The Defeated Foe Looks Like He’s Winning


rattlesnakeSatan is God’s enemy. He’s a rebel who wants to pull off a coup d’état, and like any undermanned foe, he’s using guerrilla tactics.

His great plan, as I’ve pointed out from time to time, is to call into question God’s word. He wants to undermine the authority of the Bible, but he also wants to undermine belief in Jesus.

The thing is, God’s Word is always a revelation of who He is, and it is truth about God’s character, His work of redemption, the essence of His personhood that Satan doesn’t want humankind to see.

But there’s one other area he systematically is going after: Creation. After all, creation is God’s first revelation to humankind. It is by what He has made that we first realize He is.

If C. S. Lewis’s fictitious head demon, Screwtape, were giving advice to his underling today, he would surely include ways to twist our understanding of God’s creative power and purpose.

    Now listen, Tapeworm, or whatever your name is, we’ve been ramping up the program to distort the information about this ridiculous species the Enemy cares so much about. You’ve fallen down on your end. There are rumors that more and more scientists have stepped forward, saying they actually believe in a designer and in the account of first things the Enemy released.
    This has got to stop!
    Nothing is more important. Nothing.
    Let your puny charges believe in the Enemy and even worship him, but be sure he’s stripped of his essential power. Let him be relegated to the role of cheerleader, watching from the sidelines, cheering Humankind along on their journey through life. Let them think the being they worship is kind and good and loving . . . and powerless. Powerless, at least, to impact the world in a meaningful way.
    Consequently, it’s up to them to take things into their own hands and do what they can to clean up this mess.
    The One they worship? He can give them a shoulder to cry on, an occasional thumbs-up atta-boy, a timely “well done” to let them know how important they are to his plans. After all, what would he be without them? They’re all that stands between him being declared a myth, a mirage, or even a bit of undigested cheese.
    Do you see where I’m going with this, Wormbottom, or whatever your name is? You must create the impression that the Enemy’s greatest displays of power either didn’t happen or were not his to claim.
    Start with the origins issue. Your subjects already feel as if their grasp of science makes them far superior to those who want to credit the Enemy with making the vastness of the universe from nothing.
    I wonder what they would think if they could see the spiritual realm, too. Of course, that’s something they must never, ever know.
    Your job is to keep your subjects developing theories they elevate to fact which leaves the Enemy out of the origins process all together. Do this, and his first source of showing himself to these weaklings is destroyed.

And so the instruction might continue.

Sadly, the plans Satan has put in motion seem to be winning. Except, that’s only an appearance. Another one of his lies. He’s attacking Scripture and creation and marriage and Jesus, all with the intent to overturn God’s sovereignty.

But that’s not possible.

God already turned Satan’s best weapon, death, into His greatest victory.

For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory. O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 15:53-57, emphasis mine)

So Satan may look as if he’s winning when we look at what sin does in our world, but his pretension of greatness is short lived and utterly false.

If we’re tempted to doubt, all we have to do is turn our eyes to the heavens.

Milky_way_(8322292662)Isaiah 40 says, because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, not one of the stars He made is missing. His might. His power. On display every time we look to the heavens.

Satan’s working on distracting us and deluding us so we don’t see the truth. But here it is: God is the Creator and sustainer of everything He made that has been made. He owns it. He rules it. He preserves it. And He will one day remake it all for our good and His glory.

Published in: on April 30, 2014 at 9:44 pm  Comments (5)  
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Free Speech Dumped, So Bring On The Light


FedEx_Trucks_AlaskaThe NBA commissioner has ruled. Donald Sterling, owner of the LA Clippers, will be fined 2.5 million dollars and banned from NBA basketball. What’s more, the other team owners are being encouraged to vote him out as the owner of the Clippers. Apparently, they have the power to do so according to their constitution.

Never mind that Sterling made his racist comments in a private conversation without the knowledge that he was being taped. The commissioner responded to that fact by saying, The remarks are public now and they express what he thinks.

So there you have it. If someone says something offensive in private, he can be punished.

I cry over this. I hate that an eighty-year-old real estate mogul and sports team owner has horrible, racist attitudes. How many people has he hurt over the years with his money and power and influence? Even one is too many.

I also hate that this case of racism in high profile places sets a precedent for punishing speech because it is offensive to society. Truly, most people may not realize it, but free speech died today.

