Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Get Up - and Keep On Trekking

Well, it was a rough year for heroic fantasy, most of us not getting what we wanted. The Dark Knight was not even nominated for Best Picture at the Academy awards, unlike the rarely viewed Milk. (BTW, both ranked 94% on Rotten Tomatoes - its just that 15-20 times as many people saw TDK). The long-awaited, adult-themed Watchmen appeared at last - only to tank financially and critically.

The bright spots were the J.J. Abram's re-boot of Star Trek and Pixar's Up - both films were scored by Michael Giacchino and both have the distinction of making me bawl like a lost child in the first 10 minutes. The themes of deep love and sacrifice and loss were so deftly handled, they were worth the price of admission alone.

On the American political front: our new president has decided the old president wasn't so wrong about troops in Iraq. In fact, he's decided to bring in MORE forces. So pray for our vets and the people in Iraq, folks.

Lastly, I ended this year with some nice gifts and meetings - including a wonderfully pleasant one hour plus phone conversation with Scott B. Bizar, the Editor in Chief and Head Honcho of Fantasy Games Unlimited; he who gave Jeff Dee and Jack Herman a chance to put out Villains and Vigilantes, my favorite superhero system, bar none! I found out he and Jeff were, contrary to rumor, still communicating well - though Jeff has gone on to do his own superhero game called Living Legends.

I've seen this man's name in print for years - getting to talk to him one-on-one was a real thrill and a privilege. I got to find out that there are plans for even bigger V&V books [like those "100 Pages" comics of the 70s] filled with mini-adventures and "fiend folios", along with scenarios and rules additions.

I pitched the idea of a V&V 2.5 Rules Upgrade - much like ST:TOS Re-mastered - and he said he'd like to see it but more incorporated with the other products; it depended on the material length, etc. He wanted to make sure the old rules were NOT supplanted by totally new ones. He shared his deep respect for creators and his intense dislike of Dave Arnenson's name being dropped from Dungeons and Dragons as rules upgrades came out. [Side Note: Jeff Dee still gets royalties for sales of V&V.]

I was SO excited - and since I had been mouthing off about such a thing for months, I went and told my community what I had found out - and that SCOTT BIZAR wanted their submissions!

I thought they'd be excited with me. We can see our old game come back to life!

Not - ahem - exactly.

You see, I generated the wrong kind of excitement - because some posters do not know me well. Fear, anger and "don't steal my stuff" comments went flying about.

Did I respond kindly? Are you kidding me? I was two steps from apoplexy. I ended up being snide enough to say "If it was WORTH STEALING, its WORTH PAYING for!" I went further, making comments about how most rules suggestions are awful, making the game more complex than simpler and more elegant.

What did I do wrong? I mean, besides the rough remark - that's a failing of style not ethics. No, the great sin was that I was not 'respectful.'

Yes - respectful. Let me tell you where that word came from: the movie Julie and Julia.

Julie and Julia is a neat tale about a stressed-out girl who decides to become more sane by cooking. She decides to cook EVERY recipe in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year. She blogs it. The movie also shows a biography of Julia Child's life and all the challenges she and her husband had as she tried to learn cooking and produce the first French cookbook in English. At the end, the girl - Julie - gets some fame and recognition and just as she celebrates in being recognized, she finds out that Julia Childs was told what she'd done [500+ recipes in 365 days] and was not very pleased. Said it wasn't 'respectful.'

The girl adored Julia, learned everything about her - chose her to emulate and learn from - so she was crushed by this comment. What took her a year to do however, was the product of 8 years of Julia Childs' life. And some of her comments on her blog may have been - overly - truthful.

So Julia made her comment that what Julie had accomplished didn't seem 'respectful.'

And I have found that can be a powerful motivator, enough to generate assault when no actual wrong has been done.

Is this truth in the Bible? Oh sure. Jesus - perfect and sinless (unlike moi, natch) - got run out of town for presenting Himself as the Answer to their problems. He'd done nothing wrong morally or ethically. Keep in mind - Jesus also has humbly lived in this community for 30 years as a regular Joe.

That actually causes the problem. They think they know him and they don't. He's nobody special, they think.

Then they find out differently - from His own lips.

Luke 4:20-30 (New International Version)
Then he [Jesus] rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."

All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. "Isn't this Joseph's son?" they asked. [Side Note: "That carpenter's kid?"]

Jesus said to them, "Surely you will quote this proverb to me: 'Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.' "

"I tell you the truth," he continued, "no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah's time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian." [NOTE: Jesus says, "The question isn't can I do miracles? The question is which of you trust God enough to receive one!"]

All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.


What did the community do when Jesus did not give them 'respect'?

They tried to kill him. They wanted him GONE.

Imagine that.

Well, folks, the lesson to learn is: if Jesus Christ was perfect and sinless and STILL hacked people off, you'll probably do it too.

And if they want you dead and gone, its probably best to mosey along.

God has better things for you to do than hang around with crazies.

You betcha.

Amen.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

War and Peace - from Heaven's viewpoint

I mentioned how I volunteered to help with a Salvation Army Toy Drive a few weeks ago. Imagine my shock at reading a rant from a poster online about how callous and vile the Salvation Army was - desiring homosexuals to die from AIDs was the charge.

That lit my fuse, to be honest.

Then I read this, just two minutes ago:

Salvation Army major shot in front of 3 children

(AP) By TOM PARSONS, Associated Press Writer

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A Salvation Army worker was shot and killed Christmas Eve in front of his three young children during an attempted robbery outside the charity's community center in North Little Rock, a Salvation Army official said Friday.

North Little Rock police said they were looking for the two men who accosted Salvation Army Maj. Philip Wise outside the community center about 4:15 p.m. Thursday. No arrests have been made.

The two men fled on foot into a nearby housing development, police Sgt. Terry Kuykendall said Friday. Police don't know whether Wise, who was active in the community, knew his attackers, he said.

Wise, 40, had gone to the community center with his children to pick up his wife — also a Salvation Army major — to drive to his mother's home in West Virginia, said Maj. Harvey Johnson, area commander of the Salvation Army. As Wise neared the side door, two men approached.

Both men were carrying handguns, police said. One demanded money and shot Wise, Pulaski County Coroner Garland Camper told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Wise's wife, Cindy, was inside the center and called 911.

Blood stained the sidewalk outside the center Friday.

The Wises had just adopted their children — ages 4, 6 and 8 — last year, Johnson said. The three were siblings who came from an abusive family. They were receiving counseling after their father's death, he said.

Kuykendall said the children were standing beside their father when he was shot, but there was apparently no interaction between the youngsters and the two men.

Wise had worked for three years in Baring Cross, a low-income neighborhood troubled by gangs and drugs, Johnson said. He ran youth programs, a food pantry and church services.
Read full article here


So here I am, reading about wanton cruelty and vilification against one of the most respected, more charitable Christian organizations in the world, KNOWN for getting food and clothing to the poor, and you know what, poppets?

I want to declare war on such perfidy.

God has been good to me; He has provided me with a good home and opportunities to share the Good News of Jesus. Yeah - I'm a religious nut. But ONLY because Jesus Christ opened my eyes and has been so very FAITHFUL to me.

I have to realize though, that evil is real and it hates the good.

War broke out in heaven when Jesus was born - did you know that? Oh, its in the book of Revelation, but it is a vision given to John of what happened when Mary ["The Woman"] gave birth to the Savior of Mankind.

Revelation 12:1-9
A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth.

Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born.

She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. The woman fled into the desert to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.

And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven.

The great dragon was hurled down —that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.


Do you ever wonder what makes men so evil? What makes them hate God and His laws so much?

Pride. "It was through Pride that the devil became the devil," writes C. S. Lewis.

The Great Sin
From Mere Christianity by C S Lewis

I now come to that part of Christian morals where they differ most sharply from all other morals. There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves.

I have heard people admit that they are bad-tempered, or that they cannot keep their heads about girls or drink, or even that they are cowards. I do not think I have ever heard anyone who was not a Christian accuse himself of this vice. And at the same time I have very seldom met anyone, who was not a Christian, who showed the slightest mercy to it in others. There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others.

