Fantasy Friday: The Realm Makers Conference


RealmMakerslogo

Today the second annual Realm Makers Conference got underway, a symposium specifically for people of faith who are interested in speculative fiction. I wish I were there. Starting with the talented author Tosca Lee as the Keynote Speaker, the lineup of presenters is impressive and the courses they’re offering, intriguing.

Here’s a look at the schedule:

Thursday, May 29
3:00 pm-On Campus housing check in available
8:30 pm-10:30 pm – (Early Bird Event) Flash Critique Party sponsored by Splickety Magazine

Friday, May 30
Breakfast
8:00 am – Conference Check-In
9:00 am – Opening Keynote with Tosca Lee
10:00 am-12:00 noon – Class Sessions
12:00 noon-1:30 pm – Lunch
1:30 pm-5:00 pm – Class sessions
7:00 pm-9:30 pm – Awards Dinner

Saturday, May 31
Breakfast
9:00 am-12:00 noon – Class Sessions
12:00 noon to 1:30 – Lunch
1:30 pm-4:00 pm – Class Sessions
4:00 pm – Closing Keynote with Tosca Lee
5:30 pm – Dinner
7:00 pm-9:00 pm – Multi-Author Book Signing Featuring Tosca Lee (open to the public)

2014CSA_Small copyDid I mention that at the awards dinner, Realm Maker founder Becky Minor will present the winner of the 2014 Clive Staples Award. Should be very cool.

Wish I could be there. *Or did I already say that? 😉

Here is the information about the presenters:

Tosca Lee
Keynote speaker

Tosca is NY Times Bestselling author of Demon: A Memoir; Havah: The Story of Eve; Iscariot; and The Book of Mortals series with NY Times bestselling author Ted Dekker. She’s best known for her exploration of maligned characters.

Steve Laube

Mr. Laube, president and founder of The Steve Laube Agency as well as the new owner of Marcher Lord Press, is a 33 year veteran of the bookselling industry. After running an award-winning bookstore in Phoenix, he spent 11 years with Bethany House Publishers, rising to the position of editorial director. in 2002, he was named the AWSA Golden Scroll Editor of the Year. The next year he become a literary agent and formed The Steve Laube Agency. In 2009, he was named the ACFW Agent of the Year.

Steve is a long-time advocate of Christian Speculative Fiction. He’ll be teaching two sessions as well as taking manuscript pitches at the conference. I hope you are as excited as we are to have him lend his amazing expertise to our attendees.

LB Graham

Mr. Graham joins us for a second year at Realm Makers, offering an encore presentation of his powerful class on Worldview in Speculative Fiction as well as a second course the characters we love to hate: Villians. LB will unravel the mystery of when it’s actually OK to have a two-dimensional villain vs. when they need to be more fully-realized, explain why we (and our heroes) need bad guys, and discuss why evil is attractive, even though that attractiveness is a lie. He’ll also delve into how to keep our portrayals of evil age-appropriate and how to avoid glorifying evil while admitting it’s sometimes fun to write.

LB has published eight novels with a ninth on the way, and had eighteen years of teaching experience. According to Realm Makers:2013 attendees, LB “owns the classroom,” and you will be challenged and encouraged by the content he presents.

Torry Martin

Mr. Martin teaches at conferences across the country, and his personality and presentations are both hilarious and packed with take-away. He’ll be presenting content on the ins and outs of networking, including a spiritual perspective on effective network-building. Torry’s second class will offer attendees wisdom, drawn from Torry’s own career, on how to swim with industry sharks without becoming one yourself. Too valuable to miss for writers at any stage of their career!

Jeff Gerke

Mr. Gerke served as our keynote speaker for Realm Makers: 2013, and we’re excited to have him back in attendance, this year in his preferred role as session teacher. Jeff will be presenting content on the craft of fiction writing, though his exact presentation content is still coming into focus. For anyone who’s ever sat in one of Jeff’s classes, you know he teaches at warp speed, and his takeaway is at once challenging and brimming with encouragement. Jeff has written novels under the pen name Jefferson Scott, worked all over the publishing industry in an editorial capacity, edits on a freelance basis, and has written multiple books on the craft of writing. He is the founder of Marcher Lord Press, and continues to advocate for, teach, and build up Christian writers of speculative fiction with his constant contributions to the geek community.

Jeff’s classes:

Class 1: The So-Called Rules of So-Called Fiction and What to So-Called Do with Them–Jeff’s newest book for Writer’s Digest covers the conflicting “rules” of fiction put out by teachers of craft, rules that can leave writers feeling paralyzed and frustrated. Come hear his solution.