It’s horrible, I think, that something so clearly wrong—racist comments—should be at issue. But agreeing with or hating what Sterling said is not the issue. Free speech says the person holding a minority view has the right to voice his opinion. But apparently not any more.

I also hate the fact that this high profile case involving racist language has taken front stage. People died in a string of tornadoes in the Midwest and multiple people have lost their homes. A young man walked into an Atlanta area FedEx and started shooting, eventually killing himself. This just days after a boy in England stabbed his teacher to death.

Ukraine is facing the possibility of civil war, the Middle East peace deadline expired, an explosion in Syria killed dozens, gunmen stormed the Libyan parliament, over a hundred people have died in Saudi Arabi of the Mers (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) coronavirus, and the Yemen army initiated an offensive against al-Qaeda.

All I can think is, how dark is the world, how much people need the light.

The light is not a list of moral imperatives. It’s not a return to the values of our Constitution. It’s not even a love-your-neighbor campaign.

The Light is the Light of the world. And Christians have been called into that light, called to proclaim that light

But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9)

Believers have been called out of darkness, but even more, we’ve been rescued from it:

For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col. 1:13-14)

Every person we know is either in the domain of darkness or the kingdom of light. There is no neutral territory. Everyone in the domain of darkness needs to be rescued. Granted, it is God who does the rescuing, but remarkably He earmarks those of us in His kingdom to be a part of the process. Here are ways God uses believers.

  • We can all pray—that God will send more workers into the harvest, for one. But also that He would open the spiritually blind eyes of those who do not know Him.
  • We can live life in a countercultural way that pleases Jesus.
  • We can be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give a defense of the hope that is in us.
  • We can go into the world and make disciples, starting next door, down the block, across the street.
  • We can support those who take up the mantle of missionary and move to the inner city or to a country in the 10/40 window or wherever God calls.

Above all, it’s time for Christians to step up, not to hunker down. It’s tempting to duck when battle rages around us. And make no mistake—we are in a battle:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Eph. 6:12)

But we are equipped, and we have our marching orders:

Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. (Eph. 6:13)

Yes, free speech has been dumped today, but more’s at stake—the eternal destiny of . . . well, everyone we know. So while it’s yet day, we’d best be about our real business.

Racism And Free Speech


ClipersDonald T. Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, has allegedly been taped during a conversation with his mistress in which he made numerous racist statements. At issue, apparently was his mistress posting pictures with various African-Americans as well as her attending Clippers games in the company of African-Americans. According to a tape played on TV’s TMZ program, Sterling wanted her to take the pictures down and not to come to games with African-Americans.

According to the US Constitution, Sterling has a right to say he doesn’t want his mistress to post pictures of African-Americans or to attend games in their company. But in the aftermath of this TMZ reveal, sportscasters and players and any number of people have called for sanctions from the NBA for his comments and, more drastically, for him to be denied the right to own an NBA franchise.

I thought the whole “free speech” right protected people from just such reprisal.

Mind you, I have no way of knowing if Donald Sterling harbors hatred for a race of people. He is of Jewish ethnicity, as I understand, which doesn’t mean he is or is not opposed to others because of their race. But supposing he were, does the majority of society, which agrees that racism is wrong, therefore have the right to punish him for stating his views, to the point of wresting his property from him?

This is a serious issue. It’s easy to make Donald Sterling a target, especially if you live in the LA area as I do. He’s sabotaged his own sports team any number of times by his questionable decisions and his unwillingness to pay the going salary for top level players. To learn that he has a mistress, that he said inappropriate, racial things to her, and that these things were taped, doesn’t seem surprising. Rather, it’s Donald Sterling being Donald Sterling—someone who goes his own way without regard to others, who is greedy, offensive, selfish, and mean spirited.

So, is society allowed to withhold the rights of greedy, offensive, selfish, mean-spirited people? Is it OK to revoke his First Amendment rights because he’s a jerk with racist views?

We might wish so.

But here’s why it’s not a good idea to get on that bandwagon. There is no telling who society will next label as offensive, mean-spirited, and selfish.

I have no doubt, for example, that there are feminists who would find my views about women and about abortion to be offensive and perhaps sexist, though they’d have a harder time pinning that label on me as a woman than they would on men who might hold the same opinions.

In the same way, a growing number of people would find my views about homosexuality offensive because I still consider same sex activity to be sin. In fact, my views about the sin nature of humankind also are offensive to some people, and they are in contradiction to the general trend of society.

