The attempt to destroy history

What if someone retold a historical event, but distorted it so that the characters and the message were totally changed?  What if the retelling completely destroyed the historical lesson of what happened?

Now what if it was a event that didn’t just matter a little, but changed the course of history?

What if it was an event that was meant to be the most global foreshadowing of the only salvation that would ever come to earth?

Would you go see a movie that destroyed this kind of history?  Would you call it entertaining?

The movie Noah is its own story.  Not history, not even quality historical fiction.  It takes a few truths and mixes them with its own message and changes the facts to make them conform to Hollywood’s stylized lies.

The insult they have done to God’s Word won’t stand on the red carpet in eternity, but evaporate in the flames of Truth. God’s Word is an ark that will stand against any flood of lies.

What is heartbreaking is that, in the meantime, multitudes of people will probably go to a movie that mocks the very work of Jesus Christ.

This isn’t about a boat and a lot of water.

This is about salvation from Hell.

That’s why any Christian must take offense at the deviation Noah has taken from God’s Word.  This story not only distorts the reality of God’s ark and the flood, but it far more insidiously tries to diminish the picture of God’s salvation.

Jesus Christ built Himself as our Ark.  With the nails in His hands and feet, He became the lifeboat.  With His arms outstretched, He made it clear that the door is open.

But like God’s ark, one day the opportunity will be over.  As the flood was ushered in, so eternity will be ushered in.  God doesn’t want anyone to be caught off guard.  He wants everyone to come in through the Ark: Jesus Christ.

And the infuriating reality is that the movie Noah may block people from seeing that true Message: Jesus Christ is the Ark and He came for everyone.

No Christian should stand this.  Going to see the movie is to say God’s Word is irrelevant, the same Word in which we find our escape from God’s wrath through Jesus Christ.  It’s not the unforgivable sin; it’s not irredeemable.  But it is heartbreaking that any believer would knowingly have so little reverence for the blood of Jesus Christ.

Christ-followers, please boycott this movie.  But let’s also be encouraged that, despite the lies this film promotes, God will work for good.

And let’s pray for nonbelievers who see this film, that they will be drawn to the real Ark story . . and that there they will come through the open door, Jesus Christ.

“I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved” (John 10:9a, ESV)

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6b, ESV)

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Reference: http://blogs.answersingenesis.org/blogs/ken-ham/2014/03/06/the-positives-make-sure-you-also-hear-the-negatives/

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And he wasn’t no fun after that.

I was either a teen or not far off from becoming one when I read a book that was something like a modern retelling of Brer Rabbit, only the main character was a human boy who delighted in tricking family, friends, classmates, and teachers.  He did atrocious things and figured out ways to do them always with a loophole so that he wouldn’t get punished.  He exacted revenge on those he didn’t like, outsmarted adults, and even figured out a way to con poor children out of what little money they had.

He was set up to be the villainous hero of the book.  His younger brother, who narrated the story, clearly had tremendous admiration for him and his schemes.  Suddenly, the book ended in an abrupt way, and the ending seemed to come out of nowhere.  The gist, told from the younger brother’s perspective, went something like this:

–He was a genius schemer and I guess he would of stayed that way, and the fun we had would of never ended, but that summer he went away to Christian camp, and he became a Christian.  He came home all changed.  He didn’t trick people no more and he started bein’ nice to everybody and he wasn’t no fun after that.–

The sudden ending couldn’t have been more than a page long, and I doubt it was that.  The whole book had been about the brilliant sins of boy who could get away with just about anything, and the ending was set up to be both anti-climatic and a clear poke at Christianity.  Tongue-in-cheek, the message was, Have all your fun now; become a Christian later.

As irreverent as this book intended to be, I do have to give the author something: he did understand that genuine faith in Christ changes everything.  And the author didn’t actually do a bad job of describing what a new walk with Christ looks like, from the outside.

The perspective, written from the little brother’s vantage point, isn’t inaccurate for how a nonbeliever often views the conversion experience of a friend or family member.

But the message is like the flute of a pied piper, and the worst part is, its stanzas are written for children.  I don’t know if the author of this book came to know Christ or not, but if not, he will be eternally responsible for the leading away from never-ending joy found within the melody of his book.

His idea wasn’t original.  The concept that Christians don’t have fun didn’t spring from his book.  For hundreds of years, Christians have been accused of not having fun.

From the unbeliever’s viewpoint, the list of don’ts and do’s is often seen as worse than eternity in Hell: no sex outside of marriage, no revenge, no bouts of rage, making restitution when possible, denying the porn and gambling industry its profits, dressing modestly, no gossiping, giving sacrificially to the poor, refusing to use or participate in the use of God’s name slanderously, treating others kindly even when wronged, etc.

So is it true?  Do Christians not have fun?

I think it is true of a Christian who is whole-heartedly following Christ, but there’s something here that non-Christians don’t (and can’t) understand.  This is that, when we strip our lives of sin-nature fun, we are able to wear the joy of the LORD.

In Nehemiah’s day, God’s people were really struggling.  Nearly all of them had been killed or exiled because of their idolatry.  God graciously reveals His Law once more.  The people are heartbroken when they learn how gravely they have broken their covenant with Him.  They want to give up their idolatry (sin-nature fun).  What is God’s answer?  That they will never have “fun” again?  Instead, listen to what God reveals through Nehemiah.

“Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10, NIV)

Sin-nature fun and the joy of the LORD don’t go together.  You can’t have both at the same time.  What’s more, you cannot even choose to have the joy of the LORD.  It’s a gift, a free gift, given only by God to His followers (to genuine believers).  No one could order God to give us joy, but He chose to of His own accord.

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.   (Luke 2:10b-12, NIV)

 

As He sent angels to announce the birth of Jesus, and joy was poured out on all who believed the news, so He sends His Word to announce total forgiveness and grace through the sacrifice of Jesus, and joy is poured out on all who believe today.

If you aren’t willing to lay down your sin-nature fun to follow Jesus, you will not be able to receive the unspeakable joy He has to give you.

Is it fun to be a huckster?  Sure, in a sense.  Do you have the joy of the LORD as a huckster? No.

Is it fun to get revenge?  In a way, it’s fun.  If it wasn’t people probably wouldn’t do it.  But do you have the joy of the LORD when you get revenge for yourself?  Definitely not.

Is it fun to outsmart everyone around you?  For a time.  Do you have the joy of the LORD in your self-made so-called brilliance?  Not a chance.

Is it fun to be admired for your villainy?  From the vantage point of our sin nature, absolutely.  We got that trait from Satan, who seeks very hard to be admired for his.  Will you have God’s everlasting joy if the world admires (or even worships) you for your evil?  No.

Is the joy of the LORD worth giving up fun to have?  You can only know that for sure if you trust in Him and find out.  But the resounding answer from the testimony of believers around the world is yes.  Giving up fun to receive joy is like giving up gruel to receive a seven-course banquet.  Although, from the perspective of the sinner, it seems like a terrifying and costly loss, from the perspective of the redeemed, it is a delightful and astonishing bargain.

I remember a college student giving her testimony of how Christ had been working in her life.  She held out a strand of plastic pink pearls.  She explained that, as a child, she had been devoted to these beads.  She had clung to them and couldn’t imagine anything better than them.  They were like the sin in her life, the lesser dreams she had for who she could be.

When she became a believer, she at last surrendered her plastic pearls from her fisted hand.  What she had discovered–what every believer discovers when he or she does this–is that God gave her, in place of those worth-a-penny plastic wanna-bes, a beautiful, exquisite, irreplaceable pearl necklace in its place.  That is, the joy of the LORD.

An author can misrepresent and lampoon Christianity in fiction.  But the Author wrote our faith through His blood, and no make-believe can ever mar the reality of the new Life He gives us.

Is Christianity fun?

No.  Christianity is joy.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13, NIV)

Never free?

Saruman says of Grima, “He will never be free.”[1]

He is so right.

He is so right because Grima believes him.

It’s a wretched, awful day for Saruman and Grima.  Their orcs have died in the torrent of water the Ents set loose.  The steel-like, impregnable-looking tower has lost its appeal now that it is sitting in water and guarded by an Ent.  The wicked Sauron who they swore allegiance to is no where to be found to help them (of course).  And conjuring Saruman and minion Grima are left to die whichever way they choose.

Saruman is in a determined craze to either get Gandalf to worship him (not happening) or bring as many down in his death with him as he can.

Grima, on the other hand, is totally terrified of what has happened.  He has the sense to realize Saruman has gone totally nuts in megalomania craziness.  He also has the sense to realize he has not one hope of escaping death.

Trapped on the top of a formidable tower with no way down, Saruman and Grima are confronted by Gandalf and King Theoden.

Gandalf offers Saruman a chance for life, and he has no desire for it.  To top off the impending doom, Saruman’s staff–his last realm of power–is snapped in half by Gandalf, who was once subordinate to him but now has greater skills.

Grima has been silently waiting his own death as Saruman raves madness down to Gandalf.  But then something happens that Grima does not expect.

King Theoden offers for Grima to come down.

“Grima, you need not follow him.  You were not always as you are now.  You were once a man of Rohan.  Come down.” [1]

Grima can hardly believe what he is hearing.  For a moment, he begins to consider what King Theoden has said, as Saruman continues his stupid ranting.

“Grima, come down.  Be free of him,” King Theoden says. [1]

To which Saruman says, “Free?  He’ll never be free.”

Have you ever felt like Grima?  Have you ever felt like your alliance with darkness has caused you to be on the top of an impregnable tower that you wish you’d never entered?  Does your sin ever make you feel as though there is no going back, that God wouldn’t take you in no matter what you did, no matter how hard you begged?

Rather than come down, Grima tries to free himself of the wickedness he’s become captured by, and the result is he dies.  Only after he stabs Saruman repeatedly does he realize it was not Saruman who destroyed him, but himself.  Grima destroyed himself–and he dies knowing that.  Had he but come down, he could have been free.  Even if he had not made it down, even if Saruman had killed him after only one step, he would have died having been set free by King Theoden’s words.  He would have died a man of Rohan.

There is no way that you can defeat your own sin.  There is no way that you can slay what has been haunting you.  In the end, all you can destroy is yourself.

It seems too simple an offer to simply come down, and yet King Theoden has every authority to offer this.  Grima is his subject.  He has rebelled and was owned by Saruman, but Theoden’s alliance has conquered Saruman, and Grima is once again Theoden’s subject.  Grima has a single choice to make.  It is the only decision which can change the course of his life.  He can either be free, or he can die Saruman’s subject.