The vice I am talking of is Pride or Self-Conceit: and the virtue opposite to it, in Christian morals, is called Humility. You may remember, when I was talking about sexual morality, I warned you that the center of Christian morals did not lie there. Well, now, we have come to the center. According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.

Does this seem to you exaggerated? If so, think it over. I pointed out a moment ago that the more pride one had, the more one disliked pride in others. In fact, if you want to find out how proud you are the easiest way is to ask yourself, 'How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or refuse to take any notice of me, or shove their oar in, or patronize me, or show off?' The point is that each person's pride is in competition with every one else's pride. It is because I wanted to be the big noise at the party that I am so annoyed at someone else being the big noise. Two of a trade never agree.

Now what you want to get clear is that Pride is essentially competitive - is competitive by its very nature - while the other vices are competitive only, so to speak, by accident. Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone. That is why I say that Pride is essentially competitive in a way the other vices are not.

The sexual impulse may drive two men into competition if they both want the same girl. But that is only by accident; they might just as likely have wanted two different girls. But a proud man will take your girl from you, not because he wants her, but just to prove to himself that he is a better man than you. Greed may drive men into competition if there is not enough to go round; but the proud man, even when he has got more than he can possibly want, will try to get still more just to assert his power. Nearly all those evils in the world which people put down to greed or selfishness are really far more the result of Pride.


There was no reason for that Salvation Army major to be shot and killed. It had no financial benefit -unless they relished it.

Unless they had known of him and despised him as a 'do-gooder.'

What they despised was, in my personal opinion, his humility. His willingness to serve.

Well, he's in heaven as I write this and three adopted-now-orphaned children from abusive homes need help.

Would you pray for them to see that God is good, even if men are evil?

Would you pray that this Christmas they see the truth and reject Satan's lie: that meekness is weakness? That God is absent?

Let them see that when goodness is manifest, evil rages against it - and even King Herod charged out to kill the Child of God.

Pray they will have the strength and courage to face all the evil they have experienced for being children of a major in the Salvation Army.

Not all warfare is limited to the Earth, kids. Most of our battles are far deeper - spiritual and emotional in nature. And sometimes, just sometimes, the Enemy of Mankind and the Accuser of the Brethren tips his hand. I suspect these children are VERY important to get such a 'double-attack' so early on.

"Nice work, Kingpin - you shouldn't have signed it!"


In the end, we are either at War Against God -or at War With God.

Choose wisely and live it out.

Amen.

p.s. Enjoy this music by Phil Keaggy please:

Monday, December 21, 2009

Free at Last, Thank God Almighty, Pt. 2

Wise Men Seek Him StillFreedom is not the ability to do whatever you want, I have come to learn. Freedom in this world is the ability to do the most good when called to action.

Think how many times you have said 'no' because of a schedule conflict or just did not have the resources to follow through? You see, you really CAN'T do 'whatever you want.' You may want to do two vastly different things at the same time; you cannot do both.

So if you are free to act with no constraints - and have no competing desires - you can be truly free. Not only physically but mentally as well. You can enjoy yourself, unfettered by fear or anxiety, guilt or blame since you chose the commitment.

I think what binds us up the most is our internal fears - the fear of failure, or the fear of success - no, I am not kidding. If you are the first to succeed in your arena of expertise, you may be standing all alone.

Faith is what gives us the power to overcome our fears. Faith is what gives us the freedom to do the radical, the unheard of, things that please God.

In other words, I have come to believe that faith produces courage.

Now courage is not the absence of fear, but rather acting selflessly at great personal risk to achieve a desired end. It is moving past the fear into action - and action that can and will put you at great risk.

I think faith gives us courage to act more "freely." Faith gives us a choice of doing a thing that is dangerous or of not doing it. When there is no faith, there is only one option - self-protection (which is usually followed by a statement of incredulity, i.e. "Do I look INSANE to you?").

I've said it. You have probably as well or at least thought it.

We tend to resent those who act in faith, disregarding their courage as being 'unreasonable' or 'foolishly taking unnecessary risks.' I might agree, if their faith is misplaced.

But if their faith is in Jesus Christ, I find myself more and more willing to encourage and observe instead of decry with a comment.

Faith in Action
Matthew 2:1-12


After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written:

"'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'"


Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him."

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.

And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Last night at DuPage County jail I taught about the Wise Men (magi) who came to see the Christ child to 12 inmates. Having written a science-fiction novella on the same passage, I was very familiar with the story.

We know they came from the East. We know they studied the stars and saw in the conjunctions a MAJOR event - the birth of the King of Israel, the messiah of the world.

We know they brought gold, frankincense and myrrh - very expensive gifts - solely to honor whom they believed would become THE Great King.

We know they were so convinced of this that they went to King Herod FIRST, to find this royal child.

But what we blow past again and again, is that these men were not only filthy rich, they put their money where their mouth was to find the King. They traveled it appears hundreds if not thousands of miles to get to Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Do you have any idea what the trip ALONE would cost? Remember - no law in the desert, bandits everywhere and lots of precious goods to protect.

Then when they get there, not only Herod but ALL of Jerusalem is upset. Herod was a ruthless tyrant - I wonder how much of Jerusalem was upset BECAUSE they were afraid of Herod's reaction to the announcement?

Still, we are told they continued following the star (perhaps a supernova - we don't rightly know) until it appeared over the house of Mary and Joseph (obviously they stayed a while after the child was born).

And then we read - you have GOT to get this image folks - after all that traveling, all those "heads of state" dinners, all that preparation, they found the child with Mary and worshiped Him.

Modern day version: 5 limos pull up outside a 'pay by week' hotel, out pour Arabian sheiks and Persian businessmen who walk up to your door, knock on it and seeing a 15 year old girl holding a toddler, begin praising God and laying thousands of dollars of merchandise at your feet because of your baby. And these proud, noble men of wealth and education are WORSHIPING your child. Like bowing down and stuff.

Willingly, happily and ecstatically.

They risked everything - including their own well-being - to follow the path Father Abraham had taken 2000 years earlier out of the East to see the Christ, the King and Savior of the World.

They put their money where their mouth was.

I guess what amazed me for the first time was to stop thinking of these men as anecdotal - trying to get me to see how important Jesus should be in my life.

These were wise men of great wealth who simply used their reason after revelation.

They KNEW the stars said the King was to be born in Israel. They did not use scriptures but logic, born of their typical studies. But once they understood that, they came to the conclusion we should have.

If Jesus is the TRUE King, we need to go to Him and give Him our very best, no matter what it may cost.

If He is not, He is not worth a plug nickel.

These wise men saw Him as King and courageously sought Him out. They did not care how humble the circumstances of His birth were - they simply followed the light they had and did not back down.

It is my prayer for you this season to do the same. Seek Christ however you can - but do not stop until you have met Him and given Him your very best.

The magi had the courage to do that. With weeks of hardships and deprivations, they sought Him fearlessly.

I think God honored their search, though they were not His covenant people, and protected them.

For you see, King Herod had every intent to kill the Child - and what do you think would have happened to these 'instigators' once they had revealed where the Christ lived?

Yeah. <*snikkkk*>

But God was kind to these Gentiles. He warned them to not go back to Herod - and this ended up saving their lives I believe.

May you, dear Reader, seek Christ this Christmas. May you find Him worth EVERYTHING you have to give.

And may He rescue YOU from the ruthless and heartless this very day, so you can be truly free from all the fears this world has.

Amen.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Free at Last, Thank God Almighty, Pt. 1


After 35 years, James Bain has been set free, thanks to DNA testing which exonerated him of crime he did not commit.

Whne asked if he was bitter, he said [and I quote]:

"No, I'm not angry," he said. "Because I've got God."


He's going home. He had always said he was innocent, and the DNA test proved it.

That is so awesome - because the man inside was saved by God's love, even though the world and all its devices said he was guilty.

