hundreds of years earlier, Daniel’s three friends were faced with death if they didn’t worship an idol. They responded by saying

“If it be so [that we are sentenced to die], our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Dan. 3:17-18 – emphasis mine)

He will, He is able, but even if He doesn’t, He’s still God. And in they went, only to find Jesus, the pre-incarnate Christ, there in the furnace with them. Their reward wasn’t status or protection or even deliverance from the furnace, though they eventually had those things too. But while they did not have them, they still had their relationship with God.

He is the treasure. Worshiping Him, enjoying fellowship with Him, walking with Him day by day–those are the delights that are ours no matter what our circumstances.

Paul said the same thing (in more words) in Colossians:

attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself (2:2b).

Christ Himself–the treasure, the reward, the take-home value of the Christian life.

Published in: on September 17, 2012 at 5:56 pm  Comments (1)  
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