Monday, September 29, 2008

Infinite Crisis: Superboy-Prime (or "The road to Hell...")

One scary character, that's what he is. Looks like a hero, but he ain't.

Long story short: DC held in reserve the Earth-Prime Superboy (note the hyphen) with his amazing powers and rescued him from Crisis on Infinite Earths, by having him live in a paradise dimension with Kal-L/Superman of Earth 2 and his wife, Lois. Then in some strange and weird editorial decision had him become a psycho who could not get over the loss of his universe, of not being the hero he wanted to be, of not having the life he wanted to have.

He escapes and ends up becoming an evil "Superman" with a hundred times the strength of any other Superman. Far more powerful than all other DC heroes combined, and unleashed into the latest universe, he ends up brutally beating many heroes to death, including the Kal-L (Earth-2) Superman, before he's stopped and imprisoned.

Its a dark and overcast day outside, and I am still emotionally recovering from a man-centered sermon from yesterday. This is an ugly rant for a Christ-follower so hang on. I certainly don't want to become Superboy-Prime.

But I keep running into the "do something for Jesus" crowd and then watch as they spend zero time empowering or equipping the saints, of getting them whole and hale so they can proclaim the Good News with a holy love. I am getting angry at being told to do something without being told it must be 1) by the Spirit and 2) according to Biblical principles and patterns.

Yesterday I had to sit through a message that ended with saying "Be courageous like this guy in the Bible and tell someone about Jesus." That ain't a bad message per se. There's only one problem: the guy mentioned was not out to "tell someone about Jesus".

He was out to serve a bunch of widows who weren't getting their food from the food bank.

He was out to do God's will, whatever it was. It wasn't about him having a noble calling. It was about loving Jesus.

He knew God so personally, that in his last speech, he gave an oral history of the nation of Israel before he told his 'religious' elders off as a bunch of JERKS wouldn't know the Holy Spirit if he showed up at their front door. As they attack him, killing his physical body, Jesus himself stands up from his throne to welcome this friend of His into heaven.

Yes, I am talking about the first martyr of the Christian church, Stephen - who was a waiter 'cause the disciples didn't think it appropriate to serve food when they could preach instead. They handed that job off to seven other guys, one of whom was Stephen.

And that is precisely why this passage was so poorly handled by cemetary - I mean seminary-trained professional. You see, I go to a big church in which pastors get paid to tell you how to live the "right way." In such churches, you get paid to 1) organize, 2) talk about money and budgets, and 3) tell people to be better.

They do not get paid to 1) feed widows, 2) work miracles or 3) invite the Holy Spirit to lead them. Like Moses killing that Egyptian taskmaster in Exodus 2, they've got the right idea but are going about it the wrong way.

While at first it doesn't sound bad, it ends up constantly pushing people to do this or do that.

And that backfires because no one likes being shoved. We quit loving God.

Immediately after this message, I ran into an older man who's losing his wife in a nursing home and he flatly said he wasn't coming back. He was in need of grace and healing and strengthening as many of us are.

He wasn't told how God sends saints to widows in need, how God welcomes and embraces those who desire Him, or how no matter how dark the situation is, God is still at work, all very reasonable and proper uses for the text. Good uses. Nope. He was given the double-barrels of "you should be more courageous."

The kicker in the teeth a the end of this message: "Have a great day."

Not a blessing. Not an empowerment by God. Nope, just a man-based "Have a nice day" wish.

No closing worship. No hymns. Just - "Go get 'em!" positivism.

I love my church. I love very many of the saints who attend there. I even personally like the pastor who taught the message.

I am sick over this.

Let me show this utter desire of Jesus Christ to know YOU so you too can end up safe in the arms of Christ, not running around helter-skelter.

Matthew 7:15-23
"Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'"


You see how awful it is? You can use the name of Jesus to get a lot of things done - even miracles - but the PRIME goal is that you know Him enough that you and He are intimates.

Everyone knows about Jesus. Heck, even Satan knows about Him.

But Jesus only knows those who invite Him in - who call on Him to be their Lord, their Redeemer, their Friend.

True evangelism is granting others freedom from guilt and offering a true intimacy with God. It is not about "getting people off their duffs" and "being courageous for Jesus!" You do not have to make a big noise. You have to know Him and how good He is. You will never shut up about Him once you realize His love, His grace.

That's the "Good News" not the "guilt evangelism" so many preachers espouse.

Jesus said it succinctly in the Gospel of John: "Abide in Me - apart from Me you can do nothing."

Thank you for reading my rant.

Now don't do ANYTHING for Jesus. Just get to KNOW Him and make sure He knows YOU.

The rest will come naturally, I assure you.

Or supernaturally - as the case may be. ;)

Amen.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Firestorm, The Nuclear Man!

Back in 1978 Gerry Conway and Al Milgrom created a new superhero, that was actually two minds in one body. Ronnie Raymond, a High School student protester at a nuclear power plant and Dr. Martin Stein, a physicist at the same, found themselves caught in the heart of a nuclear accident, and in an instant, they were merged into one composite being with amazing atomic restructuring powers - Firestorm the Nuclear Man!