Last night I joined several volunteers to spend three hours giving Christmas gifts, singing Christmas songs and sharing the message of the Christmas story with a few hundred inmates at DuPage County Jail.

I was given a Bible and made the leader so I used the two-three minutes I was given to speak directly about all our need to have a savior - and the kindness and humility of God to provide one in Christ. I was able to point to Mary's amazing faith in trusting God: being pregnant BEFORE getting married was terrifically shameful in the 1st century; you would be publicly humiliated if not stoned to death for adultery. In any event your social future - your hope of being a wife and mother? - it's GONE, baby.

Joseph was a good man. He was going to divorce her quietly, discretely. He KNEW he wasn't the father, but he cared about Mary. He did love her.

An angel stopped him. The angel told him to not get all freaked out. God was at work. "What is born in her is of the Holy Spirit!"

Mary had NOT cheated on him. God had chosen her to be the mom of the world's messiah. And Joseph? Well, God chose HIM (by waiting until the two were betrothed before Mary was made pregnant) to be the foster dad of Jesus.

Mary was innocent. Joseph was obedient. Guess what that got them socially? Not too far.

Later in the Bible we hear of Jesus being referred to as 'the son of Mary' in Mark 6:1-6. Not 'the son of Joseph' folks - which is proper in their culture - the son of Mary, the woman - which meant they still remembered her untimely pregnancy.

Small communities have LOOOONG memories. ;)

So does God.

Not only did He have His only begotten son through her, He made sure Mary got back all she thought she would lose:
Joseph married her anyway - because he too listened to God.

She gave birth to the Savior of the World - the dream of many Jewish women - and furthermore two of her other sons became godly leaders in the early church - James and Jude.

And boy, did she have KIDS!


[Sorry devout Catholic brothers: Mary was not a perpetual virgin. God was honoring her faith in Him. He REALLY 'opened her womb'!] See the following:

Mark 6:1-6
Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

"Where did this man get these things?" they asked. "What's this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! Isn't this the carpenter? Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him.

Jesus said to them, "Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor." He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith.


Well, people are pretty easily offended when you speak God's words and got a fairly humble background.

But that's Jesus problem.

Ours is whether or not we will believe the testimony we've been given or we'll join the unbelieving crowd.

I know I have been blessed again and again by placing my faith in God, not men.

If we have faith in God, we must hold it tightly. It IS a gift, indeed. (cf. Ephesians 2:8-9)

And as James Bain and Mary and Joseph found out, no matter what everyone else says, you know the truth that you trusted God.

"..and the truth shall set you free!"

Amen.

Monday, December 14, 2009

World's Finest Salvation Army Toy Drive

On Friday, I teamed up with costuming bro Tim to be Batman up in Rockford, IL. Tim was Superman, and as all comic afficionadoes know, they appeared for years in World's Finest. DC's two greatest heroes in one book.

What united them was their fight for justice for the oppressed, both had rather noble backgrounds (Bruce Wayne's dad was a physician and Kal-El's was a chief scientist of Krypton), both were orphans and both were pretty much the very best they could be.

So what were we doing at a Salvation Army Toy Drive at a car dealership in Rockford, IL?

Well, to give a thrill to the kids of course. A lot of students came in busloads to bring presents for kids who had none and to sing Christmas songs for all the volunteers. But for me, the greater thrill was to help the Salvation Army, one of the most respected, evangelical Christian non-profits in the world.

They had their uniforms on too. They even have ranks, if you did not know.

Some even have capes.

And brothers and sisters, they do this year round. In my mind - and in Christ's kingdom - they are probably the closest to real-life superheroes.

That's because they constantly work in the worst areas of the world, where disaster strikes. They are unashamedly Christ-followers and give the Gospel even as they give food and blankets and shelter to the damaged, the lost, the least of the world. [Side note: during the fiasco of aid that followed Hurricane Katrina, this organization stood out as one of the most efficient, most organized, and most beneficial (second only to the Red Cross in monetary donations). (read gov't assessment here, near bottom of the page).]

It was a privilege to be there serving in a minor capacity next to them. In fact, they had everything so well handled, I had almost nothing to do - so Supes (Tim) and I decided to be doormen.

Superman/Tim helps with a few packages - only shot I could get with his superspeed, you know...

THAT was fun! :D [ Imagined scene on bus: "O.K. we're here kids, lets get the toys inside and... WHO IN THE WORLD??!" "OMG - that's Superman!"]

I also had to introduce myself to the elder lady in charge and let her know I was a jail minister, just to alleviate any 'concerns' about a middle-aged man dressed up in tights and a latex cowl prowling about. (These guys are a bit conservative, understandably.)

She took it in stride and shared it with her colleagues. "He's also a minister!" she said.

They nodded politely and smiled. (You know, I felt at that moment like any kid would who was dressed up like a fireman standing next to a veteran of 9/11: utterly inadequate.)

As I said, the real heroes weren't there to entertain the kids, but to change their lives. One memory at a time, one gift at a time, starting with this Christmas.

Kudos to them.

And to my bud, Tim (Superman), who convinced me driving out to Rockford, IL would be worth it.

It surely was.

A World's Finest event indeed.

Amen.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Home Restoration & Renovation - the best of both worlds

When you get fond of a place and it has become home to you, the next thought is how to make it better, restore what is missing or non-functional and, if you are careful, you can change the entire atmosphere of a place without having to spend a lot of money.

Anyone who's had a kitchen or bath re-modeled knows what a hassle it is because those are key areas constantly in use by every member of the household. But when it is done - wow! You just sit back and grin - and then you spend the next few weeks being surprised since you have such a lingering memory of 'how it was.' Once 'blecch!' now 'blessed!'

Renovation or restoration is easier than full remodeling and for us on poorer budgets, it is a wiser choice. Still the pleasure is there -the gift of seeing something new every day. Where once there was disappointment, or annoyance or shame, there is a something functional, pleasing, even something perhaps to be proud of. "It looks SO much better!" "Hey - I like the new floor!" "Wow - that makes the room so much brighter!"

In this home, we've had several things done in the past two weeks -and more to come.

1) New flooring - beautiful tile - for our famly room/office
2) New window for the kitchen
3) New storm door for our lower entrance
4) New antenna hookup to our TV
5) New lanterns for the two back exits (wow - those old lanterns were pathetic!)
6) New wall tile in the upstairs bathroom
7) New countertop in the kitchen with a new sink as well!
8) New utility top next to downstairs fridge (installed by moi)

-and we are NOT finished. We have a vanity and top for the upstairs bathroom that is waiting to be installed after new floor tile is installed.

Everyone loves a work of art!This NOT the house I moved into 9 years ago; it is far better.

Now these are all material blessings, and if you knew the history of this home, you would rejoice with us. I realized as I was changing yet another light switch and installing the rear lanterns mentioned above that this home has been neglected for nearly 15 years.

Personally, I have chaffed at the bit to 'move on' and be more mission-minded for God. I set out from my home 9 years ago with this goal in mind. I was single, had a manageable debt and a calling to serve the Lord.

Little did I know he would "re-home" me, restoring all that I had lost when my mother died two decades ago. Little did I realize He trusted me to to be an agent of change not only here but in the local jail. My story is NOT so different from the men who are incarcerated. While I have never broken the law severely enough to be arrested, I understand loss, alienation and an inability to trust even your closest friends. Obedience to God and trusting in His timing has produced gentler circumstances in my life. I have come to realize that I may even be a conflict junkie, looking for a place to stir up trouble when God really just wants to restore what has been lost or renovate what has been damaged. He told me to take care of my landlady and write and as far as I can tell, I am obeying my calling.

Its a LOT easier to talk about the downtrodden and disenfranchised than living with them and making life better for them. They are not only in foreign lands -they are here in our suburbs.

I want to be clear here: there is no way I am 'poor' in any sense of the word. I am, in fact, spoiled rotten. But I know Who is doing the spoiling and am grateful enough to thank Him constantly.