So how are we to view free speech? Are people only free to say what they want without reprisal as long as we agree with them? Or as long as they aren’t rich or in highly visible occupations?

I added that last phrase because of the Westboro Baptist people who waved horrible signs at the funerals of any number of servicemen. I don’t know what kinds of efforts people made to stop them, though I know there were some. However, I don’t recall anyone suggesting they receive a monetary fine from the Baptist denomination or that their church be taken away from them.

Lots of people would like to see the Westboro Baptist protesters and the Donald Sterlings of this world punished. We’d like them to shut up and sit down. We’d like them to stop holding offensive views, wrong beliefs.

Except, I’m offended by Sterling having a mistress. I think he’s a sinner who ought to be criticized in the press for his promiscuity as much as for his racism. If he were a politician who was maintaining a mistress on the side, I’m pretty sure his immorality would become a bigger issue—at least if the racist question wasn’t also part of the conversation.

My point is, different things are offensive to different people. But when it comes to speech, it is not OK to silence someone or punish them just because we think they’re wrong.

It’s uncomfortable to speak out against reprisals aimed at Donald Sterling, but I kind of think it’s necessary. Otherwise, tomorrow those reprisals might be targeting Christians who believe gay marriage is no marriage or abortions are wrong.

Free speech allows us to be a people of law, not of popular opinion. It protects us from the lynch-mob mentality we worked so hard to overcome in the days when the government sanctioned racist hatred.

So now, we’re going to bring back the idea of reprisals against those we deem to be prejudice? Today we’re clamoring for Sterling’s head because of his racist views, but tomorrow the “prejudice” could be against sexist men or homophobe Christians or people wearing red.

Seriously. In certain parts of the city, wearing the wrong gang colors requires reprisal.

At some point, we citizens need to decide what our values are. Here in the US we talk a good game when it comes to freedom, but then a Donald Sterling tape surfaces, and suddenly “free speech” comes with the right to institute sanctions against “that kind of talk”—the kind that ought not to be allowed in the NBA or anywhere else, so the outraged say.

Well, yes, I wish people didn’t think less of others. I wish people didn’t judge others by the color of their skin. I wish people didn’t malign those with whom they disagree. But if they choose to do so, I get to say they are wrong, but I don’t get to hurt them or take their property or put them in jail or fine them.

It’s the downside of free speech, that people like Donald Sterling get to say offensive things. It’s the upside that the rest of us get to say how wrong he is without worrying that he’ll prevent those who wish to watch the Clippers from doing so.

Guns And Plastic Bags


HandgunsConservatives, a group many evangelical Christians find themselves tied to, have been criticized for having pet topics—most notably, abortion and gay marriage. I’ve heard these topics are growing tiresome and Christians ought to accept that we’re in the minority on these issues and get over it!

Surprise, surprise. Liberals have their pet issues too—notably gun control and global warming/climate change. I find these issues as tedious as I’m sure liberals find topics I’m concerned about.

Gun control in the US has a major barrier: the Second Amendment to the US Constitution which states citizens have the right to bear arms. Of course our world is a very different place than when the founders of our government put that right in place.

All of us decry the misuse of guns—from gang drive-bys to school shootings and political assassinations or the attempts. But the debate rages whether or not passing new restrictions on gun ownership or purchase will change the climate of violence.

In other words, we all acknowledge the problem, but we don’t agree that gun control is the solution or even a solution.

So we seem to be at a sort of stalemate . . . until the state of Georgia comes along and passes a law which allows their citizens to wear sidearms in public, possibly even in churches or schools, and in parts of the airport. These are people without a police record and without reported mental illness for the last five years.

OK, that last point disturbs me. When was the last time someone was “cured” of mental illness? Isn’t it more likely that various mental disorders are being treated or medicated, not cured? And haven’t a number of those perpetrating mass murders been discovered to have a history of mental illness?

But apparently this wasn’t a concern in Georgia. Oh, well. What I’m wondering is this—will the Georgia gun law have the same effect as the marijuana laws have had? In other words, will they catch on? Will other states think passing state laws is a good way to get around the Federal government, no matter what they have on the books or how they might try to restrict long held freedoms?

I find all these attempts at regulation or deregulation quite interesting. The gay rights efforts are an attempt to deregulate the long held beliefs about marriage. Ever since the US became a country, marriage has meant a union between one man and one woman. The deregulation efforts could turn marriage into a free-for-all.

