Are Christians Insiders?

E Free church

From time to time, those who have reason to criticize the traditional church pull out the Pharisee-accusation card. The idea is that Christians in the traditional church are the new Pharisees.

At times, the accusation can refer to legalism and at others to self-righteousness or to exclusivity. The idea is, a la the Pharisees of the first century, these traditional church people believe themselves to be in the know; they get it, do it right, and separate from those who do it wrong. They are insiders and proud of it.

On Sunday, my pastor, Mike Erre, put forth the idea that Christians are insiders, but our problem is that we act in a prideful way because of it.

I have to admit, I bristle at this idea. I don’t think Christians are insiders. Except, we kind of are.

Let me try to clarify.

First, as I’ve laid out in other articles, Christians are not Pharisees (see for example “Who Are The Pharisees” and “Missio Minded“). Pharisees believed they had the inside track with God because of their birth and because of their rigorous adherence to the Law. In other words, they were entitled to a seat on the inside but they had also earned it.

Christians, on the other hand, recognize that we are part of the “all” in the verse, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” We don’t deserve right standing with God and can’t earn it. Bottom line, we aren’t special–not in and of ourselves.

Besides our “not Pharisees” status, we also have received a commission to go into all the world and make disciples. “The world” contains people from different religious backgrounds, economic strata, ethnicities, languages, races, nationalities. There’s no exclusivity here. The Church is the least segregated organization on the planet.

Granted, local churches don’t always look like the greater Church, but that’s to be expected. People worship where they live. I don’t have to travel to Japan to worship with Japanese Christians just to put a white face in their congregation.

On the other hand, in the US, particularly in a number of cosmopolitan cities, there is a blend of peoples from different backgrounds. In those instances, the local body should more nearly reflect the great blending we will one day experience in heaven.

But are Christians to separate from the rest of mankind? Jesus said no. We are to be in the world. We are to be light for the world. We are to be witnesses to the world. These are hard things to accomplish if we are off in a corner.

In one respect, being a Christian has nothing to do with me. I don’t have one spiritual provision that every other person in the world can’t have.

So are Christians insiders?

God calls us His children, members of His body, branches on His vine. Anybody can be His child, but only those who go to Him actually are. Anybody can be members of His body, but only those who accept the headship of Jesus are. Anybody can be a branch on His vine, but only those grafted to Him are.

Christians aren’t insiders. We don’t deserve special consideration from God and we haven’t earned His favor. But we are adopted members of His family, invited guests at His banquet. We know Him, are friends with Him, hang out with Him because He’s brought us near. We’ve accepted what He’s made available to everyone.

Are we insiders, then, because we realized the paucity of our own abilities and our great need for a God who could rescue us from darkness?

No, the same information is available to everyone. It’s not exclusive. On this, I trust God’s word:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Rom. 1:18-20)

Suppress the truth. That’s the picture of all of us, except at some point Christians relent. We give up and accept the truth instead. We are like people who can’t swim, drowning in the deep end of the pool. We fight the life guard, try to grapple with him, to push him under so we can keep our head above water. But at some point we either give in and let him rescue us, or we drown.

Are we special? No. Are we insiders? No. Are we in God’s family? Yes. And that’s an exclusive group–only those who have stopped fighting God are in.

So Christians aren’t insiders, but we are sorta.

Published in: on March 31, 2014 at 7:19 pm  Comments (1)  
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Christians And Unity

Crowds_in_the_Big_TentOne thing evangelical Christians in particular get dinged about, especially by atheists and liberal or progressive “Christians”–Big Tent advocates–is our lack of unity. If your god was real, the implication seems to be, you’d all be one big happy family, not a bunch of squabbling, self-interested nay-sayers.

There’s some truth in this accusation. Jesus told His followers that their love for one another would be the thing that would draw others to them. And still, the early church was fraught with division.