Perhaps that is where the true renovation begins -and began for me. I knew I did not need any of the things in this world to make me happy. I was happy, even in my debt and unemployment because I knew God was watching over me. Years later, I see this fruit, this promise given to those crazy enough to radically follow Christ:

Mark 10:29-31
"I tell you the truth," Jesus replied, "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first."


You know, if you DO decide to follow Jesus, you will have to do some things that only make sense to Him and to you. In the end though, you will sit back and laugh and say "Yes, Lord, Your promise has come true."

I am in a much better home now than I was then. And frankly, folks, that was Jesus' plan all along. We just have to trust Him.

May you be blessed this holiday season by the King as you obey His commands.

Amen.

Friday, December 4, 2009

back to school haiku

In a recent Lively Arts meeting, I got to hear some more wonderful haiku from the award-winning Christopher Patchel and a collaborator he knew online. Chris is a quiet and thoughtful artist/designer and more. I truly admire his artistry. What he shares is often poignant, profound, breathtaking - sometimes nostalgia hits you so hard it hurts.

This time however, I and few others commented that his collaborative haiku seemed a little more about going to school than going back to school. Then a wise friend suggested that I make some haiku to show how it could be done.

I did. And yes, like his, about half of these are not so much as going back to school but rather the unforgettable experienced moments that can make up a school day. Its tough to separate the two I found.

I have very few positive images about high school due to the stresses at home and being in the public school system of North Mississippi. But everyone enjoys a little poignancy mixed with pathos, and haiku seems to me to be a suitable vehicle for it.

NOTE: haiku is supposed to be 'one breath length' and has no true formal structure. Some of these are good scenes, but not true haiku. I am aware of this failing. This is my first attempt with no mentor, only a specific challenge to use brevity to capture "snapshots" of high school as I experienced it -or how it IS experienced by so many.

Enjoy! And - "Remember..."



haiku

back to school

cheery store signs
announce the death
of summer

6:30 a.m.
my clock hates me
i reciprocate

my new backpack
has six copycats
this morning

kind older kids write
my bus number
on my name tag

the bus arrives
and i am on
the wrong side

homeroom gives me
time to pray
and draw superheroes

first week of classes
the bells declare
everyone’s tardy

colliding with
old enemies
between classes

the class window
reflects the grass
i love

bullies have again
found my drawings
of superman

old women spoon out
meals on hot
plastic trays

the pretty girl
in front of me
laughs

fall comes
and i remember
the hobbit

lunchtime comes
and i remember
lord of the flies

between calculus
and french
i am beat up

between biology
and social sciences
i’m called gay

dusty library shelves
offer minutes of
safety and adventure

my lab
partner’s genes (jeans)
are all wrong

three o’clock bells
release us all
with homework

running home
to watch
the six million dollar man

the new bus
survives the
first route

the bus deposits me
to watch star trek
with mom

riding my bike
i escape row after row
on the bus



Amen.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Atheist Behavior: Back to Basics (& a review of Gladiator by Philip Wylie)

Best cover of a SF classic that inspired SupermanLet's be fair here: while I have always been a 'professing' Christian, the truth is I lived pretty much the life of an atheist for ten years or more: a life ruled by my reason, my desires and my own will.

Contrary to many ugly caricatures, the atheist is a thinking man, a man who holds a moral standard that in general Christian believers can agree with: don't steal, don't lie, don't murder, treat others as you would be treated, etc. The problem arises when you tell them there is a greater wisdom than themselves; a Person who is invisible and all-knowing - and usually this is where the fight begins - loving.

Humanity and human life is often precious to the atheist. But the problem is they love humanity too much. Because of this love they even get more disgusted faster than the devout Christians who does not expect so much from humans. The atheist gets infuriated at short-sighted, war-mongering and foolish mass of humanity who are continually superstitious, fearful and cowardly.

Well, that's what I've read of their writings. The problem is as they go reaching for god-like control over all they touch, they are arguing with God at a sub-conscious level. I think if I could briefly sum up the fight with the Almighty it would be: "This mess of a world is intolerable! If you won't do something about it, we will!"

[Sadly, some Christians think they have to replace God's providential timing too.]

To which I think God would reply (shaking His head): "The mess was caused by your pride and desire to know evil as well as good. I already did something about it, though. Go to the cross. There any human being can be transformed. They change the world they live in, one step at a time."

I know - a little didactically evangelical - but the cross of Christ is the place where we admit we cannot conquer - or fix - this world and cannot even fix ourselves.

And that is the tragedy and glory of Gladiator by Philip Wylie. When I read it at first, some 20 years ago, I was disappointed in the lack of joy the protagonist Hugo Danner had: he was super-strong and bullet-proof - wow! Shouldn't he be happy?

No. You see, the author Wylie was raised like many men of his generation to be God-fearing rationalists - not quite Christian , but raised to be moral, do right and fear God, who remained in the abstract. Knowing God on a personal level was impossible - and any man who was god-like would, rationally and logically, be feared for who could stop him?

Wylie is brutally honest about the low-level spiritual brow-beating his mother with her 'deeper' faith inflicts upon her quieter husband, a biologist who discovers the secret of granting superhuman strength to animals while they are in the womb. The results are especially terrifying when he realizes he has created a juggernaut of a kitten that casually scratches a hole through a door because it wants some warm milk. After it is discovered that several dogs in the neighborhood have been killed by 'a mountain lion' Professor Danner kills the supercat with poison. "Its death throes were Homeric." writes Wylie.

Professor Danner informs his wife what he has discovered and she is horrified that he is taking such blasphemous liberties with God's creation. "You must stop this!" she demands. He agrees, but you know what they say about curiosity: when his wife becomes pregnant, he puts her to sleep and injects the growing fetus with the serum.

To her credit, she decides she must love this child of theirs and teach him to be very, very careful with his strength. Still, it does get out as a rumor among the children and that is when Hugo Danner learns being different and invulnerable and super strong is not a good thing in the eyes of those around you.

The great tragedy of this book is that Hugo wants to fit in and be friends with someone - nearly anyone. But after romance after romance, and after becoming a famous college football player and accidentally killing an opposing player in a moment of anger, he finds his strength and toughness of greatest value in the battlefields of World War I. The horror of war and the brevity of life is also well-portrayed by Wylie.

This is getting long, but here's the point: gods cannot fit among mortals unless they too are soft and squishy. Christ was.

What we have in Philip Wylie's excellent novel is the logical playing out of a strange card: if one man were so empowered, how could he live? How could he use his gifts? Can we as human beings put up with a man-god in our midst?

The answer Wylie ended up with and the one I agree with is: no. We'd fear him.

In the end of the novel, Hugo Danner has decided to work with a scientist to make a race of these superhumans - just like himself. And they would slowly take over the world, re-making it into a better place. Superhuman fascism is boldly discussed. [And remember kids, this is 1928 when this was originally penned - such thoughts were running rampant among the intellectuals, not just in Nazi Germany; a perfect society by eugenics was often considered to be our solution.]

Well, that plan doesn't come to fruition. The night after formulating this plan in the jungles of the Yucatan, Hugo is struck down and killed by one of the few forces able to do so: a lightning bolt from heaven. And make no mistake - Hugo is screaming at God over the uselessness of his existence when it happens. The warfare is clear.

I understand Hugo's frustration. I came to Christ yelling in fact. Unlike him, I was raised back up, knowing and accepting that God is God and He does run this universe. He has His own plans for making it glorious, and they all center on His Son, not on us.

I appreciate the frankness of that ending by Wylie. I appreciated his writing and clarity.

But make no mistake: better biology cannot solve our problems in this fallen world.

It is supernaturally solved by God at a spiritual level.

By a god-man who was not bulletproof nor superstrong.

As Wylie noted, "Perhaps the solution for Hugo Danner was not in the future but in the past."

He spoke more truly than he knew.

Amen.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Christian Behavior: Back to Basics

Orthodox Kitty says, 'Die Heretic!'I'm trying to get back to a regular schedule on this here blog and I've been so busy taking care of minor re-modeling projects in our home, I haven't had the time or the inclination to do so.

