Saturday, December 31, 2005
There is so much negativity in Christendom today! It really distresses me and keeps adding new items to my list of pet peeves. For example, when someone says something negative about himself, you often hear someone else say something like, "Thank you for being honest."
What? How is honesty connected with negativity? Am I not being honest if I say, "I am obedient to God and have walked faithfully in His light"? How many times have you heard a statement like that and then someone replied, "Thank you for being honest." Apparently the majority of Christians have this "I'm a worm" mentality, and it really seems to keep them from being all they can be.
Why am I harping on this now? I think it's because of a topic I read on one of my writers' forums recently. Someone asked us to list two aspects of writing we hate that keep us from being MVP (Most Valuable Player) writers. Well, first of all, the assumption seems to be that no one on the list is or believes he can be an MVP writer. The second problem is this dwelling on the negative. Why not ask, "Those of us who are not already MVP writers should strive to be one. What aspect of your writing are you working on that will propel you into that category?"
You see, I have no problem believing that I am an MVP writer right now. When I was pursuing writing as a career, I was confident that I would become one. Why not? God had called me to be a writer, so I fully expected to become a good one. I always believe in performing at my very best, so why not have confidence that I could perform at a high level? And now that I am a best selling author and my publisher perceives me as their top author, it would be dishonest of me to believe otherwise or to display a false mask. Sure, I know that I still need to strive to be even better, but I will not lower my head and self-deprecate in order to achieve some false idea of humility or "honesty."
True humility is to have a correct view of our standing, as servants to the Almighty God. Without Him we would be nothing. We would not even be able to take a breath. Everything we do or hope to do is enabled by His grace and empowering. Yet, through Him, we can do all things, and it glorifies God when we stand up and tell the world what His power has done in us. This is authentic humilty--real honesty.
I believe that many aspiring writers would be benefit from a more confident outlook. While taking care not to gloss over inadequacies in their writing abilities and ignore their marketing strategies, they need to pursue their goals with complete confidence that it is God who is at work in them to bring about the ends that He has prepared.
So, writers, keep working hard at honing your craft. Take care to pursue relationships in the industry in order to learn the business. Seek to be a servant and help others. These are all essential steps. But I encourage you to keep your head up, knowing that you are children of the King. You are marching out to fulfill His calling, under His orders, and in His power. You are not worms who crawl in the mire, engaging in self-flagellation in order to adhere to a cultural perception of proper "humility."
If you decide to heed this counsel, you will likely be called proud or arrogant. Such accusations will sting. I know. I have felt those barbs many times. But take courage that Jesus endured the same poisoned arrows. He has called us to honor God no matter what, to tell the truth about God's light in us. We are a city set on a hill. Let us not hide our lights under the bushel of dishonest "honesty."
Thursday, December 29, 2005
I decided to write a straightforward story that contained hidden depth. Any astute reader would be able to gather the hidden treasures, while the youngest readers would just have fun with the story. Still, I held back a bit. I wanted to write more complexity and more puzzles, but I thought I would start with something that would stretch my readers just a little. I didn't want to risk any readers thinking, "Huh? I don't get it."
With The Candlestone, I took a step forward in complexity. My hope was that readers of Raising Dragons might be ready to dig a little more. I added new characters, a bit of familial pathos, and a dash of science fiction. I also took the step of killing two characters. One was the object of the redemption theme, Bonnie's father, and one was a villain.
It's not unheard of to kill off a "good guy" in youth literature, so that wasn't a huge step, but it is more unusual, from what I've read, to kill off someone who is a big part of the story and is redeemed at the end.
The bigger step, I think, was to use my protagonist (Billy) to kill a villain (Palin) in a way that wasn't exactly courageous. In fact, he did directly the opposite of what he had been told to do. As readers know, this killing, even in its improper manner, is absolutely essential to the story and the development of Billy. Readers have debated his actions on my message board, so I know it was a seminal moment. It made them think about inward sin, rationalization, and God's work on the inner man. Most important, it helped them to consider another face of redemption.
When I wrote Circles of Seven, I took the gloves off. I decided to make it as complex and deep as my heart desired. Were my readers ready for such a leap? I thought so. If they could handle the depth of The Candlestone, maybe they were ready for another stretching exercise.
It would take too long to comment on the story themes and their many symbols in this book, godliness, redemption, sacrifice, sanctification, contentment, longsuffering, and more. I think I could write a book on this book, and it might be longer than the original. There are quite a few hidden treasures that no reader has ever commented on, so I wonder if they have all been found. Even so, I poured my heart into it and it brought great satisfaction, so I am content to hope that each little point in the story may find a life-changing place in some reader's heart.
With Tears of a Dragon, I took sort of a sideways step. I went back to the simplicity of storytelling that I used in Raising Dragons while trying to keep a good deal of the depth that is in Circles of Seven. I used more pure action, but I worked on infusing that action with the tying up of story loose ends that would make readers think. The symbol of a dragon messiah, fully dragon and fully human, dying for hopelessly lost souls brought my series-long redemption story to its climactic moment. Still, I wanted to personalize the redemption issue, so the heart of the redemption story was realized in a single soul, Jared/Clefspeare, and his return to Billy through his repudiation of pride. This worked as the peak of my thematic mountain.