Some problems were personal. Take, for example, Paul’s rift with Barnabas. We know Paul didn’t want to take John Mark along on what would have been their second missionary journey after he deserted them during the first one. Barnabas insisted. And Paul refused, so they parted ways.

Or what about the two women in Philippi–fellow workers with Paul–who had some disagreement with each other that required the apostle to tell them to knock it off.

James wrote to all the Jewish Christians scattered beyond the borders of Judea, and he addressed the problem of “fights and quarrels among you.”

Besides personal discord, the Church also faced disunity because of personal sin. Corinth is the most obvious example. That body of believers was tolerating a man who paraded his incestuous relationships in the church. A faction apparently was patting their backs for their tolerant attitude toward him, thinking their acceptance was a demonstration of grace.

On top of this kind of personal sin, there was also false teaching. Peter said there would be false teachers who would introduce “destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:1).

Jude referred to people who

are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever. (1:12-13)

Later he said they are ones “who cause divisions,” are “worldly minded,” and “devoid of the Spirit” (v. 19).

I think it’s significant that in the first two instances, personal squabbles and personal sin, the Church was instructed to take steps to correct the situation. The fighting fellow workers were to stop, those lacking unity were admonished to be of the same mind, to look out for the interests of others, to bear with one another, forgive each other. Brethren were instructed not to judge each other or complain against one another.

At the same time, the Church received instruction not to tolerate sin. The brother living like a non-Christian was not to enjoy the fellowship of the Church, but the purpose was to draw him into repentance and restoration. The “disunity” then, was purposefully and temporary.

The situation with false teachers was different. Jesus Himself warned of “false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matt. 7:15). Paul went so far as to say those who were “rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers,” needed to be silenced because they were “teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain” (Titus 1:11b).

In other words, there is no plea for unity with these divisive false teachers. They, in fact, were the cause of disunity, disrupting and scattering and devouring the sheep, as wolves are wont to do.

The mistake, I believe, evangelicals have made is trying for a false peace. We are in danger of becoming like those Jeremiah spoke of:

They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially,
Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’
But there is no peace.

For some reason, we have no desire to pretend unity with a hateful group like the Westboro Baptist cult, but we turn around and gloss over the blatant misuse of Scripture from any number of others. Who are we to judge? we say.

But the fact is, universalists like Paul Young (The Shack) or Rob Bell (Love Wins) can’t be right if Jesus said the things the New Testament recorded about separating sheep from goats and sending wicked slaves into outer darkness.

I don’t think we need to be unkind or snarky or offensive. I mean, the point of silencing false teachers in the church is not to come out looking superior or more knowledgeable or highly spiritual. It’s to keep their teaching from gaining traction and spreading. We’re not standing in God’s place to judge them. At best we can pray, “The Lord rebuke you.”

Nevertheless, we ought not seek unity with those who say they are Christians, but who do not believe what the Bible teaches about God, His Son Jesus, and what He did at the cross in order to make a way for humankind to be reconciled with the Father.

So why is there disunity among evangelicals? First because we are sinners–saved by grace, yes, but prone to wander, and in our wandering we do disruptive things that require discipline and forgiveness and restoration.

Second, there’s disunity because people who aren’t believers say they are. They believe something, surely, but it is a different gospel, a result of “taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind” (Col. 2:18b).

rose-1441525-mAre we to pursue unity with these wolves in sheep’s clothing? Not while they are trafficking in heresy. But that judging question comes up again. Who are we to judge?

We aren’t judging when we call a spade, a spade or a rose, a rose or false teaching, false.

Discernment and judging are two different things.

The Christian And The News

Obama_wins_headlineFor the majority of my life time, the news has been filled with wars and rumors of wars, the latter similar to what we hear now about Ukraine with Russia poised on the border waiting to swoop into the eastern portion of the country and carve out a slice for themselves.

All too often this kind of news, and that about famine and pandemic diseases, strikes fear in the hearts of Christians. Not just Christians, to be fair, but Christians because so many read the news with one eye on Biblical prophecy. Hence, Russia isn’t just threatening Ukraine, they are Magog preparing to sweep down on Israel and initiate Armageddon.