Class 2: The One Rule: Engaging Your Reader–Jeff debunks the so-called rules of fiction and swaps them all out for One Rule to Ring The All (er, or something.) Come here Jeff explain what the one rule is, and how to make it happen.

Kat Heckenbach

Ms. Heckenbach participated as a loved panelist at Realm Makers: 2013, and is back this year to teach one solo session and to team-teach another. Her solo session, “Writing in YA mode” will explore how writing for young adults is not the same as simplifying fiction for adults. The major point of the session will emphasize that meeting teens where they are does not mean dumbing down a stories language or content. She’ll also explain the difference between writing “teen fiction” and writing adult fiction that is safe for teens. Kat Heckenbach is the author of Finding Angel and Seeking Unseen, YA fantasy that incorporates satisfying scientific principles. She has published countless short works as well, in anthologies ranging anywhere from Chicken Soup for the Soul to horror. Attendees will benefit from Kat’s dry wit and extraordinary literary range.

Andrew Winch

Mr. Winch joins us once again to offer an encore presentation of his 2013 class on writing flash fiction that sells, a class that will offer attendees the opportunity to enter into a Splickety Magazine-sponsored flash fiction contest. He will also be team-teaching with Kat Heckenbach a session that explores ways to connect scientific reality with fantasy to build believable and consistent story worlds. This team session promises to offer an excellent toolkit to either get you started or bolster any writer in their world building. Andrew is the senior editor of Splickety Magazine, Splickety Love, and Havok. His training as a physical therapist gives him expert knowledge in the science of the human body, and he finds no shortage of ways to utilize that knowledge in his own writing endeavors.

Randy Streu

Mr. Streu, a member of the very popular horror panel at Realm Makers: 2013, joins us once again, this time to teach a full, solo session on “the Ins and Outs of Christian Horror.” The class will feature an examination and critique of modern secular and “sacred” horror in literature and film against classic horror. We will explore the question of what makes horror, horror, while critiquing modern expectations of the genre, such as sex and gore. Finally, the class will look at Christian horror from a publishing perspective, specifically writing well within the genre without breaking trust with Christian readers–or with God. Randy is the administrator and lead writer for A Flame in the Dark, the premier Christian horror blog on the web. He’s also is the co-founder, director, and developmental editor for Diminished Media Group.

Travis Perry

Mr. Perry joined us in 2013 as a contributor to the discussion of Splashdown Books’s Avenir Eclectia, and this year will draw upon his experience as an Army Reserve Officer to teach about the real toll of mortal danger in fiction. Travis deployed five times into combat zones, once as a medical specialist and served over ten years as a combat medic. His real-world experience with warfare and his established body of work in speculative fiction make him an ideal candidate to keep the rest of us straight when we write about the physiology or psychology of wounding and danger.

Kristen Stieffel

Ms. Stieffel is also a returning presenter at Realm Makers:2013. This year, she’ll explore how the work of Mark Okrand and JRR Tolkien can help us give distinct languages to the people groups in our storyworlds. She’ll unpack how studying real languages other than English can provide inspiration for our fiction. Kristen is a writer and writing coach, helping writers polish and non-writers write. Kristen is a member of Christian Editor Network and the Editorial Freelancers Association. Her fantasy novel Alara’s Call is under contract with OakTara, along with three additional books in the Prophet’s Chronicle series.

Gary Kwapisz

Mr. Kwapisz joins us as a new faculty member in 2014 to discuss the detailed process of taking a graphic novel from idea to print. His session will cover the current realities of the marketplace and the differences writers and artists encounter if they traditionally publish vs. taking the self-publishing route. Gary has a passion to encourage Christians to re-engage the popular culture and help infuse the general market with values-based content. Gary offers a wealth of industry experience, having worked as a professional artist for virtually every publisher in the comics industry, from 1980 to the mid 90’s. (Just Google him—you’ll be amazed.) He’s drawn characters as diverse as Conan, Batman and Harvey Pekar. Even if you don’t necessarily intend to delve into the world of graphic novels, Gary’s breadth of skills and depth of experience will offer Realm Makers attendees encouragement, wisdom, and a dose of reality not to be missed.

Avily Jerome

Ms. Jerome joined us in 2013, primarily as a “Splicketeer,” but has much to offer in her own right. This year, she will present content of supernatural elements in real-world settings. As an author of books that incorporate fantasy and supernatural elements into a real world setting and as the editor of Havok, a speculative fiction magazine, Avily’s perspective is unique and will be beneficial to writers who are also interested in this type of world.

Lisa Walker England

Ms England is an author of far-flung steampunk and fantasy adventures as well as a branding expert, and we are thrilled to have her joining us at this year’s Realm Makers conference. Lisa will bring her expertise gleaned from writing anything from serial fiction to sequential stories (think graphic novels and films) and share them with us in her session, which will explore the ins and outs of the steampunk genre.