Grima dies Saruman’s subject, and yet he came so close to not doing so.  But coming close isn’t enough.  He doesn’t take the freedom, and it turns out to be his last chance.  He is forever bound as Saruman’s subject–his treacherous subject–but his subject nonetheless.

Why didn’t he come down?

If you feel hemmed in by your sin, I could ask you the same question.  Why don’t you come down?  I could ask myself the same question, because I went for years feeling frightened and further and further in debt to a God I knew I could never pay.

God is like King Theoden in this story, because He offers us the chance to come down.  We were once His subjects, and He wants us to be His subjects again.

In the Lord of the Rings series, Grima is directly responsible for the murder of Theodred, King Theoden’s son.  Yet King Theoden chooses to extend his scepter of forgiveness towards Grima in an act of unmerited love.

Did you know that J.R.R. Tolkien didn’t come up with this idea?  Our God, the Great I AM, sent His Son, Jesus, to earth, and we killed Him.  Even though you and I were not there at that time in history, by the evil in our hearts we would have done the same as the people who crucified Him.

But this is where the story takes a sharp turn from Tolkien’s.  Theodred certainly did not choose to die for Grima, nor would Theoden have ever sent his son to die for Grima.  But did you know that God the Father chose to send His Son to us, because it was more bearable to the Father and Jesus for them to suffer the agony of Jesus’ death than for you and I to be lost forever? 

Just think about that!  Just think about that!

Jesus willingly went to His death for us, knowing exactly what He was doing.  He even knew that many of us wouldn’t turn to Him as soon as we hear about His death for us, but we would continue sinning for a long time before turning to Him!  Have you known about the cross of Jesus for a long time?  Do you think you’ve known about Him for too long for Him to forgive you now?  That is simply not true!  Like King Theoden extended grace to Grima even after he razed most of Rohan with his sin and killed even the weak, elderly, and children by his actions, God is still willing to extend His grace to you.  Will you accept it?

The price God paid to bring us back is the death of His Son.  Think of how heavy this price really was.  No one can imagine paying it!  But ask yourself this, very seriously: If the only way the price of my sin could be paid was by God sending His Son to die for me, then what will happen if I am faced with paying for my sin myself?

We cannot escape our sin by remorse, acts of penitence, good works, or even killing ourselves.  None of this will pay for our sin.  Only the Son of God, who is eternal and has the ability to take infinite suffering on Himself in a finite amount of time, could pay for our sin.  Do you want to take the penalty for your sin on yourself?  Can you bear it!?!?

Remember, God the Father chose to send His Son to us, because it was more bearable to the Father and Jesus for them to suffer the agony of Jesus’ death than for you and I to be lost forever!!!

I know, I fully know, I cannot bear the penalty of my own sin.  I cannot even bear the thought!  It is enough to drive us mad to think of paying for what we cannot pay.  Just as Grima, trapped on that tower, had no ability to replant crops or rebuild houses, we cannot make up for our sin.  But the worst of all is, Grima could not bring back the dead, and that is what he would really have to do to pay for his sin.  He would have to raise the people back from the dead whose lives he cost.  And he knew he could not do it.

You may say, But I have never killed anyone.  But you say this because you don’t understand the consequences of sin.  Sin always brings about death.  Your sin and my sin causes destruction on this world that we are not even capable of understanding the full ramifications of.  To get a better understanding, just look at Adam’s sin of disobeying God once.  That doesn’t seem so serious, right?  But Adam’s one sin brought about all the havoc we see in the world today, like illness, injury, natural disasters, wars, murders, terrorism, and death of every kind.  Adam’s sin had a domino effect on the world.  And that was just one sin.

Do you think you have sinned, even once?  The Bible teaches that if you disobey God even once you have sinned and are guilty before Him.  We all know in our heart we have done this–many times.  I know there is no way I can make up for my sin.  I, like Grima, have done things I cannot pay for.  Even if I could imagine in my head that I could somehow plant new crops and build new houses, I could never raise the dead.  We might be able to make restitution on a superficial level, but we can never make up or pay back the depth of what we have caused by our disobedience.

The joy of my life is that I did not choose as Grima chose.  I asked Jesus to forgive me and be the Master of my life.  All my sin is paid in full–from birth to death.  I have been totally pardoned.  Unlike Grima, I chose to come down from the tower.  I am no longer Satan’s property.  I belong once again to the Kingdom of God.

Even though my joy for myself is indescribable, belonging to God means that He gives you a heart of love for others.  I know that I have come down from the tower, but I can’t simply stop at that.  I recognize that there are millions who still stand on top of that tower, totally hopeless and either believing there is no way down or not even realizing that they are trapped.  If you are one of those who has not made it down from the tower yet, I challenge you to receive the Lord Jesus as your Savior.  Satan will fight hard and long against you.  He will try to incite you, as Saruman incited Grima.  Satan will try to incite you against God or against me or against yourself or even against himself (Satan), but what he will try everything in his power to stop you from doing is from coming down from your lofty Hell and accepting the free Gift of Jesus Christ.

Come down, right now.  Come down and be free.  Satan can’t make you stay on that tower.  He can only try to make you think he can.

“I assure you: Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. A slave does not remain in the household forever, but a son does remain forever. Therefore, if the Son sets you free, you really will be free.” (Jesus, quoted in John 8:34b-36, HCSB)

[1] Lord of the Rings: return of the king, extended edition script, New Line Cinema.  Screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson.  Based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s book, Lord of the Rings: The return of the king.

