Rebels by Jill Williamson – CSFF Blog Tour, Day 2


SafeLandsTrilogy

[The following post includes allusions to various events in the Safe Lands trilogy which may be spoilers to those who have not yet read the books.]

Rebels by Jill Williamson, the final installment of the Safe Lands trilogy, includes characters and events that today’s teen can relate to, despite the fact that the story is set in a post-apocalyptic world.

Perhaps the setting and the differences between that futuristic world and ours prevent this series from coming across as an “issues” book. If it took place today, the problems the characters face—teen pregnancy, illicit sex, drug addiction—might seem too pointed, to directed at solving today’s teens’ problems. Instead, the other-worldliness of the story creates some distance that allows an exploration of some teen issues.

In some ways, you could sum up the three books as a story about how a young person raised to be moral and upright can navigate the temptations of a godless, hedonistic society.

The three brothers—Levi, Mason, and Omar—who are the main point of view characters, show three very different approaches. Levi wraps himself in laws and contempt or, at best, indifference, toward the greater society in which the people of Eagle Rock have been thrust.

Omar embraces the new culture and for a time disdains all he knew as a child.

Mason complies with the greater culture, though keeping himself apart, all the while holding in tension the goal to escape and the goal to make a difference in the Safe Lands society.

It’s an interesting study. In the end the three brothers, having taken very different paths, end up with similar outlooks, though different missions and goals.

Omar, I believe, takes the hardest path, and author Jill Williamson has done an outstanding job portraying what he went through. First is his core desire to belong, to fit in, to matter. In Captives he comes to the erroneous conclusion that the Safe Lands aren’t harmful as he’d been taught and that his people, if they just saw the place for themselves would realize all the amazing advantages they’d been missing.

When Omar awoke to the fact that his people would pay a severe price for his choice, he drowned his guilt over leading them into the mess they were in and his sadness over a greater alienation from them than he’d previously known, by turning to the same things people today turn to: sex and drugs.

Before Omar knew it was possible, he was addicted. While he had easy access to drugs, sex ruled his thoughts, but when, in Rebels, his drug supply was all but cut off, his cravings for . . . not a high, but relief from the pain created by his unmet need, dominated his thinking and ultimately his choices.

I know there are some people who come to Christ and receive a near-miraculous release from their drug addiction, but I think many more people continue to struggle—their mind saying one thing and their body, another.

It is this latter situation that Jill Williamson portrays so convincingly. Omar had made changes and he wanted to be different. He tried to be different, but his addiction was stronger than he was.

In many ways, it is frightening to realize what Omar was willing to do to get his next fix and equally frightening to realize how despondent he became when he understood how incapable he was to break free from the hold his addiction had on him.

What a remarkable, believable warning without preaching a word. Rather, Omar shows readers the plight of the addicted. He was willing to betray the one person he had grown to care for most. He would do whatever demeaning thing was required of him while giving up on the hope he once had to make things better.

The other side of this accurate portrayal of addiction is God’s endless mercy. When Omar was weak and hopeless, God did not turn His back on him but used his despondency for His own purposes.

Honestly, I couldn’t help but think of apologist Ravi Zacharias who, in real life, came to Christ as he lay on a bed of suicide. In contrast, Omar’s heart transformation had come much earlier, but even as a changed man, he struggled with the ravages of addiction that held him captive and kept him from living the life he knew he was called to live.

This story is the kind that can help teens today make choices in their lives. They don’t have to experiment with drugs to see how alluring they are. Omar did that and they can know through him that the draw is powerful and the high, bedazzling.

But they can also see from Omar’s experience where addiction leads. There’s no greater warning.

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Others on the CSFF Blog Tour are also talking about Rebels and the Safe Lands series and Jill Williamson, so be sure to check out the list of tour participants at the bottom of the Day 1 post.

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Published in: on September 30, 2014 at 6:04 pm  Comments (4)  
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Rebels by Jill Williamson – CSFF Blog Tour, Day 1


jillwilliamsonnewsmallSpeculative fiction, and fantasy in particular, is known for its trilogies or tetralogies or series of five or of seven, or of an unending number. With few exceptions, of the various series I’ve read, I’ve thought book one is the best. This includes The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which, despite the chronological way the books have been packaged, was the first book C. S. Lewis wrote in the Narnia series.

I’ve heard a number of writers suggest the first book is the best because the author took as long as it took to write that first book, but then when he or she was under contract, and under deadline for the rest of the series, the writing gets rushed. This explanation may be true, and it certainly seems logical.

The thing is, the end of a series seems to me to be vital for the success of the author’s next book. For example, how many readers who were so upset with the way author Veronica Roth ended her Divergent series will pick up her next book?

All that to say, I think Jill Williamson, author of this month’s CSFF Blog Tour feature, Rebels, book three of the Safe Lands series, has positioned herself very well for her next series. Of the three Safe Lands books, without a doubt, Rebels is my favorite. I really liked Captives and loved Outcasts which seemed so real, given the story premise.