So it’s too late for this year, but why not make plans to attend Realm Makers next year? I’m hoping I can!

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Published in: on May 30, 2014 at 7:08 pm  Comments Off on Fantasy Friday: The Realm Makers Conference  
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Man’s Way Versus God’s Plan


Recently I saw a humorous depiction of what Man expects versus what God gives us, similar to the one I recreated (though I don’t remember the captions).

One View Of God's Sovereignty

I suspect the point, besides the humor, was to show how we believe our way with God will be easy, free of suffering and hardship when God never promised such a thing.

When I saw the original, I laughed, but then I thought, How unlike God. My thinking was that the picture, not identifying any reason why God would take us into rough terrain, makes Him seem arbitrary and cruel, even masochistic, as if He’s yanking our chain simply to see us suffer.

But also, the first panel shows Man in the most positive light. Yes, he expects an easy path, but he’s steadily moving forward, growing, improving, reaching toward that final destination.

Actually, I don’t think either panel captures reality clearly. First, the truth about Humankind is that we wander, take wrong turns, leave the path, go our own way. We aren’t focused on moving further up and further in as we should be.

Man's Actual Plan

God, then, because of our waywardness and because of His love for us, directs us back to Himself.

God's Work To Move Us Toward Him

That’s it. Like a loving Father, He spanks our hands or puts us in time out or grounds us or takes away our cell phone or car keys or whatever it takes to move us away from our willfulness because He loves us too much to see us go the wrong way. He is most definitely not capricious and He is NOT cruel.

But His kindness and mercy mean He will sometimes withhold the rain or let the Philistines conquer the land or keep us in the wilderness because He wants us to know Him, follow Him, trust Him, love Him instead of going our own way.

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My apologies to any actual artists! 😉

Published in: on May 29, 2014 at 6:40 pm  Comments Off on Man’s Way Versus God’s Plan  
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Christians And Immigration


Tijuana-San_Ysidro_border_crossingFrom time to time I think Christians get on the wrong side of certain issues, not because of our theology but because of our opposition to those who typically take positions we disagree with. Take environmentalism, for example. Apart from the ridiculous extremes that put Humankind as subservient to nature, Christians should be doing all we can to preserve and protect creation. That’s the job God originally gave us.

Immigration is another such issue. Christians are taking an unbiblical stand on immigration much of the time. Here’s what God’s position on immigration is:

For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe. He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. (Deut. 10:17-19)

No bribes? Good, good. We’re all for no bribes. Justice for orphans? Absolutely! Protect the orphans! For widows? Well, OK, though it sounds a little like welfare. But aliens? Love for aliens? Come on, don’t you realize . . . They might be here illegally. And we can’t condone illegal behavior. We simply have to maintain the rule of law.

I get the illegal issue, but I think that’s perhaps secondary. I think first Christians need to be front and center loving aliens and strangers—especially in America where we or our ancestors were most likely at some point aliens and strangers.

In fact, we celebrate and give thanks for the love our forefathers received when they were aliens and strangers in a holiday called Thanksgiving.

Now we’re in position to welcome, to show love toward, people who are new, who are learning the language, who . . . OK, I heard that . . . something like, But they AREN’T learning the language. Well, just maybe if we talked to them, we’d give them a reason to learn the language.

But think about being in a foreign country, where you don’t know how things work exactly, where you might be ridiculed for no other reason than that you came from somewhere else. Immigrants need love. They are precisely the neighbors Jesus said Christians are to love.

Yes, I think illegal immigration has muddied the waters. I do think we should be a land that believes in the rule of law. I do think people entering the country illegally should face some consequences.

But first, what we’ve been doing, isn’t working. Too many people who are sent back across the border because of their immigration status find a way to return.

Then, too, more and more people who have grown up in the US and who know no other home because they came here with their parents illegally as children, are facing the consequences of a decision they didn’t make and over which they had no control.

So what are we to do? I think Christians should become the vocal minority pushing for immigration reform. We need some brave lawmakers to step up and work out a fair law that will bring illegal immigrants the hope that they can become naturalized citizens without discouraging legal immigrants and without encouraging a new flood of illegal border crossings.

We also need to reach out to immigrants without worrying whether or not they are illegal. We should offer English as a second language classes and we should offer mentors who immigrants can go to when they have questions.

I’m sure there are many, many ways Christians can reach out to immigrants. My church makes a concerted effort to contact foreign students who are studying in our local universities. They are away from home, in a foreign country, adjusting to a different culture.

Sound familiar? Immigrants are going through those same things, so why shouldn’t we reach out to them in the same way, or more so? I mean, they’re staying, so we have a chance to build into their lives on a long term basis.

