How Fiction Can Bolster Faith

It’s amazing how the minds works, where performing some task or thinking along a certain line can open up your understanding to new and unexpected things.

See, I’m working on the sequel to my book, Gemworld. I have a minor character from the first book who must serve as liaison between the humans of the Cause and the Flight, a society of intelligent dragons that entered the story at the end of the first book. The draconian species is divided into five races, each representative of one of the five magical soulgems — Wyrms (Ruby, the soulgem of Fire), Serpents (Sapphire, Water), Caduceans (Emerald, Life), Galvanics (Amethyst, Energy), and Basilisks (Granite, Matter).

Now, as dragons are magical creatures, the draconian genetic structure (as well as its effect on the reproductive process) is rather complex. They are able to magically take on a humanoid form, though even in this form it is obvious that they are not “human”.

If they, as humanoid, mate with a human, their super-dominant draconian DNA will most likely produce a dragon or a stillborn human, though there are rare occasions when a human baby is strong enough to survive and be born of this union.

If, on the other hand, a dragon mates with another dragon, the super-dominance of draconian DNA will most likely produce a feral dragon or a “drake”, semi-intelligent and animalistic. Though the dragons have tried for eons to incorporate their drake kin into their society, the severe intelligence gap precludes any relationship closer than that of a master and a pet, which the dragons find so distasteful that they prefer to count their drake offspring as dead, and love then from afar as the drakes grow up wild in nature.

My main antagonist, the Highest, finds great value in capturing drakes and domesticating them. The dragons hate him for this, because while they cannot being themselves to “tame” their wild offspring, neither can they accept the Highest using them as beasts of burden.

Now then, having said all that, do you know how much of that will make it into my story? Virtually none. But that’s entirely beside the point. See, the vast majority of a writer’s worldbuilding is never directly used in his story. Rather, it serves as a driver for the story BEHIND the scenes. It provides the WHY to the “what” of all that happens. So even though all of this history regarding my dragons has no place in my story proper, it is nevertheless vital to my characters being as realistic as possible.

In a very strange way, this bolsters my faith in the validity of scripture, particularly my adherence to the Young Earth Creation theory of Genesis. See, even if God did create the universe from nothing some 6000 years ago, I would still expect to see ALL of the same evidence we see that supports an Old Earth, because there must be a why that drives the what — even when that what is a self-sustaining universe.

Think of it like God writing our story for the past 6000 years. Even if this 6000 years is all that there ever “really” was, there are parts of our story that are necessarily implied behind the scenes, that serve as driving effects for our story, just as surely as my draconian history drives my dragons even if it is never actually mentioned in my books.

Just some writerly food for thought…

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Has God Abandoned Our Nation…?

I’ve heard this question asked, and while I think the answer is pretty obvious — God is in the hearts of individuals, not in nations — the question is a valid one. Still, whether or not God has abandoned us, in my opinion, really isn’t the issue. Rather, the issue is whether or not WE have abandoned HIM.

We’re told in 2 Chronicles 7:14 that if God’s people, who are called by God’s name, will humble themselves, and pray, and seek His face, and turn from their wicked ways, He will hear from heaven, forgive their sins, and heal their land. We’ve heard that a million times, but I don’t think enough people actually take the time to pick this verse apart and actually READ what it says. God promises to heal the land of the people who do this, but who are these people?

1) They’re people who turn from their wicked ways — sure, we understand this. They’re people who forsake their sin, and choose obedience to God.

2) They’re people who seek His face. They don’t just assume God is there, but actively LOOK for God in their situation.

3) They’re people who pray — not just sending God their Christmas lists, but spending TIME with Him, CONVERSING with Him, doing their due diligence to find out what PLEASES God.

4) They’re people who humble themselves. They don’t assume that they’re in the right — even when they are. They’d sooner find their ERROR so they can CORRECT their error, because they know they HAVE errors that can’t be addressed until they FIND them.

Most importantly though…

5) These people are “My people, who are called by My name”. ALL of these things, all the prerequisites for God’s promises, are promised TO GOD’S PEOPLE. For God to heal a nation, He does not require that the nation humble itself, pray, seek His face — He only requires that HIS PEOPLE AMONG that nation do this.

If God isn’t healing a nation, if God has ABANDONED a nation, it’s not because of the conduct of that nation — it’s because of conduct of HIS PEOPLE WITHIN that nation. If we want to see God back in this nation, it won’t happen because we witnessed to the lost — it’ll happen because we straightened out the redeemed.8545373

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Some not-so-random thoughts…

When in life, it becomes necessary for a people to politically “divorce” themselves from each other, and to reclaim a place that’s always been theirs — separate from their “divorcees” but equal to them, owning the exact same rights that God gave them all — common decency requires that these people should tell their former country what drove them to seek divorce.