Hidden in applesauce . . or Hollywood

I was 6 or 7.

I had to take these huge, nasty, chewable pills that the doctor had prescribed me.  I had no desire to take said pills.  They were an ugly brown, they tasted gross, and they looked like they were something to feed garbage disposals, not small children.

One day, I was relieved to find there was no nasty pill for me to take.  For my afternoon snack, my mom gave me applesauce, one of my favorites . . with a funny color.

I asked my mom if there was cinnamon sugar in my applesauce.  She gave me a vague reply I did not understand.  I asked again, and this time she asked me to try the applesauce.

I tried it and decided it was not cinnamon sugar.

I took spoonful after spoonful, trying to decide what the taste was.

At last, I narrated out loud (as my mom recalls vividly), “This almost tastes like . .”  I stopped, a horrible thought in mind.  “Mommy . . no, Mommy would not put my pill in my applesauce.”

From how my mom described the story later in a journal entry, the guilt was too much, and she confessed.  😉

My mom was trying to help me take something I wouldn’t have wanted to take, if I’d known what it was.  But applesauce couldn’t hide the nastiness of the pill for long.

Hollywood, on the other hand, is very good at hiding the nastiness of evil for years and years and years.  It’s easy to taste the bitterness of ground-up medicine in applesauce; it’s not so easy to recognize the sour effects of evil in a highly-gilded and carefully-crafted fantasy realm.

Nearly every popular movie and best-selling book has a hidden message, sometimes so finely crushed into the script or chapters that you’d hardly recognize it.  This subterfuge can go nearly unnoticed until its taste is no longer discernible, its power has taken full effect in our lives, and we breathe our last not realizing we have been a part of a grand trick that has been played on us.

Because the subterfuge seeks to destroy God, and, in doing so, actually destroys us.

There isn’t always a planned-out conspiracy from Hollywood to indoctrinate us.  Some mean well, like my mother hiding medicine in my applesauce; they don’t recognize they’re masking poison.

The ultimate conspiracy stems from Satan.

In even the smallest and most subtle, gentle ways, Hollywood and bestselling books have the power to change the way we think, if we are not on guard.

We are most vulnerable to them so far as I can tell:

  • as children,
  • when humor is involved,
  • when we are trying to be accepted into a group,
  • when we are lonely and seeking fictional friendships,
  • or when a desire we try to suppress is secretly gratified by what we watch.

The next time you turn on the television, buy a movie ticket, read a book, flip through a magazine, or even pick up a newspaper, ask God to reveal to you the hidden messages.  Before I was a believer, I thought I knew some of the hidden messages–and I did–but I missed many, many more.  If you have given your life to Christ, He will make Satan’s agenda clearer to you as you follow Him more and more closely.

The further away I have gotten from mainstream television, books, and movies, the more ludicrous the “craze” of next-week’s-episode, the newest bestseller, and the latest blockbuster is to me.  The addiction of popularity, the drive of illicit sex, and the lust of materialism fades.  I don’t mean I am never tempted by evil, but that the more I tear myself from the world, the more of my sinful nature I shed.  Things that I once looked forward to watching or reading are now detestable to me.

I don’t want be tricked by the sweet to take the poison.

Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong. (1 Corinthians 16:13, NLT)

Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. (Jesus, quoted in Mark 13:33, on the Second Coming)

Disturbance: Are Christians who believe in a literal 6-day creation causing an embarassment for the church and driving unbelievers away?

Answers in Genesis, in their review on the book Seven Days That Divide the World, wrote the following:

In his book Seven Days That Divide the World, Lennox explores the “potential minefield” of the controversy of Genesis and science. He wrote the book for people who have been put off considering the Christian faith because of the “. . . very silly, unscientific story that the world was made in seven days,” (Lennox 2011, p. 12) for convinced Christians who are disturbed by the controversy, as well as for those who take the Bible seriously but do not agree on the interpretation of the creation account (Lennox 2011, p. 12).

–from Answers Research Journal

Answers in Genesis is what could be termed a “young earth” or “back to the Bible” movement, depending on how you look at it, but in truth the six-day creation ‘issue’ is not only about the earth’s creation in six days, or even about simply ‘returning’ to the Bible, but instead about the authority of the Bible: that is, looking at the world through the scope of God’s Word.

Something disturbing began sinking in for me when I read the reason Lennox wrote his book.  Look with me again at this statement if you will:

He wrote the book for people who have been put off considering the Christian faith because of the “. . . very silly, unscientific story that the world was made in seven days,” (Lennox 2011, p. 12)

Here is what disturbs: the idea that we must conform to the evolutionary hypothesis (and this is an oversimplification, as there is not one singular evolutionary hypothesis) in order to make the Gospel ‘appealing’ or ‘acceptable’ to people.

This idea should send shock waves through the Christian’s soul.  And here’s why:

My goodness, but I can alter the Gospel message in better ways than that to make it appealing and acceptable!!

Is that what we’re aiming for?  Certainly I can do that!

No worldwide flood–it upsets evolutionists.  No flood at all–the theme of God’s judgment is always unattractive.

Now get rid of God’s judgment on Sodom & Gomorrah–how many people could we pull in if we got rid of the burning sulfur and fire?

Don’t talk about Abraham almost sacrificing his son–atheists get really offended by that event.