There are so many good things that would come out of Christians taking a stand to love immigrants. But above all, we’d be following the dictates of Scripture, and that ought to be enough.

It ought to be.

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Photo credit: © BrokenSphere / Wikimedia Commons

Hymns


Rose-on-hymnal-on-pianoI suspect fewer and fewer churches sing hymns any more. My church did away with hymnals when we remodeled the sanctuary last year. We now have one service with “classic worship,” but the music of late seems to be one hymn to every three contemporary praise songs.

What stands out to me when the songs are put side by side is the quality of the hymns and, well, the weaker craftsmanship of the contemporary songs. Often times the latter doesn’t have a very complex vocal arrangement. I’m not a musician, but I don’t think you have to be one to hear the difference when they’re played one after the other.

But of late, it’s the lyrics I’ve been noticing. The last two Sundays I’ve been thinking, I grew up singing the kinds of hymns like “To God Be The Glory,” and it’s no wonder I have a strong sense of who God is and what He’s done.

At least for me, music gets inside me and makes the lyrics live. If contemporary music focuses more on the worshiper (“I give You my heart/I give You my soul/Lord, have Your way with me”) rather than on the object of our worship (“To God be the glory, great things He has done”), then it seems we’ll have fewer and fewer doctrines of the faith reinforced through our music.

I understand hymns are hard. There are too many thee‘s and thou‘s and hath‘s and would’st. But it dawned on me a number of weeks ago, those hymns were hard for me when I was growing up, too. I didn’t understand phrases like “schisms rent asunder” or “Mid toil and tribulation, / and tumult of her war, / she waits the consummation / of peace forevermore,” at least not in those early years when I first sang those lines.

But like learning another language or learning to read poetry, the meaning of those hymns became clear one by one. When I was younger I loved “Trust and Obey.” Now I’m pretty sure I thought of that song as my favorite, not because I was so trusting or obedient or even because I valued those qualities greatly, but because I understood what the words were saying. “Trust and obey for there’s no other way / to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”

I’m tempted to say “Trust and Obey” has a lot in common with contemporary music because it does seem to put the focus on the worshiper, but there’s still doctrine woven into the fabric of each line. The point here is, “Trust and Obey” is an example of my “entry” hymns. I understood it and came to love it and that led me to other hymns I understood and loved.

Ultimately, singing hymns was no longer a chore but a rich pleasure. I miss four part harmony, I miss the great truths of the faith put to music. And I’m concerned for the next generation, growing up with parents who have been raised without hymns and with a postmodern outlook on life which has given them a relativistic perspective and a lack of an authoritative anchor.

Of course there are a handful of musicians who saw this situation before I did and who are doing something about it. They’re writing modern hymns. The ones I know are Keith and Kristyn Getty who have written songs like “All Around The World”:

All around the world the Kingdom cry resounds
From mountain town to desert plain,
From city to the shore.
Truth will not be bound by walls upon the earth.
From every nation, tribe and tongue
God calls His people forth

Now if we could just sing those hymns more often.

Published in: on May 26, 2014 at 6:48 pm  Comments (14)  
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Jesus, The Storyteller


The Jesus Storybook Bible coverIn the last couple years I’ve been noticing how Jesus not only told parables to make some of His points when He was teaching, but He also answered questions from others by telling stories.

Luke contains a few examples of this:

And Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he replied, “Say it, Teacher.” (7:40 ff)

To which Jesus responded with a story.

But wishing to justify himself, [the lawyer] said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus replied and said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho . . . (10:29-30a)

This is the opening, of course, to the story we know as The Good Samaritan.

One of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples.”

After Jesus gave them an example of prayer (which we call the Lord’s Prayer), he proceeded to tell a story to illustrate a particular aspect of prayer:

Then He said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and goes to him at midnight and says to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves . . . (11:5)

Sometimes the story came after instruction. In this next example, a man asked Jesus to do something for him.

Someone in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.”

Jesus responded with an admonition against greed, then he told a story to illustrate his point.

And He told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man was very productive. . . (12:16)

Jesus used this same method of teaching with His disciples:

Peter said, “Lord, are You addressing this parable to us, or to everyone else as well?” And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? (12:41-42)

Again, as part of a discussion about repentance, Jesus turned to a parable:

“I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” And He began telling this parable: “A man had a fig tree. . . (13:5-6a)

I could go on, but I think the point is clear: Jesus valued stories as a teaching tool.

One aspect of postmodern culture, which heavily influences society today, is an affinity for stories. How perfect, then, to bring friends and neighbors to the Bible.

Too many people think the Bible is a bunch of rules. Little do they realize how many stories there are, and none more pertinent than the ones Jesus told.