We believe these truths to be common-sensical and irrefutable…

  1. That all people are inherently equal
  2. That our Creator gave us all certain rights that cannot be taken away, rights which fall generally into one of three categories…
    1. Life
    2. Liberty
    3. The pursuit of happiness
  3. That to protect these rights, people institute governments which have NO POWER of their own, except what power the people LOAN to them
  4. That whenever any government abuses its borrowed power, the people who loaned it that power have every right to either change the government or abolish it entirely, and to form a new government in its place, based on such principles and defining (giving AND limiting) such powers as would see the people’s rights once again protected.

Now, common sense dictates that people should NOT change or abolish their governments on a whim — and in fact, history proves this, in that people would rather suffer injustice (so long as they are able) than to rise up against the government that they are used to.

But when the government has a long track record of abuse, to the point where the people feel that they no longer own their own lives but are in fact owned by their government, it is their right — their DUTY — to abolish that government, and to create a new one in its place that WILL protect their ownership of their own lives.

***

I’m sure most of you realize this, but these words aren’t really mine at all. Rather, this is the first part of the Declaration of Independence, written and signed two hundred forty years ago this Monday. I realized that MANY people in the US today have little time or desire to sift through all the “these” and “thous” of the original language, so I thought it beneficial to put the thoughts of the Declaration into today’s terms, to demonstrate just how RELEVANT the Declaration is, even in this day when politicians are claiming that our rights change with the times.

As if.

1776

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Father’s Day 2016

When I think about this Father’s Day, of course it doesn’t take me long to think about how close I came to NOT being here for this one — how close I came to my kids MISSING their father on this Father’s Day. I’m constantly second-guessing my ability to do this job, but my kids still love me so I gotta be doing SOMETHING right 😀

What comes to mind, though, when I think about how my kids celebrate me, is what went in to me becoming the father that I am. See, I’m in a rather interesting position in that I’ve had not one, not two, but FOUR fathers (to varying degrees, and not counting God Himself — He’s in a class all His own 😉 ) throughout my life.

Of course, there’s my first father, Richard. He’s my biological father — half of the equation that explains why I’m here in the first place. Now, granted, he wasn’t there for the vast majority of my life, and even now our relationship is “distant” at best, but he gave me a few things that are vital to who I am.

He gave me my DNA, and through that, part of my Indian heritage, as well as a good portion of what makes me who and what I am physically. You wanna blame somebody for me being Chewbacca? Blame Richard 😉

He also gave me the blessing of perspective — not by his presence, but by his absence. For many years, I was angry at him for not being there… but it was an unjust anger. I didn’t know who he was, what prompted him to leave, why he stayed gone, what could be so repulsive about my Mom and me that he chose not to be my Dad. Never did I realize that, just like me, he’s human. He makes choices that he might later regret. Or not. More to the point, I made his leaving about me, or about him, or about Mom, never taking into account that sometimes, stuff just happens, and nobody’s to blame.

As an adult, I’ve learned how pointless it would be to be angry over his choices… because had he made other choices, my life would be absolutely unrecognizable. For one, my Mom would’ve never met my Dad — the next one I’m gonna talk about hehe — and had my sister Sharmeen. And Richard would’ve never met his wife, Jackie, and had my other siblings, Talitha, Tabitha, Tiva, Beth, Richard II, and Zeb. Considering how much has been ADDED, not just to my life but to the world, how could I possibly be mad at him for his choices???

Would I have preferred he had stayed? In a way. I would’ve gotten to know him as a father rather than as the friend and fellow artist that I’m coming to know him as now. I would’ve gotten the benefit of having a single, unbroken home. But I would have LOST so much as well. I wouldn’t have the family I have, the EXPERIENCES I’ve had. My personality would be entirely different. Had he stayed, I would not be “me” — certainly not any “me” that I would recognize. So I’m thankful to Richard, not for what he “deprived” me of (if I could even call it that), but for what he GAVE me.

Incidentally, one of the things that he gave me was the opportunity to know my Dad, George. Because of Richard’s absence, a void existed in my Mom’s life — a void that was filled (at least temporarily) by my Dad. They met in the Navy, where she was a single mom and he was a rebel without a cause. Their personalities couldn’t have been more different — she ordered and he chaotic, she responsible and he impulsive — but for a time, they worked.

Dad, of course, gave me the lion’s share of who I am. First and foremost, he gave me the love of a man who DIDN’T HAVE to be my Dad, and yet CHOSE to be anyway. Even when heartache came, he wanted ME in his life as well as my sister, his natural child. He could mess everything else in our relationship up, and mess it up BAD, and I’d STILL have nothing but admiration for the man, if only for that reason.

