Archives For God

Like the popular Taylor Swift song, Blank Space, things have been quiet around here. Time was I enjoyed writing something everyday, but somewhere along the way lost the joy of it.

I forgot that the work was its own reward. It’s not about the comments, or the shares, the social media interactions, or the stats.

It’s about the work.

The sheer joy of creating something which yesterday did not exist. In Tolkien’s phrase, we are “sub-creators”–we create because we are made in the image of a creative God. He didn’t create for applause, but rather because it is his nature to do so. What do you think he meant in declaring creation “good?” Doing the work gave him, the most self-fulfilling being, immense pleasure.

That should be a clue to those of us who are compelled to create works of art (whatever form those works take). Don’t get get sidetracked by applause, acclaim, by being known–keep working, keep creating. It’s not about the glory, but about making the best art we can, and finding joy in the doing.

The work is its own reward. Let’s not forget this.

Author Frank Pretty was arguably the Left Behind of the 80s. His books, This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness got nearly everyone reading about spiritual warfare. It was into this climate of heightened sensitivity that the late Edgar Whisenant emerged. Whisenant said that Jesus was definitely, positively, absolutely coming back on Rosh Hashannah 1988.

It was also the year I came to faith.

I didn’t know the books of the Bible from a shopping list. Although I was baptised as an infant, my family was so Protestant we didn’t bother going to church. In fact, I was so sheltered as a toddler that my only exposure to African American people was via television; I thought they were all called Sanford. In any, God wasn’t a part of my life in any discernable to me. I was an atheist by default.

As I got older, I didn’t bother to investigate these things; I just accepted evolution as the process by which we all arrived here. There was no need for God. I was a ship in the night, adrift on the winds of time. My role models were: an emotionally distant absentee dad, a workaholic mom, and later a pot smoking psychologist. I share this as background to simply illustrate that my upbringing was entirely secular, and that when I came to faith I was for all intents and purposes a blank slate.

I believe things because I didn’t know better. Kenneth Copeland? Awesome! I can write a blank check with God! Kenneth Hagan? Same deal. Benny Hinn. Yep! TBN? Good stuff! In fact, at the church I went to one night I was surrounded by sweaty-faced elders, who prayed for me to receive the evidence of the initial indwelling (that’s tongues). I was all for it, because Hey! I wanted all of God I could have.

When it didn’t happen in the accepted time, one kindly gentlemen suggested that I “Start muttering. It’ll happen.” Sure, why not?

This is the ecclesiastical milieau into which I had come when Edgar Whisenant arrived on the scene with his assertions that Jesus was absolutely, positively, most assuredly coming back. What did I know? If somebody in the know said it why it must’ve been true. I didn’t yet know Jesus’s words that “No man knows the day or the hour.”

I wasn’t the only one left disillusioned when Christ didn’t come back. Scores of (naive) people:

Racked up credit card charges

Euthanized their pets

Gave in to gluttony

Because none it mattered anymore. Jesus was coming back, ans glory! We’re going to get new bodies, someone else will assume this debt, and we’ll see poor Fluffy again up yonder. A kind of quasi-Christian fatalism took hold. Nothing we do matters because Jesus.

A lot of people woke up disillusioned on Rosh Hashannah 1988. Up their eyeballs in debt, with dead pets…

One wouldn’t think that folks could be so naive, but the simple fact of the matter is that by and large there’s a great swath of Christians who didn’t then (and who don’t now) know their Bibles.

I was but one of them. And it has taken years upon years to eradicate the disillusionment and fatalism from my soul. God never has, nor will He ever, conform to our timetable.

Only He knows the day and the hour, and He’s not sharing. The question is: are we okay with that? Can we live with the tension of not knowing, or must we exert control? Because I think that’s what a lot of the “word faith” movement amounts to: trying to control very natural fears by manipulating God.

“All right, God, I said it. You better show up.” As if He cares about our reputations. It’s lunacy. He’ll destroy our puny reputations to create in us an ounce of humility. It’s not reputation He’s after, but rather character.

Holiness.

As Chesterton said, “Our Father is young. We have sinned and grown old.” He only seems capricious and distant because of the sheer amount of baggage and abject lack of perspective we bring to the relationship. He doesn’t owe us anything, and yet we demand–thinking somehow He owes answers, lives of ease and comfort. How quickly we forget this is the same God Who spared not His own Son.

