Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Night Man, Pt. 2 (or "How to Stop Being a Wannabe")

Way back in 1994, when I was finishing my BFA in Communications and Fine Art at the University of Memphis, my senior lab partner Lee introduced me to a friend of his who was making a living drawing comics professionally: Dean Zachary. Dean, like me, had grown up in dull Mississippi and loved comics.

Unlike me, Dean was ultra-cool and very disciplined: a black belt in karate - whereas I had only been a blue belt; a professional illustrator -whereas I only did some sketches of heroes now and then - but then we discovered we had a mutual friend: Roland Mann. I knew Roland from my days in Hattiesburg, while attending the University of Southern Mississippi.

Roland was his editor at Malibu, and these two Mississippi boys were now working on The Night Man, one of the few Malibu properities that later went on to become a TV series. (Steven Butler and Mitch Byrd, along with Thomas Florimonte, Jr. were all on the same campus at USM, all went on to comics. Man, God was TRYING to get me into the good stuff and I missed it! Arrrgghhh! Or did I?)

I envied Dean. He had the cool Midtown apartment, a tasteful studio from which he daily drew superheroic action, and cute chicks... *ahem* well, all the things I thought I would one day have to make me happy. I got close to having a creator concept or two get out and be developed, but I always pulled back for some reason.

A divorce was one. As I struggled to recover emotionally, I simply could not give myself to artwork. (In retrospect, the best thing my wife did was encourage my art - one of the coolest superhero group drawings I ever did was with her hovering over me with admiration. )

We artists are a funny group. We cannot help but be moved by our hearts to do wonderful or awful deeds. We get wiser as we get older, but having a lyrical heart in a fallen world is dangerous. Its like walking around in the dark with a candle over puddles of gasoline. You lean too close to see what is bothering you with those big, bright eyes and...

....well, it ain't pretty. The list of artists self-immolating is too long and tedious to recount. Musicians, painters, sculpters, novelists. We bleed our lives into our work - if we are of ANY quality at all - and the world gasps and moans and embraces the thing we made and lauds us and then we go try to find a muse to fill in the emptiness that is left behind.

I was pursuing art. I wanted to be like Dean, to be a successful artist. But I knew it was not enough. I knew it was good and said something true at some level but it was not enough to fill my soul. I felt like I was a kid looking through a plate glass window at a world I could never enter. I was the child not invited to the party. Crud, I didn't just want to draw a superhero, I wanted to be a superhero -even The Night Man! (He never needed sleep, did you know that?)

Oh, I so wanted to live in the worlds I created. I SO wanted to be heroic and matter and do daring deeds and fight evil. But all I could do was draw it? Imagine it? Just imagine earth-shaking events with fictional characters?

I would not tolerate that. It had to be real somehow. There had to be a place where men gathered together for what was right and had great power to change the world. Men who were willing to sacrifice EVERYTHING to know the truth, to have a purpose in their lives.

Christ put that desire in my heart. My taste for the truth and for selfless heroism was to be found especially in one scene in the Bible. I was so arrested by this passage I think I actually put the book down. The pathos and pain of the Hero is so clear it hurts.

Jesus starts by saying something very artfully: He talks about eating and drinking Himself. He's using a metaphor to show how desperately we need Him. Though some sects of Christianity turn this into a ritualistic requirement (if you don't have communion, you go to Hell) I think Jesus is trying to show how VITAL He is to us, to humanity. He's the whole package so to speak.

He gives us what we REALLY need - spiritual food for our hungry, damaged souls.
John 6:53-71
Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever." He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

Many Disciples Desert Jesus
On hearing it, many of his disciples said, "This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?"

Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, "Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe." For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him."

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

Jesus is not being obtuse to be cruel. He's being mysterious to see who really gives a rat's behind. Who really cares enough to stick with it, though they do not understand fully. Then - here comes the pathos - He asks His closest companions if they want to leave too. Peter's answer is cool. Muy cool. Peter says, "Look, Jesus, where are we gonna go? You're it. We know it."

"You do not want to leave too, do you?" Jesus asked the Twelve.
Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."
Then Jesus replied, "Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!" (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)

I think Jesus grinned big when He replied to Peter. And then shook His head 'cause some "hangers on" are only hanging on to see you hung out to dry.

The point I was making and is made here is that Jesus says He's the whole ball of wax. He is what we need to find fulfillment, life, satisfaction, and heroic purpose (read the book of Acts and imagine doing what the disciples did with NO weapons, NO spellbooks, NO training except 'being with Jesus').

I love good art wherever I find it - in comics, in literature, in film, in paint. But I must say I like the Artist who knows all hearts even more. The One who bids me to follow with crazy metaphors and wild actions and utter abandon.

If you think Jesus wants you to go to church and say some prayers, and this is all He wants you to do, you are completely nuts.

He wants you to pray and talk to Him, mano-y-mano. He will build a holy place RIGHT were you are standing, warrior.

Day or night. Day or night.

"I'm Justice Carmon, friend of real artists and Night Man-wannabes, and I approve this message."

Amen.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Night Man (or "It's All About Story, Dummy")

This past weekend I went to DuPage County's All-Night Flea Market, just a few blocks from my house, mere weeks after the carnival left. In a strange coincidence, I had gone for a walk after dinner and ran into a Japanese couple who were lost and needing directions to the very same place. Instead of trying to direct him using the bad map he'd printed, I rode in their SUV to the Fairgrounds. He was so grateful and polite as the Japanese so often are. He asked "How you get back?" I smiled broadly to put him at ease. "Oh, don't worry. I'll walk. I don't live far from here."

On the way back, I noticed an elderly couple talking with a friend on their front porch and since I knew a lady who was selling her condo for CHEAP, I let them know. They were grateful, but had no idea who'd want it but they were very kind. Blissfully I trotted home, told my landlady I'd ALREADY been to the Fairgrounds! (I had not been too keen on going to this in the first place, I should mention. Heh.)

But because I'd scoped it out, I knew the best place to park - the elementary school next door. When we arrived at the Flea Market, they apologized "for the error in the Chicago Tribune, but the cost was $6, not $5" for admission. Ah, well. We paid and began roaming; I with my cool cap flashlight, and my landlady with her itty bitty penlight.

