CSFF Tour Wrap – Merlin’s Blade


csffbannerI love blog tours, but I really love the ones that get people excited about the book we’re featuring. That’s what happened this week with Merlin’s Blade by Robert Treskillard. In all twenty-five bloggers participated in the tour, posting a total of forty-one articles. We had two interviews (here and here), countless reviews (two by tweens, here and here), and a comparison of the Arthur myth with that of Robin Hood. As always we had the hilarious commentary by our lone Brit, Steve Trower, and his usual Tuesday Tunes offering. In other words, there was lots of entertaining content.

Here are the bloggers who posted all three days, making them eligible for the CSFF May Top Tour Blogger Award. As a bonus this month, our author has offered the winner a signed Merlin’s Blade poster!

As always, the check marks link you to tour articles, so you can review what each blogger wrote, then vote for the one you think posted the best content this month. The poll will close Monday, June 10, at midnight Pacific time.

Art and the Christian


1411705_mary_joseph_jesusThree different online venues have discussed the topic of art and the Christian, in one way or another. The first one, the Gospel Coalition, presented an article entitled “How to Discourage Artists in the Church” by Philip G. Ryken, the president of Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois. In addressing the topic, however, Dr. Ryken left writers off the list of artists. I pointed out to him how discouraging that was. 😉

The next one was an article to which one of the commenters to Dr. Ryken’s article linked: “The Cruciform Heart of the Arts” by Toby Sumpter, one of the pastors at Trinity Reformed Church, Moscow, Idaho. This is the one I wish I had written. It is filled with gems.

The third was a Facebook conversation started by Mike Duran about the Christian writing/reading community. The question was this: “Am I the only one who feels that the Christian fiction writing/reading community is drifting further out of touch with culture?”

Put it all together, and I’m mulling the whole topic of Art, Christians, the Church, and culture.

I grew up in the era of the liberal arts education–school was intended to help you become a better person as much as it was to teach you facts and figures. Whether or not it led to a job after you graduated was almost an after-thought. My college was weak in the sciences and math. The business department was almost non-existent. Foreign languages were thin. But music, literature, history, Bible–those were the flourishing majors.

Clearly things have changed. Today most students go to college to get the prerequisites they need for the career they want. The last I checked, business is the largest department at my Alma Mater.

The point of this being, there’s been a shift in Western culture away from art. We are more concerned now with pop culture, defined as commercial “art” based on what is popular (the “pop” part of the equation).

Some decry pop culture as a shabby imitation of real art, and to some degree, those folks might be right. When we stopped teaching music and art and when we started worrying more about politically correct themes and multiculturalism in literature, we forgot what true art looked like; we forgot that it is universal and transcends differences.

I think another turning point came in our culture with Stephen King. As shocking as it may be, I haven’t read any of his novels or even any of his writing books, but I’ve heard any number of authors talk about his ability–as a storyteller and as a wordsmith. In other words, he wrote stories that sold to the everyday person, which put his books on best-seller lists, but were made of timeless ingredients.

Christians, it would seem, have been slower to come around to the idea that we can write stories with true quality and with saleability. Instead, the first Christian fiction of the contemporary era was more inclined toward establishing an alternative to the culture—stories that were wholesome and had happy endings. They were the long version of Hallmark cards. Of course, Frank Peretti offered a different type of story–a truly Christian story, with a Christian explanation of the way the world worked.

As the demand for fiction grew, so did the demand for stories of substance. The problem was, Christian fiction became the exclusive property of a handful of evangelical publishers beholden to a large number of Christian bookstores which had the power to prevent books from ever seeing a customer. Consequently, Christian fiction took the shape the booksellers wished it to take.

Times have changed. First the big bookstore chains and box stores like Wal-Mart began to include Christian fiction. Then Amazon took over, and lately there’s been an explosion of small print-on-demand presses, ebooks, and self-publishing.

