Monday, November 19, 2012

The Spiritual Cliff

 
Out of an estimated 200+ Million eligible voters, our current gaggle of politicians plucked votes from about half of them. The President gained a second term thanks to around a quarter of eligible voters. Now, at least 20,000 people each in a large number of States have signed petitions to secede from the USA. Headlines declare that 'Religious' influence in politics is dead. Conservatives fear that liberal social issues are gaining momentum, to our country's demise. Cities, states and municipalities are going broke and facing financial distress. Our Federal government is running a trillion dollars deficit per year. Nobody likes that, but no one agrees on what should be cut. To say our country is divided is an understatement. Making matters worse, the world at large is facing financial, political and religious turmoil, too. 

But, times of crisis are times of growth. They're also times of pain, struggle and purging of dross. And, unfortunately, the dross has less to do with the fiscal cliff we face than the spiritual cliff that has been with us since Adam chose his wife over obedience to God. 

Like in 2008, the news is abuzz over the “Fiscal Cliff” and how dire things are. Funny how it wasn't dire enough to talk about it during the Presidential campaign. It wasn't dire enough to call into question what policies have brought us to the brink of economic collapse. No, it's just important now that we have our players on the board. Just like it was important in 2008 so we could have people rush legislation through with very questionable results. Bottom line? We haven't solved our fiscal problem. From one administration to the next, from one Congress to another, the economy sags under increasing debt, spending and pork. More hands go in, less cash goes through, more borrowing, more promises, more moving the shells around. And the problem persists. In fact, the problem will never be solved. We added 6 trillion in debt over 8 years under President Bush, then another 6 trillion in debt in 4 years under President Obama. Republican, then Democrat. With another 4 years, will we top it with 12 trillion? We'll find out. But we won't pay that off. Not with a “scalpel” to the budget. No, debt like that is even beyond the let's-cut-up-the-credit-cards kind of solution. 

Now we have the Republicans blaming talk radio hosts. Talk radio hosts claim Mitt Romney wasn't a true conservative. We have advocates for libertarian policies, and on and on. Conservatives are sounding the siren that we need to get out there and educate America's youth on the principles of freedom and our history. We need to awaken people to the dire need we have of conservative politics.
But I'm thinking … what if we were as worked up about this world's spiritual cliff? What if Christians looked out and saw the world so in debt to God in their rebellion against His Holiness, so hopelessly lost in the blackness of their hearts that even the good things they try to do are like attempting to bribe a mobster with a penny to keep him from fitting you with cement shoes. What if we took stock of the abject destitute condition of humanity and how, sooner or later, God will return and demand an account. 

No matter what anyone says, Dawkins or Hawking, God created the cosmos. He made mankind for His pleasure. We're His “train set” if you will. And the enemy, Satan, sought to steal that pleasure from God. He said, “I'll be like God to them.” And Satan tricked Eve into disobedience. Then, Adam, knowing exactly what Eve had done, made a fateful choice. He chose to die with his wife rather than live in obedience to God. 

From that point on, everyone born has a bent toward self. We want what we want. And we don't care how we will get it. And if we don't get it, we feel sorry for ourselves. We complain. We resent. We covet. We steal. We hate. We take God's name in vain, saying to Him what Satan has sown in our hearts, “You didn't give me everything I want to be happy!” 

From that moment of Adam's Fall, a doom, a spiritual cliff loomed ahead of us. One where we'd pay eternally for our offense against an Eternal God. The Creator is the only one who can claim He's been wronged because He has never wronged anyone. We've wronged Him. 

And here is where God shows His pure, excellent character. Instead of wiping the slate clean and starting over, God set in motion His plan, which He knew before He created time. He determined to pay the eternal punishment in the place of all who would turn away from the world and call to Him for salvation. 

So, just as Adam chose death to be with Eve, Jesus came, the second Adam, born of a virgin by the Holy Spirit, lived a perfect life without sin and then had every believer, past, present and future's sin placed on His shoulders and died so that He could be with His bride, the Church. Like Adam, who was pierced in his side for Eve to be formed, Christ was pierced in His side so that the Church could be formed. 