Still, I wanted to take one last step. As most of my readers are young, I knew they identified more with Billy and Bonnie than with Jared/Clefspeare. I wanted to search their souls. Billy was my messiah character, but he was an imperfect symbol, needing so much redemption himself. He needed to empty himself of everything in his past.
But what about Bonnie? She was my symbol of the faithful Christian. While still growing in wisdom, grace, and knowledge, she bowed before her savior in obedience at every turn. She had to learn to be content with her "grostesque" feature, and she learned the value of using her weaknesses for God's glory, but did she need to empty herself as well? Was she really content with what she had no matter what? As I wrote in my last post, my desire was for readers to examine their own hearts. This is the final stretching moment that I hoped to achieve, self-examination.
So, as you might have gleaned by now, I believe in stretching young readers. They can take it. In fact, they crave it. When they get to the end of the exercise, they feel its value and the rush of spiritual adrenaline. They don't want to be insulted by the finger-wagging of simplistic stories that tell them what to do or not to do. They want to feel the inner passion of heart-felt conflict and see how it works out in lives that they care about, even if they are fictional.
But that's what good stories do. They stretch us beyond what we normally think we can achieve, and we need to remember that young people are often far more flexible than we might realize. We just have to be sure to help them stretch in the right direction.
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
At the end of Tears of a Dragon, Billy and Bonnie are faced with a heart choice--should they keep their dragon traits or not? A light from a gem would soon pass across them, and whatever decision was in their hearts would come to pass. This light would examine each of them to see what they truly wanted, and God would bring that decision about. The reader learns that Billy loses his dragon traits, but the book doesn't reveal what happens to Bonnie.
I hear from readers every day wanting to know what happened to Bonnie. Does she still have dragon wings? Some even say that they are angry that I would leave them hanging like that. Some are just confused and wondering. Some say, however, that the ending is perfect, exactly how it should have ended.
I made a conscious and difficult decision to leave what happens to Bonnie out of the book, because I wanted readers to think carefully about what their own decisions would be if they were in Bonnie's shoes. Would they be content to have the blessing and the curse associated with having dragon wings? Would they want to be normal and serve God with normal human attributes?
The answer the book gave comes through Billy's thoughts. Bonnie asks him if he wants to know, and he says in his mind, "It didn't matter. It just didn't matter." That's the message I want readers to ponder. Regarding your love for others and your service to God, would it really matter to you either way? Could you obey Him no matter what?
So, even now when readers ask me, I don't tell them the answer. First of all, I really don't know. If the answer isn't written, if the fiction isn't manisfested in the creation of the story, the answer seems unknowable. Second, if I could somehow give the answer, then my desire for readers to ponder the issue would end, and I assume the news of the answer would spread and the intent would be spoiled forever.
Therefore, as of this writing, I don't intend to ever let this answer be known. I won't write it, so there will be no answer to give. Of course, I could go into my crazy mind and ask Bonnie what happened. Would she tell me? Maybe. But I won't ask. Why? Because it doesn't matter. It just doesn't matter.
Saturday, December 24, 2005
Carrying the Torch
My child, my heart, my soul’s delight
A precious gem extolled
He cannot grasp the aching love
My passion for his soul
Remembering not the day I took
His tiny hand in mine
And held him close to whisper prayers
So thankful for this time
He proves the rule that fledglings fly
And short is bliss enjoyed
He drops my hand and with a smile
He marches to the void
With heavy heart and empty hand
I scan horizons still
Awaiting news of pilgrim’s voyage
His progress good or ill
The future gives us only words
A promise strung along
And darkness lingers close when dreams
Are dashed by sirens’ songs
My soul reminds of other hearts
Who gave begotten lights
To shine their lamps in darker halls
Than those I fear at night
A Father cast His only Light
On this terrestrial ball
Though stripped and killed and tossed aside
Became the Light for all
My heart rejoices with the news
That darkness has no wraith
To overcome the power of light
In those who walk by faith
I gave this light into his hand
The morning of his birth
And stoked its fires daily as
He gazed into its worth
And now somewhere in caverns deep
Perhaps His torch he’ll raise
I trust its glow will keep my child
In step where angels blaze
Thursday, December 22, 2005
Alas! The candle’s wick is cold
Where love once burned so warm and deep,
Where passion flared and now has died,
Where Jeremiah comes to weep.
Familiar face, familiar knees,
To altar calls he weekly deigns
And mumbles sinners’ prayers anew,
Yet always leaves with ball and chains.
Oh, where did all the power fly
To break the bonds of sin and pride?
Did Jesus say the free indeed
Are those in whom the Son abides?
Yet light is spurned behind the veil,
While men shun gold and value dust.
They turn to Band-Aid cures for death
While surgeon scalpels spoil in rust.