The traditional Christian publishers have not been untouched by these changes. Some of the most prominent have been bought by general market presses, though they retain their Christian imprint. Others have narrowed their sights with the intention of fulfilling their mission statement. In those cases, it seems they desire to sell primarily to the market carved out in earlier days by the booksellers. Still others are making money putting out the books that they’re putting out, though they’ve begun, slowly, to expand in order to widen their audience.

Still, these are businesses, and the bottom line is, they will only continue to operate if they make money.

Where did art go in this discussion?

The same place it went when it fled the Christian liberal arts colleges, I guess.

So, is it important to bring it back? Should we worry about encouraging the artists in our churches? Does it matter if our books are artistic as well as truthful?

I think art is important for one particular reason—by it we show God. I’m not one who thinks all good writing glorifies God. There are some well-written stories that defame God’s name. But how we as believers write, matters. If I say, I am a Christian, then knowingly do a poor job at work or clock out early day after day or complain all the time, I don’t think God is glorified. In the same way, a novelist who doesn’t do his homework, who puts in half an effort, or any number of other “less than best” actions, isn’t glorifying God–though He may still use their work for His kingdom.

That’s the amazing thing about God–He uses His people but is not limited by our weaknesses.

Nevertheless, we shouldn’t rest on the fact that God will fix our messes. We should be diligent because we love Him and want to serve Him as good stewards of His manifold grace, and aim for excellence in our art.

Which looks like what?

Not like a re-working of the latest popular general market story. No more “Christian Harry Potter’s” or “Christian Twilight’s.”

Not like another in the line of other general market successes–the next Hunger Games or the next Scorpio Races.

Christian art must take on the culture, not sanitize it nor excuse it. But the culture doesn’t need to shape up. Rather, people who make up the society that creates culture need to be redeemed. Christian art, then, should be stories of redemption, one person at a time. But those stories may look different from conversion stories. And conversion stories may look different from happily-ever-after stories.

In short, Christians who want their fiction to be artistic must write the hard truth and the divine end–death and resurrection, suffering and glory, the cross and the throne.

CSFF Blog Tour-Merlin’s Blade by Robert Treskillard, Day 3


merlinsbladeAs I have of late, I’ve reserved this third day of the CSFF Blog Tour for my review of our feature–this month, Merlin’s Blade by Robert Treskillard.

The Story. Merlin is near-blind, with facial scars–hard circumstances for a teen. What’s worse, he becomes the subject of bullying by the Magister’s n’er-do-well sons. His one friend, an orphaned boy living with the monks in the abbey, opens the door to trouble when he “borrows” a wagon to help them complete their errands. On the way home, he stops to investigate who might be roasting chicken in the woods. Soon the whole village learns what the two boys encountered—a druid priest and a rock of mysterious power capable of seducing or harming those who look into the glow shining from within.

Strengths. Merlin is the first strength of this story. He is a winsome character, in part because of his selfless qualities. When protecting his little step-sister from a pack of wolves, he ended up with scars that cover his face and with the loss of most of his vision. He’s not a whiner though, and works hard to do his share to help his blacksmith father. He’s also loyal and sacrificial. When his friend is condemned to be whipped for stealing the wagon, Merlin steps in and takes the punishment for him.

The other characters in the story are well drawn and believable, as is Merlin, but I connected with him right away and therefore cared what happened to him from the start.

The second great strength of the book is that it weaves in a familiar myth without calling attention to it. For most of the book it was easy to think I was simply reading a story about a teen boy set in Medieval England, not a story about the wizard of the Arthurian legend. At the same time, the history and setting seemed so true. I wasn’t ever weighed down with facts or description, but I felt as if I was transported to a time in England when political unrest was married to spiritual confusion.

The third great strength in Merlin’s Blade is the exciting story. The central conflict is a power struggle between a druidic priest and the followers of Jesu. Each person in Merlin’s village must take a stand. And when the high king arrives, it becomes clear that the druids plan to take back all of England for the ancient gods they serve. Merlin, of course, takes a central role in the events.