There were believable quandaries: interpersonal problems, situational difficulties, cultural conflicts. But Outcasts was a middle book, deepening problems and increasing intrigue. While there was some resolution, in the end there were more problems left unsolved than ones brought to a conclusion. The question I had when I finished Outcasts was, could Rebels deliver answers in a satisfying way? I honestly thought there was too much. I didn’t see how Jill Williamson was going to pull it off.

But she did. In my opinion, Rebels is one of the most satisfying endings I’ve read in a long time. Yes, there are some threads left open, but that’s as it should be. I’ll discuss that point in more depth later in the tour. For this post, suffice it to say, I think Jill accomplished what only the best writers seem to do—her series got stronger with each book, and the final installment in the trilogy was the strongest of all.

Of course the beauty of the CSFF Blog Tour is that you don’t have to take my word for it. You can compare what I say about the book with what others participating in the tour are posting.

See what the following CSFF members thought about Rebels. (Reminder: a checkmark takes you to a tour article I’ve already found). Also, note that a number of participants, thanks to the generosity of the publisher Blink, have an extra copy of the novel they are giving away. You might want to get your name into the mix at one of these sites. (Special recommendation for Audrey Sauble‘s giveaway because you can earn extra points by linking to another CSFF tour post!)

Published in: on September 29, 2014 at 5:40 pm  Comments (3)  
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Contentment Vs. Contentment With The Status Quo


smokestack-1402448-mI recently read a book that has me a bit steamed. There are lots of reasons, but not the least is the subtitle: “Avoiding . . . dangers of overzealous faith.”

Certainly we are to avoid the things listed where I typed an ellipsis—pride and exclusivity—but why would those be associated with “overzealous faith”? Why would any “danger” be linked to overzealous faith? For that matter, is it possible to be overzealous in our faith?

If you think about it, God’s word tells us the first command, the one that’s most important, is to love God “WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH” (Mark 12:30). If this is what God commands of His followers, I don’t see much room for over-the-top zeal. Already what God asks is . . . well, everything.

He wants us to take up our cross, to die to ourselves, to lay down our lives, to be living sacrifices. I don’t see how this clear teaching of Scripture that we as believers in Christ are to be all in, lends itself to zeal that outshines what’s expected.

Rather, I expect this “plea for balance,” as many of the positive reviews of the book labeled it, is looking for wiggle room for comfortable American Christians who want to stay comfortable and still be “good Christians.”

There has finally begun to be a counter thrust among evangelical pastors to the health-and-wealth message which distorts Scripture. But a look at the values which the Bible teaches in the areas of physical health and finances calls into question a lot of what Americans do and even preach as “best practices” or “good stewardship.”

Along comes this book, Accidental Pharisees, and most probably others like it, and we have an intentional reining in of concepts calling for a radical or crazy or counter-cultural approach to doing church.

The message I get from this book is, let’s be content with the status quo. After all, Paul said we should learn to live quiet lives, and that’s good, because then I can have my big house and my fancy cars and not feel like I’m a lesser Christian than brothers who have moved to the inner city or are giving away 90% of their income.

Honestly, the premise of this book makes me a little crazy. The idea is that Christians who “get out in front of the following-Jesus line” start to look around and compare where they’re at with where other Christians are at and then they start looking down on believers who aren’t up with them at the head of the line. So their overzealous faith has led them into pride.

I submit that anyone who is looking around and comparing his spiritual progress with others already has succumbed to pride.

I submit that someone afraid of crazy love or radical faith or sold-out evangelism or whatever else is the latest call for Christian devotion, is really afraid of the Bible. It’s more comfortable to be content with the status quo—the American Christianity that doesn’t demand too much, that lets us alone to do what we want, except for an hour or so on Sunday.

Scripture does call Christians to be content and to live quiet lives, but it’s in the context of sometimes going hungry or serving someone by going the extra mile or by thinking more highly of a fellow Christian than of myself.

The thing is, I understand it is possible to be overly zealous about all kinds of things, some dangerous, some merely silly. But faith? Genuine faith in Jesus Christ? I don’t think so.

Genuine faith in Jesus Christ is built on the Word of God. Consequently, a zealous Christian will know what Jesus thinks about looking down on others or about holding people to high standards for salvation (as if we set standards for salvation in the first place!) or any of the other “dangers” supposedly inherent in overzealous faith.

I suppose the best conclusion about this book is this: since Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites (7 or 8 times in Matt. 23), any “faith” of “Pharisees” isn’t real faith at all, so being overzealous for a hypocritical “see how spiritual I am” substitution for faith is definitely something to avoid.

OK, in that light, it’s a good book. 😉

Merlin’s Nightmare – A Review


Merlin's NightmareLast month I promised my review of Merlin’s Nightmare, book 3 of the Merlin Spiral by Robert Treskillard. Today I’m happy to provide said review.

The Story Eighteen years have passed since the end of book 2, Merlin’s Shadow. Merlin and his beloved Nataleyna married and besides their stepson, Arthur, they have two children of their own. They make their home in a secure valley away from those who want Arthur dead and from the enemy forces seeking to overrun Britain.