But he gave me more than just that. He also gave me my love of science fiction, fantasy, books, games, movies, entertainment in general. He showed me the value of my imagination, of asking “what if” and then actually trying to logic out the answer. He’s the reason I’m a gamer, and a writer. He’s the reason I’m writing this blog post, and why I’m so social on Facebook (funny, because he’s a veritable hermit hehe). He made sure I knew who God was, and helped lead me to Christ. And between my faith in Christ and my love of “what if”, Dad’s influence was instrumental in how I have GROWN in Christ, coming to know Him more and more even APART from those in the world and in the church that “claim” to know Him but fail to live up to Him when it matters.

But as I alluded, Dad’s personality quirks (which became MY personality quirks) clashed with Mom’s personality quirks (some of which I inherited as well, to be honest), so leading to their inevitable divorce, and Mom to my third father — Jim. Now, as much as Dad helped to build the kind of man I am, Jim helped to build the kind of DAD I am. Unfortunately, that’s not always a good thing, but for the life of me, it never ceases to amaze me how much my kids still love me in spite of it! Shouldn’t be surprising though — I loved Jim in spite of the very same.

I’ve already blogged about Jim, so you can go to that post and read all about him at your leisure, but for the sake of this blog, I want to focus in on how he has influenced me — namely, my expectations of my kids. Jim was an old Army hangover, concrete contractor, tough as nails, it’s-GONNA-get-done kinda guy. In fact, every time I have to get onto my kids, I hear Jim speaking in my voice — “You can either do X, or you’ll get Y punishment and STILL have to do X. Either way, I’m gonna get my way, so you might as well just make it easier on yourself.”

When I make my kids tow the line, it’s Jim. When I lose my cool and yell myself hoarse, it’s Jim. When I take the commonplace things we take for granted and turn them into profound life lessons, it’s Jim. He had an uncanny ability to see beyond the obvious, and to convey those things to his kids — very similar to how Dad taught me “what if”, only “thinking outside the box” on a much more practical level. Much of my work ethic is due to Jim. He knew that I’m lazy by nature, so he played specifically to that part of my nature to get through to me. Things like, “If you do a half-ass job, you’ll do it twice”, or the old laborer’s standby, “Measure twice, cut once”, to teach me that any job worth doing is worth doing once, and to the best of my abilities, so I don’t have to retread old ground (something a lazy person like me loathes).

Every one of these simple lessons had myriad applications in everyday life, and only VERY FEW of them specific to the context that they were given. When he taught me, he taught me on my level. He established a common ground that I would recognize — say, the hammer I was holding in my hand, or the shovel I was using to move gravel from this pile to that — and build his lesson from that point. Very abstract, and every valuable. It was a manner of teaching that helped me not only see life from perspectives not immediately apparent, but actually helps me to understand obscure things in scripture — specifically, parables. When Jesus taught His disciples, He spoke in the same way that Jim spoke to me — from a common ground that the disciples could readily identify with, to illustrate something that would otherwise be beyond their grasp. Nowadays, when I’m talking with my kids, driving down the road with them, working on the cars, mowing the lawn, or whatever I’m doing with them, I find myself doing the same thing Jim used to do — teaching, looking for new ways to explain the ordinary, so that the ordinary can be seen in an extraordinary (and often unexpected) light.

But love him or hate him (depending on the day), I was nevertheless deprived of him in 1998… which left the door open for my fourth, and presumably FINAL, father.

Like Jim, me and Bobby haven’t always got along. For all that Mom would suggest that Bobby’s personality is like Jim’s, it’s not. Nor is it like Dad’s or Richard’s. Bobby is Bobby. He has his own way of looking at things, his own value system, his own expectations. Where Jim was complex, Bobby is simple. Where Jim was quick-whitted and sharp with his criticisms and even insults, Bobby is (semi) respectful but blunt as a baseball bat. Bobby is similar to Jim in that they are both hard personalities, and they both have a tender underside, but it’s like they’re flip sides to the same coin — not opposites, but mirror images.

In that way, I guess, Bobby is doing exactly what Jim did with a younger me — pushing me along in who I’m supposed to be. Where Jim’s complexities drew me aggressively from my ignorance, Bobby’s one-track simplicity teaches the adult me to be steadfast, focused, unwavering unless it’s something that REQUIRES change. I don’t give Bobby NEAR the credit that he’s due. I have a nasty habit of saying that he’s my Mom’s husband, that “I’m too old to have a step-dad”, when in fact, that’s clearly not the case. I may not always think I need to learn something… but neither did I think I “needed to learn” from Jim, or from Dad, or from Richard. But however I think I need it or not, it happens all on its own.