We had a blast and I got some cool things and tools I needed. Then I ran into a Christian brother who's been having the devil of a time with his health. I think I mean that literally. You know those gastric bypass operations? The ones that can go wrong? His did. Nine operations later, he now has to wear a tube in his throat to breathe and speak properly. He wears a gridle to hold his belly since he has no stomach muscles there. But he is joyful - even though he was in a 70 mph caroom on black ice a few months ago which totalled his van. Three lanes this way, three lanes that way. Then ended up in a ditch.

I prayed for him - got interrupted by a customer - prayed again for his health and well-being, and on the way out, bought a few old comics, some by artists I knew. I got home with my treasure and read them.

Frankly, the better art was with the worst stories. The better stories had the less accomplished art. It was downright embrassing, some of this work. They got PAID for this? I thought.

And that brings us to the title of this blog, and to Jesus.

My comic-selling friend who went through so much said brightly, "I'm living the great Chinese curse: may you live in interesting times!" And I thought about that and about the comics I read and what makes a good story is a lot of excitement and drama, and I thought about what had happened that day and the type of people I had met.

We don't want interesting lives. We don't want to be far from home and lost; we don't want to leave our neighborhoods and go to another place - no matter how good it is.

We certainly don't want to be dependant on others or in need of constant support. We want control and comfort and just a little more income, please God.

Jesus wasn't like that. Neither should we be - we who call ourselves by His Name.

Oh, to be sure, Jesus scoped out where He was going to go before He showed up, but He didn't take over the situation. He let His Father direct the circumstances.

Mark 11:1-11 (NIV)
The Triumphal Entry

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, "Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, 'Why are you doing this?' tell him, 'The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.' "

They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, "What are you doing, untying that colt?" They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go.

When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,

"Hosanna!"
"Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"
"Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!"
"Hosanna in the highest!"

Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

The craziest thing is that - with all the excitement - Jesus just takes a long look around and goes to Bethany to stay overnight. In other words, after a huge ego boost and everyone screaming his name/identity, He goes back to the Motel 6 to rest.

He knows what will happen to Him. He told his disciples several times already. He just wanted to look at the stage before the show begins. In other words, as scary as His story was, Jesus stayed on it and did not try to "fix" it - or get very comfortable in fact.

Story is a wonderful thing. But it only makes sense in past tense. You do not know - or anyway I do not know - how the story is supposed to be until the very end. Until it is over.

We do not like that. We try to stop the drama in our lives as quickly as possible. But the happiest person I saw last weekend - the truly most peaceful and at rest person was the one who had reconciled to himself he was not in control. He simply did not have that power.

And furthermore, at his hand, by buying comics from him, I saw that what looks good on the surface is usually sucky in story. It does not have to be that way, but it so often is.
If the Lord of Creation will surrender His power and not worry about it, should we do anything less?

I don't know all that I do or what impact it has, but I know one thing: Jesus knows how to handle the crowds.

You ignore them and stay on point. God is writing a story with your life. You just need to calm down and accept it.

Later you'll see. You will.

Now go watch It's a Wonderful Life and laugh.

Amen.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Letter from "Bullseye"

Since I posted Wednesday about this letter, I thought I should share it. It's long, so I simply highlighted the most amazing parts. Jesus wins yet again.
________________

Letter from an Inmate – Rec’d August (15), 2008

Hello Justice,

This is [“Bob”] from DuPage County Jail. I’m [X] years old, [height], [physical description]. I was in [pod] and my number was [XXXXXX]. I was attending your Matthew Video class for several weeks.

I obviously don’t expect that you would specifically remember me out of everyone you meet in jail, but I needed to tell you that you, Justice, and your method of ministry has really made a HUGE impact on me. You helped save me and change my life.

I’ll start with giving you some background information about myself and my past. I was raised in a loving home; both of my parents are still together. Typical family, no major problems. I had straight A’s, received numerous academic awards, and I graduated H.S. early. I even went to college for a little bit. I’ve never done any drugs, etc…I was raised Catholic. I attended church every Sunday; I know most of the traditions and prayers. I never actually read the entire Bible, but I could even quote you several dozen scripture passages!

I know that my background doesn’t spell out CRIMINAL, but something has been really WRONG with me spiritually for a very long time. Although I was going through the motions, my heart was never into the Word. In fact, I despised going to church. Right after I had received the sacrament of Confirmation, my parents gave me the “choice” to attend church. Needless to say… that was the very last time I stepped foot in a service.

As far back as I can remember (Maybe about 8ish) I have been living an immoral life as a liar, thief… and much worse. Without going into too much specifics… I started lying (and I am VERY good at it), stealing baseball cards, candy and porn magazines as a child to armed robberies and… well, let’s just say I’ve broken literally ALL Ten Commandments.

Although I’ve destroyed a LOT of lives, and hurt a lot of people, I really didn’t care. I was selfish. I’ve traveled all over the world. I’ve had nice cars, even made high-roller status in some of the Vegas Casinos. Slept with MANY women, etc… the “Great” life too many people envy. I had it all from a worldly standpoint.

Before this one time I have never even been close to being caught. I’m highly organized. I’m a natural leader. I’m charismatic and have the power to motivate and persuade people to listen and follow me. I have common sense and a great deal of street smarts.

Worst of all (at the time), I felt absolutely NO guilt or remorse. All these “qualities” has made me a pretty good criminal. Considering the fact that I have broken the law literally hundreds of times, had HUGE financial gains, and only got caught 1 time… I guess you might even say that I am “LUCKY” and have had a very successful career. Plus I’m a very hard worker, so it’s never been hard for me to produce quick results. In fact, looking back, I am amazed I am still alive or not serving a natural life sentence. The last 8 years or so have been quite dangerous and destructive.

I’ll turn 30 outside of prison, and that’s where this letter really comes to my need for writing to you. I was facing multiple class “X” felony Armed robbery charges. I was looking at 6-30 years in prison, and serving 85% of my sentence. Even with my great paid attorney, things were looking grim.

My mother asked me to pray and sent me a Bible. I didn’t really pray, and I casually tried to read the Bible, but it was hard. VERY Hard. In fact, it was actually feeling as if something was manually keeping my mind from focusing when I tried to read the Word.

I signed up for several classes, literally just to kill time and get me out of the pod for some additional movement. Yours was obviously one of them.