And cut out the Ten Commandments–they offend every sinner who is not convicted.

And the holy battles of judgment where God wiped out wicked people–we need to scratch them from the record.  For that matter, get rid of all the acts of judgment against immorality during the time of Moses.

But why stop there?  We can attract even more people if we get rid of the judges, since they were sent to be intolerant of sin and bring the people to repentance and obedience before God–and we know how offensive that message is!

What’s left of the Old Testament?  Nothing about animal sacrifices–that would offend PETA.  Nothing about the surety of God–that would make the Gospel less acceptable to agnostics.

You could leave in Ruth, I suppose–that’s not too offensive . . but you’d have to take out her devotion to one God (that would offend Hindus and Confucians, for example), and her submission to her mother-in-law, since the very concept of submission offends nowadays.

And for that reason, you’d have to leave out the book of Esther–Esther is submissive to the king, her husband, and that’s way unacceptable in our culture.

Now that there’s no Old Testament, let’s take a look at the new.

Jesus’ virgin birth creates a lot of controversy and drives naturalists away.  John the Baptist jumping for joy in his mother’s womb is highly offensive to the abortion movement.  Speaking of John, his message of sin, repentance, and change is a huge deterrent to keep people from accepting the Gospel message.

Let’s not even think of telling people Jesus’ words about selfishness, lust, and greed!  And none of His healings or miracles can be permitted–those make the Gospel seem silly to naturalists.

No parables–they invoke life change, and we all know life change is uncomfortable to people.

What about Jesus revealing Himself as the only atonement for sin?  Well, there’s no count of how many groups that offends, so that must go, too.

Since the plot against Jesus by many Jewish leaders is seen as anti-Semitic, we must cut it from the Bible as well.

And take out the cross–it offends Muslims.  Take out the resurrection–it offends atheists.

There can’t be any of James’ writing on faith in action.  Why, it’s so radical it would unsettle millions of complacent people!

Time to take out Paul–he offends basically all unbelievers somewhere or other in the revelations he shares from God.

That leaves Revelation, which too must go.  We can’t have God destroying sin, because that’s infuriating to everybody who loves sin.

The theme of Jesus as King–those who want to be their own god will never accept it.

Now make no mention of angels or demons–naturalists can’t accept them.  The Bible’s concept of Heaven with individuals rejoicing there–Buddists and Hindus can’t go for it, so remove it.  And the Bible’s concept of Heaven as being only by the merit of Jesus Christ–can any other religion accept it?

Fortunately, this is the last book that talks about sexual sin–let’s be sure to clip that out, especially sex before marriage, adultery, and homosexuality.

And can we dare to say that all people who do not believe in Christ go to Hell?  Remove Hell, too, and at we are at last almost done.

Is anything left?  It must go.  All of Scripture must go.  Everything.  Wiped away, empty, so that the Gospel can at last be appealing to all.

The Gospel of no gospel.

The no gospel is now acceptable to everyone!  No offense–no good news.  No God, no Law, no Redeemer, no forgiveness, no salvation, no redemption, no purification, and no eternal Life.

No longer must we fear appearing silly or unscientific or intolerant or anything whatsoever objectionable.

There’s nothing left, and at last we have pleased even the most difficult group to please: the Satanists.  There is plenty of room now for them, and everyone else, to write their own book to live their life by.

And no longer do we have Christ.

If you find this bearable, then you do not know the God who died for you.

But if you find this unbearable, then you must commit with me to stop trying to manipulate and alter Scripture for the sake of appealing to the unbeliever who must come to the Word, Christ Jesus, to be saved from everlasting Hell, just as every believer has already done.

An unoffensive and popular Jesus does not choose to lay His hands out on a crossbeam to have them nailed there by a wicked legion of soldiers and a mocking crowd.

An unoffensive and popular Jesus does not choose to be stripped of even the dignity of humanity for us.  The Bible says Jesus chose to be so tortured by our sin that He no longer even looked human (see Isaiah 52:14).

What about that was easy?  What about that was appealing?

We need to draw back our hands from trying to revise our God to try to ‘make’ Him be more acceptable to the world that crucified Him . . and we need to hold our hands in awed worship that He has saved us, the crucifiers, His way, from the powers and hold of Hell.

We need to stop treating God’s Word like some paperback we picked up at the bookstore and halfway like, and start treating it as the holy Message of Salvation for every sinner on earth.

The Good News isn’t good news when we try to distort its righteousness to conform it to the wickedness of the world.  God’s Word will not conform, and that leaves you and I with a question that will matter for our eternity:

Do we stand on God’s side, or do we not?

If we do, we need to start obeying Him in full of every letter of what He says, with the blood of Jesus to cover us every time we fail.

And if we don’t, we need to throw off any guise of following Him and make it clear that we abandon His Word altogether.

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. (Colossians 2:8, NIV)

Two motives

What if all our stories are either trying to imitate God’s great Story . . Or trying to undo it?

“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” (Jesus, quoted in Luke 11:23, ESV)

Ayden

I now know the real Ayden.

But in May of ’98, when Quest for Camelot debuted in theaters, I only knew I wished I could be a part of that kind of story–even if it was ‘only a fairy tale’.

In Quest, Garrett is a hardhearted, demonstratively cynical, deeply pained, and radically withdrawn hermit who lives in the Forbidden Forest.