There is a cliff coming. Most are running full tilt toward the chasm, blind to their doom. On that day, God will come down as Christ, the warrior. He'll look down and see one of two things: Those standing as righteous sons of God in Christ Jesus or open, rebels against the Creator God.
The ones that appear as sons of God in Christ are those who call out to God the Father, confessing their sinful state, admitting they cannot save themselves and asking for Jesus' sacrifice on the cross to be counted as payment for their sin. If this is done, that person will turn, redeemed from sin, given a new heart and a new nature. That new nature will war with the old nature. This will look like someone who hates their covetousness, hates their selfishness, hates their lust and pride. It will also look like one who wants to love sacrificially, speak in meekness with words of comfort and encouragement. It will look like one who loves the Lord and can't stop learning more in the Bible. It will look like one who sees the riches of this world fade before his eyes, while the riches of God's glory grow brighter. This person will put off the old ways of striving with other over meaningless things and selfish ambition. This person will want others to know the forgiveness they, too, can have in Jesus. 

No matter what happens in the world, whether economies crash or empires crumble, the Church will stand. And at the end of all things, God will judge this world along with the enemy, Satan. You don't have to try to solve this spiritual cliff crisis. You can't, even. Jesus already did. Will you accept His answer?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Through The Fire




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In Ezekiel, the prophet railed against the people for sacrificing their children to idols, passing them through the fire. Today, we scoff at such 'primitive' behavior, too. But for entirely different reasons. We dismiss a practice of child sacrifice as much as we scorn rain dancing or Bible reading. In our world, our culture, secular thought has risen above all superstition and stands in proud, dismissive judgement of it all. Belief in anything unseen is completely incompatible with a world driven by 'science.' This ignorant superiority over the past has blinded us like the contemporary thought of Ezekiel's generation. Remember, people hated the prophets because they felt they were wrong. Ezekiel was calling out a people that felt they were properly religious in a contemporary way.
Today's Christianity has fallen away from the zealous, fervent worship and devotion of ages past. Modern Christians degrade the recent past as “boring,” and prior Christian practices as “stale traditions,” or “legalism.” The new Christianity pretends to be a cultural troubadour, righting the stiff injustices of past generations. And how do they correct the Christianity's errors? By reassuring everyone that they won't be boring, stale and solemn. They use flippant jargon, referring to a sacred faithful response to God's awesome grace as “God stuff.” They reduce the rich, reverent worship of the past to a thumping rock concert. They write off the Puritans and other faithful generations as “hypocrites.” And they bristle at the mere suggestion that they are worshipping themselves rather than God; all the while they cater to their own tastes, talk about their “felt needs” instead of their TRUE need and make popular books or raps equivalent to Scripture in their presentation.
Hypocrites are those that say one thing, but deny it in practice. To that extent, the modern Christian points to some straw man of Religion who preached purity, but wasn't pure. The truth of the matter is, no follower of Christ has ever claimed to be perfect. But they used to preach sanctification, separation from the world and holy living. Failing to meet Christ's standard isn't hypocrisy. But telling others that you are a follower of Christ and yet never showing a life of sanctification, is. And that's what our modern Christendom is, a raving group of Free Grace hypocrites, exulting in their sin and giving up on sanctified, holy living.