There’s tension, and mystery, we must live in.

The question becomes:

Do we trust that Father knows best. Despite all the BS, trials, tribulations, stings, disappointments, betrayals, injustices…

When the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on the earth?

Will He?

It’s up to us. God help us.

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These days, there’s one name which readily comes to the tongue with regards to adult fantasy: George R.R. Martin. It’s no wonder. First, his book series–A Song of Ice and Fire–took the nineties by storm; then came the HBO series, Game of Thrones, which is a cultural juggernaut. Fantasy as a genre goes back much further, of course. Just how far do we go back? Gilgamesh, The Iliad, The Odyssey, The Aeneid, Beowulf? Certainly not children’s stories. For brevity’s sake, let’s here confine ourselves to select works of the past sixty (or so) years.

Now in a sense all fiction is fantasy, as it’s all made up. But we shall here confine ourselves to what is contemporaneously termed adult fantasy. As I said above, George R.R. Martin is the name du jour in adult fantasy (there are others: Joe Abercrombie, Neil Gaiman, the late Terry Pratchett), but Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (though it evolved from a children’s work, The Hobbit) certainly qualifies. As does Stephen R. Donaldson’s excellent Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever.

And it is about Thomas Covenant that I wish to talk today. Coming on the heels of the release of Terry Brooks’s The Sword of Shannara, Donaldson’s book ushered in a era of renewed interest in, and popularity of, adult fantasy. We’re talking 1977 here, folks–the year of Star Wars–and Donaldson wrote about about dyspeptic former writer turned leper who awakes in a mysterious world known as the Land. Unlike, for instance, Aragorn son of Arathorn, Covenant is no hero. He is a deeply conflicted man at odds with both himself and the world around him. At one time, he knew his place (knew who he was in relation to himself, others, and the world around him): he was a husband, successful writer, and father to an infant son.

Then he contracted leprosy, and his world imploded. Taught at the leprosarium in Louisiana to do a V.S.E. (“Visual Surveillance of Extremities”), Covenant built a new reality. Then the bottom dropped out again when his wife, Joan, left him citing contagion. Cut off from life, from those he loves, from others on his farm outside a small New Mexico town, he becomes embittered. V.S.E. becomes his life.

Leprosy is his only reality. And so little do others want him to be around that someone has paid his utility bills in advance. No one wants any contact with Thomas Covenant. Then it happens: he deliberately heads into town to pay his phone bill, only to find that it, too, has been paid. Enraged, he leaves the Bell office only to swoon in front of an advancing car.

The he awakes in the Land. He of course disbelieves all that he sees around him, chalking it up to a fever dream.

Reality, as it so often does to us, has gobsmacked him. He is in denial. All of his carefully constructed realities have gone whoosh! with the wind. With a name like Thomas Covenant, he is contractually obligated to doubt! And doubt he does–forcefully and actively. To the point where he, and bear in this is well before it became de rigueur to pen tales about antiheroes, does despicable things because “none of this is real.” His only reality, as stated above, is his sickly flesh. As he says, “dead nerves don’t regenerate.”

But in the Land, they do.

I don’t want to allegorize, but instead make an application to our real world: the Bible says that we are dead in our trespasses and sins until Christ makes us alive. And are we not like Thomas Covenant, holding onto our unreality–because there’s no such thing as a free lunch? It seems to good to be true. Dead things can’t live again. So we hold onto our sin, because it’s all we know. Moreover, even after coming to Christ, how long and hard do we work to hold onto our carefully crafted selves, and our comfortable lives? God comes in, has a work for us, and we like Covenant figuratively put our heads in the sand, saying “La, la, la can’t hear you, God.”

Allow me to circle back around here; what I believe The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant to be about is simply calling. And he gets himself into the most trouble by stubbornly denying that calling.

How very much like us. “There’s no way God could use me,” we often say. Like Thomas Covenant himself, God doesn’t call the equipped–He equips the called. In Covenant’s world, he has the wild magic, bound up as it is in his white gold ring (symbolic of commitment, purity, purpose); we in ours have the Holy Spirit–the very mind of Christ available to us. “We are more than conquerors,” as the Bible says. Yet why is it that we don’t live in that place? Because, like Covenant, doubt.

Friends, it’s time stop denying, and embrace the calling placed upon you. If it feels too large–good! Because it is.