Well, the Friday night before your class I said a prayer for the first time in many years. I asked selfishly for help (mostly trying to get out of my legal mess). Something like… “If you exist, and really can do ANYTHING, get me out of here!” I knew I needed help, I just didn’t realize what kind. Then that next day, nothing. So I prayed again for help. This time (still selfishly), but more desperate… I asked Jesus for help.

Then I was called to your class just a couple of days later. When I met you and shook your hand I instantly felt good and warm inside. Then you opened up by singing “I Love You Lord” and my heart began to instantly soften and open up. Your methods and speech really hit a real nerve within me. It was you, and your ministry that started my healing process. I asked Jesus for help… and you were the answer to my prayers. Through you Jesus softened and opened my heart that night. He opened my mind and heart!!

I went back to my cell that night and asked Jesus for help. I asked Jesus to save me, heal me, forgive me and give me Wisdom and Strength. Then I repented. I remembered as many sins as I could recall and truly asked for forgiveness. I told Jesus that I did things my way for 28 years, and now it was time to submit and do things God’s way. I felt feelings I haven’t felt as long as I can remember. I actually felt guilt and cried that night. I also was not only able to read the Bible, but I understood and enjoyed it. I read the entire gospel of John before I went to bed that night.

When I woke up the next morning I felt GREAT. I felt a huge burden of relief. I was not stressed and my fear/anxiety was subdued. My heart wasn’t hard either. Whew, what a relief!!! I was in jail and literally not only content, but happy. Much happier that I had been in a LONG while.

Soon after that I received GREAT news about my case. I did a crime, and had to be punished. I accept that. But now I know at least I am forgiven! My dark looking scenario went from a class X Armed Robbery down to a class 1 robbery. That means I only had to do 50% and a minimum sentence. I know that Jesus’ divine mercy helped. He answered my prayers and showed me mercy. Now I can live a full life, filled with honesty and integrity.

If nothing else… I needed to say “Thank You”, and you really have impacted my life. Your ministry and personality that night literally opened the door I needed to find to become saved.

Again… Thank You, Justice!

______________________________________

He ends by asking for my aid in helping him grow and mature in Christ and find a way to use his abilities in reparation to help victims of crimes like his.

There really is nothing a jail preacher wants to hear more.

Yeah, I wept. Heaven was rejoicing but I wept.

Crud, does anyone know how to work miracles BETTER than Jesus Christ?!

I think not.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Bullseye vs. Daredevil: the Man without Fear!

Way back in the early 1980's, a young punk named Frank Miller showed up, and took a bi-monthly title and turned it into a film-noir Greek tragedy filled with Camel-smoking newsmen, girlfriend assassins, deadly ninjas and clueless law partners. The comic? Daredevil: The Man Without Fear.

To overstate its impact on my generation of geeks is impossible. We were thrust into a gritty city jungle that former generations knew well, but we suburbanites visiting our local 7-11 had not a clue of. It was dark and dangerous. No longer was Daredevil (DD or "old Hornhead" as Stan taught us to call him) a "poor man's Spider-Man". No. Miller made us grow up fast - learning that our red clad humanitarian lawyer had issues and a past. At times hurt by his father, a boxer by profession, growing up in a single-parent home, Matt Murdock made us see the darker side of life and how heroism is found in overcoming it.

What made it all the more compelling is our discovery of a college girlfriend, Elektra Natchos, who becomes an accomplished martial artist then turns assassin after her father's murder. In an amazingly brutal fight for the comics code authority, she meets her match in Bullseye, one of DD's deadliest foes, and is killed.

Daredevil sets a trap for him, beats the stuffing out of him, and as DD grabs Bullseye to rescue him from a terrible fall, he tries to stab our hero, who then finally let's go, saying, "You will never hurt anyone, ever again!"

Every bone in Bullseye's body is broken, but he lives. Daredevil did not kill him, but put an end to his evil.

So, what does this have to do with the blog title?

A "Bullseye" wrote me a letter yesterday, out of the blue. A highly professional criminal of great skill and talent has been reformed by Jesus Christ.

(I know, this sounds strangely familiar to what I shared Monday, right? Complain to God - I got this letter the day after I wrote that blog!)

He wanted to thank me for showing him Christ's love and teaching at DuPage County Jail. He shared that he had lived a very successful life of crime up until recently.

He fit no tragic model. He had had 1) Loving parents, 2) Straight A's in school and 3) Been "confirmed" at the age of 13, yet he did nothing except pursue evil his entire life. Theft, porn, drugs, you name it.

In this letter he flatly states: "I was 'good' as a criminal. Though I commited multiple crimes, I was only caught once." He had travelled worldwide, was a high-roller at more than one Vegas casino, and "had it all": girls, cars, etc.

He was blinded by his inner darkness, his sin. He wrote that when we met and I shook his hand, something strange happened. He said he felt loved and peaceful. (I credit THAT to the Holy Spirit, though I know what he means. Soemtimes I feel the Spirit on another so strong I start grinning like a school girl!)

He said his mother had prayed for him, and he did try to read the Bible before, but it was useless. "It was like something was keeping me from reading it." Now caught and facing 25-30 years in prison, he began to earnestly pray "God - if you are real, help me!" He said it was a selfish prayer, but God seemed to answer him.

He went to my class the next day. We sang "I Love You Lord". I talked like I always do about Christ's love and power. After my class, he went up to his cell and read the entire book of John in one sitting.

This guy has a serious mind and a serious work ethic (e.g. "I was highly organized, efficient and a hard worker, Justice.") What once led him into darkness was now being used by God to lead him into light.

He wept and confessed his sins to God. He felt the pain of his sins and of his victims for the first time. He understood the Bible for the FIRST time. He gave his life to Jesus Christ. We he awoke in the morning he writes, "I felt a peace that I had not felt in years!"

I understand. One theologian has said "We are only beggars leading other beggars to bread."

Like blind Bartimaeus outside of Jericho, we cry out "Jesus, son of David! Have mercy on me!"

Who's REALLY blind? The Bullseyes of this world or Daredevils? The ones who reach out to take what they want from others, or those who give and sacrifice no matter what the cost, working through the pain?

"If you were blind, you would see. But now that you say 'We see!' your blindness remains."