The man in fetters sleeps with slaves
Believing rags are robes of white,
That fools are given crowns of gold
And sinners please the Lord of Light.
Alas! The Lord will slay these men,
No matter what their words embrace,
For Christ spews out the lukewarm hearts
The so-called sinners saved by grace.
Yet hope remains for candle flames,
The lights in darkest times revealed
In works of love and sacrifice,
Their gifts to God and man unsealed.
They tell the tale of Christ’s pure love
Emmanuel and His new birth,
“He comes with light and sword in hand
To heal the sons of men on earth.
“Embrace the sword of Christmas morn,
Our gift from God that cuts and mends
A heart of sin to purge the flesh,
Salvation’s light that never ends.”
And now the flame is burning new
In hearts who love the Shepherd’s staff,
Where passion burns and lives again
And Jeremiah comes to laugh.
Here's the link: http://www.cbaonline.org/TrackingLists/yck.jsp?w=t
I am so thankful!
Thursday, November 24, 2005
The Suffering Servant
My limbs spread out
I writhe and strain
They rip me through
The peals of pain
Thy lamb hath come
As thou didst say
New life I bring
This tear-stained day
But wars begin
On fields of hay
Where birds take roost
And kids find play
The bulls surround
The heavens roar
The demons shout
He’s from a whore!
I feel from Thee
There is no help
To set me free.
The blood now drips
Where I once knelt
My bones, they scream
My heart doth melt
I thirst, I sweat
My tongue is dry
To sup thy will
This cup I drink
Is full and strong
It is my lot
To suffer long
But this I know
The pain will cease
And all may know
The Prince of Peace
I hear His voice
With Him I cry
It is finished
No more to die
My soul rejoice
Tis worth it all
To bring him forth
To heed his call
Behold thy maid
Hath borne Him well
My son, thy son
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
The turkey’s in the oven;
It’s been there since the dawn.
It isn’t even brown yet, so
I wonder if it’s on?
The gravy’s started boiling;
Ten taters in the pot.
I guess I should’ve washed ‘em ‘cause
They taste bad if they’re not.
My corn is fully buttered.
Why is it jelling fast?
It might have been for all I know
Some grease from dinners past.
They’ll be here any minute.
I wish I hadn’t bragged
That I could cook a ten course feast.
I should be bound and gagged.
The beans are nice and brown now.
I think they started green.
But that’s okay because the bread
Is now that color’s sheen.
A hair dropped in the stuffing.
A roach fell in the stew.
But stirred and cooked it’s all the same;
It just will have to do.
A dozen places to be set,
And only five are clean.
But Rover’s tongue is better than
A Maytag dish machine.
My guests are all arriving,
Expressions kind of pained.
I made the incense strong because
The kittens aren’t quite trained.
With gusto full I served it,
My guests in such surprise,
To see a turkey still so pink
Set right before their eyes.
It’s fully cooked I promised;
It’s just that this bird’s made
With berry juices as its baste
So pink’s its normal shade.
But did they doubt my promise
Or was it other food
That made them wince and spit and gag?
How could they be so rude?
To top it off my thankless guests
Did call for expert aid,
And pizza soon arrived in force
To save this sad charade.
The holidays have passed us by.
I’m thankful cause I know
They’ll never ask for me to cook
Until all Hell is snow.
Sunday, October 30, 2005
After blessing me with seven wonderful children, she labors to give me every comfort of home she can, always looking to please me in all things. She is patient. She is kind. She is warm. In reality, she is my home.
May God be praised for giving such a blessing to me! With all my heart, and with God's help, I affirm that I will treat her as the magnificent treasure that she is. Many daughters have done nobly, my dearest Susie, but you excel them all. (from Proverbs 31:29)
Thursday, October 27, 2005
Unfortunately, there seems to be a movement in Christian literature toward what some call "realism" or "honesty" in storytelling. What does that really mean? From what I have read, it seems that making Christians more sinful, showing them struggling (and failing) against inner, fleshly conflict, is, for some, the key to making stories more "real." Far from portraying a Christian as virtuous, consistently obedient, even heroic, these stories portray the worst possible scenario, the Christian who disobeys. In other words, it displays the hypocrite as being the normal, real, honest portrayal of Christianity.
True "Reality" is so far from this imagined concept of the Christian life! "Honest" portrayals of faith in Christ should demontrate faithfulness, mercy, grace, compassion, patience, and any other characteristic that Christ Himself would show. If a story shows a Christian to be lustful, prideful, dishonest, or any of the manifestations of the evil one, the story is being dishonest. It is telling a lie. As the Bible says, it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. And since Christ lives in me, what I manifest on the outside, is what is true on the inside.
This is why we must write with a true biblical worldview, that the Spirit of Christ is able to change a person into a true hero, a virtuous man or woman. We see the evil of hypocrisy in the lives of people all around us every day. Why should we perpetuate the lie in literature? Such a portrayal helps no one. It only drags us down, makes us think that everyone must be a lower-than-dirt worm who can't find true freedom from sin.