Ronnie, being conscious at the time, was the primary personality, with Dr. Stein functioning as a invisible "helper" and guide mentally. (The challenge was that whenever Ronnie called upon Firestorm, Dr. Stein vanished from wherever he was to be with Ronnie as a spectral guide. If you thought a teen could ruin your career, you had a friend in Martin Stein. ;) )

Firestorm was visually cool and a wonderful concept - a very unique hero in many ways. Just this past week, Wizard World announced the winner of their costume contest was "Firestorm" one Allen Hansard, whom I know from League of Heroes. You can see the coolness of this outfit here in full color.

But the political overtones of having a nuclear hero in the 80s - with a full grown adult living in his head - made him... well, less of a fantasy and more of a philosophy embodied. He was interesting but you weren't drawn to be him. Maybe it was just me, but I never wanted anyone to be looking over my shoulder when I was using my powers. Or constantly tutoring me how to use them. Or able to read my mind and hear my thoughts -instantly!

Such are the desires of a young man in his dream world. Give me the power, but not the Overseer. Especially a full grown geek - who wants THAT guy in your head?

Not me. Nor does anyone else.

Recently, I got a good dose of "you've offended me by talking about God" on a costuming forum from a person who would not be offended if I talk about cross-dressing, homosexual activities or being drunk. They even went so far as to say they are leaving. In context, this is a bit like running out of a multiplex because in one theater [e.g. a thread] they are presenting a Christian film.

I do not exaggerate. I created a bit of a firestorm it seems, and it was unintentional.

I understand, though. I remember the LAST thing I ever wanted to hear - especially if I was getting close to having sex - was some IDIOT talking about "The Almighty" or "the Lord"! When I was doing something I knew in my heart God did not approve of, I wanted no "holy Joes" around me or anywhere I frequented.

That was before I, carnal fool that I was, ran into Jesus myself. Before my becoming one with Him and getting Him in my head 24/7.

But the simple fact was this: Jesus knew me before I knew Him.

Look at this woman in this passage in John 4:13-30. She is me.

This is from Eugene Peterson's The Message, a concept-for-concept translation I rarely use, but its perfect for today.)

Jesus said [to the woman at the well], "Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life."

The woman said, "Sir, give me this water so I won't ever get thirsty, won't ever have to come back to this well again!"

He said, "Go call your husband and then come back."

"I have no husband," she said.

"That's nicely put: 'I have no husband.' You've had five husbands, and the man you're living with now isn't even your husband. You spoke the truth there, sure enough."

"Oh, so you're a prophet! Well, tell me this: Our ancestors worshiped God at this mountain, but you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place for worship, right?"

"Believe me, woman, the time is coming when you Samaritans will worship the Father neither here at this mountain nor there in Jerusalem. You worship guessing in the dark; we Jews worship in the clear light of day. God's way of salvation is made available through the Jews. But the time is coming—it has, in fact, come—when what you're called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter.

"It's who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That's the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration."

The woman said, "I don't know about that. I do know that the Messiah is coming. When he arrives, we'll get the whole story."

"I am he," said Jesus. "You don't have to wait any longer or look any further."

Just then his disciples came back. They were shocked. They couldn't believe he was talking with that kind of a woman. No one said what they were all thinking, but their faces showed it.

The woman took the hint and left. In her confusion she left her water pot. Back in the village she told the people, "Come see a man who knew all about the things I did, who knows me inside and out. Do you think this could be the Messiah?" And they went out to see for themselves.


Now, technically, Jesus did not tell her everything about her - but folks, anyone who knows all your sex partners knows you pretty darn well!

This scared her badly. She took off running.

And I think that is what I do to other people sometimes (and so does anyone who is led by the Spirit). We have no malicious intent, but the Spirit of God knows the Truth - and uses us to speak at just a certain moment in time to a certain person.

What would I say to my fellow poster who is afraid of "God-talk"?

I understand. God is scary.

That is why He sits down with us and talks plainly. He wants us to know Him and be saved from the lies we are living.

I got saved, and I am in the process of being saved. From myself. From others. From lies. From illusions. From fear. From anger.

From hate.

I send my prayers after the one who was offended enough to leave.

May you find Jesus and get that "living water" of His love today. Because at the core of our being is a nuclear fire of thirst and desire that can only be quenched with His love.

Amen.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Crisis on Infinite Earths, Pt. 4 (or 4a or 4.1 or something like that...)

"Worlds will live. Worlds will die. And the DC Universe will never be the same... "

That was a big promise from DC and as one Trope writer confessed, they delivered.

As my world ended, so did that of my heroes. As my personal history was forever altered, so was that of the characters I grew up with. Two of whom I knew and liked, but never really followed much, got killed - Supergirl and the Flash. Barry Allen's death was a complete shock; I owned Flash comics for crying out loud!

But Supergirl's? Well, not so much. She never was treated as a major player -except when she punched Darkseid through a planet in the Great Darkness Saga. Or when she nearly killed the Anti-Monitor.