Today's Christian is more pragmatic. He/she wants to know what steps to take to have a successful, epic, blessed life. They want God's blessing without having to obey. They want to be a law unto themselves and yet receive the blessings of a lover of God's law. What they're really looking for is a system that affirms happiness through religious check-lists, instead of living a life of self-denial, submission and devotion in relationship to God.
The average American Christian is just like the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus' day: Not in their judgmental attitude, but in their faith in human styles and trends. Today's Christian is identical to the idolaters of Ezekiel's day in sacrificing their kids, too. By seeking out teachers that change, diminish or toss out the Bible, they have embraced the World and sacrificed their children to the World system. The average church with their indictments against any call of separation has fallen over itself to identify with the world. The American church wants to show its 'worldly cred' to attract people to Christ, rather than shining the light of the Gospel to induce conviction and repentance.
In practice, this ultra-contemporary 'relevance' gospel encourages young people to imitate the world. After all, they won't get any of their friends to join them at church if they are viewed as boring, rule-following stiffs. This leads to kids placing a high value on cultural popularity. And what is that if not sacrificing our kids to the gods of this world? We're not only passing them through the fire, we're DELIVERING THEM TO HELL.
We know that in the end there will be those who will call out to God and claim to be His. But God will say, “depart from me you workers of lawlessness, for I don't know you.” This is a desperately important issue. Nothing could be more vital or relevant than the true Gospel if we really hold the faith we claim. And if so, we shouldn't elevate cultural relevance, as if the unvarnished truth of God's judgment for their rebellion isn't motivation enough.
Imagine Ezekiel or Jesus walking into your church. What would they say? Would Ezekiel see the apathetic, immodest young people ignoring what little scripture is read or mulling around while some empty Christian rock blares from a speaker and conclude that these are children of zealous, God-fearing parents? Would Jesus see the books for sale, the coffee shop selling treats, the sermons for sale, the tickets for concerts and not be driven to tip over the coffee stands, book shelves and ticket counters? Is your church a house of prayer? Is God the subject of reverent awe? Or are you showing up late in your most comfortable, casual clothes to be entertained with clever speakers and fun, contemporary music?
As a side note, the “style” of the music is really secondary to the fact that what passes as contemporary music is empty of any sound theological lyrics. But the style is important. In American society, regardless of whether you live in the south, north, east, west or mid-west, formal, respectful music has a manner and tone. Similarly, rock concerts have a tone, too. If one is invited to a formal affair, they would know that they need to dress in a suit. In fact, they would want to. Conversely, if one is invited to a rock concert with a tailgate party, more casual dress is in order. No one is really confused about style and appropriate response. Except when it comes to the modern church.
The reason is that the church in America has turned away from the pursuit of holy living and majored on pleading with the culture around it. Many church leaders have been deceived into believing that God is not sovereignly powerful enough to draw his elect to Himself (in fact, many churches do not believe in the elect. Or if they do, they twist it for their own pride). Since they do not trust in God's sovereignty, they believe they need to wrangle people into churches for God. In their vain attempt to build something for God, they use worldly methods and divide the body of Christ into separate services and age-segregated groups. As our Lord said, a house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe our modern church has succumbed to the Devil's deception. Satan wants the Body of Christ divided. Satan wants us diminishing God's fearsome nature. Satan wants us abandoning fervent worship and personal devotion to holiness.
We need to return to the roots of our faith and a zealous desire to serve God in holy submission.