Abortion is also a law that deregulates. Once there was a moral understanding that life is sacred, but now that view has been deregulated and life is not sacred if a woman doesn’t choose to permit life to grow in her womb.

On the other hand, new regulations are being added beyond the gun control. For example, the city council for Huntington Beach, CA, has joined San Francisco in banning plastic bags. While all plastic is frowned upon, it is bags that have received the environmentalists’ ire.

I forget all the evils that plastic bags are responsible for—all related to sea life, I believe. I just find it . . . incredible that we are so concerned for the health and well-being of fish and dolphins and seals and whales and crabs, but so unconcerned for the health and well-being of pre-born humans.

But I misspoke. There is great concern for the health and well-being of the pre-born as long as the mother decides to keep the baby. In that instance, a violent crime against a pregnant woman that results in her baby dying, can bring charges of murder against the perpetrator. And a woman who smokes when she is pregnant? She’s marked with the scarlet N for negligent.

Ocean_wavesIt’s a crazy world anymore. But it’s not really a surprise. Once we detached from our religious moral underpinnings which had been influenced by Scripture, we’ve been adrift. Now we’re moving so far from shore, we’re losing sight of solid ground. We’re following the peaks or dips of each wave, depending on who’s at the rudder and how hard we’re rowing.

I recently read this in an article posted at The Federalist:

“The censorial climate of academia extends beyond tenured professors and touches the students, both in undergraduate and graduate school. They are being taught what is and is not an ‘acceptable’ way of thinking rather than being encouraged to think through difficult questions on their own.” (“The Closing of the Academic Mind,” emphasis mine)

No wonder we have so many inconsistencies. No wonder we have key talking points and favorite liberal or conservative issues. What we actually need is a return to that moral compass that can help us find solid ground again. Maybe then we could reason out what to do about immigration and energy resources and crime and yes, the big favorites of both sides of the divide.

There really are Biblical principles that could apply to these issues, if we would accept the authority of Scripture. But the only way that will happen is one person at a time, each person reading the Bible, believing it, and choosing to live according to its dictates.

CSFF Blog Tour – Numb By John Otte, Day 3


Numb-CoverThis month’s CSFF Blog Tour feature is a rare science fiction novel, written for adults and published by Marcher Lord Press. Numb by John Otte, a Christy Award finalist, is a stand-alone, though some reviewers believe there is room for a sequel, should John care to revisit this world again. I admit, I love the universe he imagined, but this story seems well-ended to me, and I don’t have any particular need to see these characters again. But since I’m already opinionating, I suppose I might as well get right to my review.

The Story. Crusader is the perfect assassin: dedicated to the cause, loyal to the authorities over him, determined to complete his missions, and completely numb. He doesn’t feel emotion and he doesn’t feel pain. What’s more, he believes God has gifted him with this numbness so that he can take up the sword of judgment and wield it against those his superiors have marked as deserving of death—heretics, infidels, traitors, and the like. Above all, Crusader is good at what he does. In fact he’s the best the Ministrix has.

Imagine the uncertainty, then, when Crusader discovers, first, that he cannot complete his latest assignment—to assassinate an engineer named Isolda Westin—and second that some Ministrix agent has set him up and intends to kill him.

His inability to plunge the knife into Isolda’s heart is perhaps the most troubling thing Crusader faces. Something within him refuses to follow what he knows he must do. But why? And why is he, the most loyal, most accomplished Ministrex agent, now a target of the very leaders he has served these past ten years?

With these questions at the heart of the plot, Numb jumps into a tale of intrigue, suspense, action, and romance.

Strengths. There is so much to like in this story, but I think my favorite is the worldbuilding. It’s a little rare, I suppose, to put the element that most often fades into the background as the aspect of the story I liked best, but for me, the sense of place, without being bogged down by a lot of techno terms or details I didn’t care about, made the whole story more enjoyable. I thought there was just the right amount of science/technology mixed with the right amount of facts about the governments that dominated the populated universe to give me a feel for what the characters had to contend with.

Furthermore, the inventiveness seemed believable—a logical outcome of the way technology is advancing and of the way governments are behaving today.

I also thought the central theme was wonderfully woven into the story. Nothing seemed forced. The characters themselves, as a natural part of who they were and the predicament in which they found themselves, dictated the theme. It was never delivered in a heavy-handed manner, though I guess you’d say the “faith elements” were overt.