And I’m not done. There are MANY fathers I’ve not named — grandpas, coworkers, friends, examples I see in life and on TV, people who’ve shown me a wisdom that I didn’t have before I met them, and whose wisdom has invariably wound up becoming part of the me I am today. As I look to today’s “me”, because of all the fathers that I’ve had in my life, direct or otherwise, I marvel at the Dad I am, and more, at the Dad I am becoming. How long before my Daddyhood is passed on to my kids — in how my boy emulates me, and how my girls measure the men that they will eventually tie themselves to? How long before the process that I’m in the middle of starts all over again in them?

Or has that process already started? I rather think so. I started to become me long before I can remember. I think about how I’m an unfinished product, unrefined, less than perfect, and yet I’m planting these flawed seeds in my kids’ lives, and the prospect worries me… but there again, I’m sure it did all of my fathers as well. To look back on them now, and see that I’m now OLDER than three of them were when they came into my life, I can’t help but think that they too were works in progress, unfinished and unrefined, planting flawed — yet incredibly valuable — seeds in my life.

And I love who I am because of it. For all THEIR flaws, I still turned out fine! So it gives me a great deal of peace that my kids will not suffer too badly because of all of MY flaws. They have an adequate teacher, because I had some excellent ones 🙂

Richard, George, Jim, and Bobby — Happy Father’s Day! Thank you for being you, because you have made (and continue to make) me into me 🙂

fatherhood

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Fessin’ Up — Fractures Edition

Fractures - final

Okay, update time…

This week, I returned to work after over two months of recuperation from my surgery. Having survived the certainty of my death, I thought that I’d be able to use that free time to write.

But I was wrong. Long story short, I labored over my book-to-that-point — all 67,000 words of it thus far — and realized that I’d left huge chunks out that should’ve been in there. For just one example, I’d completely forsaken the dragons that I introduced at the end of Gemworld, and when I tried to reintroduce them, the whole thing felt artificial.

So I dropped back and punted. As of this moment, my official wordcount stands at zero. UNofficially, I still have all my text to pull from as needed — all 67,000 words of it — but I’m essentially starting over from scratch.

The reasons are many — the dragons are only one — but the biggest reason is that I’d been effectively absent from my world for so long that I felt like a stranger to it. So to remedy this, I’ve been working on character outlines — starting at the very beginning of the book from each individual’s perspective, and following through to the end of the book without interruption — and it’s been working out wonderfully. I’m discovering new facets to each character, new motivations for why they do this or why that happens, and setting up for things to be explored in book three and the one-off.

When will I be done with the book then? I can’t really say. To be honest, I’ve only got three minor characters and one major character outlined so far — I still have Sal, Retzu, and at least one other minor character to do. But I can say this. The outlining, the worldbuilding type stuff, that’s the hard part for me. Writing is the easy part. If I’m struggling, I might squeeze out 500 words a week, but if I have a clear idea where I’m going, I can kill 5,000 words a day easily. For reference, Gemworld was 157,000 words 😉

I deeply apologize if you were one of the five people that actually anticipate the publishing of Fractures, but as quickly as I want to get the book out to yall, I want even more to give you my best efforts. Thank you for your patience 🙂

Jeremy

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You Never Know When It Matters

555handshake

The house across the street of us is occupied again. It happens from time to time — the landlord (who lives about two hours away) looks for somebody to buy the property, it sits vacant, they rent it out. Typically, it stays occupied for about three or four months (their longest renter stayed just shy of a year), until the renter stops paying rent, forcing the landlord to evict them and clean up the mess they made of the house. This moves the landlord to try and sell it, and the cycle repeats.

The family that lives there now just moved in last month, and already they’re showing the typical signs. What’s worse, they’re loud. They don’t just argue — they scream and holler to the point where we’ve almost called the cops on them. So we decided early on that they were the kind of renters that we wanted to avoid.

Yesterday afternoon, Mary and I were doing some gardening stuff in the front yard and we noticed the lady (wife? girlfriend?), her kids, and an elderly gentleman trying to get into the family car. Apparently, the lady had locked the keys in there. They were unsuccessfully using a coat hanger to pull the lock, so I went over to offer my not-inconsiderable real-life GTA skills.

Yeah. The neighbor’s that we had determined to avoid.

When I failed to unlock the car, I could easily have shrugged my shoulders and left the lady and her loud male counterpart to their own devices. I had done my bit for Good Samaritanship. Nothing was stopping me. Nobody would’ve thought less of me.

But I would have.