But last week, we were covering Ephesians in Open Arms Fellowship and I was convicted by my own words. "God is no respecter of persons" indeed. Whenever you teach or preach - watch out - it just may be coming back to you!

Here's the lesson:

Ephesians 4:25-32

Paul Instructs the Ephesians About the Fundamental Christian Life

“Tell the truth.” “Don’t go to bed angry.” “Forgive and forget.”

We’ve all heard these kinds of moral platitudes growing up in America. This is actually not true in other lands where the Gospel has not been proclaimed, or any place where Christ is trivialized. They were - and are - great words of wisdom.

But they are nothing more than empty platitudes, equivalent of ‘play nice and don’t hit,’ if we do not have a solid supernatural fact backing them up. A powerful reason born from God to do as we are commanded: to forgive, to not let anger get a hold on us, to not strike back – verbally or physically.

That reason is found in the last verse of this passage: we forgive each other because God forgave us. We don’t ask for pay back or get revenge because God paid for our evil and our wicked behavior at the cross of Calvary.


We are blood bought. We are precious and so are all who call on Christ. We don’t have a right to judge one another harshly. "Who are you to judge another's servant?" demands Paul in Romans 14:4. Once we are in a group, and that hurdle is crossed, we tend to erect standards for others and critique them. Christ (and Paul) sternly warns us not to do that. "Judge not lest you be judged!" is a fair warning for each Christ-follower to focus on Christ, and trust Him to judge fairly – alleviating us of the need to 'fix' our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and permitting us to focus on loving them just as God loved us: beautifully, radically, crazily and consistently.



Read in the round

Ephesians 4:25-32 (NIV)
25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.
26 "In your anger do not sin" : Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,
27 and do not give the devil a foothold.
28 He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.
32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you.

1) We are commanded to do several things in this passage. List them. Question: Do they sound passive or pro-active to you?

2) When we speak, Paul says it should not be harmful, but helpful (verse 29). Why is this important? (cf. Prov. 18:21, James 3:1-12)

3) How does Paul argue that forgiveness and compassion are required? (See verses 25, 27, 30, 32) If we do not forgive, what does this say about ourselves? Secondly, what consequences follow? (Mt. 6:14-15, 18:21-35)

Friday, November 27, 2009

Midnight Rider and Johnny Cash [or putting your money...]

Johnny Cash: Man in BlackRecently on the costuming board I frequent, a guy reached into his closet and put together an original costume for a TV show on comic book conventions. He was at a loss for a name, though. Firstly, it was a great costume - all in black. Second, he was wearing a hood and a mask - sort of like Hourman, which made you think of some short duration power, etc. Really topped it off with a utility belt and some good hard-wearing boots and gloves.

I suggested several names before settling on Midnight Rider. I seemed to remember those words in a song, so I went searching on YouTube. Not only did Allman Brothers do a song about a "Midnight Rider", but Johnny Cash - the ORIGINAL 'Man in Black' did an old spiritual with "midnight rider" in the song itself; the spiritual was entitled "Run On" or "God's Gonna Cut You Down."



So like all my other creative processes, I swirled it all together to say this was a former criminal who was changed - at midnight - and turned from his former ways. [Still a bit open on how and why...] Now he goes out to warn others of God's judgment - and has the power to stop evil, using the very darkness they hide in. [Like Marvel's 'Ghost Rider' who forms objects out of flame, this guy uses darkness.]

I also found myself listening hard and discovering how deep Johnny Cash's faith really was. He was a very hurt man who cared a lot for the downtrodden. He wore black though, and I think the mainstream Christian community did not know if they should really accept him or not. [Well, let's put it this way: not too many God-fearing moms used Johnny to be a role-model for their kids.]

But Johnny was for real. His sins were fairly public, IMO, but so was his repentance and struggle to overcome them. In one video, another artist says "We loved Elvis too much, I think. I think that's what killed him. But Johnny stayed alive and I think that was due to his faith."

You see, faith is more than saying you believe in God; it is saying no to the world and its allurements as well. And we Southern Christian boys may get a lot of good lessons at church - but until we personally say no to worldly wealth and fame and etc., we quickly end up doing a nose-dive. Easy to do when you come from poverty and a simple rural background.

Anyway, Johnny Cash, the Man in Black, did indeed put his money - and his heart - where his mouth - his songs - were.

In this video you will see some VERY famous persons - none of whom are known in any form to be followers of Christ - but appreciated Johnny Cash and what he sang about God's judgment on those who believe there is no justice in the world, no final judgment.

Cash's empathy with the least, last, and lost, won many hearts. Only on the Last Day will we know how many souls he won as well.



Thanks, Johnny.

God bless.

Amen.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Bridges to Burn

For those who don't know, I live in Wheaton, Illinois - the "Mecca" of Evangelical Christianity. I came here from Memphis planning to leave in six months and ended up getting stuck here for the last NINE years! Before I could say 'Jack Squat' I was invited to teach in Kane County jail by a Roman Catholic deacon. I also got busy teaching a Bible study fellowship called Open Arms Fellowship.

Mississippi River Bridges - old and newWe are having our yearly Open House Sunday November 29th, inviting all the other Christians and non-Christians we can to show the love of Christ to and eat lots of food. As I said, its been NINE years. I went from one place to another almost in stupefied mystery. God erected bridges between me and others so that I could work unfettered as a teacher and bring the gospel to some really hurting people - and even to some VERY dedicated criminals!

Also in Wheaton there is small yet vital physical bridge [overpass] that allows us to avoid being held up by the train. It is so useful to us denizens, that even though it has needed repair for years, no one wanted to block it off to fix it. No one wanted to end its usefulness.

Now the time has come to shut down all traffic over this lone service bridge that has served our community so well. A year from now it will come back, glorious and an better than before, but for now, she must be taken down.

I'm sort of fond of that bridge. Like all Irish, I tend towards the romantic, the nostalgic. It takes the German in me to say "Enough - let's get to work!" and let it be demolished as unsafe and no longer a benefit to the community.

I am beginning to see I have to do that with certain relationships, certain "old neighborhoods" and "friends" I have on the internet. The bridges that once connected us are now unsafe and are even driving us apart. They are dry and unsubstantial; their "pylons" need removing and restoring.

I hate seeing bridges go; I despise seeing the remains of a once-prosperous community or a storefront all empty and hollow. Like Sam said as he watched the elves head to the Gray Havens to sail off to Valinor, leaving Middle-Earth forever: "I don't know why - but it makes me sad."

Well, I do know why it makes me sad. Its life and beauty and glory that has left. It is the "good old days" ending. A decade of discovery coming to an end. In modern American history, is a huge difference between 1936 and 1945, between 1963 and 1972, between 1976 and 1985, between 1999 and 2008 - each containing dramatic changes in our culture and in how we perceive our world.

I am one of the worst finishers in all of history. I am a good starter but a terrible finisher. If ever I pair up with a good finisher, someone who will take the baton across the finish line for me, I will be the most blessed man in the world.

Until then I have to stop now and then and assess what relationships work and which do not. I think we can be very much like Christ in this. He knew when to call it quits when arguing with His opponents and how to keep healing and loving those who came to Him.

I guess I am tired.

"Come with Me and rest awhile."


You got it, Jesus.

Amen.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Jen, We Missed You

I just got news that Jennifer Knapp has resurfaced after a 5-year hiatus. She's back and making music (See www.JenniferKnapp.com)

Many of us who were converted in the mid-90's got a huge gift of musically savvy Christ-following artists who did not care if their stuff was popular or not. Jars of Clay, DC Talk, Michael Card and Jennifer Knapp were the forerunners.

Unfortunately, the Christian music industry is a business, an institution to make profit, and so a lot of men and women who are fairly direct in proclaiming God and OUR sin (thus our need for Him), tended to be marginalized. There's a LOT of good Christian music that ain't getting airtime folks.