I liked the characters as well, though I have to admit, when Isolda appeared in chapter three, I felt quite relieved. I wasn’t sure about spending an entire book in the head of a numb assassin, no matter how justified he was in his own mind for doing what he did.

The plot was exciting, built as it was on intrigue. There were fight scenes, chase scenes, betrayals, rescues, hypocrites acting hypocritical and spies acting nobly. There were plenty of twists though the plot never became convoluted. Important elements were properly foreshadowed, so little felt as if it didn’t belong.

But that brings me to the next part of this review.

Weaknesses.

      SPOILER ALERT

Perhaps the only part of the story I didn’t find believable was the sudden attraction Isolda had to first one assassin, then the other. To her credit, she didn’t realize that Balaam, who appeared to be her rescuer, was actually there to kill Crusader and kidnap her. But here’s the thing—she showed definite signs of attractions to a complete stranger. Then when he is killed, she quickly shows interest in the agent who defeated him—the one who she knows is there to kill her.

This tendency to be easily won over to a man could have been a character trait of Isolda’s, except she had no such response to the one guy she actually had known for some time and the one she had shared experiences with and who seemed quite willing early on to protect her.

In short, the contrast between the way Isolda reacted to Gavin and to Balaam, then Crusader, made her actions a little hard for me to believe.

      END SPOILER ALERT

Apart from that plot point, I had no problems with this story. The writing was straightforward, the characters well defined, the surprises plentiful.

Recommendation. I’m happy there’s a quality Christian science fiction novel to go along with the growing number of excellent Christian fantasies. John Otte has done a wonderful job giving readers an enjoyable story that also provides sufficient meat to chew on. I highly recommend this book to all readers. It’s a must read for fans of Christian science fiction.

As it happens, all John Otte’s books, including Numb, are discounted at Marcher Lord Press. However, these prices are only good through April.

CSFF Blog Tour – Numb By John Otte, Day 2


Numb-CoverThe Christian science fiction novel, Numb, by John Otte, has a good number of surprises, but one is not how the book got its title. The main character, known for most of the book as Crusader, works as an assassin for the Ministrix, one of two dominant governments in the universe, this one claiming to be linked to the True Church. The assassin understands his role as that of executioner. He carries out the judgment against infidels, pagans, and heretics as his superiors order.

Crusader believes himself to be the perfect man for the job because God has gifted him with numbness. He can feel neither pain nor emotion. Consequently, he is single minded about his missions. He is not distracted by fear or guilt, and he is not slowed by pain or doubt.

At first this condition of numbness seems pitiful, at least to me, and I think to some of the characters in the book. Crusader has been conditioned by his handlers to believe his numbness is a provision from God. But not to feel joy or love or hope or anticipation or gratitude or excitement or satisfaction or even regret or sorrow, seems as if Crusader is missing the core of what makes a person human.

Even pain is a beneficial and necessary component for life, or so I understand from reading a story about a leper who gradually lost his sense of touch and no longer registered pain in his extremities. Each night he did a self examination to be sure he didn’t have some untreated cut that could become infected. Otherwise, his fingers and hands and feet could become gangrenous and would have to be amputated.

Feeling is vital.

But as I read Numb, I realized that a good deal of the population in western society lives to feel numb. In fact, many self-medicate, drink, do drugs or dive behind a computer, lock in on the TV, play round after round of the latest version of their favorite game, all in order to be numb to the real world around them.

Whether via the world of pretend or the vicarious competitions of sports or music or dance or survival, people are holding at bay unhappy spouses, too high credit card bills, nagging bosses, crying children, unkempt lawns, taxes, traffic, gas prices, corrupt politicians, aging parents, you name it.

When the world and its problems close in, sometimes it feels too overwhelming. If we allow ourselves to feel the crush, we’ll explode, so we scramble for whatever will numb the pain.

We may not take up a mission like Crusader did, but we act as if our numbness is a gift from God.

But it wasn’t for Crusader, and it isn’t for us. God isn’t about numbing us from the experiences he’s put before us. In fact, one of the things the Christian has been given is abundant life. That’s not only a future provision; it’s a present provision. And to live life abundantly means the opposite of numbing ourselves, insulating ourselves from the effects of our experiences.