Arthur has grown up under Merlin’s watchful eye but also under the tutelage of some of the best swordsmen and horsemen in the country. Now some are counseling Merlin to reveal to the young man his true heritage—that of rightful High King. Merlin wants to wait until the man who betrayed High King Uther, Arthur’s father, has died. He concedes, however, that Arthur is ready to take part in the coming battles with the invading Picti in the north.

However, Arthur sets off ahead of the army, only he and the two friends with him mistakenly are going south to join a different force gathering to meet a different threat—that of the Saxonow.

When Merlin realizes what Arthur has done, he goes after him. He successfully overtakes him, but events manipulated by his evil sister Mórgana turn Britain into chaos. The Picti overwhelm the army in the north and besiege the safe haven which had been Merlin’s home, a strong king of Britain becomes Mórgana’s werewolf puppet, and the Saxonow outnumber the Briton forces ten to one.

In the midst of what looks to be sure ruin, Merlin tells Arthur who he really is. After a long night of soul searching and dealing with the fact that the man he thought was his father had lied to him for eighteen years, Arthur accepts his role.

The question is, will the other kings and warriors accept him as well? In fact, will there be anything left of Britain for him to rule?

Strengths. In many respects, Merlin’s Nightmare is more of a stand-alone than it is book three of a series. Separated by eighteen years from the events in the last book, this story introduces Arthur, one of the point of view characters, as an adult.

However, as in the first two books of the series, the pace of Merlin’s Nightmare is non-stop. There is action and adventure throughout. Because the story of Arthur is familiar, there aren’t real story surprises, but there continues to be suspense and intrigue connected with the “how does he pull it off” question.

There are also interesting relational dynamics in this story which aren’t typical in other Arthurian legend books, most notably Merlin’s relationship with his wife and other children. Arthur’s change from a wild-colt of a son to a strong-minded leader is handled believably. While the transformation happens rather suddenly, the events of the story require him to assert himself, so this aspect of the story doesn’t feel forced or artificial.

A strong thread of good versus evil continues to run through the story. There’s no doubt that the real conflict is spiritual not merely a fight against a person or a people group. While it is a fight for the survival of Britain, the goal is more than existence. Arthur and the men with him strive for a freedom they’ve known before and that will utterly disappear if they lose to the evil forces conspiring against them.

Perhaps the greatest strength of the book is the realistic setting. From the maps to the text, the story feels almost like a historical novel rather than a re-imaged legend. This quality can only come through solid research. Though the historical underpinnings offer veracity to the story, they do not overwhelm it or take it into dry or irrelevant territory.

Weaknesses. While Merlin’s Nightmare is the final book of the Merlin Spiral, it is not the end of the Merlin story. In fact, the conclusion feels more like this is the first book in a series rather than the last. Many readers won’t mind this and in fact will be delighted to learn that the story continues in a second series entitled the Pendragon Spiral.

More germane to the issue is what I perceive as a problem of goal. Throughout the story, I struggled to like Merlin because he did not seem to be an active participant. He wanted to take Arthur north to fight the Picti, but ended up going along in the opposite direction. He didn’t want to travel with Gogi and his daughters, but merely sulked and/or kept to himself. He didn’t want Arthur to go to the parlay with the Saxonow, but did nothing more than spy. He himself wanted to return home but did nothing but pine for his family.

In other words, there was no plan that the main character was working to achieve. He wanted things that he was powerless to bring about, and he made no plan to change his circumstances.

In fact, he and Arthur were often at odds. I kept wanting the strong and wise adviser to the High King to show up, but he didn’t.

Perhaps I was a victim of the many other legend books. Perhaps I wanted something different from the main character other than the believable responses to the circumstances in this book.

I did want something heroic, and not just in the nick of time. I wanted something heroic as part of the fabric of the character. But Merlin still seemed to doubt too much, to depend too much, to follow instead of guide. He didn’t make things happen. He reacted.

But this story is Merlin’s Nightmare, after all, so it could be I expected something the book never promised.

Recommendation. As part of the re-imaging of the Arthurian legend which Robert Treskillard is weaving, Merlin’s Nightmare is essential. I see it as the bridge book between the early events chronicling how Merlin saved Arthur and the later events chronicling how Arthur saved Britain. A must read for those who are hooked on stories about King Arthur. They will love this new look at the legend.

Published in: on September 24, 2014 at 12:47 pm  Comments Off on Merlin’s Nightmare – A Review  

The Loss Of A Dissenting Opinion


Berkeley_glade_afternoonPolitically correct speech crept up on society, but it’s starting to take over. I don’t know how or when it gained such a stranglehold on Western culture, but its grip is tightening.

I knew the climate on many universities has been opposed to open discourse for a long time. And of course laws have been passed about hate speech. Who could disagree that saying hateful things is wrong? But who defines “hateful things”?

Apparently it’s “hateful” to disagree with the prevailing attitude of society. The odd thing is, the First Amendment specifically guarantees that a person has the right to voice a dissenting view, even when that view is contrary to public policy.