If we want to foster a generation of heroes, let us begin by writing stories for young people that tell the truth about the power we have in Christ. We really do overwhelmingly conquer. Jesus really is greater than Satan. If we really want to obey Him, we can. We must.
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
During a presentation for the young men in the group, the teacher had the boys kneel and make a commitment of chastity, a vow to be pure in mind and body. I thought it was great, but as he ended, the teacher said something like, "Now I know you're all going to fail to keep this commitment," and he went on to talk about their need to confess and repent when they did fail.
I was aghast. What a horrible way to inspire young men! First, get them to make a vow to God, then blast their confidence with assurance that they would fail. Unbelievable! It's no wonder that so many of our young people are drowning in the sea of sin. They are tossed a life raft and then someone comes along and deflates it!
But this kind of teaching is common, in fact almost universal, in the church today. Preachers tell us to be obedient, to follow God with all of our hearts, then they tell us it's impossible to obey God consistently. In fact, in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, we are told that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, and the only way to do that is through obeying the word of God, yet the same catechism tells us that everyone sins every day in thought, word, and deed.
It's no wonder the church is confused. We are told we can and should obey, yet the power to do so is denied in everyday practice. We are told to have victory, but if we were to claim that we have consistent victory, we would be called liars.
We cannot encourage heroism in our young people unless we discard this illogical and unbiblical practice of the church today. We have to promote confidence. We should remind our youth of the Bible verses that guarantee God's help as they seek to serve Him.
But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. (Romans 8:37)
You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:4)
For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. (1 John 5:4)
Our confidence is well-founded. The power to obey comes from God, and we should neither squash a young persons' exuberance to make confident vows of fidelity toward God, nor deny his testimony that he has fulfilled his commitment every single day.
This is real Christianity. This is honest Christian living. God help us to tell the truth.
Friday, September 30, 2005
I have been meditating on this truth ever since my visit yesterday to a local school where I spoke to a wonderful group of fifth graders. Many of them had already read my books, and to them, I was a celebrity. Although I gave each one an autographed bookmark, dozens of wide-eyed kids asked me to sign pieces of paper, marker boards, even a baseball mitt. It was a bit embarrassing to be the object of so much attention, but the magnitude of a young person's desire to be a part of, or to be near, a significant person (at least to them) really impressed me.
Why is this true? I think God implants in each one of us a passion for doing something significant, and although many adults may have suppressed the urge, young people feel that seed of passion. When they see someone fulfilling the innate calling, they are naturally drawn to that person. Still too young to carry out the calling themselves, they want to grab hold of the sports hero, media celebrity, or even an author who is stepping out to do something noteworthy.
What can we do to nurture and develop this planted seed in young people? I have some ideas I will be sharing soon. If anyone out there wants to chime in, please do.
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
So, you out there in cyberspace, if you want a free author appearance at your school, library, church, or just about any other ethical organization, please contact me. Right now I'm concentrating on getting a west coast tour going, but I'm open to other areas.
Here's a website that will tell you what I talk about: http://www.dragonsinourmidst.com/teachers.html
Help cure me of invisibility!
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
I wonder if people perceive a writer's life as leisurely and slow-paced. We sit and stare at the ceiling, contemplating eternal truths and translate them into down-to-earth stories. Maybe we sip coffee and work a crossword puzzle, just to warm up, then log onto the computer and check our standing on six different fantasy football leagues. Got to keep the mind occupied during writer's block, right?
Not exactly. Maybe it's that way for some, but I don't know any writer who isn't constantly busy. Whether a book deadline stalks him night and day or speaking engagements demand preparation, every author I know lives at a frantic pace.
So, now as I leisurely sit back in my soft deskchair, I'll finally take time away from my fantasy football league and stack of crossword puzzle magazines and post an update.
Tears of a Dragon is on schedule ... I think. At least I've done all I can. It was edited and proofread by a couple of wonderfully talented editors. I carefully studied the typeset version and sent back the pages that needed changes (210 pages to be corrected! Ouch!). I checked the altered typeset version and approved the final document. It should now be at the printers.
Our official release date is October 30. I hope to have copies well before that, so those who order from me on-line might get yours before that date. We'll see.
I'm rapidly filling up my appearance schedule. The month of October is already getting crazily busy, and most of the events are out of state. Time to hit the road again.
Speaking of busy, while I was writing this, my wife called me to tell me we are getting two foster children short-term, two young brothers, ages 2 and 6. That's exciting ... and scary. Yes, the benefit for these two kids could be wonderful, but it's always a difficult transition. God help us to be the temporary parents these boys need at such a troubling time in their lives.
Well ... back to work!
Friday, August 05, 2005
Now my wonderful, talented editor will get her hands on it, and the book and I will bleed together. She is tough, but she's also almost always right. But we are extremely pinched for time, so please continue to pray that we can get this book out on schedule.
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
We are now in Winter Park and adjusting to life here. I'm trying to finish book #4 in the series, so this message will be short, and further additions to the blog will be sporadic. I also have some kind of flu today, so I'm not functioning well.