The fourth great strength arises naturally from who Merlin is and from the conflict driving the story. I’m thinking of the many truths embedded within the story–never preached, but lived out by the characters. One such truth is shown in Merlin’s near-blindness which actually protects him from the lure of the stone. God’s Word teaches us that when we are weak, then we are strong.

And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. (2 Cor. 12:9)

Whether this was an intentional truth woven into the story, I don’t know because it wasn’t one preached by any of the characters. Merlin simply had a weakness that became the saving strength. Other themes are handled in the same way.

I’ll add one more strength. The story is well written. I marveled at how well I could “see” the world despite the fact that for the most part the story was told from half-blind Merlin’s point of view. There was the richness of other sensory details, but Robert also found ways of including visual description that felt innovative and yet completely true to the character and the circumstances.

Now that you’ve read the long version, here’s my opinion in short: Merlin’s Blade is a masterful story, well told. Robert completely disarmed me of my prejudices against reading another story derived from the Arthurian legend. Fantasy–not just Christian fantasy–is richer because of this book. Which, I’m happy to say, is the first in a trilogy. Book two, Merlin’s Shadow, is due out this fall.

Weaknesses. I’m pretty much bypassing “weaknesses.” Anything I put would be picky and forced. Some people thought the book started slow. I didn’t. Some people thought the prologue was confusing. I did too, until I remembered that prologues are either about a different character or a different time. This prologue was vital, as it turns out, and makes complete sense later–just not at first. A plot point or two might have had some small weakness, but they aren’t worth mentioning. I doubt most readers would consider anything amiss, or care, if they did. (I’m in the latter group).

Recommendation. Merlin’s Blade is a must read for fans of the Arthurian legend and for fantasy fans of all stripes. This trilogy could be considered an important contribution to the historical/myth fantasy genre. I also highly recommend this one to any readers who love a good story. The target audience is young adult, but the book easily spans the gap between twelve and adult.

I received an Advance Reading Copy of this book as part of the CSFF Blog Tour in exchange for my honest review.

CSFF Blog Tour – Merlin’s Blade by Robert Treskillard, Day 2


Druids_CircleGood versus evil. That’s what fantasy is all about–its central trope. The Arthurian myth is no different, but it complicates things. Noble King Arthur must choose whether he is to live and govern by the principles of right he has established in his kingdom or whether he is to “make an exception” for those in his personal life.

Robert Treskillard in Merlin’s Blade, first in the Merlin Spiral Trilogy, carries on the good versus evil theme, but he addresses good and evil from both a societal and a supernatural point of view. The real battle is between the druids (and their practices often carried out in a circle such as the one pictured above) and the Christians–for control over life in Britain and over the lives of its people.

The conflict is fanciful since little is known about the druids apart from myth–fitting since King Arthur is also not a firmly established historical person, nor is Merlin. However, the clash between druids and Christians is believable, both on a societal level and a spiritual one.

In society, Christianity was the religion imposed on the conquered people of the Holy Roman Empire. I liken this to the Jewish nation ruled by kings professing belief in Yahweh, the One True God. Under their first king, Saul, witchery and sorcery were outlawed–and yet, the witch of Endor survived, apparently living in secret and not practicing her dark arts, unless cajoled into doing so by one promising her she would be safe from the penalties of the law. Clearly, sorcery was not eradicated by an edict from the king.

So, too, in the Britain of Merlin’s Blade. Those not in power bide their time and wait for an opportunity to reassert their influence, to reposition themselves for a climb to the top.

Spiritually, this power grab is a result of the evil forces, the false gods, which the druids worship and which control them through fear and intimidation.