Today no one seems concerned about upholding the First Amendment. It’s become much more important to stop people from speaking against prevailing attitudes.

For example, though Donald Sterling was illegally taped in a private conversation, his remarks, deemed racist, earned him a lifetime ban by the NBA.

When “the first openly gay football player” was drafted in the NFL and kissed his male partner with the cameras rolling, another athlete tweeted his negative reaction. The next day, after the media, soundly criticized him for his “insensitive” comments, he was made to apologize.

When the tape of Ray Rice hitting his girlfriend became public, another well-known person expressed his view on Twitter about how he’d respond to someone, even a woman, hitting him. The next day, after being lambasted by the media, he also apologized.

Of course these dissenting opinions involve things society, or the media which voices “accepted societal practice,” has determined to be right or wrong: gay relationships, racism, domestic violence. Hence, no dissenting opinion is allowed.

I find this troubling! Even if a person is wrong, as they have been many times—see, for example, the burning of the American flag during the Vietnam era—the Constitution and the Supreme Court have supported their right to say what they believed (or to act out their view).

Now it seems one publicly-funded school has decided that “sectarian” material, particularly books written by Christians or published by Christian publishers or about Christian subject matter, does not belong in their library. Most notably they have removed The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom about her experiences during World War II, including her involvement in hiding Jews from Nazis in the Netherlands, being betrayed, and ending up in a concentration camp.

Yes, Corrie ten Boom was motivated by her Christianity, and she was comforted and counseled by the Bible in the concentration camp, so apparently those facts earned The Hiding Place the label of “sectarian.” Should this story prove to be true (so far, every article I’ve found derives its information from the press release of a single organization), it’s an appalling event, but completely consistent with the others which point to a decline of free expression of ideas—religious ones as well as controversial private ones or public ones that a powerful organization deems to be “offensive.”

When, I wonder, will all Christian ideas be “offensive”?

Of course there’s also the story about the Christian college campus ministry, InterVarsity, which was de-recognized by the California State University school system. Or how about the Florida college that ruled the same Christian organization couldn’t require Christians to lead the group.

In all these instances, the common thread seems to be an unwillingness to allow groups or books or individuals to have a dissenting voice. We are no longer a society that encourages thought and reasoned discourse. Instead we slander those with whom we disagree.

For instance, one site, AnnoyedLibrarian, in reporting the removal of The Hiding Place from the charter school’s library shelves had this to say:

I was unfamiliar with Corrie ten Boom or her book The Hiding Place, but if the Wikipedia entries are accurate, it does seem like the book is pretty Christian. Supposedly, the entire time she and her sister were in a German concentration camp, they “used a hidden Bible to teach their fellow prisoners about Jesus,” because not enough people had told the Jewish prisoners that they were wrong to be Jewish.

And later, this:

If The Hiding Place were actually removed from the library collection, it’s likely because the book wasn’t used at all. Unused books get cleared away to make room for something else.

If you want to teach kids about the Holocaust, using the testimony of a Christian evangelist doesn’t make a lot of sense, so only teachers who wanted to evangelize their students would have used it, and most of them probably don’t teach in California charter schools.

After all, there must be some other book that might help students learn about hiding Jews from Nazis during the war, maybe one whose main audience is broader than that of evangelical Christians, perhaps a book written by an actual Jewish person who was in fact hidden from the Nazis, and maybe she could be roughly the same age as the students who are learning about her, helping the students to identify with her more.

There must be a book like that out there somewhere.

The reference, I’m assuming, is to The Diary of Anne Frank, as if that one book is all that’s allowed to tell the story of Jews and their plight during World War II. As if the story of Christians motivated by their faith to do what is right at the risk of their lives is somehow less important or trivial or insignificant in light of the startling revelations of a coming of age teen.Alexander_Yakushev,_February_2012_reading_Pravda

No, we are fast becoming a society which only wants uni-think. It reminds me of the old quip: “My mind’s made up; don’t confuse me with facts.” We don’t want debate because we have no intention of changing our minds. And we don’t want anyone else telling us we should change our minds.

If debate dies, we might as well simply ask Pravda, uh, the Associated Press what it is we should think.

Women As Leaders Of The Church?


When I originally posted this article three years ago, it wasn’t one of the more popular blogs I’d written. I don’t suppose that will have changed, though I do think this is an important topic and this content is well worth bringing to the forefront again.

– – – – –

It seems obvious to me that the culture and not Scripture has influenced many people to believe that women too can be pastors and elders (would they be call eldresses? 😉 ) For over 1900 years, it seems, the Church understood the role of pastor to be reserved for men, but now in these last few decades we have scholars who say that actually all those earlier students of God’s Word, for all those centuries, had it wrong.

Why would we think that God would not correct this error long ago, if in fact it was error? Why, in the first place, did the Holy Spirit lead Paul to write something that for centuries the Church would misunderstand?