Jennifer was one of those who was raw, strong and vocal. However, she was not an aim-fire-kill Christian (*sigh* unlike self), but she was very real and very strong. She had had irreligious life that turned hellish before meeting Christ and so she speaks and sings passionately from the heart of being a redeemed soul, grabbed by Christ.

No more to be said. If you've heard her, you stopped and said "That doesn't sound like any Christian music I know!" Yeah, and that's a shame. 70% of the Psalms are of lament. Jennifer brings in a folk-singer and blues sensibility that truly expresses how we all feel at times in this world. You do not have to be a Christian to appreciate her music - but you cannot escape the fact that her faith in Christ is what is saving her soul.

Here she is - and the start of this video is precious because she obviously missed her cue or forgot her lyrics for a brief second.

Jen, welcome back.



Amen.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Concerning Hobbits, Pt. 2

See Anke's work here: http://anke.edoras-art.de/kunstplus_shop/originale_e.htmlWe're not quite finished with The Hobbit, and my landlady's child-like request to have it read to her just before bed-time is an ongoing source of affectionate bemusement to me.

Tolkien excels in describing the material world, the environment of forests and trees, lights and darks. He paints his hobbits as true Epicureans, shameless in describing how much the hobbits (and the elves or the dwarves) enjoy their drink - mead, ale, elvish wine, beer, etc. - along with their magical hosts - typically genteel vegetarians who put out cheeses and breads and honey and butter and fruits to feast upon.

I certainly don't suspect Tolkien of being a pre-PC vegetarian; in the stories of King Arthur and Medieval romances, meat being served (while traveling) was a rarity. The other items kept longer and, of course, in the case of cheese and wine merely grew better with age. But I find his Eden-like descriptions innocent in their lack of meat in the mouths of immortals.

He also has, between Beorn [in The Hobbit] and Tom Bombadil [in Lord of the Rings], very mysterious and powerful protectors of the woodlands and animals; they are ancient beyond time and not quite 'civilized' themselves. Little explanation is given, but I suspect Tolkien's great distaste of modernization and mechanization - coupling it with men's greed and expansive ruthlessness - is found in his giving prominence to these two guardian immortals of Middle-Earth. They care for the child-like hobbits and keep them safe, but warn them to 'stay inside' their residences each night and not to worry nor venture out from under their roof of protection.

Tolkien was a devout Roman Catholic, and from that tradition, he was bound to pull from his heart and mind some Biblical allegories. I find similar things said of Yahweh in the Old Testament. I find His great promises of protection and guidance if the children of Israel will simply obey Him and trust Him. He is a fierce warrior Who feeds them and will fight for them.

But they must listen and heed His voice. Especially when it is dark outside.

Its funny, because one of the missed pleasures of many professing Christians is obedience. If we obey, we shall see what is good - though there may be trials, perhaps many trials - we will be taken to places of peace and joy.

So as I read The Hobbit to my landlady on an October night, with winds blowing outside, and the echo of autumn thunder in the background, I find myself content. I need no more than this, for this season. She has seen many battles in her home; now it is a place of peace. No longer do drugs and cursing and unhappiness taint its rooms, but rather God's Word lives here and is spoken day after day, week after week, year after year.

Compounding and amplifying this joy is the fact we are studying Ephesians, where Paul, a devout Jew, trained under Gamaliel, is affirming the non-Jews that God has also chosen them to be part of His people, His covenants, His promises, all because of Jesus Christ - and that is where the blood enters in.

It is not animal sacrifices that reconcile us to God. It is a Man's.

This is what protects us from the wrath of God. Like Beserker Beorn and Master of Woods Tom Bombadil, this fierce God of the Jews who would strike dead any who touched His ark of the covenant is now offering safety and peace to those who confess His Son's blood as the only true payment for sins. The only sure covering in a world of hatred and evil.

We in Christ may rest secure. A Lion protects us, for a Lamb has died for us.

Let the winds howl as they may. Let what strange dreams may come.

The hobbits are secure in the House of His Love, under His protection.

Amen.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Concerning Hobbits, Pt. 1

I've been reading The Hobbit to my landlady these past two weeks and it has been entertaining, to say the least. I get to do all the voices - I use John Huston's voice for Gandalf - and try to keep the tone and flow of how Tolkien wrote (you know, those little asides where the storyteller explains how calling anyone, even a giant spider a 'Tomnoddy' is 'not very nice at all!'

Two things have struck me though. One, the plot structure is nearly the same as The Lord of the Rings. Visit hobbit who is quite content at home thank-you-very-much and move him out, put hobbit together with crew, get attacked on the way to Rivendell, fight monster after monster and have a big whopping army battle at the end before resolving and going back home only to find a mess to clean up.

I don't mind - my stuff is a bit formulaic too. But The Hobbit is more charming and less sophisticated, you really feel for poor Bilbo being dragged around and having to rescue everyone else only to get complaints from the 'rescued.' But what struck me as strange was just how dark and dangerous The Hobbit is - how MANY battles there are with LOTS of bloodshed.

This 'charming tale' wouldn't get past the first editor of children's books in a Christian bookstore if it had not already existed. It's PG to PG-13 for sure.

What I do like about it is that it is utterly clear that Bilbo wants NOTHING to do with adventures, prefers his quiet hobbit-hole at Bag's End and nearly faints at the mention of death or extreme danger.

By the time the book is over, you see this little suburban over-eater has gotten some wisdom and warfare under his belt. He's NOT noble - he's terribly practical but that is the saving grace when faced with the stubbornness of misplaced pride he finds in the treasure-seeking dwarves.

Oswald Chambers said something once about the Christian worker's sense of the heroic:

Jesus does not ask me to die for Him, but to lay down my life for Him.

Peter said - "I will lay down my life for Thy sake" and he meant it; his sense of the heroic was magnificent. It would be a bad thing to be incapable of making such a declaration as Peter made; the sense of our duty is only realized by our sense of the heroic. Has the Lord ever asked you - "Wilt thou lay down thy life for My sake?"

It is far easier to die than to lay down the life day in and day out with the sense of the high calling. We are not made for brilliant moments, but we have to walk in the light of them in ordinary ways.


We all want to do something big for God. Some of us have, in fact.

But it is obedience that matters, a surrender of our DAILY lives that have the most impact. Christian men who raise their children to respect and love their Lord; mothers who have learned not to be always fearful but ask the Lord Jesus for their "daily bread" - these hold the fort against all the exciting and alluring acts of disobedience and self-gratification that the world tosses at or into our culture today.

As the weather cools and we see the leaves fall, let us keep warm hearth fires burning - in gratitude to the Man from Galilee who gave us His life so we could be secure. Let us appreciate with grateful hearts what priceless pleasures are doled out in a hot cup of tea or freshly ground coffee served by hands that love us.

If we do this, we will be ready when He knocks on our door to go on an adventure with Him. We will know His kindness and grace first - and what He has first given to us in His abiding love- and with that knowledge we will go forth into such adventures as have never been seen or heard of by mortal men.

So - don't hurry past this season. Wait. Fill up with all the kind things God sends you. Thank Him and appreciate His gifts you never earned. Let Him love on you. If you do that, you will be filled to overflowing (cf. Psalm 23).

You will overflow with His love and grace and power and from THAT abundance you, little hobbit, can truly change the world.

Amen.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Star Trek Memories: Learning from Kirk & Co., Pt. 3

Leonard Nimoy struggled with recognition when he first began playing the now-famous Mr. Spock of the U.S.S. Enterprise. The network was so concerned about Spock's 'Satanic' appearance that his eyebrows and pointed ears were airbrushed out. At one parade, he and William Shatner were sitting in a float, promoting this new show on TV called Star Trek, when the announcer proudly introduced Shatner and him as "Mr. William Shatner and Mr. Leonard NIMSY!!"

So Nimoy, already feeling the weirdness and humiliation (even from some of the stage hands) of wearing the ears, which meant he had to show up for makeup an hour before everyone else, went to Gene Roddenberry with his concerns. Roddenberry, struggling with everything else, finally told Nimoy - "Look - if the ear thing doesn't work, I swear Leonard, we'll write in a episode were Spock gets an ear job and then you can just look as normal as anyone else on the crew!"