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Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Lost City



THE LOST CITY
By
Bryn T. Jones

        “Supermodels,” Finn exclaimed, gesticulating excitedly as if to point out a flock of the fashionistas posing on the horizon. “They’re Christians, but you would just see beautiful people.”
        “With lots of bling-bling, right?” Elaine shook her head. “What next, tattoos for truth?”
        “You joke, but there are members of biker gangs that are devout Christians. They have to earn the street cred to witness to these guys. Someone like me wouldn’t stand a chance witnessing to a Hell’s Angel. He’d eat me up as an appetizer and pick out the sticky parts with his fingernail.”
        “Sticky parts?” Elaine raised an eyebrow at his colorful analogy. “And how, exactly, do they 'earn their street cred?'”
        Finn shrugged and persisted, “They become like the world to show them the way, Elaine. We need to be relevant to the culture around us. The Bible even says to become all things to all people.”
       “I think you’re taking some liberty with the passage, Finn. Paul never became a pagan to win a pagan. He simply meant he wouldn’t serve pork to a Jew or Kosher to a gentile.”
      “What about Mars Hill?” countered Finn.
      “He simply used part of their culture to introduce the gospel. He didn't start worshiping at the alter for the unknown god.” Elaine shook her head and rolled her eyes.
      Undeterred, Finn expounded, “They’re like secret agents waiting for the right time to present the message.”
      “Secret agents, huh?”
      Elaine got up and dusted off her rough pants. Behind them the construction crew prepared for the big detonation. It marked the most ambitious construction project in history: The raising of the perfect city. Elaine looked back where all the cranes, land-movers, graders, and diggers worked clearing the area. She and Finn were thrilled to be part of such an amazing endeavor, though it cost them a lot. They'd both left home, family and friends to come build this new city. All who joined the work would have a place inside.
      “We still got a half hour of our break left, Elaine. Want to look around? It’ll be neat to see how different it looks after we blast the foundations.”
      The new city’s foundations would reach into the lower crust of the earth and support buildings that actually produced energy rather than absorbed it. The city would be a virtual power plant, a self-sustaining ecosystem for all who lived within its walls. Better yet, the city planner had a use for everyone effectively eliminating the bane of poverty, crime, or loneliness. Once committed to the new city, everyone would belong and have value. Despite numerous past societies' failed attempts, this city held true promise for its goal. This hope was worth it for Elaine and Finn. Hope brought them to this place, leaving everything to build something many saw as a foolish social experiment. Yet, the more they labored preparing the ground for this city the closer they grew, finding that honesty and trust came naturally, while malice and deceit faded.
      “Yeah,” Elaine said wistfully, still looking at the land where the new city would stand, “Let’s look around.”
      They didn’t walk far before they noticed something seemingly out of place. Behind a small grove of trees yawned the mouth of a cave. They stepped up to the chasm where a cool wind rushed up from the darkness.
      “I don’t remember ever seeing this before,” Finn remarked.
      “Me either.”
      A daring smile stretched across Finn’s lips. “Let’s get our gear and check it out!”
      Elaine checked the time and figured they had enough to go spelunking a ways, climb some rocks and return to work.
      “Okay,” she said as they ran back to get their hard hats, ropes, and lights.
     Within minutes they’d entered the cave and tested their lights. The batteries would last a long time and the beams burned strong and bright. They breathed was a little faster and shallower as adrenaline filled their veins with each step descending the rocky slopes.
      Water trickled over a wall nearly causing Finn to slip down a chimney. Elaine caught him and hefted him back to a dry patch.
      “Be careful, Finn. Don’t just plunge ahead.”
After moving a little further exploring the cave, they both stopped, listening intently. Something strange echoed in the cave and it wasn’t water or bats.
      “Sounds like voices,” Finn said.
      “It’s probably our own voices bouncing back from before.” Elaine remarked skeptically.
      “Only I don’t think we were whispering,” replied Finn.
      “Come on, let’s go, there’s nothing to see down here.”
      “Did you hear that?” Finn gripped Elaine’s arm and held her still.
      As they both listened they heard, very distinctly, various voices muttering something, and the words were nothing like their recent argument. They continued listening as the voices kept murmuring. They could almost catch a word here or there. Perhaps a “coming,” and then a “dangerous.”
      Finn and Elaine read fear in each others eyes. The voices sent chills through every nerve. How could there be anyone living down in these caves? Yet they knew that in a few hours the area would be completely destroyed in a giant fireball making way for the new city. If they didn’t do something those people would die.
      “We have to warn them,” Elaine said. “If they’re down here we need to get them out.”
      “You suppose they just wandered in and got lost?” Finn said, his voice shaking despite his best efforts to quell its tremor.
      “Finn, we need to go get them out.” Elaine started moving down the tunnel once more after affixing a loop in the wall and securing a length of rope.
      Finn followed as they wound through the labyrinth, their flashlights burning back the gloom. The stalagmites and stalactites extending up and down like hungry fangs around them forced them to crawl. The voices grew louder and more distinct; they were getting closer.