Paul summed up the difference: Do not be drunk with wine but be filled with the Holy Spirit. Don’t rely on a depressant, a substance that induces forgetfulness and a lack of control. Instead, be filled with the One who guides us in all Truth, who is the source of joy and patience and gentleness and self-control and love.

He might as well have said, Do not be numb.

– – – – –

Take time to check out what other bloggers are writing about in conjunction with the Numb blog tour. There are a couple excellent interviews with John Otte you won’t want to miss: Shannon McNear‘s and Keanan Brand‘s day two posts. Jason Joyner, who has met John and hung out with him at conferences, has some interesting tidbits and even an interesting picture you’ll have to see to believe. 😉 You’ll especially want to learn how to Otte-fy your story, if you’re a writer.

John himself has a great post about how he came to write Numb. Highly recommend.

Published in: on April 22, 2014 at 7:23 pm  Comments (3)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – Numb by John Otte


Numb-CoverSo imagine you’re a pastor, one in an evangelical church that believes the Bible is true and has been inspired by the Holy Spirit. And imagine you also love science fiction, that you even write science fiction. What kind of story would you write?

Anyone come up with a novel about an assassin, one hired by the church?

Yea, that would not have been my first guess either, but that’s what Pastor John Otte has written in Numb, his third novel published by Marcher Lord Press.

John, a contributor at Speculative Faith (his columns post every other Wednesday), and a long-time member of the CSFF Blog Tour, spends most of his time pastoring at Concordia Lutheran Church in South St. Paul, Minnesota.

The son of a pastor, you’d think John’s future course must have been established from his youth—that is, until you learn he graduated from college with a degree in theater!

Graduated summa cum laude.

Majoring in theater!

Of course, he did go on, after graduation, to attend seminary where he earned his Master of Divinity degree. Soon after he began serving as a youth pastor, then as a senior pastor in Blue Earth, Minnesota. He was installed as the new pastor at Concordia in December, 2007.

And yet, that theater major was still very much alive. John had been a writer as early as elementary school and even then intended his stories to find an audience with the public.

He was so serious about his writing that he joined American Christian Fiction Writers shortly after graduation, and it was through that organization he eventually met his agent and his acquiring editor/publisher.

After publishing two superhero type stories, John created Numb, a novel nominated for the Clive Staples Award and just last week, named as a finalist for the Christy Award, Visionary Category.

Which brings us back to the assassin working for the True Church. His role, as he sees it and as he’s been trained to believe, is to serve as the sword of judgment against heretics, dissenters, or heathen. Wherever his leaders send him, he goes. Whoever they order him to kill, he destroys. And he’s the best at what he does because he’s been gifted by God, he’s told, to feel nothing—little or no pain or emotion. All the sensations that could distract him are swallowed up in numbness.

If you’d like to learn more about this story, check out what others on the CSFF tour are saying about Numb, the novel no one would expect a pastor to write.

Who Spits On Jesus?


The_Empty_Tomb020When I was growing up, it was a popular attention getting device for youth leaders to equate the abuse Jesus received during His trials with the indifference and sinful behavior of contemporary teens. Our lies or lust or gossip were nothing more than us spitting at Jesus.

There’s a certain truth to that line of thinking, though I have to admit, it lost a lot of its power with frequent use. The point is, sin is our way of turning our backs on God. We are choosing to go our own way, not God’s way.

He says follow Him; I say, I’ll go where I want. He says His word is true; I say, I’ll decide what I think is true. He says, love your enemy; I say, I’ll love who I want. And so it goes.

The difference, though, between my sin and those who spit on Jesus is that by faith I understand His sacrifice purchased my redemption. Where once my sin was a barrier between me and God, now His Spirit lives in me.

It’s the difference we see in Peter’s life. Where once he denied knowing Jesus, he began preaching Him openly in front of thousands. Peter said it like this in his first epistle:

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

The life I now lead is being brought into conformity with Christ. He will transformed the body of my humble state into conformity with His glory by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. (Phil. 3:21)

The only people spitting on Christ, then, are those who can’t claim this new life. Their lives aren’t being transformed. They have no new birth. They still have their sin separating them from the God who loves them.

In short, Christ’s resurrection was a game changer for all who believe. We have no righteousness of our own, so He clothes us with His righteousness.

Are we still spitting on Jesus? From time to time we try. But God lovingly brings us back, convicts us of sin, transforms our minds, corrects our waywardness, instructs us in the way we should go.