(Hmmmmm. Maybe she was a major player after all. "Hey Darkseid, you got chicked! Hey, Anti-Monitor, you got chicked!" Maybe this woman was too dangerous to keep around! She wasn't raised by the Kents, you know. No telling WHO she'd punch next! "Batman... what did you say to my cousin?" "Oh, no..." POWWWW!)

But editorial staff wanted to change the DC universe -make it better. It was Marv Wolfman's idea, ever since he was a little boy of 10, to do this. Marv's a good writer, and fan-favorite artist George Perez was his buddy. They meshed nicely, and it showed in every panel of Crisis. Marv wanted a big superhero showdown with every character in the DC universe fighting one honking universal villain. George loves to cram as many characters as he can in one drawing. It was a match made in heaven.

You know, I know this will sound weird, but Jesus likes that stuff. He likes big magnificent operas. He likes changing worlds and times. He doesn't worry about piddly little grammar constructions like you or I. He talks about future events in past tense, unaccomplished actions as if they are already done. Like He knows everything. Like He's God incarnate.

Here - let me show you in Matthew's gospel. Jesus is talking about the future of Jerusalem and mankind, and as a teen I caught this and it took my breath away:

Matthew 24:6-22
"You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.

"Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

"So when you see standing in the holy place 'the abomination that causes desolation,' spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the roof of his house go down to take anything out of the house. Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.


Its a long quote, I admit, but the punchline is worth it.

Jesus, 2000 years ago, is talking about the future of our world. He's speaking of it in future tense AND past tense and doesn't seem to care which we like. He talks of future calamities as certainties that have been cut short.

Why are those terrible days being edited or reduced in length? Because of the elect - the very people Jesus has chosen to redeem. In other words, the good guys.

Jesus is saying, in effect, it will be so awful, so wretched and strife-filled, that God, my Father, will end it sooner than normal out of compassion for His people. He implies that they would have become villains if it continued any longer.

Remember the quote by Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight? "You either die a hero -or live long enough to see yourself become the villain." I believe that's what Jesus is warning us about.

Despair is infectious, and when our current sufferings exceed all previous sufferings, we lose hope and faith that it will ever change. Like Boromir in The Fellowship of the Ring, we must learn that our great physical strengths and skills will not armor our soul against hopelessness. Though he dies on the field of battle, ashamed of his weakness, Aragorn comforts him and affirms his bravery. It is a touching moment, immortalized in the hero's sacrifice and resting humility.

They say - DC that is - they are going to bring back Barry Allen, the Flash. Wolfman confirms that he DID leave "an opening in time" for such an occurence, that his death need not be final.

Some don't like that. They say it cheapens Barry's death, that it makes his sacrifice meaningless.

Jesus doesn't agree, for obvious reasons. Neither do I.

We need a hero to return to us who is/was willing to die, who knows the future becomes the past one minute at a time, one second at a time - and crises can strike at any moment. A hero who is not afraid of "wars or of rumours of wars" because he has seen it all.

In DC's universe, we need Barry Allen, the Flash.

In ours we need Jesus, the Christ. The Savior Who Knows the Future as the Past.

I hope that today you will call on Him who rules the ages.

Amen.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Crisis on Infinite Earths, Pt. 3


1986 - what a year! *sheesh*
  • My girlfriend and HS sweetheart of 3 years and I called it quits in January
  • I turned 21 in June - my brother got me a 6-pack of beer
  • In my summer job I worked all night and slept all day (graveyard shift at the In-N-Out)
  • I made friends with a fantasy-loving atheist writer
  • Superman ended its run and Man of Steel began
  • That Fall I got a new girlfriend (see Cathy above ;) )
  • I left Ole Miss for the University of Southern Mississippi (best time of my life)
Oh, man. A north Mississippi native like me never knew that a sea breeze would feel sooo good. (You really must experience the delta of North Mississippi in August. It is a small piece of hell.)

To top it off, I stayed in a dorm with a swimming pool, four-men suites and a bathroom shared by just three other guys. No more of this "welcome to the gym" dorm hall shower heinousness.

What was going on? I believe that Fall, God provided an escape for me and my soul. (I am so "soul-stupid" I'll keep going on something that will not work just "to do the right thing".)

I have had a lot of bad experiences with men acting as child-gods my life. Using their authority or power to get what they want and your needs be damned. God the Father knows this. So He has to come after me with kindness or I won't listen - period.

And in this case, through a friend, He got me down to Hattiesburg, MS - south of Jackson by 90 miles. But what made it SOOOO delicious was its nearness to the Gulf Coast. The sun, the breezes, the kind guys.

*sigh*

And the guy I roomed with, one Allen Holder, was disciplined and kind, football player getting a degree in Mathematics. Couldn't ask for better. He put up with me and I learned a lot from him, just by sharing a room.

ANDDD I ALSO met Roland Mann, and Mitch Byrd and Steven Butler - all later to become semi-famous in the comics industry!

My crisis was over. My grieving began to end and joy began. I was in a happy place.

And you know what?

God had orchestrated it. He's orchestrating it now. I don't know the impact of all I do or say - some negative, some positive - but I know Who's in Charge.