In reality, I think the Church for all those centuries understood exactly what God intended—that the role of pastor was reserved for men. Here is Paul’s clear instruction to Timothy:

A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. (1 Tim 2:11-14)

Paul not only gives the principles the Church is to follow, he gives reasons for it. A woman’s role, in part, is established because of the order of creation. It is also set because Eve was deceived, not Adam.

There are several other issues involved too.

First, Scripture gives clear instructions about the relationship a wife is to have with her husband. He is the head who is to love her sacrificially. She is to give him her respect and submission.

That’s not subservience. Her submission is the same as my putting myself under the authority of a principal when I was a teacher. I may have disagreed with how a certain principal wanted to do things, but in the end, the teacher needs to give way to the principal, though in the best working situations, the two strive to reach a place that satisfies the concerns of both.

That’s the way any organization must work. Somebody has to be in the hot seat where the buck stops. In a family, that “somebody” is the husband—the one tasked to love and selflessly serve his wife.

Each local church also has a leadership structure, with a pastor and elders taking the responsibility.

So what would happen if a woman was pastor—the head or leader of … her husband, a member of her church, who was to be her head? At one point or the other, the leadership structure God designed for the family or for the church would break down.

There’s another issue. The pastor or episkopē and the elders were given the role of “shepherding the flock.” Luke mentioned this in Acts when he recorded Paul’s farewell admonition to the elders in Miletus:

Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. (Acts 20:28 – emphasis mine)

Peter goes into more depth in his first letter:

Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (1 Peter 5:1-4 – emphases mine)

Is it coincidental that Peter refers to the pastor and elders as shepherds and Christ as the Chief Shepherd? Clearly not. He is likening their role, in miniature, to Christ’s role—just as Paul did when he addressed husbands and said they were to love their wives like Christ loved the Church. In other words, as the husband is to serve as a type of Christ by his sacrificial love, so the pastor is to serve as a type of Christ in his shepherding role.

We should not minimize this function of the pastor—as one who gives us a glimpse of the head/body relationship we enjoy with Christ.

Apart from specialty cases in which God may indeed call and equip a woman for a time, even as He allowed David to eat the sanctified bread reserved for priests, the teaching of Scripture gives the offices of pastor and elders to men. They are to be humble servants and caretakers of their flock, and women, as fellow servants and fellow heirs, are to join in ministry, just not in the lead role.

Published in: on September 19, 2014 at 6:09 pm  Comments (8)  
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The Heat Is On, Or The Rain


storm-1442004-mSome of you may or may not be aware that Southern California where I live is experiencing an extended heat spell. September is often one of the hottest months here, but some Septembers are hotter than others. This one is record-setting for a number of cities.

Yesterday LA tied the record at 103°. My computer has a weather channel app, and I knew it was going to be a hot day when the predicted high was 96° and the current temperature at 1:00 pm was 102°.

Ironically, the local news had more to say about the rain some in the viewing area experienced. All summer long we’ve had one hurricane after another sweep up from the south, bringing humidity and occasional rain, mostly in the high desert and mountains. This latest storm, the remnants of Hurricane Odile that hit Cabo San Lucas in Mexico’s Baja California, brought thunder and lightning and strong winds, even a few would-be tornadoes that never touched down. The rain was more like a torrential downpour that knocked down trees and flooded various buildings, including one high school gym.

Of course the heat can’t be ignored. Some communities have experienced power outages and some schools have dismissed at noon because of a lack of air conditioning.

Oddly enough, the weather extremes have made me think of the Egyptians and the plagues they endured. I wonder how much the average Egyptian, without email, Twitter, or Facebook, knew about Moses and his demand to Pharaoh that he let the Israelites go to worship God.

When the first plague hit—the water-to-blood event—did the people think it was some sort of anomalous extreme they had to work around? Extra work, sure. They had to dig beside the Nile to get water fit for consumption, but not, surely, an act of the Israelite God.

When the frogs came, did the people revise their thinking? Or did they see a cause/effect connection—the bad water had chased the frogs onto the land and into their homes.

Then the gnats or lice followed and the swarms of other insects. And we know that insects can carry diseases, so no surprise that pestilence followed. Or maybe the Egyptians, who may not have known the connection between bugs and disease, were surprised.

At what point did they know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God was bringing these “natural disasters” on their land? Was it when Goshen where the Israelites lived became exempt from the effects of the plagues? Was it when Pharaoh’s magicians could no longer replicate what God did through Moses? Was it when boils appeared on humans and animals alike after Moses stood outside and threw ashes in the air?

At some point, Pharaoh’s advisers got the picture that God was behind all they experienced, and they urged their supreme ruler to capitulate. Eventually the everyday people got the picture, too, because they eagerly gave the Israelites their gold and silver and valuable cloth just prior to their exodus.

In fact, after the final plague, when the Egyptians awoke to find the eldest son in each house slain on his bed, they “urged the people, to send them out of the land in haste, for they said, ‘We will all be dead.'” (Ex. 12:33.)

I’m just silly enough to believe that heat waves and monsoonal floods and wild fires and tornadoes and earthquakes and hurricanes and West Nile Virus, while certainly not plagues, are nevertheless from God—“natural” events He uses to press us to His side.