Our response to His work in our lives is the clearest way we have of knowing what kind of relationship we have with Him. Some of us, like small children, throw tantrums, but in the end we come back to our Heavenly Father in submission to Him. Others are quicker to hear His voice and respond.

Still others aren’t part of His family and resist His call and complain about His justice.

The Creator of the universe, the preexistent I Am, the Holy One who is Truth, who is Love, who knows the end from the beginning deserves our falling-on-our-face-at-His-feet worship. To withhold what He deserves is to spit on Jesus.

Published in: on April 18, 2014 at 6:45 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Passion Of The Christ: The Days Of Silence


The_Burial001Most people, when contemplating the events of Easter, assume Jesus was crucified on Friday because numerous references in the gospels mention that the next day was the Sabbath.

Mark 15:42 “When evening had already come, because it was the preparation day, that is, the day before the Sabbath

Luke 23:54 “It was the preparation day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.”

John 18:31 “Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.”

But if my former pastor, Chuck Swindoll, is right and “Sabbath” refers to the Special Sabbath connected with the last day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, what John calls “a high day,” then there are several days of silence following Jesus’s death.

I need to back up. There’s much more we could discuss about the events surrounding Jesus’s death: Judas’s betrayal, for instance, and his subsequent suicide; Peter’s adamant statements that he didn’t know Jesus, hours after his failed attempt to prevent His arrest; the passerby named Simon who was commandeered to carry Christ’s cross; the seven recorded statements Jesus made from the cross; the soldiers gamboling for His clothes; the thief making a statement of faith as he hung dying, and Christ’s response to him.

Each event is significant and has much to teach. I haven’t ignored them because I think they are peripheral. Rather, they seem unaltered whether we look at the crucifixion events in the traditional way or in the expanded view.

There’s also a common understanding of what took place after Christ’s death, from three in the afternoon until six. When the Romans realized that Jesus was already dead, they pierced His side “to make sure.” The blood and the water that poured from his pierced heart convinced them He had died.

One of his disciples, a wealthy man named Joseph of Arimathea, went to Pilate and claimed the body. He gave up his own grave on Christ’s behalf, then he, along with Nicodemus, wrapped the body in burial cloths with some spices, laid it in the tomb, and rolled the stone in front of the entrance.

This was a hasty burial, no doubt, because they had to finish before the Sabbath which began at six that evening.

Significantly, a group of women who we don’t hear a lot about, but who had followed Jesus also, saw where they put His body: “Now the women who had come with Him out of Galilee followed, and saw the tomb and how His body was laid” (Luke 23:55). Mark names two of these women: Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of a man named Joses. Matthew mentions these two women also, apparently because they stayed by the tomb for a time: “And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the grave” (Matt. 27:61).

This is significant because of what came later. But at this point, Jesus was dead. What else were they to do? We know that Joseph and Nicodemus, two members of the Sanhedrin, neither having been part of Jesus’s trial, did what good Jews did: “And on the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.” Of course, this “they” could have referred to all parties, not just those two men.

Scripture is silent about the twelve—now only eleven—except to say they were locking their doors because they were afraid of the Jews. But we are told what two other groups of people did.

First were those women who had followed Joseph and Nicodemus to the tomb. They started by buying spices to anoint Jesus’s body: “When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might come and anoint Him” (Mark 16:1).

But when did they do that? The next day after the crucifixion was the Sabbath, so they wouldn’t have bought spices then. No market would be selling spices on a Sabbath. But according to Scripture, they took those spices they bought to the tomb early on the first day of the week—the day after the Sabbath. So either Mark got it wrong and the women already had the spices or the inspired Word of God is true even on this point, and we’ve merely misinterpreted the time frame.

By accepting the idea that the Sabbath following Jesus’s crucifixion was a Special Sabbath, we can then read these events as follows: all the Jews rested as was commanded. Then the day after the Special Sabbath, the women bought and prepared the spices (Luke 23:56a). The following day would be the regular Sabbath during which they would again rest, so the earliest they could have made it to the tomb was the first day of the week, early Sunday morning.

The second group Scripture follows during this period were the Pharisees, though “follow” is a little to expansive. The day after the crucifixion, they once again met with Pilate, this time to get his help guarding the tomb.

Jesus had said often enough that He would rise on the third day, that they got the message, even though they didn’t believe it. Their assumption was that His disciples would take things into their own hands and fake a resurrection by stealing away Christ’s body. The Pharisees were afraid of what would happen if that story got out.