Jesus said that in John 9, in talking to the know-it-alls, the unbelieving rulers of God's people.

The message for you dear reader today is this: if you want to become a Man Without Fear, you are going to have to admit your need.

"Perfect love casteth out all fear!" says John the apostle and that "God is love."

If you want to be truly fearless, you need to know God. You do that by accepting Jesus Christ as the covering for your sins.

Oh - final note: my new brother in Christ was brought before the judge the following week. His crime was reduced to a lesser charge. Instead of 30 years in prison, he will be out in less than 5 years with good behavior. We may even see him in half of that time.

He credits the Lord with this great mercy. He credits me with helping him see Him. He now wants to do something to aid victims like the ones he has hurt once he is released.

Wow.

Well, that's what blind men are for: getting others to call out to Jesus -


- the only Man truly without Fear. ;)


Amen.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Married to the Mob? No more.

Yesterday my landlady went to her church to listen to a Mob Don speak, one Michael Franzese of the notorious "Columbo" crime family. He did not tell about all his crimes - he simply said "When you are in the Mob, your whole life is tied up in the Mob."

It is a marriage, he said.

And then, through a loving wife and a prison cell guard, Michael met Jesus.

Scam? Nah. Doesn't look like it.

Oh - he wasn't that bad?

Yes, he was. Here's an excerpt from his website (www.michaelfranzese.com):

No one of Michael’s stature in organized crime has publically renounced participation in that life and walked away – much less, to serve a different boss, Jesus. Michael is the very first to admit – “If I got what I deserved, I’d be dead or in prison for the rest of my life.”


At the height of his career he was making $6-8 million a week.

For the mob.

My landlady told me that during his presentation, he was showing photos of crime scenes - and did not say a word as to what part he played in those crimes. There were bodies. Dead people everywhere.

Michael said the boss has power. You say a guy isn't working out and you get rid of him. And I am fairly certain he did not mean "kindly give him a pink slip with an apology and gratitude for his services."

His conversion shocked everyone. It was even featured in Vanity Fair in 1991 "The Born Again Don". What is even more shocking is that he has stayed loyal to Christ these 12 years. He did not go back.

My landlady also told me how tall he stood, what presence he commanded - you could see his leadership, his authority. Years of having the power of life and death over your enemies could do that to you, I'd imagine.

Jesus has that authority. Michael knows that now. He said he did not have any special visions or amazing experience, but when he read about Jesus and studied him, he saw a different man than he had ever met.

One thing stuck out in Michael's mind: the trial of Jesus. Most men cannot wait to come before the judge so they can tell their side of the story - to defend themselves.

Jesus did not do it. "And he was innocent!" said Michael. "I couldn't believe it."

That gripped Michael. Hard.

No man would do that. No ordinary man. Certainly no innocent man (even the Apostle Paul could not do it, see Acts 26).

He is facing his death, and he said "not a word." His judge, Pontius Pilate "marveled greatly."

So did a Mob Don some 2000 years later.

Why did Jesus do it? To pay for us.

I know you have heard that before.

But the next time someone says you are wrong, you are stupid, etc., try to say not one word, especially if it will cost you your reputation, your job, etc.

Pray as St. Augustine prayed "Oh Lord, save me from this lust of self-vindication!"

Because if you ARE wrong, you should be silent and take the approbation, and if you are RIGHT, there are no words to correct such a hater.

In either case, it is Jesus and Jesus alone who can justify us and cover our sins with His blood.

He has that much power, that much grace.

He poured it out lavishly this great love, that even a mob boss went down.


"In this is love, not that we loved God, but He loved us and sent His Son to die for us."

"...for a good man, someone might possibly dare to die - but God shows His love for us in this - that WHILE we were still sinners, Christ died for us!"


Get it? God doesn't save 'good people'.

He only saves those who have disobeyed Him. Over and over again.

Tell Him you are sorry and watch what darkness will leave your heart.

Amen.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Werewolves by Night! (late edition)

The first comic I ever wanted was Werewolf by Night #2, art by the under-appreciated Mike Ploog. He picked up Will Eisner's moodiness and played a symphony of Gil Kane-ish action and pathos that still rocks to this day. The story is convoluted, so I will give you the short version: whenever the Moon is out, Jack Russell transforms into a werewolf. The more full the moon is, the more bestial he is.

Conversely, the more the moon wanes, the more of his human nature comes through.

Then at the age of ten, I got the coolest book in the world - a beginner's Monster Makeup book from Scholastic, Alan Ormsby’s Movie Monsters. Using it, I would make myself up as a werewolf, a wild child who ran rampant through the neighbor's yards under a full Autumn moon, pretending to be fierce and terrible.


In one notable (and oft-repeated incident), I came in from playing, teeth still in, black nosed and dark skinned, and saw my mother talking with a lady friend in the dining room. Like Bill Watterson's Calvin, I went drooling past saying, "Hi, Mom!"

She flushed and said quickly: "That's my son!"

She never let me forget that night. Evaaaarr.


My Den of Wolves
Last night I stayed up to 2:30 a.m. on a forum I had previously left, defending my assessment of a woman who so abused her child by neglect and malnutrition, the child had become feral. A domesticated dog had more life than this child. But thank God, she was taken from her mother and given to God-fearing people who were now seeing small signs of recovery.

Because I am known for my strong evangelical nature - that men should repent of their sins and turn to Jesus Christ to be saved - I got a nice double-barrel of ridicule for being "judgmental" on this issue. When I tried to answer back, I got this response.

"Bull****! You like a nice cold glass of self-righteousness!"

This comment from a person I highly respect. It seems the respect is one-way.

Let me be clear: when Jesus said 'Love your enemies!' He meant 'Love your enemies!' not 'Love the enemies of God'. Love means telling the truth, eschewing evil. It also means you get angry when a person is abused and treated shamefully. I think that is why God does watch over the weak and loves them -He becomes their shield, their defender. Jesus' comments on what happens to those who "cause one of these little ones who believe in me to sin" are very dire.

But in fairness to my friend, I have failed to express a lot of love on this forum. Its very hard for me to do so.

Because they are werewolves.

As once was I.

Brilliant, ready to shred at a moment's notice anyone we percieve as false, as an enemy, as bringing pain and unlove into the world. When they spend their time talking about how cruel Christians are, how evangelicals are homophobic Nazis, and boasting of either their sexual ability, academic credentials or physical prowess in one form or another, I am so tempted...

