Perhaps it may turn out a sang,
Perhaps turn out a sermon.

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Belt of Truth

You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. -- John 8:44

Most of the time I try not to get too subjective.  I try to stay objective, to look at things from a wider view than just how I feel about it or how it affects me.  I don't mean to imply that I am able to do that cleanly, but I try.  This means that I try not to attribute the worst possible motives to what other people do.  When I read the words of Jesus to those who were attacking Him, my first impulse is to think He is engaging in a rhetorical rebuttal trying to bring those people to their senses.  But I don't think Jesus goes for the hyperbolic much.  When God speaks, that's the way it is.  He literally cannot overstate His case. 

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places  (Ephesians 6:12).

I suppose I am a stranger in a strange land because I find Paul's statement to be very reassuring.  The real nature of our very real war is spiritual.  It works itself out on the material plane sure enough, but there's no need to get too concerned about the temporal, visible aspects.  If we take care of the actual, the derivative will take care of itself. 

There is no reason to ever expect your enemy to admit that you are right.  There is no reason to think that "the spiritual forces of evil" will ever concede.  The great error of "good" people is thinking that going about their business is all that is required, that battling evil is radical or unnecessary.  The truth is that you and I are in a war from the moment we enter the womb, whether we like it or not, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not.  The physical face of the enemy changes from time to time, but "the cosmic powers over this present darkness" remain — eternal, cold, and relentless as the blackness between the stars. 

As Peter said, Jesus " went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him".  He was not oppressing people.  He was not making people sick.  He was not doing anything bad or objectionable.  Yet there were people who wanted to kill Him.  This only makes sense if we realize that breaking through illusions is the way that the powers of darkness and evil are defeated.  Illusions are lies, and they are destroyed by the truth.  The devil cannot attack the truth directly.  It is simply not possible.  Instead he attacks the motives and integrity of the individual messenger.  In the case of Jesus, when the agents of Satan could find no other accusation, they became indignant that Jesus healed people on the Sabbath, as if speaking a word or touching someone were a violation of the Mosaic injunction.  The ridiculousness of the accusation is lost in the vehemence of the attack.

We can see the same thing today.  Turn on the radio, watch a news program on television, listen — if you can endure it — to the arguments of the leftists, and you will hear the "passion" of their arguments.  According to them, people like me hate homosexuals because we are against gay marriage.  We hate black and poor people because we want to require a photo identification for voting.  We hate Mexicans because we think that a nation's borders should be secure.  I can expose any of these lies, but let me pick on homosexuals. 

One of my wife's cousins is a homosexual man.  I have known him for decades.  We used to get drunk together.  I love the guy and consider him a good friend.  His father, my wife's uncle, was kind of a jerk.  I think my friend suffered because of that.  I think there are a number of reasons why he was drawn to homosexuality.  I certainly do not object to him having a happy and fulfilling life.  Here's the problem — he is not going to have a happy life.  He is going to suffer the consequences and the torment of pursuing an illusion. 

The proponents of gay marriage will point to "successful" homosexuals, like Elton John, but fame and money can buy a lot of pain killers, a lot of mind-numbing.  Even the most contented homosexuals often contend with addictions and over-indulgence trying to maintain the illusion and keep out the truth.  Like adultery or any other kind of sexual immorality, there is a price to pay for the pleasure.  Homosexuals frequently pay it in a very physical way with the break down of their immune system.  I am not willing to accept that an Elton John or an Ellen Degeneres would not be happier living a straight, moral and godly life.  They would be filled with joy and peace once the lies in their lives were exposed and driven out.  That's not to even point out that for every apparently happy "gay" person there are a thousand living in daily anguish and torment in the depths of their souls.  It is because I love people like my friend that I am opposed to sanctioning homosexuality.  I am equally against infidelity in marriage and sex outside of marriage for heterosexuals.  I am opposed to the idea of divorce.  And it is all for the same reason — it is based on lies. 