Because when I needed it most, He gave me shelter and friends.

"I tell you the truth, whatever you do to the least of these my brethren, you do unto Me!"

Thank you, Jesus.

[more later]

Amen.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Crisis on Infinite Earts, Pt. 2 (or Aunt May vs. the Man of Steel)

I bet you have your own tragedy, your own loss that is just too big to put into words. That's really what writers get paid for - to put into words how we feel but cannot express. To say what we cannot say or tell us what we know, yet don't want to hear, in a way that we can accept and listen. God uses people and comics to speak to me.

Aunt May vs. Man of Steel, 1986
The next summer, in 1986, the new Superman, by John Byrne came out - Man of Steel. It added some good things to the mythos, knocked other things out and it brought Ma and Pa Kent back to life.

I tried to stay at my childhood home, but my brother said there was no room for me. He had enough responsibilities.

Thus, it was Mildred "Millie" Ferguson, my mother's best friend and next door neighbor who let me stay in her home for the summer at $25/week. We had a grand old time, listening to Abba and eating Brie cheese (just because it was mentioned in Man of Steel). Mrs. Ferguson was in her 60s but she had spunk. She drove her car like a teenage boy with a new drivers license: "Uhhhh -Mrs. Ferguson?" "Yes?" "You came up into the parking lot pretty quick, there..." "Oh, I'm sorry! Jimmy [her 30-something son] told me I drove like a little old lady -and I've refused to do so ever since!"

I also, for a Christian, made some unusual friends that Summer - an atheist and an agnostic - and ended up defending God on my mother's death! I couldn't be angry at Him for that - I knew what she'd been through and knew as Christian woman, she was in heaven.

Mark me: this was just casual apologetics. I did not love God as I should. I just knew what the Bible said and heaven was better than here. I said as much. I quoted C. S. Lewis. Since the atheist's mother had died, like Lewis's, when he was 12, I suggested he read Mere Christianity.

He didn't care for it. Oh, well. I still listened to him read his novel and made friends with some very kind lapsed Catholics.

I tell you, 1985 was hard, but 1986 was the testing ground of WHAT I believed. It would still be years before I knew God experientially, but that summer, living with a Lutheran lady of kindness and mercy, God armored me and my heart from a complete rejection of all I believed.

When my family failed, God provided a home for me. A friend. And even others who had been wounded, so I could talk to them, even argue with them, but only to share what I believed. Atheists were banging on the door of my heart, but God had already had made the bed, put chocolate on the pillow and gave me a Christian woman to help me.

Mrs. Ferguson's children did not follow Jesus, but she did. Her husband had died decades earlier and that widow helped this 20 year old orphan not become abandoned to the Lost and Blind.

God blessed her household, it seemed to her. Millie - I guess I can call her that now that I'm 43 - said when I mowed her lawn, it was greener and thicker than it had ever been. I commented on my technique of mulching and spreading the grass clippings, but she didn't buy into it. She saw that I was blessed -even in my trials.

Especially in my trials.

Don't get me wrong - she was a very pragmatic woman, highly interested in social justice, helping the poor, etc. Not really much of a mystic. But I think her faith needed help too. It was hard for her to live all alone, year after year, crisis after crisis.

When I left her home in the Summer of '86, I transferred to the University of Southern Mississippi and met oodles of good guys (who are doing comics these days for Christ). It was one of the most wonderful years of my life.

On the way out to drive to Hattiesburg, Millie pressed some money into my hand. It was my rent to her the previous week.

"You need to have this.." she said.
"No, Mrs. Ferguson, I can't..."
"Yes, you can!"

So I did. I weep as I write this. No adult had forced me to keep money before. In fact, they had tried to take it away from me.

"'Behold, I know the plans I have for you,' says the Lord of Hosts. 'Plans to prosper you and not to harm you all the days of your life.'"

He surely did.

Thanks, Aunt Millie. A lot.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Crisis on Infinite Earths, Pt. 1

It was 1985 and I had just had one full year of college away from home at Ole Miss nee the University of Mississippi. Still young and scared of the world, I had delayed leaving home by putting in a year at Northwest Community College. I got a real 40-hour a week job as the Overnight Cashier at the Quick Mart on Stateline Road, a mere four-minute drive away. I could walk it in 15, easily.

My mother had been re-diagnosed in January. Her cancer had returned, and I did not know it. I wonder why my family shared so little with me. Were they trying to be strong? Thought I was too selfish to care? I don't know. But with me at college, my dad and mom had five months all to themselves, and that must have been good.

I came home and soon realized this was different from all her previous hospital visits of the previous 10 years. At the beginning of July she was moved into our house with a hospital bed. At that moment, my heart knew but my head did not want to process it.

During this crisis, I also had a fight with my brother. I lost, big time. In fact, given my slight build, one could say I was simply beaten up. My face took weeks to heal fully.

However, it was a great summer financially; I had a real paycheck and began saving up for college. Then the impossible happened.

Mom died.

And in one month, my father had left and remarried, even as my brother and his wife and children took posession of the house. My home of 20 years was gone. I left for college, and lasted there one more year before transferring further down state.