...to think I am so much better: "I thank thee Lord I am not like them!"

I am a barely cured werewolf. Still learning about love and patience.

What cured me was being confronted by Jesus -and upon meeting Him, I died to self, only to live again.

It is hard to love a werewolf. Even harder to stop being one.

Especially when the moon is full and beasts demand sympathy for the ones who make children feral.

GRRRRRRRRRRrrrrrrrr...

"That's my son!"

"Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.

(*woof*)

Thanks, Jesus.

(*wags tail*)


*siiiggghhh*


Amen.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Losers lose, Winners win - sadly

Strange title, eh?

I was watching the women's gymnastics last night and though the Chinese were highly-favored, there was a glimmer of hope for the USA to catch them as - amazingly - one Chinese girl fell off the balance beam. That cost them heavily and so the USA team saw they had a chance to close the gap. There was anticipation in the air. All that had to happen was that the USA girls not commit the same error.

They did. And later commited another error. It was the same gymnast in both cases, too. As she stepped off the mat, she went to her coach and you could see she was visibly upset - all that training, only to fail when it counted the most. She was mouthing "I'm sorry!"

The lady coach reached out one arm and patted her and let her go.

The distance between them was a huge gap. She had failed. So she received little affirmation. I could not help but think that right when this high-performance athlete needed comfort the most, she could not receive it.

Please do not misunderstand. The girl failed -but she was clearly ashamed and upset at failing her team, her coach, her nation. In commenting on the reasons for this failure, Bob Costas was speaking again to the old Russian Gentleman who stated boldly WHY the Chinese girls (whom he understood clearly to be under-age for this event, but what could you prove?) were winning:



Russian: "They are 14-15 year old girls! They are having fun! They do not know
responsibility! It is not a weight on them like these others!"

Costas: "Now you just said something: the age for this event is 16 - and you a saying they are not?"

Russian: "Bah! We have no documents, no proof except their passport - and their government issues that. What can you say?"


I was stunned at the wisdom of this former athlete and member of Stalinist Russia - he was well-acquainted with how men will lie to take what they want. He took it as a matter of course. But he did also praise the girls -he knew what joy was in their unbounded and unfettered hearts. They were good -and he knew why: they did not wear the burden of an impossible responsibility. At least not yet.

And so the USA lost, but got the Silver they were expected to win. And the Chinese got the Gold that they technically should have been disqualified from, but the joy and performance of the Chinese team was infectious. I liked them. They were out to do the best they could do for their country and did it joyfully.

And that leads to a discussion of how we win in Christ, and how we should not, and how high performance does not come from laws and regulations, but by heart and soul and joy.

In other words, grace and acceptance is the purest form of love -and it smokes the "legitimate" competition every time.

Did you ever see the film Amadeus? Mozart is a child prodigy, profane and iconoclastic - but he is brilliant, "making such music as has never been heard before." At first, Salieri admires him. Then when he realizes his lack of discipline, his failure to "play by the rules", and his blazing success in doing so - he sets out to destroy him.




Do you know what killed the USA team? It was a desire to win instead of just being the best they were. They got unnerved and lost their heart to perform.

I watched it happen - when the gymnast failed she got MORE love from her fellow teammates than she did from her coach. Trust me, I am not damning her coach -but once the other girls saw that "Failure = approbation from my mentor", they lost heart. Maybe just a fraction of their confidence, but it was enough to undermine the rest of their performance.

Mozart performs well 'cause frankly, he doesn't care: he is out to make something beautiful, not impress the crowd or win points.

That is so like Jesus. Let me end with how Jesus comforts one of His men who failed in courage - after he had promised Jesus he wouldn't:

John 21:12-20

Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." None of the disciples dared ask him, "Who are you?" They knew it was the Lord.

Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. (This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.) When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of
John, do you truly love me more than these?"

"Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you."

Jesus said, "Feed my lambs."

Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?"

He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."

Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep."

The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" (Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?")

He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."

Jesus said, "Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." (Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.)

Then he said to him, "Follow me!"

Many people think this is where Jesus' "re-instates Peter". That is pure crap.

This is where Jesus re-directs Peter: "Peter - don't do anything big - JUST feed my sheep. When you become a wise and mature disciple, you'll die like a man for me. You won't even have to hunt it down -they'll come and get you. But for now -feed my sheep!"

He removes the responsibility of performance from Peter -and thus Peter's fear of failing all over again. All the Lord of Creation wants for this man to do from now on is to feed sheep -not fight Satan, overthrow the Temple in Jerusalem, begin a Christian state to protect all Believers - just feed His flock the Word of God.

In other words: "Just lead a Bible study, Peter. Anything else is too much. Fear and the resulting anxiety will make you fail. And for pity's sake, don't worry about what anyone else is doing -just follow Me."

Peter kept forgetting the gospel of grace - even Paul had to straighten him out in Galatians 2. He had become performance-based, not joy & grace based, and it made him a hypocrite - that's Greek for "actor". Yeah. A hypocrite is an actor.

We cannot simply be actors. We must believe and be loved. We must have joy. Because if we do not, we lose twice - the competition before the world and the love we have between friends.

Grace and love is for those who do not deserve it. Those who fail when they promised to do their best.

That includes me.

That includes you.

Amen.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Winning -when you are waaay behind

Last night Nancy and I were watching the Summer Olympics from Beijing; it was cool to see President Bush sitting there in a casual blue denim shirt and just looking like a boy from Texas, with no fanfare.

We watched the women's gymnastics and agreed with the Russian commentator and Bob Costas that the USA was "robbed", we remarked on how good all the athletes looked and I admitted that I did finally appreciate sports of this caliber. There was good humor, wisdom, frank assessment and what they call real "sportsmanship", noted by the fact that the Chinese were very appreciative of their long-standing rivals, the Japanese. It gladdened my heart.

Another event came up: the Men's 400 Meter Relay in Swimming. The prime contenders for the gold? The French. When asked what they thought their chances were against the USA, they replied, "We will smash them!"

And ladies and gentleman, they set out to do that very thing. They hit that water like men on fire. The commentators went nuts as it was shown how FAST these guys were swimming - they were SECONDS faster than the world record. Pay attention, please: not hundredths of a second, not tenths of a second, FULL seconds ahead of the World Record.

