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Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Perfect Revelation

This morning I was listening to a Sunday morning message I missed literally months ago, and Pastor Bob said something that really woke me up! He said that most of the world's religions worship nature, but nature is a merciless god... if an innocent man falls off a cliff, he will die just as quickly as if a criminal falls off the same cliff. A lion will eat a small animal, or a murderer, or a newborn baby; it's all the same to the lion. Nature is imperfect, corrupted by the fall of mankind. That's why God sent Jesus... the final Word, and the exact image of Him... to show us what God is like. Nature is an imperfect image of God, because it is damaged; Jesus is flawless, the exact, perfect revelation of God the Father. When we've seen Jesus, we've seen the Father!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Meekness, not Weakness

A few days ago I was letting my baby girl play with my sunglasses. Knowing how easy it is to break plastic sunglasses and knowing that she's still a baby and might not know how careful she needed to be, I used one of our buzzwords on her: "Gentle, Hannah! Gentle!"

She patted my sunglasses like a puppy. :)

Sometimes I wonder if we grownups understand the proper application of gentleness any better than she did! Yesterday in Sunday School we were talking about the fruit of the Spirit, and specifically gentleness, which is also called meekness (depends on which translation you're reading). The gist of the lesson was that despite the fact that they rhyme, "meekness" and "weakness" aren't the same thing. Meekness/gentleness actually means that you refuse to manipulate someone, but you act within the will of God to someone else's advantage. Jesus always acted in meekness, even when he was at what some might consider His most violent, bodily driving moneychangers out of the temple; He was not acting in his own self-interest, but in God the Father's interest. And of course, the ultimate example of meekness is that the creator of the World and everything in it became part of His own creation in order to save it through His own death. That was a gentle act, but it took great power to accomplish!

And to me, that's the crux of what gentleness is. I think about parenting my kids. Right now they are both little, and I can pretty easily overpower either of them physically. I'm big and loud to them, and if I yell at them, I can reduce either of them to tears if I want. That would be abusive, and would be acting in my own interest, not theirs. Gentleness is when Mikey wants to talk to me and I want to read, but I put down my book and listen to him tell me about the new video game he played. Or when I'm playing blocks with Hannah, and I stack up a tower but she knocks them down and I let her. It's also when you're telling someone about Jesus and they put up some resistance, so you back down and give them time to process before broaching the subject again. Meekness is when you have the power to control someone, but you choose not to.

On the way home from church I was telling Mikey about that lesson, and he said, "That was just like the show we were watching yesterday!" And he was right... that same thought had come to me during class! The show we were watching (actually I was watching it and he was catching little bits of it while he was doing something else) was an episode of Legend of the Seeker which requires a few sentences of back story before I can explain why it's an example of meekness. The show is based on a series of fantasy books called The Sword of Truth. In the story, a young man named Richard Cypher is known as The Seeker; his destiny is to free the world from the dominance of an evil despot named Darken Rahl. Richard is traveling with a wizard named Zedd and a beautiful woman named Kahlan Amnell who happens to be what is known as a "confessor." Confessors have a magic power: they can touch a person and make that person fall in love with them, to the point where the confessed person will do anything the confessor asks or needs, to the point of giving their life for her.

In the episode, Kahlan decides that because of a prophecy that she would "betray" Richard, she must leave his party (she is sworn to protect him at all costs) and find another confessor to go with him. She goes to a village which is under the protection of a friend of hers who is also a confessor; Kahlan asks her friend to join Richard and allow Kahlan to take over protecting the village. It turns out that the friend has brought peace to the village by confessing every single person who lives there and having them drive out Darken Rahl's soldiers. Kahlan is aghast; she only uses her powers in battle because she believes it is wrong to force people to do your will, even if it is for their own good. Mikey recognized that as an example of meekness, and he was very right!

The episode goes on to contrast Kahlan's gentle touch with the touch of another woman, Denna, who is what is known as a "mord sith." The mord sith force people to be devoted to them by torturing the people with magic and playing mind games with them; it's sort of a Stockholm syndrome kind of thing. Denna nearly breaks Richard, but then Kahlan shows up to rescue him. She has a chance to confess him, which would in theory make it impossible for Denna to break him, be she (in meekness) refuses to do so, and ultimately Richard finds it within himself to resist Denna's magic and kill her. The mord sith control people by demanding their love and loyalty by magical force; the confessors control people by inspiring their love and loyalty by gentle magic. The moral of the episode is that stealing someone's love, whether by gentleness or by force, is wrong.