The issue cover you see above is exactly how I felt in those dark days. Here I was, talented, graduating in the top 5% of my class, with a scholarship to Ole Miss and then my best friend, my crazy Irish mother, witty and God-fearing, irrascible and nervous, charming and flamboyant, dies. My Supergirl.

Art - does it not imitate life?

And even more aamzing? DC really never was the same. They got rid of Superboy and by default wiped out the very origin for the Legion of Superheroes.

I mean, did anyone in those editorial offices THINK?

But do I believe it was through this, that God was trying to speak to my heart?

A comic book?

Yeah. He's sort of shameless like that.

In my case - I mean that most sincerely - He showed me heroes and heroines can lose.

And the forces behind it have no pity nor mercy.

I'll share more tomorrow and apply this spiritually. But let me say for now that I was being tested, and Satan was eager to make use of it.

He did. He did indeed.

But Jesus won in the end.

He's sneaky like that.

Monday, September 15, 2008

[Fill-In Issue - featuring Cap and Thor!]


Dear Editor - please use a fill-in issue here. We got delayed due to flooding of our offices. Yeah, we broke a 143 year old Chicagoland record.

[The image to your right was shamelessly stolen from Bully's Comics Oughta Be Fun blog: bullyscomics.blogspot.com/2006_12_01_archive.html )

Friday, September 12, 2008

Demon in a Bottle? No Thank You!

After all the crazy over-the-top events I shared with you this past few days, dear reader, I thought I'd end the week with a slightly less dramatic encounter/event with a letter I received from a young man in recovery today. I'd taught him at DuPage County Jail, and he wrote to tell me how I helped him see Jesus better and get on the road to recovery.

I do not know what substance he abused, despite the title of this blog, but the fact that our Flesh rises up and leads us into dangerous and wicked directions when we get drunk or high means that God ain't in that container. Maybe a false god, an idol - 'cause you do worship whatever you obey, my friend - and it takes knowing the REAL God in a real way to get free from that pernicious lifestyle.

Here's what "Tony" (not his real name) wrote:

Hi Justice
How are you? Well I'm doing good. I'm getting into my recovery program here at [location]. I'd like to thank you for bringing me close to Jesus. I don't know if you remember me...[details of description].
Myself being closer to God has lead me to work this treatment spiritually.

I also would like you to tell everyone in the Monday Night Bible Study in DuPage County Jail that I had said hello & that I'm doing great in recovery & that God will be by their side at all costs. Also read off to everyone Psalms 56:3-4 & 13 - also Philippians 3:13. I like
them passages. Also I'm praying for everyone to get what they want.

Sincerely,
"Tony"

My theology is good enough to see Tony is being grabbed by God. He's got a long walk ahead - BUT he is coming to Jesus like a little child and Jesus LOVES that! Let's take a look at his passages, shall we?

Psalm 56:3-4 & 13

3 When I am afraid, I will trust in you.
4 In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I will not be afraid.
What can mortal man do to me?

13 For you have delivered me from death
and my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before God in the light of life.
Yeah. I hear you, Tony. Fear and anxiety drives addiction far more than anyone thinks. "Liquid courage" goes the moniker. He's beginning to see God is not angry at him but angry FOR him. Loves him fiercely and is delivering him from destruction.
Reader, if you ever feel a door shut in your face or that you have been forced into a place you don't want to be, remember that God calls the shots to save your soul. The more rebellious you are, the stronger the "stop" will feel.

Let's read the next. Ah... its the beginning of a longer sentence. I'll include 14 as well.

Philippians 3:13-14
13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,
14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Yeah. Tony is seeing his need; he ain't there yet, so he's got to work the program and remember to let the PAST remain the PAST! This isn't responsibility avoidance. This is refusing to let the unchanging past define your future ("I'll never change!" *sob* *sob* Despair is from the Devil, folks). In other words, Tony is using God's grace for repentance and a new lifestyle. Coooool.

He's aiming for heaven now - and wants to be unashamed when he gets there by trusting in Jesus. As it is written, "All who place their trust in You shall not be ashamed."

Pray for "Tony's" recovery and to know Jesus in a most excellent fashion, will you?

And praise God that recovery is possible by God's Spirit through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ!

Amen.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Phantom Stranger, Pt. 4


"I need a ride to DragonCon - unless you
are a Baptist Cessationist!"
OK, its late so here's the long and short...

Connor, the ex-White Witch I picked up told me that the Lord had told him he was going to get a ride from a black-haired man that day.

I am that man. So I asked him about how he came to know Jesus.

He told me he grew up in a Baptist church, but was upset at the spiritual immaturity he saw - I guessed he went to a specific congregation that had "cessationist" theology - to wit, after the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit doesn't need to work anymore.

Period.

That mean all the Charismatics, Pentecostals, and other Spirit-focused churches are heretics.

Period.

Instead of meeting his legitimate need to meet God through His Spirit, they denied it altogether, so Connor went after it on his own - and became a White Witch (and a VERY accomplished one at that).