I think it’s important for believers who embrace the Bible as true, historically, spiritually, and prophetically, to keep a number of things in mind.

First, we ought not go about interpreting prophecy on our own. Look what happened when the Jews tried interpreting the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah–they ended up crucifying the very One they were waiting for. Why? Because they didn’t take time to let Scripture interpret Scripture. They didn’t wait on the Holy Spirit to illumine the truth (which He did at Jesus’s baptism and through Peter’s pronouncement and John’s witness).

Second, we ought not try to countermand Scripture. When the Bible says we can’t know the day or hour when Christ will return, it’s foolish to think that passage is talking about everyone else, just not me. In the same way, we ought not declare a universal salvation when Jesus so clearly taught otherwise. In other words, we need to let the Bible say what it actually says, not what we wish it says nor what we assume it says given the present world circumstances.

It’s easy to think that the morality of society is spiraling downward, leading to the final day of judgment, and that might be the case. But seventy-five years ago, some people were certain Hitler was the Anti-Christ. Why, in the first century, many thought Nero was the Anti-Christ, and morality then in Rome and some of the Greek cities was as debase as anything we can imagine.

Besides the not‘s, Christians should pray. First, we should pray for other Christians, especially those who are suffering for their faith. Recently we’ve been reminded to pray for this pastor or that one who has been imprisoned for his faith. The general plea is to pray for his release, and that certainly isn’t wrong.

But perhaps more importantly, we should pray for believers to be light in the darkness surrounding them. We should pray that they’ll have courage to speak the truth in love, that they’ll be content despite their circumstances, that the joy of the Lord will fill them even when they suffer.

Along with praying for believers, we should pray for God’s will to be accomplished. So often we pray for what we think is best–peace, a pro-western government coming to power, democracy taking root; or here at home, an end to terrorist cells, Supreme Court rulings that support marriage and end abortion, a certain political candidate winning an election. But all too often we have no idea if those things actually are aligned with God’s will.

In the book of Jeremiah, for instance, God told His prophet to stop praying for Judah because He wasn’t going to hear and answer those prayers. Sobering. God had declared the coming judgment–defeat by and exile to Babylon–and He determined He would not relent. Other times and places, such as in Nineveh, when Jonah preached, God was moved by their repentance. Not that time.

So today, I think we Christians would be wise to use Scripture and God’s revealed will as a guide for our prayers. We know, for example, that believers are called to make disciples. We can then pray for believers in the places of the world that are in the news to make disciples.

We know that it is not God’s will for any to perish, so we can pray for revival. We know that Jesus will one day be recognized by all the world as Lord, so we can pray that His name will be lifted up because of the circumstances we’ve heard about in the news. We know that Jesus said the greatest command is to love God with our all and to love our neighbors as ourselves. So we can pray for Christians in troubled areas to fearlessly love God and winsomely love their neighbors.

I could go on. The Bible is filled with revelation of God’s will. How important for us to prayer for what God wants and not just for what we want.

Published in: on March 27, 2014 at 3:56 pm  Comments Off on The Christian And The News  
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Democracy And The Crimea

Crimea_2Crimea_DSC_0122I’ve watched the news with interest the last several months each time a report airs about Ukraine. I have a good friend who was a missionary in Kiev for a number of years, and Ukraine is one of the countries my church goes to regularly for short term missions, especially with our high schoolers. As if that isn’t enough, a local seminary has partnered with a seminary in Kiev to provide degrees for their graduates. One more connection. My church supports a missionary family serving in Ukraine.

All these various connections make me aware of the political unrest plaguing the nation. First, in the dead of winter were the protests against the pro-Russian government. When the snow had barely settled upon the peaceful abdication of power by the former president and the installment of an interim government, the Russian forces crossed the border into Crimea, for the innocent purpose of “keeping order.”