The Egyptians were disbelieving until they couldn’t not believe. They may not have concluded that God was God and Ra was not, Pharaoh was not, the Nile was not, but they knew that Moses’s God must be obeyed.

Are we like the Egyptians? We know all about weather patterns now and, via satellite, can see hurricanes forming. We can track jet streams and air currents and the movement of high or low pressure zones. We aren’t like Pharaoh’s magicians in that we can make nature happen, but we can predict it. Which gives us a sense of control over it.

So I wonder if we don’t miss what God might be doing to press us to His side, to call us to repentance, to summon us to obey Him and not the idols of the world. I wonder if all our accommodating of the heat and the rain while we go about our daily business, is us sticking our fingers in our ears and saying, I don’t want to hear you, God.

Would that we could be like the boy, Samuel, who, when he heard God calling, responded by saying, “Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.”

Published in: on September 17, 2014 at 12:37 pm  Comments (2)  
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Spanking In The Age Of Abortion


spanking painting Conrad,_Giorgio_(1827-1889)In the early days of advocacy for abortion, proponents said that ending unwanted pregnancies would eliminate unwanted children and therefore child abuse. Instead of eliminating abuse, however, the disregard for the life of a fetus seems to translate into a disregard for the well-being of children.

Child neglect and abuse and accompanying activities such as child pornography, pedophilia, and sex trafficking have risen to horrendous proportions.

In 2007, 1,760 children died as the result of child abuse and neglect. (“Child Protective Services,” Wikipedia)

As a result, the government has stepped in with stringent laws and burgeoning social service agencies in an effort to protect children from battery and other forms of abuse. Nevertheless, the problem continues to grow.

Once thought to be a problem involving only a few thousand children a year, child maltreatment has since been identified as nothing less than a national emergency. (“Child Maltreatment”)

Estimated child fatalities per day due to maltreatment have risen from 3.6 in 2000 to as high as 4.8 in 2009 (Child Help).

Interestingly, and also ironically, the attitude in western societies toward corporal punishment has turned decidedly negative. Once, “taking a child out to the woodshed” was an understood and accepted, even expected, form of discipline. For some, part of the process included cutting the switch by which they would receive their spanking. Other parents relied on something more immediate, like a belt. Still others, even some school administrators, kept a special paddle for the occasion.

Spanking actually has roots in Scripture. The book of Proverbs contains a number of passages indicating that corporal punishment is part of forming a child’s character. Take Proverbs 29:15 for example:

The rod and reproof give wisdom,
But a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.

Or how about Proverbs 13:24.

He who withholds his rod hates his son,
But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.

These and other such passages undergird a Biblical view of child discipline that includes spanking.

As society has moved away from the authority of Scripture, however, it has also moved away from corporal punishment of children. Time out, yes; spanking, no. Hitting, the critics say, only teaches children to use violence.

Into this environment of increased child abuse and decreased corporal discipline, football player Adrian Peterson, running back with the Minnesota Vikings, was indicted for reckless or negligent injury to a child because he spanked his son with a switch.

tree-branches-1438732-mHelpful as always, ( 🙄 ) the media, thinking the public ignorant of what a switch is, re-defined it as “a tree branch.” I don’t know about you, but when I hear “tree branch,” I think of a fairly sizable, sturdy piece of wood, along the lines of a baseball bat at least.

A switch is nothing like that. The New Oxford American Dictionary defines it as “a slender flexible shoot cut from a tree.”

Still, apparently Peterson marked his son. I haven’t learned the precise details of this case, but I suppose someone—medical personnel, perhaps—reported the injuries to the Child Protection Agency. A grand jury was convened and Peterson ended up being charged.

Sports reporters are horrified since this allegation of child abuse comes so closely to the released video of Ray Rice punching his fiancée in a hotel elevator.

I think that’s unfortunate.

I don’t want to see an instance of spanking lumped in with spousal battery. One of the verses in Proverbs says

Do not hold back discipline from the child,
Although you strike him with the rod, he will not die. (23:13)

Unfortunately, we’ve lost sight of this truth. In summary, this is where we are:

* In the name of “preventing abuse” we legalized abortion.

* Nevertheless, abuse is on the rise.

* To counter abuse, we have constructed an elaborate system of laws and organizations to enforce them, often separating families needlessly and placing children in the foster care system.

(Sadly, reports show that more children are abused in foster care than in their own families.)

* At the same time, psychologists have persuaded a good number of people that spanking is not beneficial and might even be harmful.

Adrian_Peterson_VikingsI don’t know if Adrian Peterson inappropriately used force to discipline his son. I have no doubt that he was acting to correct him, though. His actions are not in any way comparable with Ray Rice’s and shouldn’t be lumped into the conversation about domestic violence.

Instead, I think it would be a healthy thing if we opened the discussion about spanking as a legitimate means of discipline. I think it would be helpful and healthy to discuss the difference between spanking and beating and to look at the pros and cons of this kind of discipline.