Mary and I have had a membership with AAA for almost five years now, and among other things, they unlock car doors. So I pulled out my AAA card, called the number, and they scheduled the local towing contractor to come out and see about the car. I didn’t mention that it wasn’t my car, and they didn’t seem to care. They said it’d be about an hour, so Mary and I walked around our yard discussing garden stuff while we waited. The lady went inside to finish working on lunch before her man woke up from his afternoon nap.

About five minutes later, her man woke up from his afternoon nap. True to form, we heard him before we saw him. He made for the car with purpose, feet thundering as he hulked, mouth thundering louder, spouting an impressive litany filled with words that we’ve told our kids never to say. He looked the car over for a few minutes before finally stomping off down the road, cussing the whole time.

No, I never got a chance to tell him that AAA was on the way.

The neighbor lady came back out, the look on her face a strange mix of stress and apology. She laughed his tirade off, saying that he gets this way and you just gotta let him go off. Mary and I stayed out there chatting with her while we waited, though it was more for her peace than for AAA at that point.

Thankfully, the towing contractor showed up about fifteen minutes later — well within the expected hour wait. The contractor got my card number and the information on the car, then started looking his job over. About that time, the man came back. His face went from angry to confused to anxious, as if he was looking at a locksmith payment that he wasn’t going to be able to make. I made a beeline for him and introduced myself, shook his hand, and told him that the contractor was there on my AAA membership. Yes, I called him. No, you don’t have to worry about a thing — I got it covered.

That’s probably the quietest that I’ve ever seen him.

The contractor got into the car in short order and was gone as fast as he’d come. The neighbor guy still had a confused look on his face. He said thank you again, and asked quietly if he owed me anything. No. I’m glad that I could help. I shook his hand again, gave him and his lady as genuinely cheerful a smile as I know how, and went about my business.

I thought that was the end of it, but this afternoon, I was in the front yard doing my best to leaf blower my pine needles into a pile. Not terribly efficient, to be sure, but it meant I didn’t have to use the rake to move the pile — just to bring in the stragglers. Caleb and Madi were riding their bikes in the street and I saw the neighbor guy inching his way out of the driveway. Of course, they made their way to the curbs as I’ve told them to do. I half-expected the neighbor guy to peel out when the coast was clear, as he was wont to do, but he sat at a dead stop while the kids passed. As he slowly pulled out of the driveway, he honked his horn at me (as if I hadn’t been watching the whole time) and waved at me through the sunroof.

I honestly don’t know what impact I had on him, or how long that effect will last. All I know for certain is that I made an impact of some sort. Maybe he was just as quiet inside the house as he became outside. Maybe they had one less argument last night. Maybe my call to AAA spared him the straw that would’ve broke the camel’s back — at least for one night. Calling AAA on their behalf cost me nothing, but who knows how much of a gift it turned out to be?

For the record, I am NOT telling this story to toot my own horn. Lord knows I’ve got far too many fails and have demonstrated far too much selfishness to give myself laurels that I don’t deserve. The point of this story, rather, is to demonstrate that what you do may seem pitifully small to you, even insignificant, but to the person who receives your pitiful gift, it could make all the difference in the world.

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The Disciples… and Peter

Denial of Peter

Mark 16:5-7 –And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. And he saith unto them, be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him. But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.

This morning, in celebration of the Resurrection, we had a Sunrise Service at church. As one of our music ministers was giving us a mini-devotional just prior to the actual service, he made mention of this verse. In it, the angel at the empty tomb told the women to go tell the disciples and Peter that Jesus is risen.

Note the separation: the disciples… and Peter.

Simon the fisherman — nicknamed Kepha, Cephas, Petros, Peter — was not just any disciple. He was the very first to confidently declare a notion that some had toyed with: that Jesus was no mere prophet but was in fact the long awaited Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Because of this confession, Jesus named him as the primary example of this confession, “the rock” upon which He would build His church. Some consider Peter to be the foundation of the church. Personally, I consider his confession to be that foundation. Either way, Peter was pretty important.

Throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry, Peter was not just a disciple — he was the model disciple. He was always the first to jump out of the boat — literally as well as figuratively. He had a knack for boldly rushing in where angels fear to tread because he knew that whatever happened, the Father had Jesus’ back, and Jesus had Peter’s. Jesus was The Guy, so Jesus would always come out victoriously.

When Jesus said that He was going to die in Jerusalem, it was perfectly in keeping with Peter’s nature to deny that eventuality. I’m sure it felt like a slap in the face for Jesus to call him Satan for that denial, but even Peter didn’t realize the full extent of who Jesus was and what He was about, and he was well acquainted with his impulsive nature getting him into hot water. Sure, he was the only man other than Jesus Himself to ever walk on water, but he also sank.