Interestingly, He also spoke in analogies. He referred to Himself as water and bread, a shepherd and a door. He called the Pharisees whitewashed sepulchers and a brood of vipers. He explained His ministry by comparing the people He came to save to a lost coin, a lost sheep, a wayward son.

Stories, analogies. His audience didn’t always track with Him. His disciples didn’t always get what He was saying. Sometimes they thought He was speaking metaphorically when He was being literal—like the times He told them He would die and rise again in three days.

Still, I think Jesus’s methods of teaching show a couple things: He wanted people to reason some things out for themselves and He understood the power of showing, not just telling.

Maybe He also just liked telling stories. He’s a creative God, after all. Maybe telling stories satisfied His creative urge during those ministry years. Or maybe He enjoyed feeding the people’s hearts as much as their heads and their bodies. After all, He’s also a kind and generous God, ready to give what we need.

And apparently, one of the things we need is stories.

Published in: on May 23, 2014 at 6:13 pm  Comments Off on Jesus, The Storyteller  
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Understanding The Bible


Bible-openI confess, I didn’t realize how many different ways people view the Bible until the Internet exposed me to a wide variety of perspectives. I knew there were higher critics who deconstructed Scripture, essentially shaping it into their own image. But apart from those liberal thinkers, I was unaware of the diverse beliefs about the Bible.

Since I’ve been on the Internet, I’ve learned that there are people who see the Bible as myth that contains truth. Others see some parts to be true–the gospels, primarily–and parts to be filled with false ideas created by the Jews or by Paul.

On the other side of the Bible equation are those who see Scripture as primarily rules to live by. But again, a good many of these are individuals or denominations which are selective in what they say the rules are. For instance, one blogger I encountered railed against an emergent church individual because of his departure from Scripture but saw no problem in treating him without love or even honor, regardless of the number of times he was confronted with direct commands in the Bible for Christians to love neighbors, enemies, brothers and to honor all men.

I realize I’ve been fortunate to attend a church my entire adult life that believes in the Bible in a different way. My first pastor, Chuck Swindoll, taught the Bible is the inspired word of God, which means it is God speaking to me.

I was taught it is inerrant and infallible–that there are no mistakes in its individual parts or in its overall message–so the places I see confusion or contradiction actually reveal my lack of understanding, not a problem with the Bible.

I was also taught the Bible is complete. We’re not waiting for a new or better or additional revelation. God didn’t send golden tablets for someone to unearth and translate. He doesn’t speak infallibly via the Pope or the church prophet.

I was also taught the Bible is determinative–how we respond to what we hear determines our eternal destiny. Further, it is authoritative. Its truth propositions have the final say, and by them all other truth propositions are to be measured.

Finally, I was taught that the Bible is sufficient. I don’t need any other revelation to lead me to God.

Those foundational principles actually undergird my understanding of the Bible, but there are other important essentials that go along with them. Recently my current pastor, Mike Erre, laid out six questions he asks about passages of Scripture to bring forward the meaning of the text. These, I think, encapsulate those “other important essentials.”

1. What is the historical meaning? What did this passage mean to the original audience? Before it was written for us, it was written for or spoken to them.

For example, when Jesus said, I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me, to whom was He talking? And what were the circumstances that surrounded that statement? In other words, what was the context?

2. What is the literary setting? The Bible is a collection of various genres and as such, not all accomplish the same thing.

Mary_Poppins3. How does a particular passage fit into the narrative dimension–the Big Story? It’s possible to pick and choose parts that make the Bible say something it never intended to say.

Pastor Mike gave a great illustration of this. First he showed a short trailer used to promo the movie Mary Poppins. If you’re unfamiliar with it, the movie, a musical, starred Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews and was a story about a magical nanny who taught a stuffy banker how to truly love and care for his children.

Mary_Poppins-children's_reactionNext Pastor Mike revealed that someone made a movie called “Scary Mary” which edited the original musical to show Mary Poppins pushing the children and making mean faces and threatening gestures as the children responded with fright, all to soulful background music, and interspersed with shots of a dark and bleak setting.

Every frame of “Scary Mary” is in the original, but large, large parts have been left out so that the re-cut version bears no resemblance to the original. In fact it so distorts the movie that someone who didn’t know the story could easily be frightened away from seeing it if they relied on “Scary Mary.”

Yes, seeing how a passage fits into the big picture matters.

4. What is the gospel dimension? The Bible is the story of God coming near. It is not a self-help book or a list of do‘s and don’ts or a collection of religious traditions to follow in order to earn points in God’s estimation. Rather, the Bible points to Jesus as our representative.