Pilate granted them Roman troops—or perhaps they had a Roman contingent at their disposal on a regular basis and merely gained his permission to use them in this capacity. At any rate, they were able to assign guards to the tomb and even to put a seal upon it—some kind of authenticating mark, perhaps, that indicated the tomb was secured by the authority of Rome.

So now, Jesus has been buried. The disciples are afraid, the Pharisees are afraid, the women are preparing, the Romans are guarding. Apart from Jesus, none of them expected what was about to happen next.

Published in: on April 17, 2014 at 6:11 pm  Comments Off on The Passion Of The Christ: The Days Of Silence  
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The Passion Of The Christ: Good Wednesday


the_crucifixion011I don’t have an ax to grind about when Christians commemorate the day Christ was crucified. In some ways, I think it’s odd that we do at all. I mean, Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper so that we would remember His broken body and shed blood—the evidence of His sacrifice on our behalf. So setting aside Good Friday seems, redundant. Not a bad thing, certainly, but kind of like Kids Day.

When I was young I asked my parents why moms got Mother’s Day and dads got Father’s day but kids didn’t get a day. She wisely answered, That’s because every day is kids’ day. Well, she probably didn’t say “kids” but you get the idea. If it’s normative, then no special commemoration needs to be made.

So too with Christ’s death on the cross. We are regularly to celebrate it, so a special Good Friday seems unnecessary to me. But not to others.

So why am I calling this post Good Wednesday and talking about Christ’s execution today? Last year I wrote about the idea which I learned from my former pastor, Chuck Swindoll, that Christ died on a Wednesday, allowing His body to be in the grave three days and three nights as Scripture says.

This year I’m looking at an altered timeline which would allow for the events of the Passion described in the gospels to take place in all their fullness. I think that’s important for a number of reason, the greatest perhaps being that this understanding eliminates what some people have referred to as inconsistencies or contradictions in the four gospel accounts.

One of these differing accounts has to do with the time of Jesus’s crucifixion. Mark gives several time references in his record of events:

It was the third hour when they crucified Him. . . . When the sixth hour came, darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour. (15:25, 33)

Unlike the western manner of reckoning time, the Jews marked the hours starting at sunrise, as explained by Strong’s Lexicon:

hōra: a twelfth part of the day-time, an hour, (the twelve hours of the day are reckoned from the rising to the setting of the sun)

Hence, the third hour would have been 9 AM, the sixth hour, noon, and the ninth hour, 3 PM.

However, John records a different time in his gospel:

Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, “Behold, your King!” So they cried out, “Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” (19:14-15, emphasis added)

Note that John describes Pilate at the end of his haggling with the Jews—the end of Jesus’s final trial—and it is already noon. Either he got the time wrong or Mark did or they both got it right and these events happened on different days.

Because I think all Scripture is inspired by our omniscient Holy Spirit, I don’t think either book has a wrong time recorded. Rather, I think we’ve been reading these accounts through the lens of our tradition. If we presuppose the accuracy of Scripture, based on God’s authorship, then where we think we see discrepancies, we need to re-evaluate our understanding.

If we understand the events connected with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus to have taken place over a period of several days, we can offer a counterpoint to the idea that the gospels contain errors or aren’t reliable or are only reliable for the generalities or the themes they depict.

Blood_MoonOne added note, not really related to this topic. This week the Americas enjoyed a rare sight—a full eclipse of the moon, the kind that creates a reddish cast, and consequently is known as a “Blood Moon.”

Monday night I watched as the earth’s shadow slipped across the face of the moon, darkening the reflected white light and in turn darkening the sky. The “total” part of the eclipse lasted only moments.

But imagine the day Jesus died and the full eclipse of the sun. Not the gradual movement of the moon between it and the earth, I don’t think. Mark said darkness fell over the whole earth on the sixth hour until the ninth. The heart of the day, from noon until three.

Darkness.

And why not? Why wouldn’t the universe protest against the Light of the world hanging on a cross, against the Maker of life giving up His Spirit in death.

It’s only fitting that during those hours when the dominion of darkness seemed to be winning, that the world would go dark.

Praise God, those three hours of darkness, those three days of Jesus’s burial, came to a glorious end.

Published in: on April 16, 2014 at 7:39 pm  Comments (2)  
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