Peter was a man so completely devoted to Christ that even among the Jesus’ core disciples, Peter stood out. He was so committed to Christ that, when Jesus said that all of His disciples would desert him, Peter declared that he would die before that happened. Of course, Jesus prophesied that not only would Peter desert Him just like everybody else, but he would deny Him openly before the night was over. And that’s exactly what happened.

Peter stood apart from the other disciples in his devotion to Christ, but he also stood apart from the other disciples in his denial of Him. Not only did the disciples all think they’d lost their Master when Jesus was crucified, but Peter had also lost himself.

Again, he was the model disciple. As he had once been the epitome of what they could be, he was now the epitome of what they were.

It’s not hard to imagine that Peter no longer saw himself as a disciple, but that he now saw him as less than them, having fallen much farther than they. He, who was supposed to comfort the others, was himself the most in need of comfort.

It seems fitting, then, that the angel would single Peter out as one who should be told that Jesus had risen, for the Master was not just being restored to His disciples, but to the one who thought that he had done the most to fail Him.

I find this individual attention most striking, though not because Jesus wasn’t known for individual attention — He did, after all, tell Peter to mind his own business when he asked what another disciple’s job should be after Jesus ascended. What’s so striking is that, as if to confirm Jesus’ forgiveness of Peter’s “greater” denial, He went out of His way to ask “Do you love Me” and command “Feed My sheep” three times — once for each time that Peter denied Him.

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Hosanna — Prayer or Praise?

Yeah, I know. I’ve been slacking on my blogging. Rather than give a bunch of excuses, I’ll simply plead recovery and time with my kids and be done with it 😉

Well, today is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. Today in Jesus’ life, He had entered Jerusalem following the Sabbath, setting up the final days of His earthly ministry. He entered as prophecy had declared, riding on the colt of a donkey, and this didn’t escape the notice of the people of Jerusalem — both Jesus’ supporters and His detractors — and He entered to shouts of “Hosanna!”

A lot has been said about “hosanna” being a praise akin to hurray or huzzah or yippee, but it didn’t start off that way. The word is Hebrew, and comes from two words that mean “save/savior” and “to beg” — literally “please save us”. Now, that’s a far cry from a shouted praise, but there IS a way where it can be both.

Consider that Jesus was thought to be a messiah… though not the messiah we know Him to be. There were Jews that thought Jesus would be a messiah on the order of Moses or David or Judah Maccabee or even Alexander the Great — a military leader who would free the Jews from their oppression under Rome. Crying “Hosanna”, they were praising Jesus — shouting “hurray” at His arrival — but it can be argued that they were also entreating Him to save them, as if to say “Please be the One we’ve been waiting for.”

John the Baptist, just days before his execution, asked much the same question of Jesus — “Are you He, or do we wait for another?” Jesus’ answer to him was very similar to how He answered (by His crucifixion) the Jewish cry of hosanna. He had come to save them, but not necessarily in the way they had expected.

John was prepared to accept that reality. The Jews were not. When Jesus did not satisfy their expectations, their shouts of praise — and petitions of “Please be the One” — turned to demands for His crucifixion, revealing their praise for what it was: focused primarily on their own benefit, without regard for God’s ultimate glory.

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Reevaluation

I’m still here. How remarkable is that?

Oh, make no mistake. I never doubted God’s ability to see me through the most trying experience of my life, but I’ll be quite honest about it — I did doubt His willingness. I know how loving He is, and how much attention to detail He gives, and He’s CERTAINLY blessed me far greater than anything I could ever hope to earn, but I really thought my witness for Him would’ve been served better with my passing. I mean, I was strong and confident and at peace in the face of possible death specifically because I knew that nothing would happen to me that God had not allowed — for my kids’ benefit, for my wife and extended family’s benefit, for my friends and those who consider me an influence, and of course for the Kingdom. I’d prepared my kids for my passing as best I could, reiterating over and over NOT to be mad at God if He chose to take me home, because He knows the courses of our lives better than we ever could, and knows how to turn even our greatest tragedy into a triumph. So thought as I entered the operating room that I’d run my race as faithfully as I could, and that I was ready for whatever awaited me on the other side of it.

But I wasn’t ready for this!!! Sure, I hoped, and I begged, and I pleaded, but God will have His way, no matter what His way may be. And apparently, His way was to see me come through it miraculously. Not only was the operation a success, but when the doctor detailed just what he had to do to ensure its success — the incredible calcification of the valve that he had to fight, the expansion of the aorta, both of which could’ve killed me long ago — I realize that God did not just mean for me to survive this thing, but to show just HOW great His mercy is for me!