If you are so inclined, please pray for me. I would appreciate it very much.
Thursday, June 09, 2005
Arlene isn't likely to devastate hundreds or thousands of homes as did our murderers row of Bonnie, Charley, Frances, Jeanne, and Ivan last year, but she will be a reminder of what we suffered and survived. And we did much better than some. The people of Haiti were swamped by Jeanne. Thousands died and many more were left homeless.
Will Arlene's winds bring in a rush of anxiety? Maybe. The stores will likely be packed again with jittery people buying plywood, generators, and flashlight batteries. But will our society turn and trust God for protection and comfort? Not likely. Call me a pessimist, but I think it will take much more than weather events to bring our nation to its knees.
As a nation, we murder babies and pay for it with our taxes. We sanction sexual perversion and teach it in our government schools. We wink at rampant fornication and adultery, even laughing at comical portrayals of sin on television, calling it entertainment. We dress our little girls like harlots, or at least allow them to dress that way, teaching them that its cool to strut their stuff, even in church. And when we protest, we are called Puritanical, old-fashioned, behind-the-times, or legalists ... even in church.
What will bring a change? I shudder to think of the storms that will eventually break the will of our stiff-necked people. Will it be financial collapse? A dictatorial takeover? Widespread famine or disease? I don't know what these storms will be named. But I dare say that they will come. We can bank on it.
Thursday, June 02, 2005
Also, three of our offspring will be moving away from home during the next three months. Our oldest two, James and Josiah, are seeking an apartment to share. In August, Arianna, our oldest daughter, will be moving to Hillsdale, Michigan, where she will go to college.
Caleb, our fourth-born, plans to play for the Winter Park High School orchestra. He will still be homeschooled, but he will be able to try out for the group anyway. We're confident he'll have no trouble getting in.
I also expect to make an announcement regarding future publishing opportunities that might mean some more changes are on the horizon. We'll see.
Please pray for us as we face the coming days of change and adjustment, especially for our children as we uproot them and try to resettle them in a new world.
Wednesday, June 01, 2005
I have been traveling the country on a book tour, visiting schools, churches, and bookstores in Atlanta, Chattanooga, Grand Rapids, Boston, and Seattle/Tacoma. It has been a long, hard haul, and I'm finally home. But now I have to buckle down and finish the fourth book in the Dragons in our Midst series, "Tears of a Dragon," so I'm not sure how often I'll be able to post.
The tour went very well. I spoke to hundreds of students, sold and signed several hundred books, and met lots of great people along the way. It was well worth the effort. I hope to go back to some of these cities, but I also want to visit new ones. If anyone out there can help me make good contacts (i.e. schools, churches, and bookstores), I would be glad to consider visiting your area.
Thursday, April 14, 2005
I write fantasy for a living, so I understand how an author can use fantasy elements with no intention of promoting them or their real world counterparts. I have no idea if Ms. Rowling intended to encourage young people to explore real world witchcraft, so this is not my main complaint, although I have heard stories of children dabbling in the occult because of the series.
There is another very real evil shadow lurking in the Harry Potter stories. The concept is simple. The characters constantly break the rules in order to succeed. Not only that, the author takes great pains to promote rule breaking as a virtue. In the beginning of the first book, Hermione is portrayed as a rule-keeper, but she is an irritating brat. Once she joins the boys in their rule-breaking, she becomes "cool." In fact, one sentence reads something like this: "After that, Hermione was less concerned about keeping the rules, and she was much nicer for it." It's hard to get more blatant than that.
As a writer, I understand the need to allow young protagonists to succeed on their own in a story, but they don't have to rebel against authority to do so. There is no doubt that J.K. Rowling purposefully crafted her story to promote a "kids rule" mentality that makes kids the ultimate authority. Her story rewards every instance of ignoring the rules and belittles those who try to keep them. Frankly, I find this digusting.
So many people say that the Harry Potter books are harmless, even beneficial. They say the witchcraft is fantasy that doesn't promote real witchcraft. I think it very well could promote witchcraft, but I think the deeper evil, the spirit of rebellion, lurks as a more sinister reality. It teaches young readers to reject authority, to believe they know better than those older and more experienced, to expect to be rewarded and thought "cool" when they reject the option of trusting anyone other than their peers.
Rowling's work is not merely fantasy; it is a perversion of reality that contributes to an improper view of juvenile independence. Parents are well advised to reject these books or at least closely monitor their children who read them and discuss a proper view of authority, that, yes, some adults are stupid and can't be trusted, but many more are trustworthy, and rule-breaking will ultimately fail to bring about the successes that Harry Potter and his friends always seem to achieve.
Monday, April 04, 2005
I found it. An on-line article written by John Zmirak, a Terri Schiavo supporter, made my blood boil. I had to respond, because his point of view, although beautifully written, is at the heart of everything that's wrong with our church today. He begins with the following header:
We like to think that we’re better than the man who’s starving his sick wife to death. But think back to Palm Sunday. What part of “Crucify him!” didn’t you understand?