The druidic power is real in Merlin’s Blade, and no less mysterious. When the priest who would rule first addresses the people of Merlin’s village, he says

. . . to call you back to the old way. To call you as lost children back to the only way your ancestors knew–they who claimed this wooded land as their own and coaxed forth crops from the soil . . . Your ancestors call you back to worship the old gods–the guides, the healers, those who bless your fields and cattle, who protect you from witchcraft and guard your children against the wailing sidhe, the gods who are furious at your obstinacy.

Since I equated druids with witchcraft, the above lines caught me off guard. The “sidhe” mentioned in those lines is “the Irish term for a supernatural race in Irish mythology and Scottish mythology, (usually spelled Sìth, however pronounced the same) comparable to the fairies or elves” (Wikipedia).

This suggests a layering of evil–fairies and witches that people fear, topped by a pantheon of gods who will protect their worshipers from those beings. The latter have a special hatred for the Christian God, his son Jesu, and his followers.

When the druid priest shows up with his power, he successfully seduces some to forsake their belief in the God of Rome and to follow the ancient gods of their homeland. It’s an appeal to ethnic pride, a repudiation of Rome, but also, and more convincingly, a plea to embrace the power gifted by the gods to an idol and its priest.

In all this, the question hangs unspoken–does the Christian God have power to counter the druids? Or is He limited to the work of His servants? It’s a timeless question, one people could well ask today by replacing “druids” with any number of other people standing against God. How can human followers of Christ stand against the forces marshaled against Him? The corollary is this: can Christians count on God when they call on Him in times of crisis? And the follow-up question: what’s the difference between trusting God to save and ordering God to save or trying to manipulate Him into it?

Merlin’s Blade raises questions for anyone willing to consider the good and evil conflict at the heart of the story. It’s one of the strengths of the story, as far as I’m concerned, but I’ll get to that tomorrow in my review.

For now, I suggest you see what other CSFF Blog Tour participants writing about Merlin’s Blade have to say. Especially, don’t miss Timothy Hicks’s interview with Robert.

And don’t forget, anyone leaving a comment to the Day 1 post will be entered into the drawing for an ARC.

CSFF Blog Tour – Merlin’s Blade by Robert Treskillard, Day 1


Robert_TreskillardIt’s always fun for me when CSFF features a book by one of our members. Robert Treskillard has been a part of the Blog Tour since its early days, supporting other writers and discussing books we highlight. Now we get to do that for him. His debut novel, Merlin’s Blade, is the first in the Merlin Spiral Trilogy, published under Zondervan’s new young adult imprint, Blink.

All this brings so much to my mind–the growing popularity of young adult novels, not just with teens but with adults, the unique goals of the new Blink line, and of course, Robert himself. Who is this man who wrote another story in a long line of tales derived from the Arthurian myth?

I think, for readers like me, I need to address one other question which the last one in the previous paragraph alludes to: do we actually need yet one more tale about Arthur and company? Some people, of course, are huge fans of the Arthurian legend and can immerse themselves in the numerous novels and movies and TV shows. Others of us tend more toward Arthurian weariness (I’m sorry, all you dedicated, loyal Arthur fans–it’s just the way it is).

I cut my teeth on Arthur on a Classic Comic of Idylls of the King. Later my high school produced Camelot a year or two before the musical by the same name hit the big screen. I’ve seen many other productions and read any number of other versions of the myth, or portions of it, since then, to the point that I began to think there couldn’t possibly be another new slant, take, interpretation, or approach to the story.

Surprise! Robert found one.

It’s interesting to read a story that has such familiar elements and yet be surprised when they pop up. For much of Merlin’s Blade I was reading as if the book was about someone else named Merlin, not the famous Merlin everyone knows from the Arthur stories.

And when parts of the legend did appear, I still was left guessing how they would congeal with the story unfolding before me and with the aspects of the legend with which I was familiar. In short, from the early pages, Merlin’s Blade had me off center, offering me a story I didn’t expect.