Nimoy, assured by Gene's promise, immediately saw how ridiculous it was. He was the alien - he was HIRED to be the alien. He laughed, went back to work and began working on making Spock the character we know and love. A logical man but with deep feeling, trapped and honored at the same time by his culture. In the "Naked Time" Nimoy fought for a whole new scene where Spock would be isolated in the conference room and finally pour out his emotions. It was an insane time-crunch gamble - they had one take to get it right, due to union regulations, and that was it.

Nimoy & crew did it flawlessly -and the fan mail began pouring in.

Artistically, Nimoy fought to make an alien come alive - by showing his humanity, his flaws, his losses, his weaknesses. Knowing this, we loved the super-strong, super-smart Vulcan even more, not less.

I could talk about how we ought to be so vulnerable, but the fact is, in a fallen world, you get ridiculed and humiliated if you do - at least at the wrong time, in front of the wrong people.

But I think what Nimoy/Spock taught is that being alienated is not always a bad thing.

It may drive you to excellence. It may in fact be the reason you are where you are.

Jesus said something about not being like everyone else. He said we are to be the "salt" and "light" of the world.

Salt is a preservative and it adds flavor, life to old foods.

Light illuminates, casts out darkness, brings clarity and allows us to see where we are going.

But 'tasteless salt' and 'hidden lights' are no good whatsoever. And too many Believers - self included - think we are alienating others, when in fact, we are doing our job.

We are supposed to be aliens. We are supposed to stand out.

We are supposed to change the environments we are in.

If you are doing that, even in a slight way for God, congratulations.

If you are not, please be reminded - you are not here for any other purpose. Sure, we can airbrush you out to look normal, but you're not - and you are never going to be.

Jesus chose you to be His alien.

Be just that.

Amen.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Star Trek Memories: Learning from Kirk & Co., Pt. 2

The beautiful Lt. Uhura, played by Nichelle Nichols
Nichelle Nichols got real tired of getting less and less to say each week in the early days of Star Trek. She had gotten hired, but it began to get tedious for a wonderful actress to say again and again "Hailing frequencies open, Captain." So she went in and told Gene Roddenberry on a Friday afternoon that she quit.

"You CAN'T quit!"

"Gene, I just did!"

Then God intervened. Yeah, I think so. THAT Saturday, she had to go to a fund-raiser,a banquet of some sort. She was having a good enough time when some men came over and said a very, very big fan wanted to meet her. Nichelle, in real life, is a bit of "bad mama" - she doesn't know these "cats" but O.K. whatever. [Remember, this is the 1960s.]

Trekkers know who she met: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was mesmerized and praised her that she was on the show. Nichelle told him she'd just quit because of her lack of opportunity to say anything meaningful as a character. "Don't quit, Nichelle! Every time they see you, they see a black woman being treated as an equal, an officer - working in space!"

You know, we really do take that for granted now, but in 1966, that was an amazing view.

Nichelle saw King was right. It wasn't about her, but what she represented to so many. She went back to work Monday. Roddenberry gave Uhura more opportunities and if you notice, she is the only one constantly seen over Kirk's shoulder. In other words, every command chair shot that ain't an extreme close-up features Nichelle too. You couldn't escape her presence, which is exactly what America needed then.

Sometimes folks, you are not useful because of your work, but because of your presence.

This past week, I had someone leave my Bible study in a huff because we dared teach God elects people from before birth to know Him. This is straight from Ephesians, chapter one. Simply put, this person has spent too many years trying to be a Good Christian without realizing that God choose her, opened her eyes and placed her in a position to change the world. She's a great evangelist, but like so many go-getters, she doesn't realize that all she has done has been only because God called her FIRST.

A few days later, I get an e-mail that said she won't be coming back - citing her busy, busy schedule. I got to say that hurt. And so, like all mortals, I got angry as I thought about how patient we've been when she points out EVERY time she's there that the 'New Living Translation' is the one we should use. I do not kid. In 40 attendances/year, it has been mentioned each time. *sigh*

I've listened to her correct everyone in our group while holding some very conservative ideas that are not necessarily Christian. It was just a matter of time before God swatted her with His Authority to do as He wishes.

So I've been thinking about taking a break. Maybe I am trying too hard. If CHRISTIANS don't want to hear what God says, why bother? When so-called 'mission-minded' Believers get angry at the Bible's teachings or derail it with their fallen reasoning, why try to teach them at all?

Then God intervened as I was lapping up some self-pity.

This past week, not one, but TWO completely unrelated instances came up where I ran into formerly incarcerated men who told me how MUCH my teaching meant to them. One said "I'm going to church now because of you!" - another "I'm out, going to school and working part-time. I was in a bad place, nearly suicidal, and you helped me through it."

You need to know I never meet with my men after they are out. I tell them to find a good church and go, learning all they can about Jesus. So this double-whammy - one one day, and one the next, taught me a lot.

You cannot see all the impact of your life: it's too big - and really, that's God's job, He Who Created You.

But you can stay the course, accept He's using you to give hope and strength to those who need it most and will listen to His Voice.

Amen.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Star Trek Memories: Learning from Kirk & Co., Pt. 1

My library was having a sale and whaddaya know, I picked up "Star Trek Memories" by William Shatner, he of Captain Kirk fame, for one thin dollar.

When I was growing up, my only relief from the banality of suburban life, schoolwork, bullies and housechores for ungrateful parents was heroic fantasy, especially superheroic and sci-fi fantasy. Like all nerds of the 70's, our "man" we adored and respected was one Captain James T. Kirk, Captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise, who appeared in syndication in our living rooms every day after school at 3:30 p.m.

Kirk was cool under fire, charming, thoughtful and heroic. I will also confess my GREAT admiration for Spock and while the Vulcan was my first hero, I have to be honest and say Kirk was my second and ongoing hero to emulate (since as an Irish lad I lacked the chops to be emotionally distant, cool and calculating ALL the time).

As I have been reading it, I confess I've liked Shatner's irrepressible ego. Though Jewish, Bill Shatner has played an Irishman so long he knows exactly how we are. He's funny, he's flawed and he helped me to see more 'behind the scenes' than I used to know - and now I have the leisure to process the info as a middle-aged adult, not as a prepubescent child.

The insane and health-threatening dedication Gene Roddenberry and Gene Coon, along with Bob Justman and Robert Milkiss, gave to this TV series was stunning. Folks, when you burn THAT much midnight oil, you can set anything on fire. Still, mortality has a way of rearing its ugly head and Gene Coon, who was uncredited for many incredible contributions, died within five years of leaving the show. "If you are willing to die, you can do anything," says one button I have in my collection.

Just be careful what you die for, folks.

So I'm reading this, and I realized that my personal SF dream, The Future King, my novel of 600 plus pages, while it can be great, will take a LOT of energy to make happen as a film or TV series, a commitment like unto an obsession in fact. I also realized that I am too old to burn myself out on such a dream. I enjoy jail ministry for the most part simply because it means a REAL impact on a REAL life, and I can watch it happen. An impact that will last for eternity, far beyond meetings at a Science Fiction Convention endlessly repeating what I did umpteen years ago. Now I am going to finish the novel and I will go to such conventions, but that is NOT what my life's work will be about.

We have to decide For What or To Whom we will give our life, and then we can look back as to what it meant. For Roddenberry, it was creating human drama, specifically Star Trek. He got to see Star Trek VI, the Undiscovered Country JUST before he died, effectively the last full voyage of the U.S.S. Enterprise under the command of James T. Kirk. In other words, he got to see the end of the original series and characters he'd created.

I think God granted him that as a courtesy. I mean that.