"I wanted to bring light against the darkness so I studied everything. I was pretty good at it." He smiled ruefully. "I could take on entire covens."

He used to go to large retreats or meetings with other witches. Big meetings. With guests from all over. Eastern mystics and Native American spiritists, you name it, they came - and knew him. They started to say to him, as his life started on a downturn from the fallout with an ex-grilfriend who cursed him, "You're going to become a Christian."

"No way. I don't even like them."

"You are going to become a Christian." They saw it coming before he did. God was after him.

Now the following will upset some people's theology, but I believe Connor spoke truthfully 'cause he didn't want to tell me or admit to it: "I used to talk to God as I fought those covens."

"So you believed in God and talked to Him - but didn't want to be a Christian?"

"Yeah." He looked a bit askance and said, "He would talk to me, though. When I asked for His help."

Now you have to understand, we evangelicals always tell people what Jesus says: "No one comes to the Father except through the Son." and that is true: no one gets into God's presence in a true saving relationship unless they accept Jesus Christ's blood and sacrifice. But it doesn't mean that God cannot speak to us whenever He wishes. I was a little surprised, but my testimony was that God spoke to me, so I didn't have too much trouble with it. I asked Connor what God said to him.

Big grin. "He said, 'You should go to my son, Jesus.'"

I laughed out loud.

He was relieved. He was glad I believed him, 'cause well, let's just say its rare to find any minister who attended cemetary - I mean, seminary - who can "think outside the box" and find himself with Jesus all over again. Connor went on to tell how he began having more and more demonic attacks in his life - stuff he could no longer defeat. Just as we materialists usually have to get to the end of our practical ropes to admit our need for a Savior, this Witch had to admit his spiritual powerlessness before coming to Christ.

Having exhausted all spells, he called on Jesus - but it didn't work at first.

"You were using him as a 'magic word' and He refused to help!"

"EXACTLY!"

"Then what?" I ask excitedly. (We are flying through Tennessee at 70 mph and this is the BEST conversation I've had in 6 months.)

"Well, my mom had become a Christian and was living in (State). So I left my girlfriend in (State) and went to stay with her. It was the worst time of my life: I was getting drunk, thinking about committing suicide. I could not sleep at all -night after night after night!"

"Spiritual warfare."

"Spiritual warfare," he agreed. "One night it all came to a head. There were doors opening and closing in my bedroom, stuff flying around, so I grabbed my Bible...." (He had begun attending a Tent Revival and saw some miracualous healings - and an Angel! The Angel had glowered at him so he kept his distance.) "...and began looking in it for the prayer of salvation!"

I laughed. "You thought it was a spell, didn't you?!"

"YEAH! Exactly!"

"What'd you do?" I cannot stop grinning. I know what happened. I just wanted to hear him say it.

"I said, 'Lord, I don't know the right way to pray, but I ask you to save me, please! In Jesus' Name, Amen."

"...and He did."

"And He did."

All the chaos stopped, as the Lord Jesus took His rightful throne in Connor's heart.

Connor has since led two other witches to Christ over the past six months trekking through Tennessee. Pray for his safety, but remember what the Word says:

"He who is within you is greater than he who is within the world."

Amen.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Phantom Stranger, Pt. 3

I'm too tired and its too late for me to tell you the second part of the story of my becoming the Phantom Stranger, a mysterious white man who shows up to guide people to their destinations prompted by the hand of God.

Let me just tell you that after I dropped off Terry, 15 minutes later I picked up ANOTHER hitchhiker.

Now you and I both know this is a crazy thing to do, right?

But see, I'm "on a mission from God" so it's all good. "Well, Lord, here's another..."

So I smile at myself and pull over, and he comes running up with his pack.

Very quiet guy, real nice named Connor, IIRC.

I told him I was glad to give him a ride - it was a crazy day and I said something mumbly about how 'the Lord' got me out here. How I was praying that morning.

Now in the south, you can say 'the Lord' about anything, and they won't take offense. Them's just good manners and respect. "The Lord knows I've done my best!" or "I guess the Lord done saved your hide, boy!" are common expressions and agreeable to the Southern ear.

So I wasn't going to push my luck or faith on another guy.

He caught it though and says "So you're a Christian?"

"Yes, I am. About 12 years now."

"Me too!"

And I knew he was a Disciple immediately. One of those totally-committed ones. I asked him his "testimony" (his story of how he came to know Jesus as Lord).

He told me he was a high-level White Witch who came to Jesus. He used to fight entire covens using spells and magic. He was very high up and known nationally (went to retreats and such with other witches).

[checks watch]

Well, I guess I'll tell you more on Wednesday...

Good night.









(I am SOOOOOO mean, aren't I?) :D

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Phantom Stranger, Pt. 2

A week ago a miracle occurred in my life, in response to being prompted by the Spirit of God.

I became the Phantom Stranger.

I saw the writing on the wall before it happened: I had an opportunity of five whole days off from my duties as a caregiver, and I saw that I could go to DragonCon 2008 in Atlanta, GA and meet all the people I had known of online at The League of Heroes (see link on right). Common sense was of no help - sure, I could run up my credit card, but why? I didn't want to increase my debt. Yet there it was - this strange opportunity I had NOT been planning on.