      “Hello,” yelled Elaine. “We’ve come to help you!”
      “Hey down there,” bellowed Finn, feeling awkward at yelling into the darkness. Without knowing why, he wondered if the people even wanted to be found.
      Around another turn was a large opening where their lights revealed an intricate set of pillars as from ancient Greece or Rome. Windows had been carved into the rock like the city of Petra and water fountains bubbled and splashed through several aqueducts. Finn and Elaine couldn’t believe their eyes: They were looking at a city that had evidently survived beneath the ground. Though they couldn’t see the inhabitants, they could hear the hushed intonations of the hidden congregation. This eerie city made them want to turn back.
      Elaine seemed to shake the feeling and said, “This place will be destroyed in a matter of hours. If you want to live you need to come with us. We can lead you out.”
      A voice rose from the depths of the city speaking with authority. “What will destroy us? What is this nonsense?”
      “The new city will be built over this place, but this whole area has to be destroyed first,” Elaine said. “We can’t stop it, the charges are set.”
      “Turn off your lights,” the voice said. “Then we’ll listen to what you have to say.”
Finn turned to Elaine and said, “These people never see light, we’re probably scaring them out of their minds.” He shut his light off.
      To their left a shadow seemed to move, but stayed back from Elaine’s light which she left on.
      “Shut it off, Elaine. You’re scaring them.”
      Elaine waited and looked around. It was all so strange yet familiar, and there was something that bothered her about the whole place. “No, Finn, I’m keeping my light on. If I shut it off we could get turned around and never find our way out.”
      “Look, we can always turn the lights back on.”
      “Finn, I suggest you turn yours back on right now.”
      Rather than listen to Elaine, Finn walked deeper into the city, the gloom enveloping him a little more.             
     Elaine could see that he was still scared to the point of shaking, but making a good show of being brave. His bravado, however, would not impress these people that their lives were in danger. Quite to the contrary, his neglect of his light could make the urgency of their warning ring false.
      The voice spoke again, “You need to shut off the light, Elaine.”
      Its intimate use of her name was like a serpent slithering up her leg, fangs dripping with venom. She kept her light on.
      “This place is going to be destroyed,” she said. “I’m leaving here and anyone who wants to live will follow me.”
      A handful of people stumbled from a few doorways, their eyes covered, their pale skin nearly translucent. They moved down the street and closer to Elaine. The closer they came, the more they seemed to understand the light, even yearn for it.
      Finn moved further into the city and Elaine could see something moving within the city walls, tracking Finn.
      “Finn, turn on your light and get back here,” she said forcefully.
      The voice came once more. “If you must leave, at least drink some water and eat some fruit for your strength.”
      Finn looked at the water in a fountain, scooped some in his hand and drank it. It was sweet, with a bitter aftertaste. He looked back at Elaine and found her light harsh and stabbing, forcing him to look away.
      Elaine found herself walking toward the fountain, too, though she kept her light on. The water did seem like a good idea. All that climbing had made her thirsty.
      She reached the small pool, but the water evaporated into coiling steam when the light touched its surface. Immediately she looked back at Finn who was reaching for a fruit. The tree loomed dark, oily leaves and obsidian fruit, dripping with sap, sprung from its branches.
      Elaine stepped closer and saw that the fruit bristled with hair and oozed thick, crimson nectar, smelling like rotten flesh. Her hand shot out and pulled Finn away from the tree.
      “Don’t touch it, Finn. This place is dangerous. It's the old city. It's what we left! Remember, Finn? We left this place! Turn on your light!. We have to lead people out of here.”
      Finn looked at Elaine his head clearing from the exposure to her lamp. He looked up at the walls of the city and gasped, horrified. The walls writhed with centipede creatures that were eating rock, forming the windows and carving the pillars; the city was their work, not the work of the planner. Nothing here could be redeemed, save the people, the prisoners. Nothing good remained at all, only corruption from which they should flee; from which they had fled once before.
      Finn turned on his light. “Let’s get out of here, Elaine.”
      They hurried up the path, following their rope, leading those who would follow back through the cave. Once past the mouth of the cave, the light of day revealed those they’d saved. They were transformed from pale creatures of the lost city into warm, fresh faced people ready for what lay before them. Soon the explosion hit and the lost city was forever burned and buried.
      Elaine, Finn, and the others they’d guided from darkness worked and, with the tools of the planner, built a magnificent city that shined for all to see.
And God separated the light from the darkness…Genesis 1:4b
And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overpower it. John 1:5
I am the light of the world; he who follows me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life. John 8:12
You were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light. Ephesians 5:8
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do men light a lamp, and put it under the bushel, but on the lamp stand; and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16
And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God … and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away. Revelation 21:2, 4