Richard is able to resist Denna because Kahlan has earned his love, not because she has put a spell on him. When Kahlan's confessor friend, who is about to direct her village to attack the temple where Richard is being held and save him, is herself killed, the spell is broken on everyone in her village except one young man, who throughout the episode has shown that he truly loves her. The spell does not break on him because it wasn't a spell. As he cradles her dead body in his arms, his fellow villagers run away. The ones she controlled by force flee, but the one she controlled with love still loves and stays with her.

My Sunday school teacher mentioned some time he spent as a young man street witnessing, and how when they went out and just told people about Jesus in an effort to convert them, their success was limited, but organizations around town that meet the needs of the people... feed them, clothe them, help them find real jobs, etc... those organizations have lasting results. If we as Christians can learn to share the Gospel with meekness, with a heart of giving ourselves for the sake of others instead of trying to manipulate others into making a confession of faith, we can obtain results for God's Kingdom that we never imagined possible.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Left Behind prequels: "Countdown to the Rapture"

Yesterday I finished reading book 3 of the "Left Behind" prequel series. The prequels, called "Before They Were Left Behind," detail the lives of Nicolae Carpathia, Rayford Steele, Buck Williams, and other characters from the popular series in the days directly leading up to Left Behind. Book 1, The Rising, details the sinister circumstaces surrounding the conception and birth of Nicolae, and also tells the story of the childhood of Rayford Steele. Book 2, The Regime, continues the rise to power of both men (Nicolae in business and government, Rayford in college and aviation), and book 3, The Rapture, brings things right up to (and past!) the time of the actual rapture, which occurs partway through the book.

I have to say, I approached the prequels with some interest. Although I've seen the movie version of Left Behind, I've never read any of the novels before now. But frankly, I've been a little bit disappointed in these prequels. It's not that the story isn't interesting... it's more like there are too many stories going on at once! Every chapter, and sometime several times within the chapter, for all three books the perspective shifts between characters and often between countries, and they never dovetail (actually, Buck winds up on Rayford's plane at the end of book 3, but the stories don't intersect until then). I actually found it difficult to invest myself completely in any of the stories, because we never stuck with the same story long enough. Sort if like trying to watch TV with someone who keeps switching channels.

And you know what? I think I should take back what I said about the story being interesting, because sometimes it's as dry as a bone. Particularly the first two books have a distinct "prequel" flavor, kind of like Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. In both cases it's interesting enough to learn the backstory, but the story itself isn't that interesting. So Nicolae was a test tube baby. So he had his mother and fathers (!) killed. So he has a lot of people killed. So what? He's a cold sucker. He's the ANTICHRIST, for goodness sake. We KNOW he's a bad guy!

One thing I will give the series... when the rapture happens in the story, suddenly things come alive! I almost felt like I had been raptured myself! Except for the parts where the authors describe stories of real people in detail (come on... we know the Through Gates of Splendor story already, and we know Billy Graham is a cool guy, and we all probably feel pretty sure they'll be getting rewards in Heaven) and pretend that Bible characters will somehow quote themselves stright from King James when they meet Jesus in Heaven (how corny! Mary will recite The Magnificat to Jesus? Really?)... except for those parts, the post-rapture Heaven scenes are pretty great! I love their ideas of how Heaven might be, how it might feel to have a glorified body, what might be in the place that Jesus has gone to prepare for us. I kind of wish that LaHaye and Jenkins had kept it in the realm of fiction, though, and not tried to teach us so much church history. There are a plenty of good books for that. I would have preferred made-up characters and rewards rather than the Bible school lessons. How about writing some interesting people into the story and then telling us about their rewards? That would have been more fun than stories of the Church Fathers, even though I highly respect those saints who have gone on to be with Jesus and in other contexts I am riveted to their stories.