5. What is the subversive element? Every verse of Scripture is ahead of its time. The Bible isn’t merely culturally relevant, it subverts the world order which calls for people to watch out for number one, go for the gusto, get yours while you can. The Bible shows us God’s contrary approach to life—the last shall be first, you gain your life by losing it, you love your enemies, you do not return evil for evil, and on and on.

6. What is the experiential dimension? The Bible is to be lived, not just learned. “American Christians have been educated far beyond our willingness to obey.”

Ouch!

The last point is the one that brings the Bible home. It is at the level of living out what the Bible says that a Christian shows himself or herself to be a Christian. Can we say we love God and hate our brother? No. Can we say Lord, Lord and not do the deeds of righteousness? No. Can we experience God’s forgiveness without turning around and forgiving others? No.

The Bible, for all the important foundational truths that undergird the reason we can and should rely on it, still boils down to a matter of trust—believing God, being reconciled with Him, and then learning all about His heart and what we can do to please Him.

Law And Grace


Some time ago my church did a really cool thing. As a local body of believers we read a chapter of Scripture together. Well, not physically together, but the same chapter on the same day of the week.

We read in Exodus for the better part of a month, and reached the “dry” chapters. The excitement was over — plagues all done, Passover held, exodus accomplished, chase ensued, water parting miracle performed, enemies vanquished, grumbling faced, water and food provided.

And now Moses records the details of his meeting with God — the Ten Commandments, an overview of various other laws, an introduction to the offerings, and then specifics about the tabernacle. I mean specifics!

We have the ark, the table, the lampstand, the tent curtains, the outer tent curtains, the floor boards, the veil, the screen, the altar, the court, the priestly garments and … you get the idea.

Lots of things, lots of details.

The thing that impresses me is that in the midst of all God’s prescriptive communication handed down in the Law, grace shines like a diamond. Here are a few examples.

In chapter 22 Israel is commanded not to “wrong a stranger or oppress him.” Why? because they had been strangers in Egypt at one time. They had received help in time of need, only to have that help turn into oppression. Don’t do like those who did to you, the command seems to be saying.

There are other similar gems in this chapter. One of the many times Scripture admonishes how to treat orphans and widows is recorded in verse 22 (You shall not afflict any widow or orphan). Verse 25 spells out lending money to the poor without charging interest and returning the man’s cloak he’d given as a pledge so he won’t be cold at night.

Why all these? Verse 27 explains: “for I [the Lord] am gracious.”

Chapter 23 records the plan of planting and harvesting for six years, then letting the land rest the seventh year, also allowing the needy to glean from the fallow field.

After the people agree to abide by all these laws in chapter 24, Moses meets with God on the mountain. In chapter 25 God instructs him to start taking contributions for the tabernacle. They were going to need a lot of materials. But here’s how it was to work: “from every man whose heart moves him, you shall raise My contribution” (emphasis mine).

The key here is God’s desire for a willing heart, not just the stuff the people could give. None of it was to be given under compulsion or grudgingly.

And then the specifics of the tabernacle—precise measurements, exact numbers of items, details of arrangements. In fact, God told Moses, “You shall erect the tabernacle according to its plan which you have been shown in the mountain.”

No telling if the existence of this perfect model or heavenly tabernacle which the earthly one copied was a singular object or not. Could it be that other “Perfects” or archetypes exist, as Plato’s theory of forms suggested?

Be that as it may, God cared deeply that the tabernacle constructed under Moses’s oversight would be like the heavenly one. This does not sound like a God of mystery to me.

Why would He go to such lengths to reveal a structure built for His worship but hold Himself apart and unknowable? In fact, He did the opposite. It was only when the people trembled at His voice and begged Moses to act as the intermediary for them that God restricted His communication. And still He gave the people His Shekinah glory — His holy presence in cloud and in fire.

Yes, this was a period of law giving and prescriptive instruction, and still God’s grace shines bright.

This post originally appeared here at A Christian Worldview Of Fiction in August, 2011.

Published in: on May 21, 2014 at 6:04 pm  Comments Off on Law And Grace  
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The Lesson Of The Bee


Not so long ago, I had a bee find its way into my bedroom. I don’t relish killing bugs, and less so bees, but this one was in my bedroom! What to do?

I ran through my options as I watched the angry little critter buzz to the top of the window screen, find no opening, and buzz back to the bottom. Again and again.

At last I figured out a way to avoid killing him. From the cupboard, I pulled down a goblet, then retrieved an envelop that fit nicely over top. I held the glass stem and approached the bee still bouncing against the screen in a futile attempt to zip outside.

In one quick move, I plopped the goblet over the wayward wanderer. As he flew into the bowl looking for escape, I slid the envelop between the screen and the lip of the glass. Got him!

Earlier he seemed mad. Now he buzzed with vicious frenzy.