When a strange girl, Kayley, stumbles into his world with news that Excalibur has been lost in this very forest, he accepts the quest–minus Kayley.  Since she wants to go on the quest with him, he tries to lose her in the Forbidden Forest (not a very kind thing considering she could have been eaten alive by the monstrous plants that grow there).

He seek to push her out of his life with a warning song about the Forbidden Forest, a ballad, of the self-pitying sort.  He is in love with forbiddeness–reminding me of a girl I know who felt the same way in the summer of ’98, and for many, many months that followed.

. . . I embrace what others fear,
For you were not to roam
in this forgotten place,
Just the likes of me
are welcome here.

I’ve seen your world
with these very eyes,
Don’t come any closer,
don’t even try,
I’ve felt all the pain
and heard all the lies,
But in my world
there’s no compromise!
Like every tree stands on its own,
Reaching for the sky
I stand alone,
I share my world
with no one else . .
All by myself
I stand alone.

–from I Stand Alone, written by Carole Bayer-Sager, David Foster, and Steve Perry

Garrett is not merely alone.  He desires to be alone.  He works to stay alone.

As a child, Garrett wanted nothing more than to become a knight.  Not likely for a stable boy . . but possible.

But when a horse wounded him and he was blinded . . his dreams of knighthood slipped through his fingers.

Believing he would never be anything but a burden, he abandoned Camelot to live his ‘worthless’ life brooding in a dark wood.

He built his own world encapsulated inside a forbidden forest where no one else is allowed to come, a world guarded against future wounds–and any hint of risk-taking.  He is unapproachable, arrogant, and filled with contempt for anyone and anything that would try to broach his world.

It is the story of anyone who has been so embittered or so enraged that they wish to be disturbed no more–not even by love.

Garrett is almost hopeless.

Almost is an important word.

There is but one passage into the fortress he has built from the outside world.  That passage is–did you guess it?–Ayden.

Ayden is a beautiful, mysterious falcon.

Ayden is a beautiful, mysterious falcon who came to Garrett.

Ayden came to Garrett through the treacherous, uninhabitable wood.  He came and could not be persuaded to forsake the blind hermit.

Garrett named the falcon Ayden, clueless that this falcon he thinks of as ‘his’ is Silver Wings, Merlin’s own mighty bird, sent out for the very purpose of loving the unlovable Garrett.

Over time, Ayden has become Garrett’s trusted eyes.  Through Ayden’s warning cries from overhead an enemy, Garrett can identify the direction of danger and protect himself.  Ayden is deeply faithful to him through the long years of isolation, even though Garrett has nothing to give to the falcon, no reason to stay with him.

Why does Ayden stay?

You could say because it’s a fairy tale, and everyone knows that fairy tales aren’t true . . or you could say it’s because our fairy tales are often like shards of a mirror that reflect what we know, or long to know, about God.

Ayden opens Garrett’s world.  Garrett permits Kaylee’s unwelcome presence on the quest only because Ayden insists.  Ayden never leaves Garrett unprotected.  At all times, the mighty falcon–worth far more to the Kingdom than Garrett even if Garrett were a mighty knight and not a reclusive failure–is willing to give his life for Garrett’s.

Even when Garrett betrays the quest, refuses to leave the boundary of the Forbidden Forest, and turns back to his life of nothingness, Ayden follows, once again his one and only friend.  When even Kayley, who dearly loves Garrett, has given up on him, Ayden does not.  Ayden loves him even more.

Is this story recognizable to you?

Long before Ayden was first sketched on a story board, long before the tales of Camelot were first woven, infinitely long before even the first bird had taken flight, GOD was.

GOD had a plan.  He had a plan to make a world of the sort more beautiful than fairy tales can ever reach, even if they stand on their tippy toes.

The world GOD planned was so effuse with the beauty our eyes ache to see, so filled with the wonder our hearts scream for, so packed with the adventure our spirits ache to find, so engineered by the mystery we long to behold, so founded on the purpose we spend our who lives seeking, and so saturated with the love we desire at the core of our souls . . that the words Happily ever after could not possibly do it justice.

But, though this world started with Once upon a time, it would not end with happily ever after–not on its own.  The beauty, the wonder, the adventure, the mystery, the purpose, and the love were all bound to GOD.

But we broke with Him.

The remnants of beauty, wonder, adventure, mystery, purpose, and love He left for us in His mercy were warped, gnarled, ruined, and devoured by the monster of Sin that Adam and Eve let in our world through war against GOD.  By concession to evil (Adam) and deception of what evil really was (Eve), humanity fell.  And what tragedy would follow.

God could have thrown His cursed world into Hell and started anew.  He bore no fault, no responsibility, and no identification with our sin.  He could have righteously shook His head in shame at our failure and left us to our condemnation.  He could have created new creatures who would live in His love and not bring such unimaginable pain to Him.  He could have closed our story right then, threw it in the fire, and written another story, one with a people who would choose to make a different choice and refuse to betray Him.  No one could have blamed GOD if He’d done this.

But this He did not do.

Instead, He sent His Son–His one Son, His only Son into our forbidden world.  We would not recognize Him as the one Son of GOD.  He would be ‘only’ Jesus to us–a man from Galilee, a carpenter from Nazareth, a strange Rabbi.  But in courage He would stay with us until we killed Him.  In love He would give Himself up to be betrayed by us. And in tenderness He would come back from the grave where we put Him, not to strike vengeance on us, but to offer redemption to us.  And since that very day He has been giving us the gift of time–time to turn to Him, time to come up out of the Forbidden Forest and live in His Mighty Kingdom.