I don't have to go out and personally, physically keep people from committing sexual sins because I think it is wrong.  I am quite confident that God has the power to deliver people from their bondage if they are willing to accept the truth.  If they want to cling to the lies, that's not my problem.  Yet, despite all that I have just said, despite that obviously caring tone, despite the liberty that is implied, a person from the other side will read it and call me "intolerant" and "a hater".  Why?  Because I am telling the truth.  The Spirit of God witnesses to my words and to my love in the heart of my opponent, and he or she feels compelled to attack me.  I will be labeled intolerant, not for doing anything to anyone, actually interfering in another person's life, but for holding to and expressing a point of view — a truthful point of view. 

Though I use homosexuality as an easy example, the battle has many fronts, be it social issues, economic issues, education, families, oppressive governments, political corruption, and on and on.  I confess that I have all too often felt overwhelmed.  I have retreated into complacency and apathy.  I have insulated myself with innocuous diversions and isolated myself with petty pleasures while saying that I am not able to do anything.  In other words, I have embraced a lie of false peace.  Real peace is in the battle on the front line. 

Now where did I put my belt?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

True Being

Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.

Then Pilate said to him, So you are a king? Jesus answered, You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world -- to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice. -- John 18:36-37

In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act. -- George Orwell

I finished up the Gospel of John as I am making my first pass through the New Testament this year.  Any number of verses stand out, but these seem particularly relevant to us today.  Do you know what they called the Jews in Jesus' day who wanted to re-establish the kingdom of Israel by force of arms?  They were known as Zealots.  Barabbas, called a robber by John, is sometimes depicted as or as being associated with the Zealots.  One of Christ's own disciples, Simon (otherwise known as "the Cananaean") is designated as "the Zealot" in Luke's Gospel.  Judas Iscariot may have been in league with the Zealots or, at the very least, inclined to their way of thinking.  His betrayal may have been motivated by the apparent disinterest of Jesus in such a scheme.  Perhaps, some have suggested, Judas was actually attempting to ignite the revolution by turning Christ over to the Jews, thinking that the Zealots would try to rescue the Lord or to avenge His martyrdom. 

As our Lord makes clear to Pilate, establishing a temporal kingdom was never His purpose.  He had been offered all the kingdoms of this world in His wilderness temptation and had rejected Satan's condition without a thought.  The Lord had a far greater revolution in mind than merely overthrowing a king here or there.  God does not worry too much about governments.  See what Daniel had to say about it:  He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; ... (Daniel 2:21).  The Lord can fix a government any time He chooses — not that it is necessarily easy on the citizens, but it can be done.  Kingdoms, empires, republics and nations come and go.  Every individual soul is eternal. 

The empire that Jesus came against was not Rome.  He intended to destroy Satan's kingdom and rule upon the earth.  The weapon He wielded and wields today is the Sword of Truth, and the truth is that humanity has been dominated by and subjected to lies and deception since the Garden.  Christ came to bear witness to and personify the truth.  Through His life, death, burial, and resurrection, He overthrew the devil's power on earth and stormed the very gates of hell to break down the fortress of guile that held us in thrall.  

It is our attitude toward truth that determines whether or not we will be able to follow Christ.  Those who seek and accept truth are empowered to hear and receive Him.  Those who prefer deception, who pursue appearance over reality, who cling to the seen and dismiss the unseen, will never comprehend the truth or see the light.   

In the end, of course, Pilate poses the famous question, "What is truth?"  He perfectly embodies the worldly-wise, world-weary person who has achieved some degree of success yet realizes something is missing.  Pilate was a man of honor in a sense, but the truth was too upsetting for him to accept, especially when he looked upon the truth embodied.  Sadly, some really can't handle the truth -- at least, not yet.

We live in a world of deceit, of masks and disguises, of fact-filled lies, and beguilement.  To tell the truth is to resist and to rebel.  To live the truth, to be true is even more startling and disruptive.

Viva La Revolution!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Good Gifts

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. -- John 15:7

Often prayer can seem a hope dim,
Relegated to last resorts,
Knowing God, if He might be real,
Could never feel my human fear.