Even a sports moron like me was flabbergasted, as I watched them digitally put up the moving line for the world record on the screen in real-time, and you could see the French were full body lengths ahead of it!

But so were a few others - not exactly full body lengths, but a length or half-length. In other words, the French boasting was spot-on - they were amazing -but everyone "brought their game" so to speak.

We watched in awe as the USA chased them, stroke after stroke, lap after lap, always behind, always close. The French were going to win this four man relay, it seemed certain.

Yeah. I gave it away, didn't I? Well, let me tell you what I saw. I saw the USA not give up and kept pushing. And then I saw on the final lap, in the last 20 meters the most amazing thing a sports fan could ever see - the stuff you see in movies but never in real life, in real time.

I saw the USA close that gap, stroke by stroke, and I began screaming. I began shouting and I became a sports geek in two seconds. Or should I say .08 seconds? Eight-hundredths of second?

Cause that is the amount of time the USA beat the French in that last arm stroke.

On the video replay, you cannot tell the difference. It looked like synchronized swimming, the perfection of the contact with the pool wall timer. If you tap your middle finger and index finger on the table at the same time, you could not be closer. By that amount, the French were beaten out of the gold medal. By that amount, they were humiliated for their words.

Now you may expect a "do better, try harder, you could lose by eight-hundredths of a second!" sermon. Naw. I save such stupidity for Arminians and co-dependent pastors who think its their sovereign duty to whip the flock into shape.

No, the lesson here is: no matter how hot and talented you are and how sincere and how powerful you may be, God can show you up. He can humble you.

And those who refuse to be intimidated by boasting, who stay true to what is in front of them to do, who stay faithful, will kick your a** in front of millions of people.

I know. A pastor shouldn't say "a**". But I didn't, so there. (Could be "ant" or "ark" or "awl" or "art"...)

What's the message for today? Jesus. And winning from behind.

I love this little scene, because, like the simplicity of the most powerful leader in the world, and the victory of the USA team, (even though the women got robbed), it says VOLUMES about staying true and not letting what the world says stop you.

John 20:15-17
"Woman," he said, "why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?"
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him."

Jesus said to her, "Mary..."
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher).

Jesus said, "Do not cling to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father! Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.' "


Don't get religious - just look at the human drama for a second. Mary is crying - she thinks someone stole Jesus' body: she's been robbed! She's upset enough at watching the man she loved most in the world get beaten to death, but even worse, some #$%$% stole his BODY! So she's crying (having someone disinter your loved one would cause the same reaction in you I suspect).

Then Jesus shows up. Tenderly, gently. He knows she's broken-hearted, and He must comfort her, because she didn't know He'd win like THIS!

She shouts "TEACHER!" Jesus has to pick her fingers off of His robe ("Don't cling to me" is the better translation.) He's grinning at her. He loves her. He's calming her down. He's saying, "Mary -its O.K. baby. We won. Go tell our other friends who are scared and frightened its all O.K.!"

We cling to what WAS. We cling to our LOSS. We cling to what everyone else SAYS.

Then reality hits as to Who really wins. The one who refuses to surrender to pride or lies or boasting by men. That one who does such things wins.

Or, as one ex-slave serving in the Union army said, as he walked by his former master locked up in a stockade:

"Bottom rail on top now, Mass'er!"

Amen, brother. Amen.

(Go for the gold simply by remaining on task. You'll get where you are heading, I promise.)

Friday, August 8, 2008

Becoming Two-Face

Alright, I admit it. I went and saw The Dark Knight again yesterday. That's either the 4th or 5th time, but I replay it so much in my head, its hard to say.

But unlike most, what I am doing is not just a visceral re-enactment, but rather a bit of "human condition" research and character analysis. The writing is good; the acting is very believable; the message is painful and breathtaking.


[spoilers - and only because you haven't seen the movie yet...]

So I watched Harvey Dent become Two-Face for the fourth time. What was strange at this viewing was how deeply I wept as our Dark Knight declared his payment and took upon himself the sins of once noble friend. Yeah, friend. Its not terrifically overt, but you can see Wayne go from being an ass to Harvey at dinner to being his biggest supporter in just a few choice words. Harvey, unprompted and obviously admiring Batman's zeal and work, declares his own unfailing loyalty to fighting crime and injustice.

Only one little problem: it doesn't turn out that way.

Why? I think I know. Screenwriters have to collaborate with the director and the actor to bring a fictional character to life. A good actor is an earnest viewer of humanity. The director "spots" him , tapping his strength, his heart. So you have three minds working bring out gut-level intuitive truth. Why does Harvey turn so hard into evil?

Because he gets wounded after he placed too much faith in himself.

"You make your own luck!" he says over and over again, even as he flips his special double-headed silver dollar (there ain't no tails, no other possibility UNTIL he is burned and his plans are destroyed). Harvey knows what will happen. He's got it all planned out.

Harvey represents what is good and idealistic in us. There is only one problem.

Our good is powerless as just an ideal. It must be made firm by sacrifice, by giving up what we love most. And sometimes what we love most is our desire to be proven right, to be justified, to be recognized as good, as right, as heroic.

Wayne has already sacrificed that by the beginning of the film. Remember Batman Begins? Bruce acts like a COMPLETE ass to save everyone's life at Wayne Mansion. Harvey hasn't done this -and when loss comes, he is unprepared. His descent is swift, his loss and pain cause first reasonable grief then unreasoning revenge. He even sides with the very one responsible for his pain all because of false sympathy and a twisting of the truth.

It is mind-blowing watching on-screen two actors portray the Fall of Mankind in this little venue of an American superhero film. What, you may say? How did you get there?

Satan is the father of lies. He doesn't care what he tells you as long as you will accept it.

Genesis 3:1-5

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?"

The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.' "

"You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."


There's some truth there -before all we knew was Good. Evil and its knowledge did enter us.

Joker, who's meticulously planned everything, sits down beside Harvey's hospital bedside and asks, "Do I look like a guy who has a plan? I just DO things!" He explains to Harvey its all the 'Planners' fault. He wants Harvey to not be mad at him. "I just did what I do best - I took their liiii-tle plans and turned them back on themselves!"