Soon after came the famous referendum, declared illegal by the Ukrainian government, then the Crimean official declaration of independence from Ukraine, followed by annexation by Russia.

As reporters have covered this story, they inevitably get to the part about 60 to 80 percent of the population of Crimea favoring the change in allegiance, and they show mixed emotions. You can almost see the wheels turning: Well, if the people really want to join Russia, then maybe this isn’t a bad thing. After all, the will of the people, you know?

Except . . . the US fought a civil war to thwart just such a “will of the people” move.

Granted, the nature of the countries is different and the nature of the internal disagreements is different. But the truth is, if the US had believed in democracy a hundred and fifty years ago the way we think of it today (one citizen, one vote), we might be a collection of federations, not a country of united states. For surely, if put to the vote, if presented with a Crimea-like referendum, the citizens of the South in 1860 would have voted to withdraw from the United States and establish a Confederation of States. Oh, wait. That’s what their representatives did.

So do the majority of Americans applaud the one-nation result of the US Civil War because representative democracy was at work as opposed to unadulterated democracy? Or do we applaud the Crimean citizens for taking their destiny in their own hands?

I wonder, if the South voted today to withdraw from the US, would we find enough citizens who opposed the move as illegal, to stop it?

What if portions of Texas decided they wanted to withdraw from the US and join Mexico? Or what if portions of Washington state or Alaska decided they wanted to withdraw from the US and join Canada?

Has self-determination become the greatest law?

But how can that concept work? If a segment of the population loses an election, they simply vote to withdraw into a separate governing entity. If this pattern became the norm, it would soon break down countries into special interest city-states rather than groups willing to compromise and sacrifice for the greater good.

Or, as we see in the Crimea, self-determination turns territories into for-sale-to-the-highest-bidder self-loyalists. The individuals interviewed on TV said they thought the Russian government would give them more than the Ukrainian government had.

And isn’t that where unadulterated democracy inevitably leads?

The fact is, on paper democracy is by far the best form of government, but when sinful people, corrupt and self-serving take the reins of power, it doesn’t matter if they come to their position through socialism, communism, monarchy, dictatorship, or democracy, the results are the same.

So what’s the answer for Ukraine? There are parts in the eastern part of the country that have a similar majority of Russian-heritage citizens who have a desire to re-join Russia rather than work as a minority to make Ukraine successful. Should they be allowed to secede–something the US South was denied?

Or should Ukraine stand up to the Russian bully, with the international community at their backs, and a disdain for the wishes of the people living in the region in question?

Is democracy always right? Or is a “one nation” commitment always the legal, binding rule of law which takes precedence over all else? Who gets to decide?

In the US, ultimately it was the side that was strongest that decided. In Crimea, it would seem to be the same, though the results are exactly opposite to what happened in the US.

So is that the unspoken, underlying factor that still prevails in international affairs, no matter how much we pretend to be principled people? Might makes right.

And democracy? My guess is, self determination has become a pawn, a convenient slogan to trot out for the benefit of the western press in order to cover up Russian greed and exploitation.

If so, the next question is, will Crimea or Ukraine become the modern day Serbia or Poland that sparks a world wide conflict?

How is the Christian to respond to all this? That’s a question that needs to be explored a great deal more.

Published in: on March 25, 2014 at 7:33 pm  Comments (2)  
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A Draw Of Kings Review Continued

The Staff & The Sword trilogy covers

I ended the first half of my review of A Draw Of Kings by Patrick Carr by saying I wished for more. There’s a difference in saying the story left me wanting more, and I wanted more from the story. I’m afraid my reaction was closer to the latter position.

In reality, I thought the plot was filled with conflict and intrigue. As I described it last time, it had three distinct facets–the civil war, the three quests, and the face-off battles against evil.

I could make a case for each of those being a book in their own right. In fact, if Peter Jackson were making this into a movie, I’m pretty sure it would actually be three movies.