But the things I love long to seek:
Liberty, justice, joy, and truth,
Are the dreams of God manifest
Upon the sphere, in hearts broken
Open, to light a wick or two,
And laugh at the empty darkness,
And, in endless hope, ascend.

God does dream, though never asleep,
His waking dream becomes His sheep
Who hear the Shepherd calling deep,
And following, His dream they keep.

The things that we desire and hope for are from God.  Sometimes those things are distorted and perverted by minds darkened and twisted themselves.  Evil is without substance, empty and vain.  It is only when it clothes itself in an illusion of good that it has any attraction for us.  Evil offers us good but in an evil way.  Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride all purport to offer us the satisfaction, peace, contentment, joy, honor, and fulfillment that can come only from righteousness.  If the Good that God wants to pour into us then to pour out of us has to be filtered through such unholiness, it becomes defiled.  The Source, however, remains pure, always. 

The first step in prayer is pushing away the filters of diseased worldly thinking, which most of have to one degree or another, and returning to that Source.  When we seek the good in our own lives and in the lives of others, we are seeking God's pure and perfect will.  Our Father is not in the business of denying His children anything that is good for them.

What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!  (Luke 11:11-13)

The Holy Spirit is that pure and undefiled Source.  Through the Spirit we are able to pray in truth and holiness, undeceived and undisturbed by "the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions".  We bypass our own muddied, muddled thinking to pray with clarity and  certainty.  By the intercession of the Holy Spirit within us, we are transmitting God's will for ourselves and for His kingdom back to Him in an endless, unbroken, fertile cycle like the rain rising from the sea to return to the sea having brought its life-giving and life-sustaining blessings. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Big Daddy

And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.  --  Numbers 13:33

Success in life has a lot to do with perspective.  We are all aware of people who like to talk about their disorders, diseases, and the number of surgeries they have had.  Almost all of us, in our honest moments, have fears that nag and plague us.  Fear can be a powerful and positive motivator.  Men who would have eaten their weight in deep-fried ice cream will push back from the table after one serving following a quadruple bypass.  People who have smoked two packs a day since they were sixteen will find the power to quit when seeing a loved one dragging an oxygen tank behind them or laid out in the funeral home from lung cancer. 

On the other hand, I often point to The Princess and the Goblin containing MacDonald’s insightful quote:  “… but that is the way fear serves us: it always sides with the thing we are afraid of ...”.  Fear as a realistic motivator is a good thing, but fear is never content to motivate us.  If we are not careful, it will seek to control us and take away our hope and our courage.  I hate snakes, I dread snakes, but the likely presence of snakes never kept me out of the woods or off the river.  There’s no sense in stepping one, though, if you can help it. 

The Israelites, after 400 years of servitude in Egypt, were free to enter and conquer the land God had promised to Abraham.  “Enter” was no problem.  It was the “conquer” part they were having trouble with.  Since God has made us this promise, shouldn’t He be the one to clear out the Canaanites?  There are some Christians who seem to believe that encountering obstacles means they have missed God’s will for their lives.  Actually, giants and obstacles are usually a sure sign that you are on the right course.  Overcoming obstacles and overcoming the paralyzing effects of fear are part of God’s challenge that constitutes life in the material world.  Sometimes we think that there will be an end to our boot camp obstacle courses, and there is for many folks who decide that “getting out” is all that really matters, and the wilderness, after all, isn’t such a bad place. 

Anybody can say at any point that they have come far enough.  Anyone can saddle up the camel and head back to Egyptian bondage to live on carp, onions and watermelon.  No one has to face the giants.  I suppose that is true, in a sense, but I fear it is misleading.  Each of us has a destiny, a place in the Temple of God, a function and a purpose in the Body of Christ.  There are some diehards that insist if a particular person fails utterly, then the Body will simply lose the benefit of that person’s life.  Thus, you have deterministic Calvinists and patient Universalists agreeing that God will get a person into the right condition.  Calvinists will modify to say that it applies only to “the elect”.  Universalists will add the word “eventually”.  