Above all, parents need to understand their role as disciplinarians. They need to accept the responsibility for training their children. Instead, too many parents shirk from this aspect of their duty. They may not neglect a child by withholding food or clothing or education or social interaction. But by refraining from discipline, they are sending the message that they do not care what their child does and therefore, do not care about their child.

I’ve also seen parents who put up with a child until they lose their temper. Then a child is in serious danger, vulnerable to verbal, emotional, or even physical abuse.

Parents need to learn how to discipline their children. But who is teaching this? Once grandparents critiqued parents in their job. Wives tempered their husbands or husbands tempered their wives. Now we have so many of the supports removed from a parent that they have little chance to learn how to discipline correctly.

Wouldn’t this be a good role for the church to take up? Ought we not provide help for parents who are struggling with strong-willed children or children reacting to their unstable environment caused divorce or overly active children or children seeking the love and attention of their busy two-career parents?

At a minimum, I’d hope we can at least discuss spanking and not react to corporal discipline as if it is no different than domestic violence.

Published in: on September 16, 2014 at 5:00 pm  Comments (28)  
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Accepting God’s Correction


father-and-daughter-1064479-mNot many of us like to be corrected. Hebrews says the correction we received from our parents at the time seemed, not joyful, but sorrowful (Heb. 12:11). But in actuality it “yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”

The people of Israel, under Moses’s tutelage, experienced God’s correction from time to time. Most notable was His response to their rebellion when they reached the Promised Land.

At God’s direction, they sent twelve spies into Canaan to see what they were up against and what kind of land they’d be taking over. When they came back after forty days, ten of the spies concluded, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us” (Num. 13:31b). Because of this report, the people decided it was a mistake to try and take possession of what God had promised to give them.

All the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron; and the whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?” So they said to one another, “Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt.” (Num. 14:2-4)

Things got worse as the other two spies, Joshua and Caleb, tried to reason with them that God would bring them into the land, no matter what the obstacles. The people took up stones to put them to death. At this point God told Moses He’d had enough of their rebellion. However, Moses pleaded with God—not for the sake of the people, interestingly, but for God’s sake. He said, the Egyptians would hear of it and the nations around would hear of it and conclude that God simply wasn’t strong enough to give them the land. He made one of the great declarations of God’s character, then concluded with a plea for the nation:

“‘The LORD is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations.’ Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness, just as You also have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.” (Num. 15:18-19)

Moses had it right—God would by no means clear the guilty, though He would, and did, pardon their sin. In other words, there were consequences for what they did. God, by way of correcting them, gave them what they wanted. Those adults who said it was a bad idea to go into Canaan would not step foot in the land. Instead they would wander in the wilderness for forty years—a year for each day the spies were in the land.

The punishment had its desired effect. The people mourned and recognized their sin, but they didn’t accept God’s correction. Instead, they apparently thought, since they’d finally gotten with the program, God should cancel their punishment:

In the morning, however, they rose up early and went up to the ridge of the hill country, saying, “Here we are; we have indeed sinned, but we will go up to the place which the LORD has promised.” (Num. 14:40)

Nice try, Israel. But no, it’s too late, Moses said. Don’t go up aiming to win a battle because God isn’t with you.

You guessed it: they went anyway. The result was a good sound defeat at the hands of the Amalekites and the Canaanites on top of the forty years in the wilderness God had determined as their correction.

I notice a couple things in this story. One is how gracious God is. Because of their rebellion, the people of Israel deserved death. But God withheld His hand because of Moses’s mediation.

As he does throughout these chapters containing his story, Moses serves as a type of Christ. It is He who stood in the gap for us as our Advocate when we deserved death for our rebellion.

Third, the people responded incorrectly to correction. Sure, they were sorrowful—they didn’t want to wander in the wilderness for forty years! Who would? But a genuinely repentant heart would have responded with obedience, not more rebellion!

Today, God’s grace is poured out on His people so that we are clothed with the righteousness of Christ. Our sins are forgiven. And yet, we may suffer the consequences of our rebellious ways. Or not. Because of His mercy, God can and does stay His hand. But not always, and not forever.

Either way, God’s correction or His forbearance is not reason for our continued rebellion.

As He did for Israel, God may use circumstances to correct us today. Back then He told Moses what He was doing. Today we have the Holy Spirit to prod us to repentance when we go our own way.

Of course, the ideal would be not to rebel in the first place. 😉 If only! I would so much rather I didn’t have to face God’s correction, and yet, as Hebrews says, it yields the fruit of righteousness.

What’s more, it’s a sign that God is our Father:

It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. (Heb. 12:7-10)

In the end, holiness is the issue. God wants us to be like Jesus more than He wants us to have a rockin’ good time here and now.