And I honestly don’t know where to start on this new path that I find myself on. My entire life has been fundamentally changed. I’m no longer that kid that was born with a heart condition — I’m now the man who had a heart condition, but now has a mechanical valve. I have the potential to be stronger, physically, than I ever was before. Even with my options limited, I have so many more options available to me than ever before. My book series that I had, quite honestly, given up on because I’d never finish it in time — I can now finish it. My daughters that I was sure I’d never walk down the aisle, I can now dance at their weddings. My son who I was sure would still turn to anger (as is his natural tendency), I can now model to him the full value of peace. My wife who I was sure would follow in her mother’s footsteps as a grieving widow, I can now comfort and keep company and love on until we’re both old and grey (or until the Lord changes His mind, of course — I’m not that bold).

But these are all things that I wanted to happen — not really things that I expected to happen. See, since I was a kid, I’ve known that I’d die on an operating table. I was sure of it when I was 10 and doing my first heart cath. I was sure of it when I had to have my tonsils taken out. I sweated through the whole of my LASIK procedure, trying desperately to block out images of that movie, Final Destination. But this time, this time, I was sure my time was up, that God had finally gotten what He wanted from me — someone so completely sold out to Him that even the fear of death couldn’t shake my faith.

But He got that from me… and I’m still here. And I can’t help but wonder if that wasn’t the point all along?

So, yeah, I’ve got some reevaluating to do, some goals to finally accomplish, and a testimony that I need to start spreading, but before I do any of that…

1 Chronicles 16:34 — O give thanks unto the Lord; for He is good: for His mercy endureth forever.

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Categories: Blogroll, Life In General, Religious, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Revisiting Pascal’s Wager

As long as there’ve been religious discussions, there’ve been apologetic approaches to faith — arguments from reason and logic that one might use to defend their position. In the mid-17th century, French philosopher Blaise Pascal adopted one such argument, this being a “wager” of sorts, a profit-and-loss approach to whether or not God exists. Basically, he asked “what have you got to lose by having faith in God?” The argument has been roundly criticized, not only by atheists — who argue, among other things, that if there is a God, how do you know that you’ve got the right one? — but also by Christians who argue that a Wager-motivated faith is little more than “fire insurance”.

Now, to be perfectly clear, I agree that Pascal’s Wager stinks as an evangelism tool. There’s nothing more passion-stealing than marring out of fear of being alone, or going to college out of fear that you won’t be educated enough to support yourself. Same with faith. Why would you commit your life to a God and recognize Him as superior to yourself if you remain the center of your universe? Can you really claim to bend the knee to such a God when you do it for your own reasons, on your own terms?

But for all of the Wager’s faults, it remains a wonderful exercise in logic, and not without its merits. I find this to be especially true, considering my current circumstances. With my heart surgery looming — and the possibility of my finding out once and for all what’s on the other side of death — I have to admit to an extreme tendency toward self-examination, especially where faith is concerned. What if there is no God? What if I’ve got the wrong one? As the surgery date inches closer, the criticisms of Pascal’s Wager become more pertinent, the questions more troubling. But the longer I stare at the future through the lens of Pascal’s Wager, the greater my desire to look backward on my life and see just how the Wager has already played itself out… and oddly enough, it’s comforting. While the Wager gives no evidence of what the future holds, it illustrates, brilliantly and definitively, what the past held for me and what I would lose if God — real or fictional — hadn’t been a part of it.

My biological father stepped out of my life when I was still an infant. This was the source of a lot of fear, anger, and resentment for me. Without God, those feelings would have festered within me, driving me to bitterness, selfishness, and a good bit of self-loathing. I’d be just like Will Smith’s character in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air when he watched his father walk out on him — again — and he demanded tearfully of his Uncle Phil, “How come he don’t want me, man?” But through the lens of faith, I’ve been able to see Richard’s leaving as a blessing — perhaps not an intentional one, but certainly one of opportunity. Without his absence, I wouldn’t know the love of a father that chose to be my father, that went out of his way to keep me as his son even when his relationship with my mother fell apart. In Christ, I’ve been able to see my situation not as one of abandonment, but of loving self-sacrifice, developed over time, and lasting my whole life.

As you already know, I was born with a heart condition — the very one that I will have surgery for this week. Left untreated, it would almost certainly lead to my death, and even with surgery that remains a distinct possibility. It’s tempting to look at these remaining days through the lens of mortality, blindly panicking as my time remaining grows ever shorter. Without God in my life, I’m certain that I would have nothing but dread for this coming week. But with God, I find myself not looking forward to my possible death, but backward to the 43 years that I was never guaranteed in the first place. I’ve already lived a full life, and while I am confident that I have a whole lot more life to live, if my time were up. if I don’t get tomorrow, my disappointment would pale in comparison to my gratitude for the time I did get.

And what about the course of how my life has gone?