In the end, my Arthurian myth weariness played no part in my reaction to Merlin’s Blade. In much the same way that Shannon Dittemore’s Angel Eyes books upset my thinking about angel books, Robert’s story has upset my thinking about Arthur myth novels. And that’s what good books do.

I’ll have much more to say about the book, but I recommend you visit the blogs of others participating in the tour and see what they think. I’m looking forward to making the rounds myself.

Oh, one more important thing. I have an Advance Reading Copy to give away during the tour. Anyone interested may leave a comment to this post, and I’ll draw for the winner on Friday. In addition, Robert has a REAL contest running in conjunction with all of the books in the trilogy. You might take a look at his intro blog post announcing it.

Here are the other CSFFers participating in the tour this month. Once again check marks will link you to a CSFF tour-related article.

A Quiet Conversation About Purpose, Meaning, And Destiny


“Why do deities need supernatural tricks: A Rebuttal

115898_twins_1One day twin brothers were having a quiet conversation, and the meaning of life came up.

What do you suppose it’s all about? the first brother asked.

It’s about getting what you can in the here and now, brother two answered. There’s nothing else after this.

Seriously? His brother wrinkled his brow. You mean, when we leave, we …

Go into oblivion. What else could it be? I mean, when you’re gone, you’re gone. If you go first, I won’t see you again and vice versa.

It all seems so pointless.

That’s why you have to make every minute count while you’re here. Grab what you can. Live for the moment. Eat and sleep like there’s no tomorrow, because there really might not be one.

I don’t know. I have this feeling that there’s more.

Crazy talk.

No. It’s talk that makes me think there’s more. I’ve heard things.

What kind of things?

You know, voices. One especially. Over and over I hear, ‘I love you boys.’

Your imagination.

I don’t think so.

Look around. You see any mysterious person who might be talking to us?

Well, no.

All right then.

But why couldn’t this person, you know, be somewhere else and when we leave here we join them there?

Because there is no other place.

How can you be sure?

Do you SEE another place?

Well, no.

Case closed. If you can’t see it, taste it, smell it, feel it, or taste it, then it doesn’t exist.

You said ‘taste’ twice and you left out hearing.

Do you hear anything now?

No.

All right then.

But I’ve told you, I hear this voice almost every day. Sometimes it even sings.

You’re losing it. And I’m stuck with a crazy for a brother.

Why is it so crazy to think there’s a world beyond the one we know?

Because you have no evidence, no proof.

I’m telling you, I do have proof. I’ve heard the voice of one telling me how much we’re loved.

That’s nothing but your wishful thinking tricking your mind into believing something that has no basis in fact.

How do YOU know there’s no basis in fact?

Show me this mysterious, invisible person. Where are they, huh?

Next time I hear their voice, I’ll wake you up.

Don’t bother. If I have a sour stomach, I can imagine things too. Hearing voices of invisible people is not proof.

Then what is?

How about an actual person, right in front of my face?

I don’t think it works that way. Somehow, I think we need to go to the I-love-you person, not the other way around.

You’re making this up.

No, actually I’m not. I’m on my way now.

And with that the first of the twin boys was pushed through the birth canal and born.

Published in: on May 24, 2013 at 5:20 pm  Comments (8)  
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Who Defines Morality?


Gilbert_Stuart_Williamstown_Portrait_of_George_WashingtonPresident Obama’s administration has taken a few hits lately. One of the latest problems to come to light has to do with the IRS targeting for delays groups applying for non-profit status if they had a conservative moniker such as Tea Party.

As an aside, I find it interesting that “Tea Party,” associated with one of the brave acts of rebellion by the forefathers of the US in the process of gaining independence from England, has become a negative in the eyes of liberal Americans.

Maybe that isn’t so much of an aside. The question is, who defines morality? Once, standing up to a government that wasn’t really all that repressive, but was unilateral in its decisions, was thought to be a brave act worthy of acclaim.

Today, the group of people standing against a Big Brother type of all invasive government is ridiculed by the media and, in this latest Obama administration gaffe, targeted for unfair treatment by the IRS.