He goes on to say that he would likely choose to do the same as Michael, and implies that all honest readers would as well. "In our heart of hearts, don't we prefer Barabbas to Jesus, Michael Schiavo to Terri?"
My response? No! A thousand times, No! We are better men than Michael Schiavo, and to say otherwise is a slap in the face of Christ Himself. As a Christian man, I bear in my body the Holy Spirit of God. I followed Him in the long walk toward the cross, my own Gethsemane trail, and have been crucified with Him and rasied to new life.
Yes, there was a day when I would have shouted with the crowds, "Crucify Him!" but those days are in the past. I am not the man I once was. That man has died, and a new one has come to life, one that renounces the sins of the past and lives a holy life in the power of the indwelling Spirit of God.
Mr. Zmirak's thinking is a symptom of a greater tragedy; the church of today lacks understanding of the gospel's effect on the hearts of men. We are transformed by that gospel. As did Christ, we live sacrificial lives. Since we said, "I do" at the wedding altar, we keep that vow till death do us part, never seeking the comfort of another, even if our own is lying in sheets of ruin with bent frame and shattered consciousness. And we certainly would not seek to torture her to death in the most cruel fashion. Such a thought is beyond absurd!
Mr. Zmirak, you are wrong. True Christian men are better men than the selfish monsters you portray, and your implications that we are otherwise, are offensive to us and to the God who lives within us. Jesus was a better man than that, and since I imitate Him, so am I.
Wednesday, March 30, 2005
The family had recently suffered through Olivia’s miscarriage of twins. The pregnancy had progressed past the first trimester, so Olivia’s anticipation of delivering her new children into the world was dashed, replaced by the horror of knowing that two dead babies lay within her. The pain was indescribable, and the nightmare of having them removed must have left permanent scars in her mind. A few months later, she was pregnant again, but after several weeks, she began hemorrhaging. A sonogram revealed that the terror was beginning again. The placenta was detaching, and the doctor told her to go home and wait for the certain miscarriage to complete its course. Nothing could be done.
Knowing that they already had three other children to care for during this difficult time, we offered to bring the family their evening meal and keep them company if necessary. While driving to their home, I had a vision. I saw myself inside their house, at the entrance to the hallway that led to the master bedroom. I knew that Olivia was in that room, but everybody else was outside. I then heard the Lord speak to me. “Go to her. Lay your hands on her and make her whole.” The vision ended and I returned to reality, still driving, and with no one aware of what I had just gone through.
When we arrived, I told my wife that I would take the food inside. I set the dishes down on the kitchen countertop and started to walk back to the door when I noticed that I was in the exact position that I saw in the vision. I looked all around and saw that no one else was in the house. I almost expected to hear the voice of the vision, but as I listened, I could hear only the muffled sounds of children playing outside. Suddenly it occurred to me that a voice wasn’t necessary; I had already heard it once. I summoned my courage and walked down the hall, knowing from the vision which way to go and not really concerned about the improprieties of entering a bedroom where a woman lay inside, alone.
When the light from the doorway illuminated the room, Olivia looked up to see me and greeted me kindly. I told her that I was there to pray for her, and she allowed me to lay my hands on her as I beseeched God for the life of her child. Olivia wept silently during the prayer, and I excused myself as soon as I was done. No other words were exchanged.
We were told the next day that the bleeding stopped immediately after the prayer. Olivia said she could feel the healing but wanted to confirm the fact after we were gone. The danger of the miscarriage soon ended, and a healthy little girl was born a few months later.
Although the miracle brought happiness and the joy of a child, the rejoicing was short-lived for us. Olivia rebelled against the Lord in a dramatic fashion, even viciously attacking those who tried to help her physically and spiritually. Our ties to them were cut in pieces, and to this day, I don’t know where they stand with the Lord. Apparently they turned completely to an emotionally based religion, and followed the church’s harmful doctrines. Again, I was confused. To me, this was the second major miracle that God had worked through my obedience, and, for the second time, the person whom his power benefited turned away from the blazing light of his love and mercy. Soon after, we left that church, finding nothing to redeem its tremendous shortcomings.
I have since had several years to deal with my questions. Why did God perform these miracles? Are signs and wonders effective in bringing someone to Christ? I had often thought that if God would show his power like he did in Bible times, then bringing people to faith would be much easier. But when he actually did perform mighty deeds that could hardly be denied, the result was a complete turning away, seemingly worse than if nothing had happened at all. The light of God’s glory shone so brightly that the sinner couldn’t stand in his presence. Guilt became heavy and real, and although they had the choice to repent and be saved, they turned and ran, hiding from the truth of the God with whom they had to deal.
In my own experience, I have had more success in bringing people into the kingdom through demonstrating the miracle of a changed life and the gentle persuasion of the word of God. The light breaks through slowly, and the word begins its work from the inside out. Great miracles dazzle the eyes, and clearly some are turned to the truth through their witness, but it is the word of God that cuts like a two-edged sword, and it is the love demonstrated by his followers that opens the door of the Spirit-prepared heart.