Me, I don’t know.  I do know what Proverbs 13:15 says, “Good understanding giveth favour: but the way of transgressors is hard” (KJV).  In other words, if you haven’t got the sense to go on with God, you will have a hard row to hoe. Those who could not overcome their fear of giants moved on continually, finding no rest in the desert.  Life was a bitch. Then they died. 

It is easy to sit back in the recliner and wax eloquent about the need to “endeavor to persevere”.  When it is my boots on the ground and the entire enemy line looks like it is made up of Hulk clones, it might be understandable that I am a little less certain.  How do we press on when things appear hopeless and the opposition is simply overwhelming?  Look at what the faithless spies said, “… we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.”  It was their own view of themselves in relation to their opponents that caused both parties to see them as insignificant. 

First, we need to be realistic about our own limitations.  I try to practice this in every venue.  The other day I had a review where my supervisor mentioned that my assessment of my own capabilities was pretty well in line with how others saw me.  This is not the case for all my colleagues.  Self-esteem is all right, but it should be based on something.  If I say I am good at something, I ought to be able to point to an accomplishment as proof.  The spies were not wrong in thinking that, one-on-one, strictly from a physical point of view, the sons of Anak could probably dunk on them. 

But, second and much more important is to realize that the game is, to some degree, about finding your limits and learning to transcend them in Christ.  As Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  It is not the task before us, whether easy or demanding that is the point, rather it is to be in Christ and relying upon Him and upon His strength.  The challenge just helps us realize the necessity of putting off the strange armor of the old man and putting on the whole armor of God.  David understood:    
Then Saul clothed David with his armor. He put a helmet of bronze on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail, and David strapped his sword over his armor. And he tried in vain to go, for he had not tested them. Then David said to Saul, I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them. So David put them off.   Then he took his staff in his hand and chose five smooth stones from the brook and put them in his shepherd's pouch. His sling was in his hand, and he approached the Philistine.  (1 Samuel 17:38-40)

We really can’t do much better than to conclude with David’s example, for he, too, faced a giant: 
Then David said to the Philistine, You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.  This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head.   And will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the LORD saves not with sword and spear.  For the battle is the LORD's, and he will give you into our hand.  (1 Samuel 17:45-47)

There were twelve spies.  Ten spoke of the giants and the fortified cites.  Two, Joshua and Caleb, dismissed the fears.  Like David, they knew that the battle was the Lord’s and that they need not dwell upon themselves and their own inadequacies. 

Our fears, especially during tough times, can loom large.  Just remember, our Father can beat up their father. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Bilbo Meets Hitler

Via First Things, we have Tolkien's smackdown of Nazi anti-semitism.
This is very much the equivalent of Breitbart's "So?", and both should tell us how we are to respond to the tyranny that seems to be gaining an upper hand in this country. 

I am not ashamed of who I am or what I believe.  If I say something that offends someone, it might be because I am a rude boor, but it could also be because I was telling the truth.  In fact, outside of rappers, Democrat politicians, Hollywood celebrities, and others with no self-control, the latter is a virtual certainty. 

Friday, March 9, 2012

But of God

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:12-13

I have a lot I should be doing today; I am having trouble getting my effort rolling forward.  I don’t really have anything to say, but I read this verse last night, and it was like taking a deep breath of cool, clean air after eight hours in a smoke-filled, overheated room.  Maybe it will do the same thing for someone else.

To think that we have a right to become children of God probably causes different reactions.  Some might think, well, of course, we are all God’s children.  Others might shrug it off as ridiculous fantasy.  Our beloved and mystically inclined brother John should not be lightly dismissed.   

While I am probably more in tune personally with the resolute canniness of Thomas (So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” -- Eeyore would be proud), John seems to surpass his fellow Evangelists in conveying a child-like wonder, an almost stunned amazement in the presence of Christ.  He reminds me of the priests as they first carried the Ark into the Temple, when ... the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God.