As it turns out, the President himself spoke out against this kind of unfair treatment. But the incident brings up the question, who gets to define morality? Those opposed to the Tea Party were making a decision based on what they believed to be right, I would have to assume. I mean, they were violating common practice if not legal precedent in targeting organizations with whom they disagreed. Who would do that unless they thought those organizations were wrong?

But do government officials get to define morality in this way? Do police get to target people because of their political views or religious persuasion? Some actually think they should–in light of terrorist threats.

How do we then keep government from going after those with whom they disagree, just as the IRS so recently did? This is the kind of action dictatorial regimes take.

No wonder President George Washington said in his farewell address

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. . . . And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

How, President Washington seems to say, can morality exist apart from religion? How can political prosperity stand without the support of religion and morality?

Here we are in the twenty-first century, stripping religion from the marketplace of ideas, claiming that it has no place in government, and we find ourselves in a morass of immorality–or morality defined by one’s own ideas and beliefs.

How can we expect otherwise when we have stripped away any authority upon which morality is to stand? Why shouldn’t the anti-Tea Party IRS agent believe he is doing his nation a service by thwarting their processes? Who’s to say he is wrong? That is, if there is no authoritative, objective moral standard.

But if not from religion,from where does morality come?

Interestingly, Jesus was asked by the Jewish leaders of His day where He derived His authority. They wanted to trap Him and He would have none of it. But later, when he talked with His disciples, He let them know that what He said, He’d first heard from His Father. He was not making things up on the fly, not moving according to the whims of His own heart. He had an authoritative standard, established in conjunction with the Father and revealed by the Holy Spirit.

All this to say, the further government gets from religion, the weaker will be the grasp of morality. The latter will become a malleable thing, bent to the will of men and women in power, whether for good or ill, without any authoritative standard to guide it. Expect, then, more IRS-like scandals.

Missio Minded


Cades_Cove_Missionary_Baptist_Church_(2672713466)Don’t ask me why, but Latin is in for some reason–hence we’re talking about “missio” instead of mission at my church. But we’re just following a trend. There are a number of “missio” web sites, all focusing on what God has called the Church to do.

In many ways, I’m happy about that, but recently World Magazine raised the question whether or not this emphasis on “being the hands and feet of Jesus” might not be the new legalism (see “The New Legalism” by Anthony Bradley). That thought crossed my mind again this past Sunday.

Part of it has to do with the fact that some people link the Church to Pharisees, in essence saying their problems are the same ones we in the Church now have.

What were their problems? They were trying to deal with the “secularizing” of their religious society. They believed (at last) that they were to obey God’s Law, but in the process, they added their own interpretations. Those became traditional practices, enumerated and revered much the same as if they were God-given law.

In the end, the Pharisees clung to what they believed about the Law and they rejected the Messiah to which the Law pointed.

Is that like the Church? Uh, no. The Church is the gathering of people who accept Jesus as the promised Messiah, the Savior of the world.

True, we do believe we are to obey God’s Word, but not as a means to reach God but as a result of His having reached us.

It is also true that we may misinterpret what God requires of us. We are still sinful people with hearts bent toward pleasing ourselves. We still are susceptible to false teaching that tickles our ears.

As a result, we do constantly need to be called back to listen to the authoritative Word of God and to the Holy Spirit who will guide us into all truth.

But that’s the point. This new missio emphasis seems to miss the fundamental upon which our doing must be based. We must first hear the Word.

Jesus made this point several times. For example when He was told his family was outside, not being able to get past the crowd, He responded, “My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21). Notice, first we who are in His family must hear the Word.

The fact is, anyone who hears God’s Word will encounter what He says in the book of James:

But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. (Jam 1:22-25)

Of course, this passage makes it clear that hearers are only fooling themselves if they don’t put legs to the Word.