I thank God for these two miracles. They increased my faith, and although the two for whom they were performed did not turn with gracious hearts to their Master, they were mercifully given that opportunity. They each had free will, and they each chose to turn away. They would not listen to the Word, so the miracles had no effect. As the Scripture says, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.”
To this day, I still pray for my friends. The memory of those mighty deeds must still burn within their minds, and maybe someday God's blazing light will shine again, and the Word will do its work, this time illuminating any remaining darkness in their hearts and minds and drawing them to the light's everlasting source.
“An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign,” Jesus taught us so long ago. Does that mean he was opposed to miracles? That verse might lead a person to think so, but the Bible also teaches us that our Lord was willing to perform signs, thereby establishing his ministry and proving that he was the Messiah, the Son of God. I have often wondered about this apparent tension between two ideas. On the one hand, we are warned not to seek after miracles; we should not look for God to prove something in order for us to obey. On the other hand, God has graciously worked wonders throughout all of history, not just to bring about a desired end, but also to demonstrate his existence and power.
I have personally witnessed some of these wonders. I thought at the time that God was graciously trying to break through to people’s hearts by letting them see his works with their own eyes, but their unexpected responses to his mercy made me wonder if there might be another purpose.
While I attended the University of Florida in the late seventies, I befriended a young man who labored through an advanced Physics class with me. "Kevin" and I made a habit of studying together, and as we gradually became friends, I took opportunities more frequently to initiate spiritual conversations with him. For several weeks his response was polite, listening, nodding his head, and giving an occasional, obligatory “yes” or “no” in response to my simple, probing questions. One fateful night, however, the dialogue changed dramatically.
As was our habit during a late-night round of studying, we holed up in the equipment room of a dormitory amid volleyballs, horseshoe sets, and a considerable pile of books. After a couple of hours of attempting to decipher the latest chapter in our lessons, I was able to turn the conversation toward God. Our brains were becoming tired and numb, so Kevin didn’t seem to mind the break. At one point in our discussion, I tried to search my mind for a particular Scripture, but in my state of fatigue, I drew a blank. I knew the passage was in Ephesians, but I couldn’t come up with the words to save my life. I said aloud, “If only I had brought my Bible,” knowing I could have found the verse quickly if my spiritual sword had been available.
Kevin stared at the shelves on the wall, seemingly in a daze. “There’s a Bible,” he said blankly, pointing toward a mess of sports equipment. I reached over our pile of books, grabbed the small, white bible, and whispered “Thank you, Lord” loud enough for Kevin to hear.
“I’ve never seen that Bible in here,” Kevin said, amazed, “and I work here all the time.” Indeed, Kevin was a part-time employee of the school, working the front desk of the dorm, and one of his jobs was to police the equipment room, checking out the sports items to the students and putting them back in place in the evening.
“It shouldn’t be too surprising,” I said, trying to act as if this were an everyday occurrence, although I was secretly very pleased that God had provided in a dramatic way. “God has always been in the miracle business,” I added. I then flipped open the Bible, turned to Ephesians, and read the passage I had been looking for.
Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.
Kevin was more attentive than usual as I started, but he was distant and quiet as I read the last few words. Clearly the word of God had brought about a sincere meditation.
“Is something wrong?” I asked.
Kevin shook himself free of his trance, but his mood became dark and somewhat angry. “No, nothing. Just the usual.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you think this Bible showing up was a miracle, but there are other explanations.” As he spoke the level of his passion grew. “I’ve listened to you for a long time, and it’s great that you believe God does stuff for you and all that, but God’s never done anything for me. I’m just an unlucky person and you’re not. I don’t think there’s really a god involved.”
I listened carefully to his heart-felt words. The sincerity in his expression was as real as his anger. I wasn’t sure what to do, but the work God had already done that evening made me feel rather bold. “Kevin, what could God do that would make you believe in him? I’ll pray for whatever it might be.”
He didn’t have to think for very long. Apparently many troubles were at the forefront of his mind. “I don’t really believe any god will do anything for me, but what have I got to lose?” Kevin looked toward the ceiling, ready to give me a laundry list of his inner turmoils. He sighed. “My father has terminal cancer and the doctor’s given him one month to live.”
Already I was struck to the core with anguish. All this time, and I had never asked him about his problems. I swallowed the sorrow and began writing as Kevin continued.
“I’m supposed to graduate in nine months, and his dream has been for one of his kids to get a college degree. I want him to stay alive long enough to see it.”
“Okay, I got it,” I answered, writing it down confidently, in spite of the fact that our session was beginning to get a little scary for me. I was sure that God could do anything, but I had never experienced any “big” miracles before.
Kevin went on. “My sister is a drug addict and lives in the streets as a prostitute. I want her to get her life cleaned up.”
I kept writing as Kevin listed three or four more terrible problems that dwarfed any that I had ever faced. I was nearly in tears when he finished, but I was grateful for the opportunity to minister to him. Just speaking all of his needs seemed to have a calming effect on him.
“I’ll take these to my prayer group,” I said with all the sincerity and compassion I could muster.