To be a child of God, a child of the King, really -- doesn’t it seem that every other ambition would look pretty weak in comparison?  I have stood in humble little churches among humble little, cast-off people as they sang:  Oh, yes, oh, yes!  I’m a child of the King / His royal blood now flows in my veins / And I, who was wretched, thank God, now can sing / Oh, yes, oh, yes!  I’m a child of the King. 

There is a cynical part of my mind, maybe worse than cynical, that responds to a scene like that and thinks that humans are always best at deceiving themselves.  To look around at the dust and the squalor and contrast that with the words those people say can make a person laugh scornfully, weep in pity, or turn one’s face up and join in. 

The birth of a child of God does not come about because of DNA.  The right is not limited to a family or a tribe or a race.  It is not determined by earthly parents or the circumstances of a person’s natural origin.  God looks down and says -- I believe -- to all, “You can be My child.”  Some do not seem to hear, some hear and turn away, some are dragged away, but some turn their eyes away from the world and look upon their Father’s face.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Signposts and Stumbling Blocks

Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades or loose the cords of Orion? – Job 38:31
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.  For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.  – Romans 1:18-20
Recently I was on a site and someone posted a Scripture quote in a comment.  Another person immediately pounced on the quote and launched into a tirade about the falseness of Christianity.  The argument was that all this mythology about Jesus and the disciples was really just a reflection of the Zodiac, meaning, I suppose, by implication, that Christianity is no more valid than astrology.  I admit that I get bored with these kinds of things pretty quickly so I did not read all the way through the paragraph. 

You don’t get any more staid and reserved than the late Dr. D. James Kennedy who served as pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church for decades.  He wore the robes and spoke in elegant, sonorous tones.  He had a full alphabet after his name with all of his legitimate, earned, and advanced degrees.  He also had a teaching that focused on finding Christ in the Zodiac.  Though certainly no friend of astrology, Dr. Kennedy sought to point out that God, as Paul said, had made the truth plain to all throughout history.  No one, from the most ignorant, superstitious cave-dweller to the most brilliant, highly educated scientist can miss the patterns that exist.  They can attribute them to wrong causes, to be sure, but no one has ever been able to miss the signposts.      

Whether it is the constellations that cross the night sky or the mythologies that illuminate dark minds, humans are always looking for patterns.  Hunters spot game in the randomness of limbs, leaves, briars and brambles by looking for an ear or a shining eye or a horizontal line.  Scientists formulate physical laws by sorting out the patterns, repetitions and frequencies from the chaos of existence. 

The Pleiades are a random grouping of distance stars, themselves separated by unimaginable distances, but we see a pattern in them, and they do tell us of the seasons and sharpness of our vision.  The constellations are like landmarks in time that help us find order and direction.  Imagine if the stars were all perfectly, evenly distributed, all the same size and color.  Imagine that we had no wandering neighbors to catch the interest of a shepherd in the field by night.  If we had no constellations and clusters, would our imaginations have ever soared to seek truth? 

People who do not know what they are looking for in the woods will walk right past an animal that is, to a practiced eye, in plain sight.  The same is true of scientific truth.  Why do dogs seem to hate mailmen?  (“Scream all you want, small mailman.”)  We don’t have a mailman that comes to the house, but I do get frequent visits from the UPS truck.  My dog begins to bark frantically as soon as she catches sight of a UPS truck, even if it only passes by on the lane on the way to a neighbor’s house.  Why?  Because she barks and the intruder leaves.   She can’t possibly know that the UPS man is only going to be there until he can hand me whatever it is that is being delivered.  As far as she is concerned, it is threatening barking that protects and preserves the peace and sanctity of her territory from these brown-truck invaders.

Even a dog can perceive that a pattern exists, that life is hardly random and without direction.  We know that the Scorpion does not chase Orion from the sky, but Orion’s movements did help humanity begin to discover the strange truths cloaked in the depths of time and space.  Revelation of God must come in its fullness by the Word.  The Word was spoken in the beginning and all came into being by Him.  For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.  And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Colossians 1:16-17).  If the very stars were formed by Christ and are even now sustained by Him, are we surprised that the stars themselves speak of Him?  If He raised man from the dust and formed us in His image, are we shocked that we see His face darkly in Adonis or Osiris or a hundred other myths of a hundred other tribes?  He has been with us all along.