James was not initiating some kind of new teaching. Rather, he was picking up on the theme Jesus had proclaimed:

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.” (Matt. 7:24-27 – emphasis mine)

My point is this, the only way we know we are to act on God’s Word is by first hearing God’s Word. The measure, then, of those who actually are hearing God’s Word is the acting out of what they hear.

So maligning the Church for not being missio oriented is misplaced criticism. Those who are part of the Church that is truly hearing God’s word will already be doing. Those not hearing the Word, don’t need to be told to do–they need to be told to hear.

Those deluding themselves? No amount of prodding toward doing will make a difference. Those folks need to keep looking in the mirror of God’s Word and stop walking away.

I think that’s what’s happening to a lot of people who fill the pews on Sunday. They hear the Word proclaimed, then they go off and live Monday through Saturday without listening to so much as one word from God’s authoritative Scriptures. An hour on Sunday is not going to get the foundation of the house built.

So here’s the point. Anyone truly missio minded will first be Biblically minded. Doing starts with hearing.

Published in: on May 22, 2013 at 6:35 pm  Comments Off on Missio Minded  
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Are We Paying Attention?


Oklahoma_TornadoAnother disaster hit mainland USA. No, it wasn’t of the epic proportions that Japan experienced in 2011 when a tsunami followed a devastating earthquake which triggered a nuclear crisis. But these natural disasters are adding up. Noticeably.

2012 147 died – Hurricane Sandy
2011 160 died – Joplin tornado
2011 346 died – Six state tornado outbreak
2011 20 died – Flood Mississippi River
2010 20 died – Flood Arkansas
2008 59 died – Five state Super Tuesday tornado outbreak
2007 14 died – California wildfires
2005 1,836 died – Hurricane Katrina

I could go on, but I think you get the point.

Add to these, school shootings and mall shootings and movie theater shootings and race bombings, and America is reeling. Or ought to be.

F4_tornado_damage_exampleThe latest disaster is the category F4 tornado that swept through Moore, Oklahoma yesterday, killing as many as 51 people, though most reports expect that number to rise, while wiping out blocks and blocks of homes. I mean wiping out.

I’ve seen earthquake damage and wild fire damage, and the pictures I saw of the effects of the Moore tornado were every bit as destructive.

Of course those who espouse global warming, also known as climate change, believe all these tragic events are caused by Mankind’s careless use of the environment. I have no doubt that we are to blame, but I think there’s something greater at work.

When Israel and Judah wandered away from God, He brought calamity on them for the specific purpose of getting their attention. He was calling them to repentance, warning them of judgment. When they continued to go their own way, He brought on them the disasters He’d told them about through His prophets.

Here’s one example from Jeremiah:

if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it…Behold, I am fashioning calamity against you and devising a plan against you. Oh turn back, each of you from his evil way, and reform your ways and your deeds. (18:8, 11b)

The devastation Israel and Judah faced included an earthquake, three and a half years without rain, famine, and multiple attacks from other nations.

Daniel summed up the Jewish people’s response to God’s efforts to bring them back to Himself:

As it is written in the law of Moses, all this calamity has come on us; yet we have not sought the favor of the LORD our God by turning from our iniquity and giving attention to Your truth. (Daniel 9:13)

Before I go any further, please understand, I am NOT saying the people of Oklahoma brought on this disaster because they were particularly sinful.

Jesus answered this very charge when His disciples asked Him about similar circumstances in their day:

Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-5 — emphasis added)

These people who died tragically were not suffering some judgment from God. But their deaths served as a warning to everyone else that they needed to repent because judgment awaited them.

Is America paying attention? Can we think that God is uninvolved in what’s happening, that He doesn’t want us to wake up, come to our senses, and repent?

He has told you, O Man, what is good,
And what does the LORD require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

If we took any one of those three–justice, kindness, walking humbly with God (bowing to His sovereign reign over our lives)–I think we wouldn’t have to go far before we see that the course of our nation is bent in the wrong direction.