The point is, the story was dense, and in my thinking, too dense. This coiled and twisted plot created a couple problems. First, parts needed to either be played out fully, requiring many more pages, or resolved quickly in order to move on to The Next Important Thing.

If each had been played out fully, the book would have run closer to 800 pages than to 400. But resolving the issues quickly meant that the problems didn’t require a true struggle. Rather, they were solved in short order, with little difficulty, though some loss or failure was accrued.

Quick resolution has a way of lowering stakes, I think. If something isn’t hard to accomplish, or if losing doesn’t cost dearly, there’s a reduction of tension.

The civil war, then, ended with a minimum of conflict and some loss, but because of the ease with which it concluded, I never had the feel that the loss would make much of a difference. After all, when the circumstances appeared insurmountable, they were actually quickly and quite easily dispensed with.

The same played out in each of the three quests. Something dire appeared, but the struggle to overcome didn’t entail a great re-thinking of goals or strategies. There was no struggle apart from an initial conflict that ended up becoming a success through this clever maneuver or that act of bravery or the other display of character or strength.

Each quest, then, even when resulting in failure or partial failure, left me thinking the ensuing Battle would boil down to the same type of one plan, one confrontation, one quick result.

Furthermore, these conflicts didn’t seem married to the inner struggles the characters faced. I would like to have seen Errol struggle with the presence of his cruel father-priest, for instance. Instead, he made a rather quick business of moving on when he’d struggled mightily in the previous book.

And perhaps that’s why he didn’t need to deal with the issue again. But then the question is, why insert Antil into the story again? Adora’s anger toward him felt artificial. He was not someone she knew, and in the face of the death of hundreds of civilians, it seems petty for her to try and exact revenge, not for herself, but for Errol.

All this to say, the wonderful epic story begun in A Cast of Stones deserved more, from my way of thinking. Errol is a character much to be admired. He has real doubts, deep hurts, and great skills–some with which he was born, and some he developed through long hours and hard, hard work. He could have become bitter, but doesn’t, though the choice not to follow that path seems easily arrived at.

The world itself has layers of authority, political intrigue, allies and enemies, betrayers and deceivers. I would like to have had more time with the interplay of these elements.

Finally, a story this big requires an equally big cast, and there were so many characters in A Draw of Kings, it became hard to keep them straight (which is why most epic fantasy has a list of characters to go along with a good map!) Of course, if there had been more story, then these minor characters would have earned more page time and therefore become more fully developed and therefore more memorable.

How can I sum up this book? I’d say it was an adequate ending to a great story. It answered the questions and entertained. It moved quickly, without snags or delays.

I suppose I’m being hard on the novel because I think it could have been great. I think Patrick Carr is an excellent writer who could make the end as great as the beginning, if given enough time to do so.

Honestly, to complete this third book and have it on the shelves in the short amount of time since the release of The Hero’s Lot is a remarkable fete but perhaps not the best decision. I don’t know who determines these things, but I’ve voiced my thoughts on the six-month novel before. I’d rather see more time given writers to get a story right than to get it done.

Would I recommend The Staff & The Sword to readers? Absolutely! It’s a worthwhile story, highly entertaining, with lots to think about on the way. Would I buy the next Patrick Carr novel? Absolutely! He’s a wonderful writer and just needs time to do his magic. I hope he gets all he needs from here on.

CSFF Blog Tour – A Draw Of Kings, Day 3

Time constraints and all, I’m going to do what I never do: I’m going to divide my review into two parts and extend my portion of the blog tour for A Draw of Kings by Patrick Carr to a fourth day.

This is one epic story, so I think it deserves a fourth day anyway.

The Story.

Errol Stone is a hero. Twice. But his country is in a worse state than it’s ever been.

The king has died, leaving no heir, and a rich, powerful Earl has determined to ascend to the throne of his own volition, though the church and the readers (a group of people gifted with the ability to cast and read lots which will answer questions about the future) are, by law and tradition, tasked to designate the next king.