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. – Hebrews 1:1-2

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Plan, Boss, the Plan

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.  — Proverbs 19:21

How many people have a purpose?  Lots of us have plans.  We make retirement plans, contingency plans, emergency plans, investment plans, college plans, wedding plans, travel plans — there is a plan for nearly everything.  A plan generally has an objective built into it.  But with all of our plans, are we going any place in particular?

I have been to the beach.  Back in the '90s, I once spent two or three days on Galveston Island feeding mosquitoes.  This confirmed my earlier assessment that the beach is good for about half an hour.  Along the Gulf Coast and in Southern California, it is sand and salt water.  Up in Rhode Island, it's rocks and salt water.  It is beautiful.  I have seen it.  I am glad I went.  I might go back, especially to ride along the roads on the coast, cross the bridges, stop now and then to drink a cup of coffee and look out over the vast expanse of the sea.  Some people have a purpose in going to the beach — getting a tan, surfing, swimming, fishing, having a clam-bake, playing volleyball, looking at pretty girls, getting drunk, or all of the above.  Since I am not going to be doing any of those things at the beach, I might have a plan to go, but I don't have a purpose.  Beyond the half-hour of walking around looking at rocks or starfish, I am bored. 

Given that there are many places to go other than the beach, my lack of purpose with regard to it is no a big deal.  If, however, I have no purpose in life, I may find myself getting worn down with the drugdery, the repetitiveness, the stresses of life.  I make plans for life, but none of my plans work out the way I expect.  Even when everything goes the way it is supposed to — according to my plan, I find myself dissatisfied and discontent.  Existence, as Solomon said in Ecclesiastes, is empty, vain, and pointless.  This is a sign that I have missed, ignored, or turned away from — not my purpose but God's purpose for me. 

We are free to take a tactical approach to life.  I say, for example, that I would like to have a good job, so I study hard in school, learn something useful, develop a skill that might impress an employer.  I get more or less the kind of job that I want.  I buy a few things that I need or think I need.  I find a spouse that seems to suit me.  We get a place to live and some more stuff we need or think we need, raise a family, take vacations now and then.  One day, someone asks me about my plans, and I say that I am saving up for retirement or to pay for college for the kids.  My questioner asks, "And then what?"  I reply that there will be recreation and grandkids someday.  The questioner asks, "And then what?"  To every one of my tactical plans, the same question is raised:  And then what?

Without understanding on some level, the beauty and the grace of purpose, we will, in the end, be stumped by life.  If it is just procreation, what of those who do not procreate?  In fact, we are more than gene-machines.  Is there good that can be done, a purpose to be wrung from life that transcends the bars of bone and jars of clay? 

There is nothing wrong with having a plan, so long as we are not too invested in it,  and we understand going in the limitations of our intentions.  A person's plan can never cover the 'why' of life, only the 'how' — and even that can turn unexpectedly.  Jesus laid it out for us in the Sermon on the Mount.  He commanded us to "take no thought", to never be anxious or overwhelmed by fears of the future, nor are we to spend much time figuring out how to get what we need.  The Lord offered us a grand and glorious over-all strategy.  We see is as we pray, "Our Father in heaven ... Your kingdom come, Your will be done...".  Our purpose is not our own, and it is not of the world:  Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, ... lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven ... For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:19-21).

Let God's purpose write your plans. 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Two Free Book Reviews

No, seriously, it's a free book from  Manybooks allows you to download in a wide variety of formats -- I used epub.  Jay Caselberg is an Australian writer of science fiction, and his book Binary is a sort of King-Lear-meets-Dune-in-space-with-giant-lizards.  What is amazing is that it is pretty well written, and it works better than you would think.  In fact, I would say that the first half of the book is as strong a science fiction story as I have read in quite a while.  The world is nicely established.  The characterization is both sharp and complex.  Mr. Caselberg seems to weaken somewhat toward the end, as the powerful effort in the early chapters may have simply worn him down.  He was holding up a lot of heavy threads that had to be woven together, and I get the sense that he wanted to get it done. 