I thought about flying down - and found some decent tickets for under $300 at the last minute. Still, I felt uncomfortable and let that pass. I could drive if I wanted to. But... "I'm going to drive 12 hours plus, one-way when I don't even have a costume ready? Get real."

I mentioned my possibility of coming down online. I was offered space in a hotel room by a very generous young man I'd encouraged earlier. (Crud. You ever see yourself playing a master chess player and watch him out maneuver you? It was like that.)

Finally, though I THINK I am no longer rebellious against the Lord, He woke me at 4:30 a.m. on the second day of DragonCon, Friday. I woke up - wept a little 'cause my heart knew I was going even if my head did not - and went down to have a cup of coffee and my devotional time with God. I don't know how to explain that. Maybe I was scared, but I knew, just knew I was going to talk to the Lord about this.

Look, if you have never been scared of God, you don't know Him. And if you have never fallen madly in love with Jesus Christ, you REALLY don't know Him. He is always mightier than you and His anger is to leave you alone to do whatever you want.

He loves me too much to do that.

So here's what I read that challenging morning with a hot cup of Joe in my hand:

The Unsurpassed Intimacy of Tested Faith

" Jesus said to her, ’Did I not say to you that if you would believe you
would see the glory of God?’ " —John 11:40

Every time you venture out in your life of faith, you will find something in your circumstances that, from a commonsense standpoint, will flatly contradict your faith. But common sense is not faith, and faith is not common sense. In fact, they are as different as the natural life and the spiritual. Can you trust Jesus Christ where your common sense cannot trust Him? Can you venture out with courage on the words of Jesus Christ, while the realities of your commonsense life continue to shout, "It’s all a lie"? When you are on the mountaintop, it’s easy to say, "Oh yes, I believe God can do it," but you have to come down from the mountain to the demon-possessed valley and face the realities that scoff at your Mount-of-Transfiguration belief (see Luke 9:28-42 )...

Right about here, I started laughing at myself and saying well, some pretty earthy things I will not repeat. Let's just say Jesus put His hand on my shoulder and shook His head at my fears.

Here's the coup de grace:
Faith must be tested, because it can only become your intimate possession through conflict. What is challenging your faith right now? The test will either prove your faith right, or it will kill it. Jesus said, "Blessed is he who is not offended because of Me" Matthew 11:6 ). The ultimate thing is confidence in Jesus. "We have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end . . ." ( Hebrews 3:14 ). Believe steadfastly on Him and everything that challenges you will strengthen your faith. There is continual testing in the life of faith up to the point of our physical death, which is the last great test. Faith is absolute trust in God— trust that could never imagine that He would forsake us (see Hebrews 13:5-6).

I mean, I went from "Oh, Lord, WHY am I doing this?" to "Gotcha. Let's get our game on!" in 3.5 seconds.

In one hour, sans map and with one credit card and $15 cash, I had packed and was on my way to Atlanta.

Did I begin to falter? You betcha, sweetpea. One hour later, just as I got out of Chicago, I lost heart - totally. I pulled off teh highway and into a Denny's confused and dispirited. "Lord, I don't even know HOW to get to Atlanta! What a moron! I don't even have a map!" I ate a nice breakfast and went back to my car, apologizing for my stupidity. (You must understand, this is mostly non-verbal - but when you are in a relationship, it is the non-verbal communications that speak the loudest. Same with God.)

I went one block west and begin driving north. I see a guy walking with white T-shirt that says "Bus Station - Going Home!" written in magic marker on the back. I pull around to pick him up - "Ah! So this is it, Lord! You just wanted me here to help this guy! Cool! I can do this!"

Happily I offer him a ride, joyfully he accepts - and sees my God's Promises book I keep in my car. "So you're a Christian?" "Yes, sir. I'm a minister. I teach in the jail." "Praise God! God is good to me!" His name was Terry and he was heading home after traveling for months with his work. He himself cannot drive due to a medical condition of Instant Fatigue Syndrome. His mother had fallen and he needed to go home.

"So, where are you going, Terry?" I ask.

"Knoxville."

[Insert grin on Jesus' face here.]

Knoxville is on the way to Atlanta. A little east, but it is definitely in the ballpark.

I look at Terry and say - after a laugh - "How much is your ticket?"

"$96.." and seeing the look on my face, offers: "I'll give you the money!"

"You got it, bro. We're going to Knoxville." [Insert The Blues Brothers cue here...]

And Terry started to cry. He called his wife and mom from his cell phone and told them God had sent a minister to get him home.

So He did. So He did.

It is a strange thing to pick up a total stranger. It is even stranger when you are introduced by a spirit who knows you both before you know each other.

"God is spirit, and all who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth."

Terry had made his decision to go home that morning. About 4:00 a.m.

Guess Who knew he needed a ride? And knew a guy wanting to go in the same direction?

Yeah. Jesus is Lord.