But you’re not on this journey alone.

The very Creator walks with you. Lean into Him today.

And read The Chronicle of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. I guarantee the books, with the questions of life, faith, calling it poses, will hit you where you live.

The story of Ehud in Judges chapter three is a short, probably familiar, one. What follows is a poetic retelling of the events of that chapter.

After Othniel, all Israel sinned–
handed over into the hands of their enemies (again)
When 18 years had gone by,
with one voice they cried
(in wailings not to be denied):
Restore, renew, revive
Deliver us once more–
do not ignore our pleading
God had a plan:
Raising up Ehud, a left-handed man
Who by the word crafted a sword,
Strapping it to his right thigh
Eglon the king’s time was nigh
Bringing tribute to the king,
Ehud left, but returned again
With a word from the Lord
(sharper than the two-edged sword)
Locking the chamber, not knowing his danger,
Eglon arose with expectant ear
Not at all knowing his end drew near
Reaching over, with nary a swagger,
Ehud unleashed his mighty dagger
Plunging it into the belly of the king
In it went, past the hilt, sinking
Past layers of blubber
Eglon was done, his bell rung
And out of his belly came the dung
Falling upon the floor
Ehud escaped, the king’s servants
Waiting, anxious, outside the chamber door
After some time passed, and then some more
Unlocking the portal, upon entering
What did they see?
But the slumped Eglon, cooling upon the tile,
Blood and excrement mixt all the while
Whilst the Lord, through Ehud, gave the victory
10,000 Moabites slain, Israel now free

What I love about the Old Testament is that it is full of stories like this one. Stories of regular people used of God at just the right time. What I also love is that there are layers upon layers of meaning. For instance, the account here gives us enough to go on. Just as telling is what it doesn’t say. The events described have been going on for eighteen years. Likely, as Josephus says, this is not Ehud’s first rodeo; he has been there before. To be able to hide the sword as he does folks would have already had to know he was left handed (else his ruse wouldn’t have worked). Moreover, to get a private audience with the king he had to have been someone known, i.e. a trusted entity. Ehud was known to Eglon and his court.

Beyond the mere happenstance, the events themselves, scholars have used the phrase “types and shadows” to describe much of the Old Testament. Types of Christ, of sin, and shadows of things to come. For instance, in the story of Ehud, what is he called in verse five?

Deliverer.

Who else do we know by that name–deliverer? Jesus, of course.

In this passage, Ehud is a type of Christ. What does he do? In verse twenty-one, he puts to death Eglon–that is to say, sin. Eighteen years the Children of Israel lived under the oppressive yolk of Eglon, finally crying out to the Father. God raises up a deliverer to put an end to the oppression. Judgment came by way of an eighteen inch sword.

In Revelation 19:15, it is said of the Lord Jesus that “From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.” (ESV)

The sword is also symbolic, for now in the church age God has put to death sin once and for all in the body of the Lord Jesus, e.g., He is our Ehud. Yet, we have to want to be free. Like the Children of Israel, we often turn away, cry out for deliverance.

God always answers. Now, however, instead of putting to death the enemy outside (for whom He call us to pray), He calls us to look inward–in a way handing us a blade called candor, asking us to plunge into our own bellies, our own hearts. To get to the freedom offered us in His grace we must take that painful look inside ourselves at the ugliness which often lay within, exposing it to the light. This is why Jesus counsels us to remove the log from our own eyes before we take our brothers and sisters to task for the specks in theirs.

What is God asking you to look at today? Are you avoiding it? Denying it? Do you want to be free? In light of verses 21-22 (“Ehud stretched out his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh and thrust it into his belly. The handle also went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not draw the sword out of his belly; and the refuse came out”), is there anywhere in your life where the sword called truth needs to penetrate that the filth may come out?

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Noah’s Ark, an all new VeggieTales, features the story of Pa Grape as Noah as only Big Idea can do. It is, of course, a lesson in trusting God. Do we trust him–even when what he asks of us makes no sense? He may not ask us to make a giant boat in the middle of desert, but he’ll certainly invite us out of our comfort zones, and into a place where we most trust him.

Remember: he doesn’t call the equipped; rather, he equips the called. The point is we can’t do it (whatever it is) on our.

That’s right where God wants us.

And that is the lesson of Noah: trust, and obey.

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