Our response to His correction, then, should be quite different from that of the people of Israel. Sorrow, sure, but not because we’ve been caught or we don’t like the discipline facing us. Rather, it should be sorrow and acceptance, knowing that it comes from the hand of our Father:

When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong
Because the LORD is the One who holds his hand (Ps. 37:24)

Published in: on September 12, 2014 at 6:24 pm  Comments Off on Accepting God’s Correction  
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Speaking Against God’s Authority


Moses067The book of Numbers records several rebellions against Moses, but perhaps the most costly in terms of human lives was the one led by a man named Korah, who was a Levite in the service of the tabernacle, and a couple of guys named Dathan and Abiram and On, who apparently were simple laymen.

These leaders collected a group of 250 prominent men, and together they challenged Moses’s leadership.

They assembled together against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, “You have gone far enough, for all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is in their midst; so why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?” (Numbers 16:3)

Of course, Moses and Aaron were not exalting themselves. They had responded to God’s call and were simply doing what He told them to do. In other words, as God spelled out, the rebellion wasn’t really against Moses and Aaron at all. It was against God.

But the LORD said to Moses, “Put back the rod of Aaron [which had blossomed over night when the rods from the other eleven tribes had not] before the testimony to be kept as a sign against the rebels, that you may put an end to their grumblings against Me, so that they will not die.” (Num. 17:10, emphasis added)

The horrific thing is, the 250 leaders died for their rebellion, but instead of repenting and turning to God, the people blamed Moses and Aaron for their deaths. As a result, a plague swept through the camp and another 14,700 people died. Moses interceded for them, then God instructed Aaron to make atonement for the people with an offering of incense.

Afterward, as a visual sign for all the people, God instructed each tribe to provide Moses with a rod. He put all twelve in the screened portion of the tabernacle where the ark was. The next morning, Aaron’s staff had blossomed whereas the others remained the same—a clear picture that God had chosen him and his descendants to be His priests.

You’d think such a clear sign would bring an end to the grumbling and doubting aimed at Moses. It didn’t.

All this reminds me of today, We have much more than a blossoming rod. We have the written word of God. You’d think we wouldn’t rebel against God and His authority. I mean, how much clearer can He get? We twenty-first century Christians, who have multiple translations and commentaries and concordances and Bible dictionaries and Hebrew or Greek lexicons, surely must no longer have any doubts about God’s authoritative plans and will.

How ironic, then, that we are the generation with such false teachings as Rob Bell’s that proclaims universal salvation or Joel Osteen’s that reiterates the arguments of Job’s friends regarding suffering or the Progressive Christians’ that dismisses the Old Testament as myth and writes off much of the New as written by bigots.

The Bible goes too far, they seem to say. We’re just as holy as anyone else. The Lord is in us just as well as in you, so why do you elevate your understanding of the Bible over ours?

If we want to declare the God of the Old Testament to be a wrathful tyrant, a God who we’ve moved past to get to Jesus in whom there is no wrath in our view, then who are you to say we can’t?

If we want to say hell doesn’t exist, that it was the imagining of later writers who compiled Scripture or a misunderstanding of Jesus’s imaginative language, who are you to say we’re wrong?

If we want to say the passages in the Bible about homosexuality are misinterpreted or outmoded and no longer culturally relevant, who are you to contradict us?

If we want to say the instruction to women in the church to be subject to their husbands as is fitting in the Lord, that they must remain silent in church services, is cultural and not for the Church today, who are you to dispute the issue?

If we want to say that people can have a relationship with God through Christ, though they have never believed in Jesus, who are you to argue that actual belief is necessary?

Like Moses and Aaron in those days in the wilderness with the rebellious people of Israel, we who believe in the Bible and proclaim it, are not the authority. God is. People standing against the authority of Scripture are actually standing against God.

How many tears I’d be spared if I could write off hell as symbolic or a fabrication. How much less conflict if I could go along with the culture about homosexuality or feminism. How much easier to preach a gospel of health and wealth than one of cross bearing.

I’d much rather believe that Man is good than that we have sin natures. In fact, when I was young and first heard that all had sinned, I didn’t want to believe it. I mean, I couldn’t think of any of the Big Sins that I’d committed. So I decided, if I could just identify one person in the Bible who had not committed a sin, then I could be like him or her.

I decided Moses was a likely candidate. But my mom pointed out he’d committed murder. Horrors! Well, how about King David? No, he was guilty of adultery! Of course Abraham lied and Jacob cheated, the people during the time of the judges were a mess—in fact, a good many of the judges were a mess. The kings were mostly worse.

Then in the New Testament Peter denied Jesus, James and John were trying to one-up the other disciples by securing the best positions in Christ’s kingdom. Paul argued with Barnabas over John Mark, who had deserted them. And on and on.

No perfect people in the Bible. No sinless people that I’ve met either. So, maybe, just maybe, I have to admit, though I wish it weren’t so, I have a sinful heart, and Man not only isn’t good but isn’t capable of being good (which is not the same as doing good).

In the end, I’m no different from those people on their way to the Promised Land. I can believe the authority God has given me—the Bible—or I can rebel and “deconstruct” in one way or another, what He has said. As for me and my house, I’m embracing God’s word which is sure and tried and stands forever.

Published in: on September 11, 2014 at 5:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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