Now About Those Trek Women...
Just last night, near the end of finishing Shatner's book, I ended up watching "Elaan of Troyius," a really great episode of ST:TOS, in which "Taming of the Shrew" meets "Barbarella." [Watch Full Episode here on YouTube]

One France Nguyen ('Nuyen' in credits) plays the beautiful black-haired spitfire who's on her way to be married to the leader of another planet. Purpose? To end the hostilities between their worlds. Its her duty, and she hates it. Arrogant and unreasonable, she even knifes her tutor, causing Kirk himself to have to step up and train her in civilized manners and common courtesy.

Unfortunately, there is a reason these women from this world get always what they want: they have tears that act as a fast-acting love potion. You touch their tears and BANG! they got you. And there is no known cure.

Guess what Kirk does when she cries that nobody likes her? Guess what happens next off-screen?

I tell you, I've never seen Kirk look so tired.

Yeah. Being older DOES change the episode for the viewer. You don't have to guess how Kirk reacted - *ahem*. [Side note: that said, I really appreciate the old-time censors unlike so many other creatives. Adults know what happened, the kids don't. That's as it should be. The story's impact is not lost one iota.]

But here's the beauty of the episode: lil Miss Minx is warmed by Kirk. She falls for him too. This is not just one-way. Kirk's command and compassion awaken her mind to a better way of behaving. And then Kirk does something even downright amazing: Before McCoy can find a cure, before Kirk gets this 'love virus' out of his system, he makes a decision.

He's going to let her go. His first duty is to the Enterprise. Her duty is to her new husband.

Now if you have EVER had a passionate love affair and HAD to break it off, you know what it feels like. It does NOT matter how wrong it is, the feelings each person has can be overwhelming, consuming - even maddening.

But feelings when in conflict with faithfulness must always fall. Kirk does what he HAS to do: let this woman go. And when he makes that decision - and she knows he HATES it - she is given enough courage by his example to follow suit. She too will accept her duty and save millions of lives.

Its a pretty awesome episode. Her quivering chin as she is transported away hit the little romantic in me pretty hard. If you're a man and have seen that look on a young lady you love, you know what I mean.

Next month it will be 10 years since I broke up with last girlfriend. A woman I loved dearly, yet could not possibly keep. Our lifestyles were just too different. Next to her I felt four inches taller and ten times wiser.

But it was either her or the ministry. I knew it. She knew it. She said to a mutual friend that she did not want to be a pastor's wife, and I was taking seminary courses at the time.

I really have had no one to talk to about this without sounding like I'm whining. I guess I'm wondering 'Was it necessary? Could we have worked it out?' and 'Why was I introduced to someone so fabulous in my eyes if God wanted me to follow Him? Was it some sort of test?'

And the answer I just found out last night was: Yes. It was a test of duty, of loyalty. I had a calling that I couldn't deny. "Many are called but few are chosen," says Jesus.

I think I know what that means now. You only get to lead by sacrifice, by doing what no one else would do. It may get you killed, but that's why you become the leader.

I'm glad I loved her. I love her still, in my mind as I knew her.

But when Jesus said "If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me," He meant emotional sacrifices as well as physical.

But if you DO know Jesus - His powerful love and His spiritual gifts - you know WHY you are doing it. You know why I did it.

He's truly worth the sacrifice. He's my Lord and my Savior and my elder Brother. He said the world would hate me but I would know Him. I would know God as my Father. I would not live in darkness if I obeyed Him. "I do not call you servants, but friends- for a servant does not know what his Master is doing."

And as I look back over my memories of the past ten years, I have got to say that is true.

Jesus has ruled me well. He is my best friend. He is worth anything and everything.

Farewell, Elaan.

Amen.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

My Latest Lil' Tool

I'm having a spiritually hard week and the Adversary of Mankind is throwing rounds left and right.

So I decided to play a bit.

Here's a Low Earth Orbit Shuttle I made up in Microsoft Word 97. I am laughing at how much graphics use I can get out of this - very similar in some ways to the venerable Aldus Freehand.

I should've used it Saturday night for our gaming group, but just wasn't able.

That's all.

LEO Shuttle

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Giving Tree(s): a memoriam

This past week the last 'trunk' of our beautiful white birch in the back yard fell over - all 45 feet of it landed on the ground - and I did not know it for hours. I stepped outside to grill some chicken and burgers and found it had died peacefully. I then spent the next three hours cutting it up by hand. We knew it was coming, but it was a shock to just find it laid out. It had been a part of the yard for years.

Shel Silverstein wrote a powerful children's book nearly four decades ago entitled "The Giving Tree" which I read as an adult 15 years ago, just as I was discovering God's unconditional love.

The story is heartbreaking, poignant and deep. Using the simplest imagery of a boy and his favorite tree, Silverstein touches the very heart of the child in each of us. The story is direct: the boy loves the tree and the tree loves the boy, but as time passes, the boy finds other things to love beside the tree. The tree is sad to see this is so, but cannot stop loving the boy and whenever the boy asks for something from the tree, the tree gives it, as an act of unconditional love.

Halfway through the book you want to cry for the tree who gives so much to the boy who doesn't seem to be aware he is taking EVERYTHING from the tree. The tree however is content to give, and give and give, for the tree loves the boy.

In the end, when the tree is nothing but a stump, it still offers itself as a place for the boy - now an old man - to rest. So the boy does, and we are told, once again, "the tree is happy."

Many see Silverstein's reference to mothers and women who give and give and give to their families and children and are 'used up' by their service, their only desire to be appreciated in return.

It is convicting for those who have taken much from their loved ones and given so little in return. Seeing the patient love of the tree and the loneliness caused by the boy who callously dismisses the tree's sacrifices year after year would humble even the most selfish, I should think.

But the distance between the two (he is a human being and the tree... well, "she" is not) can also touch our deepest fears of getting into a co-dependent relationship with someone who never moves and has no self-worth except to adore another person and serve them wholly as if they were God. THAT is unhealthy in any relationship.

So the book has many layers of interpretation - some encouraging, some scary, some very sad. It is a classic for this reason. There is not one message, but several. The grace and patience and love of the tree versus the busy-ness, the desires, the other 'wants' of the boy.

Its rare to find people who give as much as that tree. But I knew a few and both have passed away suddenly leaving a hole in the fabric of their community - like that bright white birch in our backyard.

Ron Teiwes, a gentleman builder who loved fishing - and, as Jesus said 'Fishing for Men' - who served at the Billy Graham Telephone Ministry and had two fantastic sons, passed away suddenly two weeks ago. He was 61, was out walking on the sports track, and fell over. He passed away after a week in a coma.

He'd built orphanages in Costa Rica. He led many to place their trust in Jesus Christ for salvation and saved their souls for eternity. My landlady Nancy knew him as a personal friend 20 years ago.

He gave and gave. Now he's home.

As I was clearing the last of the birch tree up on Saturday morning, another dear acquaintance - one of the followers of my blog in fact - also passed away: Barry Trowbridge.

Barry was jovial, and kind, had fought obesity and was winning, led worship and sang at Wheaton Bible Church (being blessed with just a GREAT voice), sang the National Anthem at a White Sox game (see clip) and, I just found out, had been helping refugees by having them stay in his home.




He was driving Saturday morning, had a heart attack and went off the road to hit a tree, dying instantly.

Yes, you could say it was a shock.

But Barry Trowbridge was a giver, like Ron Teiwes was because they had both been to THE "Giving Tree."

They had both been to Calvary. They had both been to the cross where Christ was crucified.

You see, the shame in the story "The Giving Tree" is that ONLY the tree gives. The boy merely takes. And when he is old, he is still just a boy who's aged. He never grew up where it counted - on the inside.

Ron and Barry - one 61 and the other 43 (a year younger than me) - had learned to be Givers - they were men who were "Giving Trees." They gave of their time, their talents, their treasures. And it was because they loved the One Who Gave All to Save His Children. This made them strong enough to give and give out of love, not fear.

They were such a blessing to all of us, the only thing we complain about is the sad fact they left us so soon. We do weep, but not as those who have no hope.

We will see them again - and that good era will never end.

But for now, we sit down at the Tree God provided, the place where He gave His only begotten Son, and rest in the truth that He gave them eternal life.

"...and the tree was happy."

Amen.