A mothership had left the home world -- presumably our Earth a hundred or so years in the future.  There were colony ships attached to the mothership that could be sent down to planets that appeared habitable for humans.  The planet Aldaban, orbiting a binary star, appeared very promising.  But the colony ships had encountered problems, possibly due to the disruptive effects of the smaller star.  The landing had been disastrous, and the first colonists had barely survived, scavenging as much as they could from the landing craft but losing much of the available advanced technology.

The binary star system is called the Twins.  When the Major Twin is between the Minor Twin and the planet, the inhabitants experience a season of peace and growth.  This appears to last for the equivalent of a year and two-thirds.  It is not clear if Aldaban's orbital year is roughly equal to an Earth year, but we can assume that.  In addition to the planetary orbit around the Twins, the Minor Twin orbits the Major.  When the Minor Twin is closer to the planet, it's lesser but nearer light sets off an entire season of storms.  The increased gravitational pull apparently triggers frequent quakes as well.  The radiation disrupts communications and limits travel to foot or animal power.  The primary motive beast of burden is called a "padder", which, though never explicitly described (and I appreciate that), sounds a bit like an alien cross between a camel and an ox.

The people of Aldadan have a religion based on The Book of Words, presumably of the one they call The Prophet.  A lot of it sounds vaguely Islamic.  Their government is heavily based on tradition.  They have guilds that control most of the aspects of life.  The big three guilds are Primary Production, Technologists, and Welfare.  Primary Production includes mining and other raw materials.  This is the guild that has the most influence during the productive Clear Season.  When the Storm Season comes, the Welfare guild is most influential.  There are other lesser guilds, but over all is the Principate (principate - caliphate?) headed by the Principal.  These are generally inherited positions.  As the story unfolds, the Principal Leannis Men Darnak is getting older and wants to turn the Principate over to his eldest son, Roge.

The story involves a great deal of political intrigue, betrayal, manipulation, and deception.  Some people see the transition, which happens to occur just as the Storm Season begins, as an opportunity to gain or consolidate power.  Some are not happy with the time-honored and traditional roles they have been assigned.  Some do not like the idea of succession to the eldest son.  There is significant conflict but not a lot of blood and gore until the end -- and even that is mostly indirectly related.  There are a group of humans called the Atavists that remind me of the Fremen from Dune -- if the Fremen were Amish.  They are anti-technology and devoted followers of the Prophet.  There is an intelligent alien race called the Kallathik which the humans have used as forced labor in the mines during their five centuries on Aldaban. 

When the novel finishes, there are some strings left hanging, and it is a little disappointing, especially in light of the book's promise in the earlier sections.  For the first few sections I had to check as I was reading to verify that it was a science fiction novel with a recent publication date (2009) rather than a lost H. Beam Piper classic.  You can't do much better than that.  In the end Binary remains comfortably comparable to a lesser Piper work like Uller Uprising, and, for the price, I can't complain. 


However, even free can't keep me from complaining about a couple of other works by D. Dalton aka Dalton Reed -- All Things Impossible and All Things Impossible: Heartstealer.  These are supposed to be, I suppose, fantasy novels, maybe epic.  I don't know.

Spunky, butt-kicking, teenage female protagonist -- Check.
Elves -- Check.
Orges -- Check.
Undead -- Check and Double-check.
Desperate Last Stand -- Check.
"Clever" Double-Twist Ending -- Check.
Evil (and often inept) Satanic Cult -- Check.
Evil Mordor-esque Empire -- Check.
Angst-y, Smitten Vampires -- Check.
Cranky but extremely competent Elf physician who can heal fatal wounds -- Check.
Ambivalent, Unsure Heir to the Throne -- Check.
Unicorns -- Check.
Mixed marriage between elf-chick and (not really) evil mordor-guy with a precocious and annoying offspring -- Check.
Flying Unicorns in Disguise -- Check.
Magic Swords -- Check.
Magic Amulets -- Check.
Unhappy Fat Guy Dragged Along for the Ride Who Acts Heroically Nonetheless -- Check.
Wizards -- You gotta know it at this point.
Dragons -- Of course.
Did I mention vampires who can fly like Superman without changing into bats?
Talking flying unicorns in disguise? -- I know, I just can't quite get over it.  The dragon talks, too, and flies, and can change size.
Raider of the Lost Ark booby traps ... the beat down goes on.