All lies. He just wants Harvey to listen to him. To become corrupted by his anger and loss.

The entire time, he's getting closer and closer, more intimate, more passionate, even to the point of placing Harvey's hand on a pistol and putting it to his own forehead so Harvey can kill him if he wishes. A brilliant tactical move, especially considering that the Joker's fingers are still on the trigger and hammer -watch closely and you will see the Joker does not give Harvey the control he thinks he has.

Oh, Satan. Never have you been so perfectly portrayed.

"If the light that is in you becomes darkness, how great is that darkness!" Jesus said that.

He warns about us getting bitter and envious. He knew that light can become darkness in a split second.

How can you and I become Two-Face? Is it by being wounded? Damaged? Losing loved ones?

No.

Its by listening to self-pity, the very voice of the Devil when it comes. And before you know it, you'll be trying to kill the very ones who used to be your friends.

One last thing: why did the Joker pick on Harvey Dent? The Batman gives the answer even as he tries to reach his former friend: "The Joker chose you because you were the BEST of us!"

Get it? You grab the best to destroy the most. Harvey's downfall will ensure all evil will be released again into Gotham and the people will lose heart.

Be well. And keep in mind, the more talents and gifts you have, the more the evil one wishes to corrupt your soul.

I mean that.

You just think about it, OK? And ask Jesus to save you from that.

Amen.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, a Russian hero

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn died Sunday. I'm late posting, but that's for the best. Better writers have eulogized him very eloquently, sharing his writings and wisdom, observing the impact he made on Russia as it struggled to survive through the communist regime. His writings that revealed the horrors of Stalin's Gulag, and his boldness to denounce humanity's continual complicity with such barbarism granted him hero status in the literary world.

He saw what men needed was truth and the courage to face it, speak it and proclaim it in all areas of life:

"But there are no loopholes for anybody who wants to be honest: On any given day any one of us will be confronted with at least one of the above-mentioned choices even in the most secure of the technical sciences. Either truth or falsehood: Toward spiritual independence, or toward spiritual servitude.

"And he who is not sufficiently courageous even to defend his soul -- don't let him be proud of his "progressive" views, and don't let him boast that he is an academician or a people's artist, a merited figure, or a general --let him say to himself: I am in the herd, and a coward. It's all the same to me as long as I'm fed and warm."


He had the best pulpit in the world to preach from -prison.

It was good enough for Jeremiah; it was good enough for the apostle Paul; it was good enough for Aleksandr. Even Joseph as betrayed by his brothers found an Egyptian prison a place to be blessed by God and even lifted up higher than he ever was before his imprisonment.

Strange, isn't it?

Why does it work that way with prophetic voices? Is it because when men arbitrarily lock up dissidents that God rewards their pain, their just cause?

No. God does not reward us because we suffer. Otherwise, all masochists would go to heaven.

Rather, the Bible teaches us that the Father of Lies, Satan, is "now at work in the sons of disobedience". That he has "all the kingdoms of the world" and they are "his to give to whomever he pleases."

So the first act of freedom, as Aleksandr said, was to not lie. Not be complicit in lies. Not vote for anything or anyone that he knew to be wrong.

I tell you the truth, it is a lonely position. But when you are in prison, when you have nothing left to lose, you are pretty sick and tired of trying to please the unpleaseable. You are angry that you ever tried to "go along" or be "one of the gang".

It was that revelation that prompted Aleksandr's writings -seeing his own sin, his own failure:

Bless You, Prison!” by Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn

“It was granted to me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience: how a human being becomes evil and how good. In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In the surfeit of power I was a murderer and an oppressor.

In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. It was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts…

That is why I turn back to the years of my imprisonment and say, sometimes to the astonishment of those about me: ‘Bless you, prison!’ I…have served enough time there. I nourished my soul there, and I say without hesitation: ‘Bless you, prison, for having been in my life!’”

–Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago: 1918-1956, Vol. 2 (New York: Harper & Row, 1973), 615-17.


As a follower of Christ, I have tried to be perfectly clear what the Bible teaches about sin and its consequences. I have also tried to clean my own house first and what I find there really educates me how much I need the grace of God AND the power of the Holy Spirit, or I would be worse than any other mortal on this Earth. I understand villainy far too easily.

But enough about me - how about you?

That's a joke. You don't have to tell me. I know already.

You live much of life afraid of not having enough money, if you will ever be truly loved and accepted and you avoid thinking about death, but somehow assure yourself God will bring you to heaven cause you:
a) got baptized/confirmed in the Church
b) try to treat people as you would be treated
c) live a moral life most of the time
Those are all good things, and I personally enjoy the company of people who try to be good and seek it for others. But now it is time for the truth: only Jesus Christ can save you.

Without Him, you are condemned.

You are condemned to be a slave, a servant of forces that will demand your obedience -and that force demanding such is not God, but Satan. Satan uses fear constantly to intimidate and control, just as the Soviet regime did.

Christ grants us true, holistic, complete salvation -not just so when we DIE we go to heaven. He ain't interested in being our "get out of Hell free" card or our insurance agent.

He is interested in placing "the kingdom of heaven... within you". He is interested in transforming your heart.

You need it though you might not admit it. But like Aleksandr said, if you are warm and well-fed, you will stay precisely where you are.

Jesus has to blast away our cheap and tawdry ideas to get us to Himself: "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life..."

I think we want Jesus to be much less interested in us.

It is too breathtaking, too severe, this desire for us. Oswald Chambers, (My Utmost for His Highest) said this about the Christ-follower's life:

"People pour themselves into their own doctrines, and God has to blast them out of their preconceived ideas before they can become devoted to Jesus Christ."

We want Jesus to save us from Hell. Jesus wants rather to make us fit for Heaven.

Or in other words, we want to be left alone, be nice, smile and get a few goodies (a little sex here, a drink or two, a little raise, etc.) and He wants to take us on a grand adventure and bring us glory. He knows what we do not: we are living in a vale of illusion.

I don't know about you, but my last job in an Ad Agency put to death my idea of what was cool and good. Jesus taught me differently. I learned more of Christ in the Inner City and in the local jail than I ever did sitting on a church pew.

And, it seems, so did Aleksandr. He died with his faith in God and in His Christ.

Thanks, Aleksandr. I will be talking with you later.