It would have been pretty hard to write those scenes without including Bible characters, it's true, but I think it would have been more interesting to give them words to say that weren't directly from the recorded Word of God. When someone only speaks two or three times in the Bible, doesn't it stand to reason that they might have other things to say than those few lines? Ironically, the characters that are given more to say... Peter, for example... are generally the ones who had more lines to choose from in the Bible. (An exception would be Joseph, earthly father of Jesus... his scene is quite touching. I wish other characters would have been handled that way.)

I've been reading LaHaye's book Revelation Unveiled, which details what he believes about the end times; his theological ideas form most of the basis for the entire "Left Behind" saga. I found that book to be much more interesting than these prequels. But you know... maybe the problem is that I haven't read the original series yet. Maybe I should have started with Left Behind like the rest of the world. Maybe then this batch would have had more "Oh yeeeeah! Now I understand!" moments. So I'm looking forward to starting the regular series very soon. But I don't think I would recommend the first two books of the prequel series very highly for the uninitiated... they honestly might scare people off. I think The Rapture might be a good entry point into the series, but maybe save the others until you've exhausted the other parts and can't stand to leave the series quite yet.

POSTSCRIPT: This morning I read the first chapter of the original book, Left Behind. I was disappointed to find that most of the good parts from The Rapture are actually repeats of the first chapter or so from Left Behind, almost word for word! I expect some repetition in chapter 2 as well, judging from what was in the other book. How disappointing.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Having Pants Trouble

I don't have to be deeply spiritual in every single post here, right?

This morning I got up in plenty of time to be ready for church. We have Sunday School at 10am and then service at 11:15... I think it was 8am when I got up. In fact, I rested so well that I woke up totally relaxed. I got up, got Mikey in the bath and got myself in the bath, and even listened to the music portion of the 8:30am service on the Web stream (I was scheduled to volunteer on one of the TV cameras in the 11:15 service, so it helps to hear the early service so you know what's coming up.) Mikey was dressed already when I went to the closet to get my khaki pants.

No pants.

WHERE are my PANTS? I couldn't figure out what I had done with them! They weren't in my dirty clothes hamper, they weren't in my closet, they were nowhere! And showing up in Sunday School without pants is, at my church at least, non-standard behavior. Potentially it would even be frowned upon. Ahem. Anyway, I was freaking out, so I started pulling out the pants I should have gotten rid of years ago... the ones that are so small in the waist that I can barely button them any more, the ones that are an inch too short, the ones that are so thin at the back pockets that you can almost see the tighty-whiteys through them. They were all, would you believe it, WRINKLED! (Imagine that... after being jostled around in the closet for only, like, eight years, they were wrinkled.) So I pulled out the iron.

Keep in mind that by this time we were fast approaching 10am and I was going to make myself late for Sunday School (again... we were late last week too.) So instead of setting up the big ironing board, I tried to iron my pants on the ground. And I set the heat too high, and the iron had some of that sticky black stuff on it that comes off on your clothes when the heat is too hot, and it came off on the first pair of pants I tried to iron. D'OH!

I'm not sure what made me think it was a good idea to try what I tried next. Any sane person would know it was a totally stupid idea, but I was trying to rush and maybe all the synapses weren't firing. Anyway, I tried to rub the sticky stuff off on the carpet. Of course it didn't work. What it did do was scorch a triangular shaped scorch into the carpet... D'OH!!! Now Cathy's going to KILL me!!!

Maybe scorching my carpet brought me to my senses or something, because I finally remembered where my khakis were. I have a chair in my room that I throw clothes on sometimes when I'm in a hurry to get changed... last week we went over to a friend's after church and I must have thrown them over that chair and forgotten. Anyway, when I saw how wrinkled they were, I realized that there was no chance of me getting to Sunday School in time. I would have worn jeans (we're a fairly casual-dress church) but you're not supposed to wear jeans when you're running a camera (the cam operators are up on platforms, very exposed, so the policy is that we are supposed to dress "business casual".) At that point I knew Sunday School wasn't going to happen, so I threw the pants in the clothes washer and waited on them.

By the time I got them out of the dryer, not only were they still damp and needed ironing anyway, but I was on the verge of being late for the church service! The policy is for cam operators to be there in place fifteen minutes before the service (in case there is a problem with the equipment, special instructions, etc.) Fifteen minutes before the service, I was stressed out, damp below the belt, and just leaving the house. I don't like to not be there when I'm supposed to be there, because I've been the guy on the other side of the equation... the one waiting until the last minute for the camera volunteers to arrive and wondering what I would do if they never did. I don't like to put someone else through that.