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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

WRITE THE NEXT CHAPTER - SURGERY -

“We'll be making the first incision just above the kneecap.” The man wearing a crisp white lab coat leaned over his patent, his bulbous eyes monstrously magnified behind thick, square lenses. Plump lips stretched into a grin. Bedside manner, after all, remained the best anesthetic. A calm patient bled back serenity to her surgeon. This was particularly important here, since he couldn't avail himself of an anesthesiologist. Insurance would never pay for it. After all, he wasn't working from a licensed hospital. In fact, he wasn't really a doctor.
Using a latex-covered index finger, he smoothed the undulating duct tape over the woman's mouth. Through the thin, protective glove he felt her rapid exhalations from her flared nostrils. He heard a thin whistling sound, too. He wondered if she might be coming down with a cold. In that case, he was thankful he wore latex gloves and a face-mask. The last thing he needed was to get the sniffles.
“This will be over before you realize anything has happened, I promise.” He fixed his stare on her craning neck, then his eyes traveled down her collarbone to her naked shoulder. Her muscles rippled beneath her milky skin.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

FLASH FICTION! - a writing game

Soon I will post a beginning of a story. Just around 200 words, invoking a scene. Then, you, my visitors, regular attenders and faithful readers will have the chance to continue the story in the comments below. If you get here, see a few comments, you should read the comments to see where the story left off. Then continue from that point.

I will post a new Flash Scene every so often and let you know about it on Twitter, FB and Google+ Or, you might want to click the follow button on this blog or select for e-mail updates. However you choose to do this, it will be a lot of fun. I hope there are those out there who will surprise me. A lot.

**One note: let's keep it clean. The true mark of a good story is the ability to invoke imagery, suspense, even horror, without being crude or vulgar.**

See you soon!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

God Eavesdrops

“Is that going to work for you?”

The question hung eerily in the air, as if this man had been reading my private thoughts. Here in this small, green office in front of an industrial-grade desk, surrounded by military gray file cabinets, breathing the chlorinated air of the pool nearby, this thin man with large, sympathetic blue eyes and wispy blond hair had no idea he’d just spoken to me from the Twilight Zone.

My wife and I had moved to Minnesota for better jobs, hoping to build some savings to start a family. But we had my school debt hanging over our heads. Houses cost more. Food cost more, too. And even with better jobs, we couldn’t seem to get ahead. It felt like we’d followed a big, empty hope.

We tried working second jobs. But, we were frustrated at how little time we could spend with each other as a result. So, we quit those jobs and kind of gave up on that idea. We knew we needed more money to pay off my loans, but we didn’t know how to get it. Then it happened. We learned we were expecting our first child.

In my frustration one day, I told my wife the answer to our problems: I needed a job that I could work from Monday through Friday from 4:30 to 8:00 that would pay enough to pay off my loans in a year. I said this rather sarcastically, because I hadn’t seen anything that would fit the bill.

Well, that little soliloquy of mine had been all but forgotten when I had a friend visit from Italy. During his visit, he took the local paper and decided to go through the job section of the want ads. This is something I had NEVER done. Don’t ask me why. But there I was, looking at the want ads with my friend. I saw two ads for swim instructors. And the pay was rather good. I took down the numbers and called them both.

A day went by and I got a call back from one. I set up a time to meet the pool manager. The pool was conveniently located only a half mile or so from my “day job” office. How nice, I thought. After work one day, I went to meet with him. I went in and basically started telling him the best ways to teach swimming. What can I say? I was young and brash.

Fortunately, he loved my ideas! Then he leaned forward and said, “I’d like to hire you and I’ll give you the top pay that we’re offering. But there’s one catch …”

Here’s where he would tell me the weekends I’d have to work, etc. I braced myself. I really wanted to pay off my student loans and the money he was offering would make that possible. I didn’t pray to God about this, but this HAD to work out!

“This job is Monday through Friday from about 4:30 to 8:00 ... Is that going to work for you?”

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