Poor little guy, I thought. Wasting all that energy, so mad he’d sting me if I gave him the tiniest opening. Yet my only intention was to help him get exactly what he needed, the very thing he’d been looking for.

And then it hit me. So often I act just like that bee. I find myself in a mess of my own making and try furiously to free myself, often repeating the same futile steps over and over. Then, when things seem to get worse, not better, I rail against God, not realizing that He’s using the very circumstances I hate for my good.

How much simpler if I obeyed God and refrained from grumbling and disputing, if I trusted Him instead of blaming Him, if I turned to Him in dependence instead of away from Him in stubborn willfulness. After all, my buzzing about is no more profitable than was that little bee’s.

God, on the other hand, sees the big picture, knows what’s best, and has much more regard for me — love, actually — than I had for the miscreant I set loose from my bedroom.

“Do all things without grumbling or disputing,” Philippians 2:14 says. Now there’s a novel idea. 😉

What does me in, though, is what Paul says next:

so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world (emphasis mine).

By this one thing, refraining from grumbling or disputing, we will accomplish what Christ called us to do — serve as lights in the world, even the crooked and perverse world.

I’m thinking the first grumbling or disputing I need to eliminate is any directed at God. We’re so quick in our culture to say that it’s OK for us to rail against God. He understands. He forgives. He’s big enough to handle it. He knows what I’m thinking anyway, I might as well say it.

Actually, no. What I should do when thoughts of disgruntlement come into my mind, is confess them and seek God’s forgiveness.

Who am I to accuse God of wrong doing, or of falling down on the job, or of not keeping His promises? I’m really no different than an irate bee buzzing madly to get what I want, ignoring the helping hand stretched out toward me.

I don’t want to be that bee any more.

From the archives: this post originally appeared here at A Christian Worldview Of Fiction in August 2011. Somehow it escaped being one of the under-three-stars posts. 😉

Published in: on May 20, 2014 at 7:52 pm  Comments Off on The Lesson Of The Bee  
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God’s Word, A Lamp


Aladdins_lampWhen I was younger, I memorized a simple verse of Scripture. Later, singer / songwriter Amy Grant based a praise song on that same verse, Psalm 119:105. In fact, the lyrics of the chorus were a direct quote:

Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet
And a light unto my path.

It’s a simply truth, but is that the same as simplistic? Is looking at the Bible as the lamp showing me where I should walk, a way of “treating complex issues and problems as if they were much simpler than they really are”?

Is trusting the Bible, trusting what it says, simplistic?

Honestly, I think it’s just the opposite. When I’m faced with a difficult issue, something clearly beyond my realm of expertise, I don’t try to tackle it anyway.

When my friend was diagnosed with a brain tumor, I didn’t dig in and research how to do brain surgery. I didn’t read up on how to administer chemotherapy or how to give radiation (she had both).

When I flew to Guatemala as a short term missionary, I didn’t study before hand how to pilot a plane. I didn’t ask to inspect the engine or study the flight plan and weather maps.

Brain surgery and flying planes are complex activities, far beyond my knowledge and proficiency. Consequently, I happily turn them over to those who have studied and gained experience—the brain surgeon, the lab techs, the pilots, the mechanics. I would be foolish to take those complex undertakings into my hands.

Am I, therefore, being simplistic?

I guess the question really is, is trusting someone who knows more than you, simplistic? Are we, in fact, supposed to rely only and always on our own abilities to figure things out?

To me that question is a bit scary because I think some people might say, yes, we are to figure it out on our own; it’s the responsible thing to do. We get second opinions, we research, we get the best surgeon we can, we pay attention to FAA reports and only fly with the most reliable airlines. We do our homework.

But in the end, don’t we trust that the surgeon we choose, the pilot sitting in the cockpit of the plane we’re on, will do their jobs?

At some point even things here on earth, having to do with our temporal lives, depend on us trusting someone else. How much more so should we trust when it comes to spiritual issues? I mean, talk about complex!

And yet, with spiritual issues, there’s a growing belief that the things of God are mysterious and complex and incomprehensible, and really can only be known if we look inside to our own reason and consciences. In other words, if we figure out things on our own.

In fact, part of this approach is that the way we figure things out might not be the way other people figure them out, and that’s OK. After all, we have different cultures, different geographic locations, so surely we won’t all have a common spiritual experience.

Lost in this is the simple truth that God’s word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Lost is the fact that God’s word is tried, that it is sure, that it has been given to us from the omniscient Spirit of God.

For some, tackling complex spiritual issues with our own finite mind is wiser than trusting in the infallible, imperishable, undefiled word of God that will not fade away. The idea seems to be, the spiritual issues are so big we can’t rely on a simple truth from Scripture.