In addition, according to prophecy, should there be no rightful king, a barrier which holds back the attack of a group of people possessed by the equivalent of evil spirits, will fall. To complicate things further, another enemy people is waiting to attack as well.

If all that’s not enough, Errol brings back news that the lost book of the church still exists and that one key part of their belief system, built on oral tradition, is wrong. The church determines they must regain control of the book so they can know for sure that Errol is right. They assign him the task of recovering the book.

Others of his friends are given different quests. They succeed or fail on different levels, but in the end they gather to defend the kingdom against their enemies.

At the edges of everyone’s mind, however, is the prophecy that the new king will be the savior of the land by dying in order to restore the barrier. Would Errol become the greatest hero ever by making the ultimate sacrifice and dying for the people, the church, the country?

That’s the driving question of A Draw of Kings.

This third installment of The Staff & The Sword trilogy, is itself divided into three parts. The first deals with the civil war/internal conflict within the land.

The second is traditional epic fantasy questing, but in three parts. Different members of the core cast of characters is tasked by the church to accomplish various important assignments.

The final element of the final books is The Battle–the showdown between the forces of evil and the forces of good.

This third book answers many of the questions which have been brewing and intensifying throughout the first two novels, A Cast of Stones and The Hero’s Lot. What more can a reader ask for from the end of a long tale?

Still, I found I wished for . . . more. Not more story, but more attention to the story we had before us. I’ll elaborate on what I mean next time, and highlight the strengths in some detail.

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

Published in: on March 19, 2014 at 7:23 pm  Comments Off on CSFF Blog Tour – A Draw Of Kings, Day 3  
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CSFF Blog Tour – A Draw Of Kings, Day 2

The Staff & The Sword trilogy covers I don’t think there’s any secret to the fact that I’m partial to epic fantasy. I mean, that’s my genre. I have my own epic fantasy, complete with character lists and maps, I might add, which I hope to publish some day. How excited, then, have I been this past year to see the popularity of Patrick Carr‘s series, The Staff & The Sword, increase. I mean, that’s the way an author dreams of having a series go. Publishers, too, I would guess.

Of course, I’m not privy to the sales for Carr’s series. I am only judging by the enthusiasm and the growing number of reviews. I’m used to seeing that number drop off as a series goes along. Not so with A Draw of Kings, the finale of this well-told story. Consider the fact that this book has been out for a little over a month and already has 71 Amazon reviews and 98 ratings on Goodreads, and I think you get a picture of the buzz this trilogy is creating.

That makes me happy as a reader and as a writer. I love getting lost in another world, and Patrick Carr did a good job creating a different place which had its own rules and alliances and enemies and power structures and supernatural connections.

Is the success of this trilogy a first step toward more epic fantasy?

I’d love to say, yes, definitely. But what I think it is actually a first step toward is readers wanting good stories.

In the end, I want good stories, more than I want epic fantasy. If I were given the choice between a poorly written epic fantasy and a well-told dystopian or fairytale or supernatural or contemporary, I’d pick the latter every time. I don’t think I’m unusual in this.

Yes, I have a favorite genre, but I’m not an exclusive reader. I don’t read solely in the speculative category, let alone in the epic fantasy niche. I like good stories, first and foremost.

So when I see a series like The Staff & The Sword get a lot of attention, I’m not thinking, Finally, people are discovering Christian epic fantasy. Rather, I’m thinking, Yea, an author has done Christian epic fantasy so well, fans are gathering to it.

Hopefully they will enjoy these books so much, they’ll be willing to try other speculative stories that might move them out of their comfort zone–books like R. J. Larson’s epic fantasy trilogy or Jill Williamson’s dystopian Safe Lands series or Shannon Dittemore’s Angel Eyes supernatural trilogy or Robert Treskillard’s Arthurian series, The Merlin Spiral.

Really, there are such good books out there right now. It’s a great time to be a reader who enjoys Christian speculative fiction, that’s for sure.