Every good and righteous thing we have ever tried to make-up in fairy tales points to the true story of Jesus Christ, Son of GOD.

Jesus is the real Ayden.

Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence. (Ephesians 3:12, NLT)

I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. (Ephesians 3:16-19)

Gríma

I have a knack of identifying with characters that others might not.  From the first viewing of The Two Towers, I had a powerful connection to Gríma.  Gríma Wormtongue.

I admit, not the nicest of names.  And not the nicest of characters.  Gríma is a groveling, no-good-for-nothing human who’s taken alliance with an evil wizard (an evil wizard who thinks less of him than a can of worms).  With a bit of skill in witchcraft and what can only be classified as worm-like conniving, Gríma has betrayed King Théoden, underhandedly murdered his son, and pathetically tried to win his daughter’s heart.  All this fails to get Gríma what he wants, of course, and when King Théoden wakes up from his trance he is not on the best of terms with Gríma.

Fortunately for Gríma, King Théoden doesn’t even realize at this point that his son is dead, or Gríma surely would be a goner.  In rage over the spell Gríma cast on him, King Théoden shoves the weakling villain down the outside stairs of the castle.  Gríma winds up on the landing with a bleeding mouth and a kowtowing spirit.

Gríma, outnumbered so outrageously–and so pitifully exposed as a powerless villain– answers this unexpected turn of events with what to me are the most haunting words in the trilogy series.

“Send me not from your sight.”

Send me not from your sight.

It’s manipulative, it’s artificial, and it’s pathetic–and, deeper still, it’s the cry of every scared sinner before a righteous judge.

King Théoden answers in the way we would expect–he tries to kill him.  In a tricking kind of way, the king is fulfilling Gríma’s plea not to be sent from his sight.  Can we blame King Théoden for responding in this way?  No.  Gríma is a completely worthless, very weird, and extremely unlikable groveling little villain responsible for abominable devastation.  This isn’t the kind of guy anyone would expect a king to give another chance.

Gríma does end up getting away, and his painfully pathetic saga continues, but I am still on that landing outside the castle.  In fact, I take a seat, take a thinker’s pose, and reflect on just how altogether marvelous Jesus Christ is.

What does Jesus Christ have to do with the scene that just unfolded?  Absolutely everything.

Because that scene that unfolded is the story of humanity–but with a turn that would have the best surprise we could possibly imagine look like a dud.

We are all Gríma.  We are all conniving, pathetic, evil-hearted creatures groveling at the feet of Satan.  We have all betrayed what is good and right.  We have all tried to twist good to look like evil and evil to look like good.  We have all played with other people’s lives–often the most helpless–for the purpose of growing more powerful ourselves.  And none of it works, of course, and we wake up one day to find we are not on the best of terms with God.

God has thrown us out of His Kingdom.  You will not be surprised to learn that this is not Heaven.  Down here, cars break and bones break, diseases grow and damnation grows, & dreams are buried and bodies are buried.

Once upon a time, earth was our Heaven.  Today, it is our graveyard.  Once upon a time, God walked with us in a garden.  Today, God the Father and Son are in a Heaven we have no hope of reaching on our own.

We are like Gríma on the landing of the stairs, wounded by our sin and by the curse God has placed on this world because of our sin.  We are in a state of morose pouting, withdrawal, anger, artificiality, manipulation, conniving, and utter patheticness.  And if we get even the tiniest glimpse of ourselves through the eyes of God, we know it.  We know God has sent us from His Presence because if we were to even glimpse at Him, we’d be goners.

But here is where the story takes a turn no one could possibly expect.

When we cry out to God, as wrapped in our sin as Gríma is in his ugly fur cloak, with all our best attempts to impress, with all our bitterness, brokenness, and bewilderment, with all our superficiality and conniving . . and with, at last, the plea of a repentant sinner’s heart before God,

“Send me not from Your Presence.  Bring me back to You.”

–What we find is not that God awaits with a sword to chop us down, but with a hand to help us up.  That hand is scarred with the print of a spike.  It is the hand that took our sin and drove it into Himself on the cross.

It is the hand of Jesus Christ.  And it is outstretched for you and me.

It is a grace King Théoden would not, could not offer Gríma.  But it is a grace God offers each one of us, even with knowing full well who we really are and what we have really done.

Maybe it is unimaginable to think of King Théoden as inviting Gríma back in his kingdom and giving the wretch new clothes and a seat at his table.  But it is not unimaginable to think of God doing this for us, if we come to Him through the helping hand of Jesus Christ.

Jesus has sent the Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity, to show us how to reach for His hand.  If you are broken and repentant before Him, you can ask Him right now, right where you are, and He will not reject you.

Before the throne of God above

I have a strong and perfect plea

A great high Priest whose name is Love

Who ever lives and pleads for me

My name is graven on His hands

My name is written on His heart

I know that while in Heaven He stands

No tongue can bid me thence depart

(From Before the Throne of God Above by Charitie Lees Smith)

Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence. (Ephesians 3:12, NLT)

We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. (Romans 3:22, NLT)

To Be Real

“What is REAL?” asked the Velveteen Rabbit one day . . . “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When [someone] loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.

“Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand… once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

–From The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams, courtesy of GoodReads.