Sure, God’s word is a lamp, the thinking seems to be, but so is general revelation, and by following our conscience and reason we can arrive at the truth.

Except, what happens when our conscience and reason lead us to believe something different from what the Bible says? Do we decide that the Bible is too simplistic? That the clear, repeated truth statements can’t really mean what they say? That they don’t address the complexities we see and therefore can’t be trusted?

Or, is it possible that the Author whose understanding is inscrutable, in fact, weighed the complexities and determined that His truth statements covered all the bases. That, in reality, the wise thing when faced with matters we can’t resolve, is to trust that God knows what’s right and therefore has given us the lamp of His word.

Published in: on May 19, 2014 at 6:01 pm  Comments (4)  
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Christ, The Mediator Between God And Man


Communion_TableBecause author and friend Mike Duran has been exploring a theological position termed inclusivism, I’ve been reading Scripture with this view in mind. As a review, inclusivism agrees with the traditional view of salvation—that Christ’s sacrificial death paid the price for sin and that salvation is only through His atoning work.

Where inclusivism departs from the established evangelical position, is that actual belief in Jesus is not necessary. Rather, a person, particularly someone who has not heard the gospel of Christ, may be covered by His blood without knowing it, if he lives according to the light he’s been given through general revelation.

With this idea in mind, then, verses such as John 14:6 in which Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me,” are explained as applicable to the means by which a person is saved and not how that person must come to God.

As I said, now that I’m fully aware of this theological position, I’m reading Scripture anew. I can see how a person holding the inclusive view can then interpret many of the clear statements of Scripture in that light—not stating what a person must do to be saved but what God will do (apply the blood of Christ to him on the bases of his following to the best of his ability the light he has been given).

The problem as I see it is that a person must arrive at the position of inclusivism apart from Scripture in order to interpret certain passages in this way. Scripture itself, as a meta-narrative, points to Christ and Christ alone.

In fact, Jesus is the Light and therefore the means by which a person is reconciled to God. Scripture states this plainly more than once.

For instance, after John introduces Jesus as the True Light, he said,

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name. (John 1:12, emphasis here and in the verses to follow are mine)

Then towards the end of his book John gives the purpose for recounting the details about Jesus’s life and ministry:

these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name (John 20:31).

Shortly after feeding the five thousand with a few loaves of bread, when Jesus was teaching about eternal life, the people asked him the key question: what do we have to do? Jesus’s answer was clear:

Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (John 6:28-29)

When Peter first preached on the Day of Pentecost, the people responded with a question to which Peter also gave a clear answer:

Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:37-38)

Paul and Silas had someone ask almost the exact same question:

After [the jailer] brought them out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

Interestingly, the only thing the latter two answers have in common is Jesus. But the sum of the two is clear: to be saved a person must believe in Jesus, repent, and be baptized in Jesus’s name.

Many evangelicals today understand baptism to be the public profession of faith in Christ, not a work that earns salvation. But even those who don’t adhere to “believer’s baptism” nevertheless correlate baptism and the saving work of Jesus. In other words, baptism is not a work that earns a person favor in God’s eyes, nor is it a service that indentures God to save. Rather, it is an identifying act enjoining the work of Christ on behalf of the person being baptized.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he clarifies his answer:

if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. (Rom. 10:9-10)

Peter clarifies his in the first epistle bearing his name:

knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

Jesus also expanded on His statement:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.”

Then they said to Him, “Lord, always give us this bread.”

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. (John 6:32-35)

The significance here is that inclusivism lacks any such clear scriptural basis. At best those who hold this position apply a reinterpretation to passages pointing to Christ’s redemptive work, removing the “belief component” which is so clear in the scriptures above.

Further, Jesus, the gospel writers, and those who penned the epistles identify Jesus as the unique link between God and humankind. For instance, John states, “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (John 1:18).

Jesus made that same point:

Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”

Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (John 14:8-9)

Paul states emphatically in 1 Timothy 2:5, “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

Peter says, “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18).

The point then is that Christ, as the perfect High Priest, brings reconciliation between God and those He saves.

The inclusivist view, however, inverts this work of Christ so that God, through general revelation, brings sinners to Christ in order to cover them with His blood.

It’s true that God has chosen those who are His and that He has called His children, and yet salvation—the work that justifies a sinner before God—is Christ’s work. To say that God draws sinners in order to apply Christ’s blood without them knowing it is to ignore Christ’s purpose—to explain God, to show us the Father, to mediate, to serve as the High Priest.

The inclusivist view has no place for this part of Jesus’s work. In so truncating Christ’s role, it reduces His glory, and in the end, God’s glory, because it is through Christ that He is glorified:

. . . so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:11b)

Published in: on May 16, 2014 at 2:55 pm  Comments (12)  
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