My advice is to hop on the bandwagon and pick up one of the Clive Staples Award 2014 nominations for your next good book. The fact that there are Christian themes engrained in the stories makes the reading experience deeper.

Poorly executed themes, no matter what the message, turn a good story sour. One of the great things about each of the CSA nomination I’ve read is that themes are handled appropriately–as a natural outgrowth of who the characters are and what is happening in the plot. There’s no, “Time out for a word from our sponsor” telling of the Christian message.

For those who have read at least two of the CSA nominations, I trust you have voted for the finalists or are planning to do so. You have until a week from today.

In the end, then, I think Patrick Carr and The Staff & The Sword trilogy are part of the rising tide of Christian speculative fantasy.

How well did A Draw of Kings do in closing out the story? I’ll give my thoughts on that tomorrow. For now, I suggest you see what others on the CSFF tour are saying. You can find the list of participants and links to their articles at the end of my intro post.

CSFF Blog Tour – A Draw Of Kings

A Draw Of Kings by Patrick Carr is the concluding book of The Staff & The Sword trilogy. CSFF Blog Tour has been privileged to feature the previous two books as well, so it’s fitting that we follow this epic fantasy to its conclusion.

Speaking of the previous two books, both A Cast Of Stones and The Hero’s Lot have been nominated for the Clive Staples Award for Christian Speculative Fiction. Voting started today for the three finalists. Voters must have read at least two of the nominations.

So it seems fortuitous that CSFF is featuring the third Staff & Sword book this week.

I’m eager to see what others touring this book think of this action-packed ending. Here is the list of those who will be posting.

Life Isn’t Complicated

Jesus_the_Shepherd004Too often, in the harried lives we live, with tablet in one hand and cell phone in the other, with polarization in our political arenas and terrorist concerns banging into school shootings, we think life is overwhelming. Some people want to escape, and do so in happy hour or party time or whatever thrill the weekend holds.

Others–Christians, for example–dive into a sweet Amish romance or steep themselves in fandom, whether of their favorite sports team or movie star. Still others live to be involved in their children’s lives. They are the soccer moms who man the snack bar or bring the team treats or drive them to pizza after the game. But they’re also the Little League moms, the AAU basketball moms, the Pop Warner football moms.

Today I was listening to a sermon on the radio by Phillip DeCourcy (Know the Truth) about child rearing. He said, surprisingly, it’s not all that complicated. As he laid out his position from the Bible, I got what he was talking about. And I think it applies to all of life.

Yes, this world changes. There are new technologies to learn, new challenges for parents and children alike, new global circumstances.

But God is the same.

His word is the same. (“The grass withers, the flower fades/But the word of our God stands forever” [Isaiah 40:8]) I tend to think life gets complicated when we start looking at the wrong things. In his letter to the church in Colossae, Paul said,

Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (3:1-2)

That’s not particularly complicated.

We seek the things above by reading the Word given to us from above. We set our minds on the things by praising God–for who He is, what He’s done, for His plan and purpose, for His care and protection, for His counsel and guidance.

When it rains, we thank Him for the rain. When it doesn’t rain, we ask Him to bring rain, but also to work His purposes through the drought as we wait on Him.

God is omnipresent. He is fully engaged with His creation. It is we who ignore Him, not He who ignores us.

God is also infinite. There’s no limit to His knowledge and understanding. “Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord,/Or as His counselor has informed Him?/With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding?” (Isaiah 40:13-14a)

Paul also said in Colossians that “He rescued us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (1:13-14)

Really life boils down to one thing. As my pastor said on Sunday, how I live either feeds the darkness, from which I’ve been rescued and to which I own nothing, or feeds the light, the reflection of the image of His Son. I am either living for God or for a false, apostate substitute, which might even be me, myself, and I.

Choose for yourselves this day, Joshua said, whom you will serve. And then choose again tomorrow and again on the day after that and the one after that. Not complicated. But not easy either.