When I was 11, I found my grandfather’s stash of pornography in the basement of our house. Curiosity led to fascination, and fascination to an addiction that lasted seventeen years. To this day, I bear the scars of pornography, in how it warped my perception so that reality seemed less desirable in comparison — the instant gratification that porn offers in contrast to the delayed gratification of genuine relationships, the demand for an idealized female form versus the reality of women that are all too often less than perfect. A different woman whenever I wanted one. A woman who never said no. Fantasy is just as intoxicating as any drug, just as addictive when entertained, just as destructive. Without God, my views wouldn’t be scarred — they’d be permanently damaged. Without God, I would’ve been content to wallow in my addiction, to indulge my every fetish until mere mortal woman wasn’t enough. But with God, I’m able to deny that addiction — and no, I can never be a “former” porn addict, anymore than someone can be a “former” alcoholic. I’m able to see pornography for the poison that it is. I’m able to give my wife a man that can still appreciate her for who she is, not who I’d like her to be.

When I was 25, I married my first wife. Yes, if you did your math correctly, you’d see that my first marriage and my porn addiction overlap. My first wife did have that idealized form and personality, and I still fed my pornographic addiction. Granted, that didn’t end our marriage — she was even more damaged than I was — but it certainly contributed to it. When we were in the process of getting divorced for the second and final time, I was suicidal. Without God, there’s not a doubt in my mind that I would’ve followed through. But with God, I was able to see that sometimes crap just happens that is beyond our control, and for all that it seems as if things will never get better, suicide can only guarantee that reality. With God, I was able to see that the sun shines on the evil as well as the good, and the rain falls on the just and the unjust. The same water that gives life to the crops floods out the cities. The same sun that nourishes us can burn us. The same trials that drive a self-centered man to suicide drive a humble man to shrug off the burden of those things he has no control over anyway.

When I was 33, my wife was pregnant with our second child. The doctor was certain she had miscarried. Without God, I would’ve grown bitter, resentful, angry at Mary for killing my baby, angry at the doctor for not saving him. But with God, I was able to see that, like my marriage to my previous wife, there’s only so much we can control, and beyond that, all the plotting and scheming and outrage and ranting would change nothing. With God, I was able to surrender to whatever happened next. As it happens, all that anger — and whatever I said or did in that state — would’ve been for nothing anyway. The product of that surrender will turn 10 this May.

I know me better than anybody knows me. I know how selfish I can be, how shallow, how spiteful, uncaring. There’s only three people on the planet who’ve ever seen the full range of my explosive temper — blessedly, Mary and the kids ain’t among them. When people see me, they don’t see who I would be without God. They don’t see my dark, sadistic nature, or the evils I’d planned when I let that nature hold sway. What they see — at least, what I hope they see — is what God made me: a loving person who goes out of his way to give of himself for someone who he has no expectation of paying him back. They see someone who doesn’t “lend” money, but gives it, because I don’t want the other person to feel “obligated” to pay back something that I wanted to give them in the first place. If I never see that money again, I’ll never miss it, and if I ever do see the money, it’ll be a blessing that I had no right to expect. And “blind faith”? Hah! If anything, my faith in God has opened my mind to greater possibilities than I could’ve considered as a man without faith, eager to explore not only what is, but also the limits of what could be.

All that to say… whether or not God exists, and whether or not I’ll see Him upon my death (may it be a long time in coming), MY LIFE IS BETTER FOR HIM BEING IN IT. I am a better me, not because I pulled myself up by my own bootstraps, but because I have the example of a loving God who owed me NOTHING but contempt, and yet gave me everything at grave expense to Himself.

Is it possible that there is no God? Sure. But if there is no God, then I’ve lost nothing for having faith in Him — not anything worth keeping, anyway.

Is it possible that there is a God, but I have the wrong idea about Him? Sure. But of all the other religions that I’ve researched, those other Gods all respect diligence toward “a” God. Even Islam respects Christianity — not as an equal, of course, but as people of faith who errantly follow the same God.

Is it possible that there is a God, that I worship the right one, but that I do so by the wrong formula? Sure. But even if I follow by the wrong formula (ironic, as I don’t think there’s any right “formula’), I do so with confidence that even if my errors cost me, I follow what appears to be the most consistent path that scripture lays out.

All these things are possible… but I don’t think they are. I have confidence that I do know the right God, I do have a proper understanding of Him, I do live in submission to Him, and in those places where my submission to Him slips, He makes up the difference — not because He makes exceptions, but because He makes the impossible possible. So when I consider what all I might have wrong, my faith is bolstered by what He has already done for me in my life — answering Pascal’s Wager, “what have you got to lose” with stark evidence of what I WOULD HAVE lost — and my dependence upon Him is summed up in the words of a father who once begged Jesus to heal his child… “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”

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