I had a cassette stories I listened to faithfully every night before bed as a young child.  I kept my Fisher Price tape player–won because I drew flowers and a sun on my coloring page of a Sesame Street/Sears contest, but that’s another story–close to me like a teddy bear.

And I listened to those stories, over and over.

One of them was The Velveteen Rabbit.  It was a very sad story to me, almost too sad to listen to.  There were parts I didn’t understand . . but I guess I kinda thought I would one day.

One key part of the story I didn’t understand was that the Velveteen Rabbit had no back legs.  As a kid, I was always terribly afraid of getting tricked by something and–even though the story clearly says he has no back legs–I didn’t get it.  They were called “hind legs” and I had no idea what “hind legs” were or why he pretended to the real rabbits that he was sitting on them.  Only when I saw a picture of the Velveteen Rabbit with only front legs many years later did I realize he was missing limbs.  (I had seen a picture of the Velveteen Rabbit before, but he was in a Christmas stocking.)  I found this quite upsetting, even though I was about ten or eleven at the time.

Now, I see the marvel of the metaphor.  A stuffed rabbit who has no hind legs, can’t do anything rabbits really do, stuck up in a toy nursery on a shelf.  The ingenious element Margery added is that he is self-aware.  He knows he isn’t real.  But he desperately wants to be.  And, he might be just a little bit afraid of it, dreading it and desiring it at the same time.

I haven’t read The Velveteen Rabbit in years, at least since college.  But I still remember the hauntingly sad voice of the narrator that came on after I pressed “play” on the tape player.

I always liked that the Velveteen Rabbit became real in the end.

I always liked that part.

But . . it was scary, too.

I would have liked the story much better if he had simply been loved by the boy forever, and the boy had stayed a boy forever, and the rocking horse (I think that is what “skin horse” was) stayed a rocking horse, and they stayed in the safe, self-contained nursery.

Going out in the wild . . becoming real . . being on your own on a winter night like a real rabbit . . that seemed very frightening to me.  It wasn’t the idea of predators.  It was the idea of “open space”.

I have always had an aversion to open space.  I was often scared to look up at a kite in the sky as a child.  I was afraid to lay on my back on the grass and look up at the sky, or the night sky, lest I “fall up” as children’s poet Shel Silverstein says.

I don’t like “big open”.

I like small spaces.

When I am extremely upset, I like to retreat to a dark closet.  I like small rooms, rooms with doors, and I really like ceilings.

For these reasons alone, the idea of rapturing to Heaven is terrifying to me.  I would much rather die of old age.  I don’t want to be pulled up into the sky.  I am fearful of open space.

I read tonight that “agoraphobia” includes a fear of open spaces.  I thought of agoraphobia as being afraid of people, afraid to leave your house–neither of which I have.

It’s that openness, too much open-endedness, too much lack of closure, too much ambiguity about what is to happen next that I try to avoid, that frightens me.  I guess that I, without knowing it, have lived a life afraid of becoming real.  I would rather be the stuffed bunny than the real rabbit.

God has been exceedingly kind to me.  Although He could have demanded I became real before He would have anything to do with me, in essence He picked up my fragile stuffed bunny soul and held me until I felt safe in His love to explore . . just a bit . . what real would feel like.

I don’t rollick in open fields.  I would ten billion trillion times rather play with a marble roller coaster than ride a real one.  When I feel very overwhelmed I like to curl up in a bit of a ball.  Many times I would much rather go to God to be held than go on an adventure.

God is working with me on realness.  The becoming.  One day, I know I will be made totally new.  I am really hoping that, if the Rapture happens in my lifetime, God sends an angel to hold onto my wrist.  I sometimes hope there is a closet in Heaven I can go into in case it becomes too frighteningly exciting or majestic.  And thinking of actually leaving my body . . no . . I usually don’t.  I have to just trust God on that one.

But Jesus met me where I was.  He did not just pull me off the shelf and throw me out the window to get some fresh air.  He came to where I was on the shelf.  He began to convince me that it is safe to be outside with Him.

Now I have so much joy in my life, so much love, (and still so much fear) . . in this coming-to-realness.

I want to be real.  Even if it does hurt.

I know God will be right there, holding me in His hand as I change from manufactured to marvelous, from helpless to hopping.  And if I happen to be a screaming Velveteen rabbit in this process . . He will still love me.

That is God I serve.

He is the God-Who-Makes-Real.

“I’m telling you the most solemn and sober truth now: Whoever believes in me has real life, eternal life.” (Jesus, quoted in John 6:47a, The Message)

Just a copy? Only a trick?

In The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis, a beautiful, melodic witch in an underground world tries to convince her prisoners that there is no “overworld” at all.

When one of them brings up the sun as proof, she asks what the sun hangs from in the sky.  When her prisoners can’t give her an answer, she says, “When you try to think out clearly what this sun must be, you cannot tell me.  You can only tell me it is like the lamp.  Your sun is a dream; and there is nothing in that dream that was not copied from the lamp.[1]”

There is nothing Satan would like more than for us to believe that God will somehow disappoint us if we get to know Him, that He will turn out to be only pretend, a copy or ourselves, or a dream.

[1] The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis

“This is what my Father wants: that anyone who sees the Son and trusts who he is and what he does and then aligns with him will enter real life, eternal life. My part is to put them on their feet alive and whole at the completion of time.” (From John 6:39-40, the latter part, The Message Paraphrase)