It means loving God more than these, whatever these are today. It could be my desire to be right, to put someone else down, to brag about some accomplishment, to whine and complain about whatever circumstances God has given me, or any number of other things. God wants me to love Him so much those other things fade to nothingness and I simply want to please Him more.

Thanks be to God that He doesn’t abandon us or forsake us, that He gives strength in our weakness.

So, no, life’s not complicated. It’s a matter of letting the Good Shepherd gather us in His arms and carry us in His bosom and gently lead us where He wants us to go.

Published in: on March 11, 2014 at 7:54 pm  Comments (1)  
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Jury Duty And The Presumption Of Innocence

courtroom_4As some of you may have guessed, last week when I wrote about being censured—rightly so—I was alluding to jury duty. Once a jury has been selected, the judge gives instructions that members are not to discuss the case with one another, with the lawyers or the judge himself, with any members of the media, with family, friends, or spouses. And we are not to share it on Facebook, blog about it, or put any information onto the Internet.

None of that last part of the instructions was in place the last time I had jury duty. It’s necessary and appropriate, surely, and not hard to follow for a short, two-day trial. I think I’d find it much more burdensome if I was serving on a jury for a case that ran for weeks.

All that aside, the judge of the case for which I was impaneled brought up the issue of the presumption of innocence, which is standard practice in a criminal proceeding in the US. The judge explains that the jury must not assume guilt simply because the defendant has been arrested or because he does not testify on his own behalf. In fact, he is to be considered innocent of the crime until the prosecuting attorney presents evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to prove guilt.

I understand this provision in our judicial system. It was intended to protect innocent people from falling victim to mob mentality. If the evidence doesn’t prove the defendant committed the crime, he must be declared not guilty.

The problem is that this approach has led to our present day adversarial system. No one is actually trying to find out the truth of a matter. Rather, the prosecutor is trying to produce enough evidence to convict and the defense attorney is trying to create enough doubt to acquit.

Consequently, defendants with bad lawyers might go to jail even if they are innocent, while others with good lawyers might escape punishment, though guilty.

Beyond that, I started thinking today, that perhaps this approach to jurisprudence has undergirded society’s belief in the goodness of humans. If we are innocent until proven otherwise, doesn’t it seem reasonable that we are therefore good?

In fact, Scripture states the opposite–humans are guilty from birth. Oh, not guilty of breaking some law created by human institutions, but guilty in a much larger sense. We are guilty before God because our thinking, our nature, is anti-God.

That’s really what the sin nature is. From birth we are in rebellion against God. We ignore Him, refuse to accept His authority over us, choose to elevate ourselves in His place, and willfully go against what He tells us to do.

The thing about our guilt is that we don’t need someone to prove us guilty. We have the testimony of omniscient God who knows our thoughts and words before a single one makes it to our tongue.

It’s sobering to realize that God holds us accountable for our thoughts. I was talking with a friend recently about what we write. Both of us admitted to times we have put down mean, spiteful, flippant, unkind things–then deleted them. Ah, it’s as if we never had those thoughts, to the eyes of those who read the revised version. But not to God. He knows what we deleted. Those are the thoughts He holds us accountable for.

We can whitewash our behavior for other people, but there’s no whitewashing our insides which God sees and knows.

Innocent? Good?

Not when the first command is to love God with our entire life–mind, strength, heart, and soul. Who reaches to that lofty aspiration?

We know we don’t because if we did, we’d also keep the second command–to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We love ourselves so much that we make sure we have a roof over our heads and food on our table. Then why are there homeless in the world? Why are there people who don’t have enough to eat? If we were good as a people, innocent, we’d take care of other people the same way we take care of ourselves.

But we don’t.

Because we are not good or innocent.

And that’s why Jesus came.

He was the one person who didn’t have the bent toward sin. The one person who could stand before God and be declared innocent. The one truly good person who was qualified to sacrifice Himself for the rest of us guilty ones, if we but believe.

Published in: on March 10, 2014 at 7:49 pm  Comments Off on Jury Duty And The Presumption Of Innocence  
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