I know I'm missing some cliches, but if you can think of one I've missed, most likely it is in there.

Now, add to all that characters who were apparently schooled at the James T. Kirk Academy for EK-STREAMMMM Overacting and you will have a pretty good idea of the two novels.  The nice thing is that that if you just want a goofy, escapist story, you can read either of these novels as a stand-alone.  They suck about equally, but Heartstealer is worse, both in terms of the idiotic dialog (or maybe I was just getting really fed up) and surplus tropes Dalton couldn't throw into the first one.

These plots and scenes are predictably unpredictable.  Is that even possible?  The author apparently heard that you should show rather than tell.  This means that the characters do a lot of thigh-slapping when angry or frustrated.  Not to mention sly-thapping.  Or sigh-thlapping.  They also suck their tongues a lot when thoughtful.  There is a dump truck load of eye-rolling.  I don't think I have ever sucked my own tongue in my entire life.  Why would anybody do that?

Imagine if Terry Pratchett had tried to write Discworld as NOT a parody but left all the parody stuff in.  You can even leave in some of the self-awareness, but if you take out all the humor, all you have left is stupid.  In the end, it is pretty much a complete waste of time, but if you are looking for goofy, harmless fun, you could do worse.  I guess.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Heart on Fire

Our God comes; he does not keep silence; before him is a devouring fire, around him a mighty tempest. — Psalms 50:3

Judgment does not wait for a distant future White Throne encounter after death.  There is a great judgment of all things coming, but people step up to the bar every day.  In our choices to appease our old nature, in our decisions to pursue our ends apart from Him, we are placing ourselves under judgment.  Jesus says that we will have to give account for "every idle word".  That sounds a little extreme.  God keeps track of every stupid thing I say.  That's a gig or two, at least.

But if He keeps track of all my stupidity, fielding errors and strikeouts, that means He is also present and aware when I do well, when I am suffering, when I am weak but faithful, when I struggle and cry out to Him.  We get to decide whether we walk in grace and mercy or justice and dread.  See what He says a little further long:  Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me. (Psalm 50:14-15) 

On the other hand, But to the wicked God says: “What right have you to recite my statutes or take my covenant on your lips?" (v. 16)

There is no equivocation here.  God is going to show up.  He is ignoring nothing.  God is paying attention.  He is not fooled, just long-suffering and patient.  These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself  (v. 21).  This troubles a lot of us, believers and non-believers alike.  There are times when the silence of God seems final, in the silence of death, in the aftermath of judgment's storm and flame.  

Of course, He is like us for He is alive.  He is dangerous, and He is wild.  The fire rushes toward us.  Everything that is combustible ignites.  Everything that can be consumed is consumed.  Everything that is dead is swept up into smoke and heat and vapor.  The old hillbillies used to burn off the woods and fields every spring.  It was a great destruction, but it was also a renewal.  Fire was the only tool they had.  As things advanced, machines gave them a means to accomplish many of the same ends without as much destruction.  Grace is the tool God offers us to deal with the deadness and debris that builds up, that chokes out fruitfulness, to clear out the tangles, brambles, briars and thistles in our lives.  If we make use of it, the field is green and growing and safe from the fires of judgment.  If we refuse His grace, sooner or later, the fire will devour and leave behind a blackened emptiness.

This, too, is grace.  It is a cleansing that we desperately need, though we will lose some things that are good.  Judgment, by its nature, cannot be as discriminating.  The wind blows where it will and the fire is driven on before it to the edge of utter barrenness or to the shores of the waters of life.