Kevin smiled. “I don’t expect anything to happen, but thanks for listening.”
My prayer group met on Wednesday night, immediately after the evening service. The leader was a Vietnam War veteran, an unusually godly man in my eyes, and as the group filed into the little room, I handed him my list and explained the circumstances. He took out his own pen and copied the list to a card he had in his pocket, and the confidence he exuded in prayer that night was truly a blessing. As was our custom, we prayed for an hour, and we continued a weekly vigil over Kevin’s concerns for the next few months.
I didn’t see Kevin very frequently during the next semester. We had no classes in common, and he no longer worked in the dormitory. I would see him on campus on occasion, but constantly asking him about his father and sister quickly seemed inappropriate. His father was hanging on, but his sister was showing no progress. We continued to pray.
Finally, graduation day came. I was excited, hoping to see Kevin, but I had no idea how our prayers had been answered. I did run into him, almost by “accident”. He was dressed in a Navy uniform, having completed his NROTC training, proudly standing with family members. When he saw me, he beamed. He excitedly introduced me to his father and mother, along with his other guests.
I pulled him to the side for a moment. “I see your father made it.”
“Yes, he did.”
“And your sister?”
“You’ll never guess,” he said, sounding like an excited teenager. “She’s in the Air Force now. She’s off drugs and doing great!”
I immediately went on, asking about the other items on the list, and his mood became sober as he gave me good news concerning each problem.
“Why are you so glum?” I asked, filled with so much joy I could hardly speak. “Every prayer request you had was answered completely! God has proven himself to you! What’s to keep you from believing in him now?”
Kevin’s expression grew ever darker, and I could tell that the big, burly Navy man was near tears. “I can’t believe in him,” he said, fighting his emotions. “Not yet, anyway.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “Why not?” I nearly shouted. “Can’t you see what he’s done for you?”
Kevin did have a tear on his cheek now. “That’s the problem, Bryan. I know if I believe in him, I’ll have to change my life, and I don’t want to do that yet.”
I was speechless, and I’m sure my jaw dropped open in utter amazement. He looked at me sympathetically for a moment, and I was finally able to talk again. “Kevin, God has extended his hand to you in a way that most people never see. You may never get an opportunity like this again.”
“I know,” he said, gathering more courage and becoming increasingly hardened by it. “I’ll take that chance.” He turned and walked away, rejoining his happy companions.
I was dumbfounded for days. God had worked mighty miracles, and they seemed to come to nothing. My friends at church tried to help me understand, including my prayer group leader, who pointed out that the faith of each prayer warrior had been increased through this experience. He was right, but there was something missing in the puzzle, and I wasn’t able to grasp it at that time. (Part 2 in next post)
Monday, March 28, 2005
That funny feeling is working overtime today, and it's not just a feeling. The gears of change are grinding in a very visible way. And these changes are big, exciting, and, in some ways, scary.
As the changes become manifest, I'll report them here and let you know how we're coping. If you feel so inclined, please pray for us. But don't worry. Our family bonds are stronger than ever. Our faith is rock solid. God's grace is ever present. We know in whom we have believed.
Sunday, March 27, 2005
Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. (Romans 6:4-7, New American Standard)
Jesus died and rose again, thereby giving us the ability to live a holy life. With this power dwelling within, how could we ever want to do anything less?
Saturday, March 26, 2005
Why? I think it's because I participated in the process of creation at it foundation. My favorite part of writing has always been writing something new. Editing and re-editing is the tedious part, and the toiling hours can be mind-numbing. But when I put new ideas on my computer screen and create a story, I feel the one aspect of the image of God springing from my soul, the art of genesis.
With the new series, this feeling has even more of a creative cutting edge. I am generating new characters, a new male and female protagonist. It's as if Adam and Eve are springing to life from my own imagination. God, a first-cause being, the ex-nihilo creator, has implanted in me the same ability. No, not the ability to form a physical man out of dust, but the capacity to form a new idea out of the dust of my mind. And when I place that man and woman in my new world, it is so exhilarating to be able to say, "It is good!"
Well, there is still much to do in this new world, so my Sabbath rest still lies in the future. I'd better get back to work!
Friday, March 25, 2005
I wonder what Jesus' supporters felt while watching Him hang on the cross. Helpless? Probably. Desperate? Angry? Despondent? Maybe any or all of these. I think I'm feeling all of these today.
I am thankful that there is always the hope of Sunday morning. Though skies are dark today, I know there will be a final resurrection that will wipe every cloud away. Justice will be done. The innocent will be exonerated, and the guilty will be swept into judgment. May God bring His righteous hand to bear soon.
In the meantime, I fear that our nation is plunging into a culture of death far more quickly than I had imagined earlier. If Terri dies at the hands of her husband, this will be a watershed event that may dwarf the significance of Roe versus Wade. Not only will there be a precedent for cruelly starving human beings based on the word of an obviously unfaithful husband, we will likely move into an era in which it will become our duty to die when our lives become inconvenient. Mark my words. Those days are upon us.