15 minutes to service time. And we live about 20 minutes from my church.

When we left the house, Mikey and I both commented that it didn't "feel like" we were going to church... it just felt like we were leaving to go to, I don't know, the store or something. We were totally not in the right frame of mind, and I was in an awful hurry to try to get there. Actually, I was either lucky or blessed with a lot of green lights, and I did the speed limit in places where I normally am not going the speed limit, and when I dropped Mikey off in the children's area I literally ran to the adult sanctuary. When I walked in, we were less than 2 minutes from starting... I had barely enough time to get onto my platform, unlock my camera, put on my headset, and provide this explanation:

"I'm sorry, I was having trouble with getting my pants to work right." (For some reason, nobody on the headsets asked for further clarification.)

So that's the end of the story... almost. I had just enough time to get settled when the service started, but it went unexpectedly well for me. I only made one "mistake" that showed up on the screens, and that mistake was really due to mixed signals from the director in the booth. In fact, one or two times the director switched to my camera before I was totally ready, and it worked out anyway and looked good. The message was wonderful (it was about how the forgiveness of sins bought by Christ on the Cross was once and for all, and we don't need to be born again over and over) and it was overall a great service. It's funny how you can be totally frazzled and still be used of God if you'll give Him the chance!

Friday, July 17, 2009


Last Sunday in Sunday School we were talking about "goodness". We learned that God is the only one who is "good" (see Luke 18:19) and in reality we can't even do any truly "righteous deeds" in our own strength (Isaiah 64:6). It got me to thinking about wires.

Why wires? Wires are conductors. They carry electricity. If a wire isn't connected to a power source, though, it doesn't carry any electricity... although it does have the capacity to do so. In the same way, we as human beings have the capacity to display God's goodness, but we have to be "plugged in" to the Holy Spirit to do so.

I kept thinking about a bunch of wires dancing around, not connected to anything, but singing out, "We're carrying electricity! We're carrying electricity!!" That's impossible... wires can't carry electricity on their own! (Plus, wires can't dance very well... one left foot, you know.) Yet we human beings have the audacity to run around thinking we're getting something that God considers "good" accomplished on our own. I think some of us will be surprised when we one day stand before the Lord and our deeds are tried with fire (1 Corinthians 3:12-15). I think we may be surprised at some of the things that are burned up (Matthew 7:21-23) and also surprised at some of the things that last (Matthew 25:31-40)!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


Yesterday at this time I was watching the memorial service of "the king of pop." There has been an incredible outpouring of grief and love in the wake of Michael Jackson's death, and I have personally come to have a much more positive view of him than I've had probably at any other time in my life. I think Michael was a person with a compassionate heart who did much to relieve suffering wherever he saw it. I also think that among his friends were a number of very vocal believers in Jesus, and I feel certain that he had many chances to hear the Gospel and hope to see him in Heaven one day.

As I was watching the ceremony, a few things impressed me. One was the sight of the coffin... basically a "king" in a box. It's humbling to think that a person who shook the world with his music and dancing and humanitarian work, the person who spawned what might almost be considered a music empire... that person was right there, in a metal box, and would never leave it again. Funerals are always a sobering thing, and this one maybe more than many because of the impact that Michael had on the world.

I was watching the coverage on CNN's Web feed, and along the side of the video was a place where people could post comments via Facebook. One person posted that Michael is "the King of Kings". Presumably that person did not know that saying that is near blasphemy, because "King of Kings" is a title reserved for Jesus Christ (see 1 Timothy 6:13-16, Revelation 17:14, and Revelation 19:16). Michael Jackson was extremely influential, and putting all opinions about his personal life aside, the man made some catchy tunes... and he had the whole world moon-walking! But he wasn't a political leader at all, and I have no idea which "kings" the person considers him "king" of (the king of the king of rap? the king of the king of dancing?) I know the person was expressing appreciation for Michael's accomplishments, but it kind of shows how easily people will appropriate religious imagery, even names of God Himself, when they feel emotionally moved.