Amen.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Fools! Dolts! I am ULTRON!

It was a dark and stormy morning, lemme tell you.

It was so dark that I turned on the outside light on the porch. But as I did so, I heard a flash and saw a bit of brightness from around the corner of my house and - ZZZzzzaaarrkkkk - went the transformer.

The house went dark. Thankfully, the coffee was made and breakfast cooked for my Nancy, so we were OK.

Last night, strangely, just before I went to bed, I wrote up my favorite villain to fight the Avengers - Ultron!

He's one bad mamma-jamma, let me tell you. Hits like Thor, has a put you down in one shot 'encephalo beam' and has this annoying habit of hypnotizing people so they rebuild him AFTER he's destroyed WITHOUT their knowledge.

"Honey you look tired! Were you up all night building a killer indestructible robot?"

"Whaaat? Of course not! That's ridiculous!"

"Oh, OK ...sorry. Can I get you anything?"

"You got about 300 lbs of adamantium lying around, sweetie? Sure would make this headache go away..."

Read a beautiful send-up of the Avengers/Ultron repeat battles here at "Random Happenstance", a blog by Googum.

I wonder - do you think Ultron represents anything spiritual in us? His hatred of the Avengers (the good guys) and yet his inability to just leave them alone ("Die, father!")?

Luke 11:21-26

"When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up the spoils.

He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters.

"When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, 'I will return to the house I left.' When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first."


You know, that Jesus never minces words.

He says things we don't like to hear - especially us independently-minded, hedonistically skeptical Americans - but He tries to warn us about how defeating one foe and getting that taken care of can actually open the door to several more, at least spiritually.

Many a Christian has gotten free of past sins and indiscretions -only to become more like the devil in his pride and rebellion and anger later on.

In other words, we clean up but don't fill-up so we stay empty and then the Adversary takes advantage of that to REALLY move in.

We who follow Christ cannot just "stop doing evil". We have to be filled with Christ.

Still don't get it? Well, let me give you an "IRL" example. In Alcoholics Anonymous, they have come to realize that it is not enough to just NOT drink. The habitual use of their time each day to drink has to be filled up with NEW activities or they will go back to drinking out of sheer boredom.

Any decent fun activity will do. Taking classes and learning are great things to do.

Or, for example, my yard, where I have found a lot of weeds growing freely in the back. Its not enough to just kill them, because I know next year they will come back again and again. I am SO tired of them but I am about to give up altogether.

My neighbor John (one cool guy) came over at my bequest and not only showed me the perfect stuff to use to kill the growing clover but also told me to be sure to fill in the area with more grass seed.

"The grass will block it from coming back," he said.

"...DUH! They choke them out of the space, don't they? They can't grow in the same spot!"

"Right," he agreed. "Just be sure to seed well in the Fall."

I was so grateful to him for that. I saw he was right - where ever the grass was thin, the weeds surely came in.

Now do you get it?

Jesus knows how to clean you up. God sent Him to save us.

Its our job to keep a good house, though. Filling our minds with God's "seed" - His Word. "The sower went out to sow his seed..." and by that He meant the Word of God.

We've got to do it. It can grow and change our hearts and minds, shielding them from the lies and illusions of this world.

Otherwise...

...well, Avenger, how much adamantium plating do YOU want to try and punch through?

Yeah, Ultron has been defeated by the Avengers again and again, but never truly destroyed.

They themselves have re-built him, albeit unwittingly.

Lets take that parable and learn from it. It may take a miracle to save us - in fact, it does.

And that's where we call on Jesus.

And read His Words - again and again.

Amen.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Punisher: War Zone - and how to become an atheist

Last night, I went lurking on my old ethics and religion debating forum, and discovered once again the anger and pain that one forumite keeps posting about God.

This forumite graduated from an evangelical Christian college. He wanted to be a missionary. He wanted to serve God. He helped people with AIDs and preached the Gospel on the streets of Mexico. He married his college sweetheart and graduated with a pretty darn high GPA I guess.

Ain't no dummy, that's for sure.

But like our up-and-coming "If God ain't dead, He sure isn't doing enough" slew of movies in 2009 (Watchmen will also be coming out), he got bitter. He kept seeing the pain of a fallen world and he frankly got the idea in his head that God should be stopping evil and pain and do a LOT better job than He is doing. He has been overwhelmed and now he has for the most part, rejected the faith he was raised in by his lifestyle.

Pain and loss can do this to us. It is so common for us in this world, that it is used in the marketing campaign for Punisher: War Zone. Watch this clip and listen to what Frank Castle says (who lost his entire family to drug dealers):





Wow. That's us in our pain, isn't it?

But may I say something kindly even gently to those who feel this way?

You haven't made anything even remotely like God. And you haven't even on your worst day ever, ever suffered like His Son, Jesus.

This is not to say "Suck it up!" This is to say God knows MORE about pain and death and loss than you or I will ever know.

It is He who watched Cain kill Abel - after Adam and Eve wanted to "know good AND evil". God did not want them to know evil at all. He put them in a paradisical garden. He gave them all that is good. They demanded more - and it was more than they could handle.

It is in our nature to demand control, now. To consciously or unconsciously blaspheme God's goodness. Why? Because of loss. We do, as the Bible says have "eternity in our hearts" - but we do not have it in our HANDS.

And when we lose what we love, we get angry and blame everyone but ourselves.

"Have you eaten from the Tree I commanded you not to eat from?"

"The Woman YOU gave me gave unto me and I did eat!"

WHAAAAATTT? God needed some identification of which woman did it?

No. Adam needed to cast the blame on God.

You can 'hear' it in the parable of the Talents:

"Master - I knew you were a hard man, so I went and hid the talent. See? Here is what belongs to you."

"So you KNEW I was a HARD man? Well, why didn't you put it in the bank, so I could have received it back with interest?!"

It's ridiculous, blaming God for evil. Why not blame him for good while we are at it?

Why do we do it? Self-pity. "Pride when it is strong is boasting; pride when it is weak (unable to prevent) is self-pity." I think Oswald Chambers (My Utmost for His Highest) said that.

Frank wants to get his hands on God? Tell him a few things?

Bring it on.

'Cause when God replies, everyone shuts up.

Right, Job?

"Right!"

Amen, brother.

Amen.