“Justice” has turned into a court game of “who can win,” with truth playing only a small part, if any. And that’s when a case actually makes it to court. How about all the crimes that go unreported or the criminals who are never apprehended? What about intimidation that creates protection rackets, child pornography, sex trafficking, gang activity, welfare fraud, insider trading, bribery, corruption … And that doesn’t take into account the ways in which we are now calling evil, good and good, evil.

When I think about what we are as a society, I think, how can God stomach all this? And I haven’t even examined how we measure up in the kindness or humility departments.

Isn’t it clear that we as a nation, as a people have some repenting to do? How can we not pay attention? How can we think God is so uncaring or so absent that we can continue ignoring Him? It seems to me, the only people who can miss His hand at work in our land are those who think “Mother Nature” is to blame or who limit our responsibility to crimes against our environment, not to sins against our Creator.

Published in: on May 21, 2013 at 6:53 pm  Comments Off on Are We Paying Attention?  
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Upside Down Commands


Like other elements of society, the Church follows trends, even fads. They might show themselves in worship styles or catch phrases (how many times have I heard a preacher “unpack” a passage of Scripture? 🙄 ) Those are certainly harmless. Less so, however, are the shifting points of emphasis which seem to change with the winds of preference.

One such shift has been toward creating “seeker friendly” (also a catch phrase) churches, which, in my opinion, seem to miss the point of believers assembling themselves together weekly. Then too, of late there’s been a noticeable increase in the attention churches are giving to service. No longer do we want to sit on the sidelines, but we are admonished to “be the hands and feet of Jesus” in our community.

And we don’t stop with admonishing individuals. We are organizing programs and partnering with para-church organizations to feed children, care for orphans, tutor those struggling with literacy, provide clothes for the needy, beds for the homeless, medical and dental care for the poor.

In short, we’ve left the comfortable pews behind and have made a determined effort to charge out into the highways and byways to reach the unreached through our good deeds.

“About time,” some say. The church in America has been trying for far too long to create a safe, wholesome place where our needs are met and our sensibilities aren’t offended. We’re overdue for a little boat rocking. In fact, the whole thing needs to be turned upside down.

There’s a lot of truth in that position, which, I’m discovering, is the place where a lot of error starts. Just as in every other area, we must look at Scripture and take our lead from God, not from what sounds good, and certainly not from what is currently trendy in the church.

So what does God think about caring for the poor and orphaned and widows? He’s all for it!

Problem solved? Not so fast.

There’s something He’s even more all for. He’s all for us loving Him. That’s the first commandment, the greatest one, according to Jesus. We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Then and only then are we to love our neighbor as ourselves. It seems to me we are in the process of flipping the order of the two commands, as if doing for others is more important than loving God.

Over and over the people of Israel were admonished to love God or fear Him, then to obey and serve.

Now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul (Deut. 10:12).

So here’s the critical point. It is in loving God that we will genuinely be concerned for serving others. It won’t be a passing fancy or a program that we’ll swap out for another one later on down the road.

No, if we love God with our whole being, we will want what He wants, go where He sends, do what He says. Loving Him seems like the only sure way we will end up loving our neighbor self-sacrificially. After all, these are the people the One we love passionately came to save. Why wouldn’t we in turn love them too? Isn’t that the way it works when two people love each other—they take on each other’s interests and passions. They pay attention to what they had never cared about before.

So, sure, it’s time the church in America became less self-satisfied and self-centered. It’s time we stopped loving ourselves more than we love God. But the answer isn’t to try to make ourselves love other people more than we love ourselves. That might be an admirable goal, but it has the commands Jesus enumerated upside down. Unless we do the first, we won’t be doing the second either—not the way we could or should. We’ll simply be trending.

Reposted from Nov. 2011

Published in: on May 20, 2013 at 6:36 pm  Comments Off on Upside Down Commands  
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