Something one of the commentators mentioned stuck with me. She said that the memorial service might possibly be "the most viewed event ever." In this day and age, television signals go around the world, both via satellite/wires/TV signals and Internet streams. There are places in the world where people could view this memorial where they would not have been able to view the funeral of the King of Rock & Roll, or even the funeral of Princess Diana which occurred much more recently. The Internet has basically made it so that people almost literally everywhere can watch an event unfold. It seems like prophecy is on its way to being fulfilled in ways never before possible. Revelation 13:1-4 tells us that in the last days, the person best known as "the Antichrist" (represented in those verses by a "beast") will have a "mortal wound" on "one of its heads," but instead of dying, the "beast" is healed, and "the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast" (emphasis mine). When in history has it been possible for "the whole earth" to experience something at once?

Another incident in the book of Revelation where the whole world participates in an event at one time occurs in Revelation 11:7-13, where two witnesses who are speaking of the true God are killed (by the "beast") in the streets of Jerusalem, and left to lie there for three and one-half days. During that time "some from the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies." The whole world will know what's going on (and presumably the whole world will know it when, at the end of the three and a half days, God raises them both from the dead!) It is only relatively recently in history that the whole world could actually even know about a single event within three days... in the time of John the Revelator it would have taken longer than that to get word of an event from one end of the known world to another.

I hope it doesn't seem like I'm equating Michael Jackson to the Antichrist, because I am absolutely not. Michael was a good guy, and in the wake of all this, I wish I had gotten a chance to know him personally. But the "spirit of antichrist" (which is actually just rebellion against God) is out there now, and the person who will become the Antichrist may well be out there too... the pieces are falling into place. Maybe the event that will one day eclipse the memorial service of the fallen King of Pop will be the memorial service for a world leader who died of a bullet, a blow, or slice to the head, or a brain aneurysm... but then gets up out of his coffin! If you see that day come, I pray that you will turn to Jesus Christ and make Him your Lord; the days that follow that event will be a lot less fun than the days following the funerals of beloved rock stars. Will people call him the "King of Kings" when that happens? Will they believe it when they say it?

Will that day supplant yesterday as "the most viewed event ever?"

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


I was reading this article about the legal aspects of faith healing cases and a thought occurred to me. I'll preface this by saying that I believe that God does heal people miraculously when they are prayed for. But I also believe that God has given us tools in nature that allow us to make medicines that relieve suffering and can speed healing, and those tools should be taken advantage of when they are needed. I take a 'prophin when my head hurts. I take Claritin when the pollen counts are high. And when children are involved, parents should always have the common sense to take them to the doctor. Pray for them, yes. Then take them to the doctor unless they immediately lose all sign of the symptoms of their sickness. If you pray for a child and they still are obviously experiencing the sickness, to not take them to a doctor is child abuse, no matter what your religious beliefs are.

The article references James 5:14-15 as a common justification for prayer-without-medicine: "Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven." I fail to see how that passage of Scripture prohibits use of medicine. In actuality, not even medicine truly heals the sick, as any doctor can tell you... the medicine simply helps your body to heal itself. Pray, believe God, and then if you need it, take some medicine. Get a procedure done, get surgery, take a pill or a shot. My pastor just got knee replacement surgery. You can bet that he has been praying, his wife has been praying, and his whole church has been praying for him. It is not a lapse of faith to allow clever medical practicioners to do what they do best in addition to praying in faith. You may just find that after your procedure, God "raises you up" and you recover so quickly that even your doctor is surprised!

The thing that actually came to mind, though, was a parable Jesus told, recorded in Luke 10:25-37. It's a very familiar story... a man gets robbed and beat up, and two religious people see him but refuse to help him. A non-religious person comes along and helps the man, and is commended by Jesus. I don't think there is anyone who would argue that the "Good Samaritan" did anything sinful or wrong in helping the man; again, Jesus basically commended him for his actions. What did he do that was so great?
[The Samaritan] came to where [the injured man] was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.
The Samaritan was commended for administering first aid! He gave the man medical attention! He didn't "pray in faith" and then put the man in the hotel to wait for his miraculous healing... he "poured on oil and wine" (first aid with medicine) and then "took care of him" (additional medical attention).
[Jesus asked the man He was telling the story to,] "Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed him mercy." And Jesus said to him, "You go, and do likewise."