Amen.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Phantom Stranger, Pt. 1

As promised, you get an extra dose of me due to my departure and adventure down in Atlanta for DragonCon 2008, but first a little exposition on The Phantom Stranger...

DC created this character waaay back in 1952, sort of a mysterious "Lone Ranger" occultist who delved into mysteries mortal men could not ken. Sort of "The Shadow" without guns or violence.

Yeah. He didn't go too far with that schtick. But later on, he came back and was slowly revealed to have some significant mystical power and even was on par with the Spectre, DC's other mighty mystical personage of judgment. The thing about the Phantom Stranger is that he would show up as a messenger of God (supposedly) to warn and/or guide our heroes - but would not interfere beyond that, like Marvel's Watcher (Uatu). So he was neat and offered writers a way to place heroes in strange circumstances, but he really had no clearly defined goal or motive for doing so.

So finally, in the 80s, they decided to give him an origin. But not just one origin - FOUR origins were proposed. Like the Joker, no one is sure which origin is "correct". But all attempt to answer why he has his powers, why supernatural evil forces are afraid of him (or respect him highly) and why he is an eternal stranger - never human, but always caring for humanity.

I like the "Wandering Jew" version the best, especially since his "curse" is an immortal that God has granted him to help others who cannot find their way.

And that, as you know, sounds a bit like another Jew, an immortal, who bids us kindly to walk with Him.

Yeah.

Jesus. I'm talking abut Jesus.

But you know what is so very funny and sad? People still confuse following Jesus (a spiritual discipline of attachment to Christ) - with going to church or just obeying even MORE rules.

Jesus is not interested in how good or kind you are. He'll fix that later. What He wants is you to admit you cannot do it without Him.

What "it" you may say?

Any "it", I reply. Marriage, love, truth, friendship, health, sex, money, work, etc.

You see, when He says "Follow Me!" He's offering something way cooler than the regular things of this world. He's offering intimacy with Himself and detachment from what everyone else is doing or thinks is important.

Strangely - pun intended - the Phantom Stranger was used to beckon others to do the same - to enter a supernatural adventure. Faith is not craziness - but it sure looks that way at first! :D

Matthew 9:1-9
Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.

At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, "This fellow is blaspheming!"

Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, "Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up and walk'? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...." Then he said to the paralytic, "Get up, take your mat and go home." And the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men.

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector's booth. "Follow me," he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.


You know, it's pretty awesome that Jesus healed this guy. And I think it was miracles like that that woke people up from their spiritual stupor and self-pity. But note what the greatest miracle really is: Jesus can forgive this man before God. He has that Authority. He only does the miracle to SHOW He's got authority. "So you will know the Son of Man has authority..."

According to Matthew, soon after this Jesus asked him to follow. It meant leaving behind all Matthew knew and understood, including a cushy government job, but really, he was a social outcast because of it. [Tax-collectors were seriously hated for betraying their Jewish brothers - sort of like Jane Fonda is viewed by many Vietnam vets.] I'm sure he thought about it before he left, but here were his choices:

1) Stay in the position he's got, which gives him money, but no joy, peace or satisfaction, until he dies or...
2) Leave immediately on an adventure where lives are changed, souls are healed and God is clearly at work.

Matthew chose the latter. He was not stupid.

This supernatural stranger who was healing people called him into fellowship. It changed him, forever.

Tomorrow, I'll tell you how this same Stranger grabbed the ex-White Witch I gave a ride unto. He now like Matthew follows Jesus anywhere He goes.

'Cause truth is stranger than fiction, boyo.

Truth is stranger than fiction.

Amen.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Phantom Stranger: Prologue

It is now Wednesday, and I did not post this past Friday nor Monday because at the last moment, I went to DragonCon in Atlanta.

I live outside of Chicago and I drove there. That's right, you too can understand that after driving for 14 hours one-way, attending a four-day SF/Fantasy convention with some 30,000 attendees and coming home to lead a Bible study thirty minutes after I got home where I might have to recuperate just a tad. :D

I'll post more tomorrow, but let me say this:

  1. When you are awakened at 4:30 in the morning to go to a convention over 700 miles away by God, you go. (Faith is not Common Sense, see what Chambers wrote for August 29th, that very morning)
  2. When you turn around in confusion and despair to go back home with tears in your eyes and run into a hitchhiker who NEEDS A RIDE TO KNOXVILLE, TN, YOU TAKE HIM.
  3. When you finally re-unite this man with his family and he hands you over one-hundred dollars for driving him home and 15 minutes later pick up ANOTHER hitchhiker who is a wandering disciple of Christ and an EX-White Witch but now serves Jesus as the true Lord of the universe, you understand that NOTHING at a science fiction/fantasy convention will shock/impress or amaze you as a born-again Believer.

I had a great time at the Con - it was visually awesome (think of a four-day costume party at Walt Disney world, replete with 'droids) but before I ever got there, Jesus showed me His power and His love for His family - no matter how far they wandered.


I'll talk more tomorrow, Lord willing.

Ephesians chapter two has this pretty amazing first paragraph, and I for one, know it is true:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.


Amen, Lord.

Amen.