Monday, November 30, 2015

Truth vs. Comfort

If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort, you will not get either comfort or truth, only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair. C.S. Lewis

Looking for truth can be complicated and confusing. Most of us seek truth only when we need answers in the midst of difficult circumstances. Tragedy, catastrophic loss, and unforeseen events all lead human beings to look for an answer, an explanation—a truth. But most of the time what we’re seeking is comfort, a way to resolve emotional angst. Rather than sitting in grief, we start a crusade, demanding the world to agree with our “truth.”

Truth is not a belief, doctrine, or threat. It is not relative or absolute. God is both love and truth. He shares himself with us via the Holy Spirit to give us encouragement and wisdom. When we separate truth from the person of God, we use truth to harm and control others. Many folks take biblical principles and use them as weapons against others, insisting the only thing that matters is standing on the truth. 1 Cor. 13, however, tells us truth is nothing unless it comes out of a loving heart.

When you have been wounded, someone you love is harmed, difficult life circumstances arise, or your heart burns in resentment against wickedness, seek truth by seeking God’s heart for you and for humankind. Pour out your pain, then ask God to give you strength and courage to receive truth. John 8:32 tells us the truth will set us free. Free of confusion, doubt, resentment, bitterness and able to receive love and comfort.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Beginning of Thankfulness

What to keep at the top of the list.

I met a fellow believer the other day. He’d been down a hard road, much different than mine. I listened as he excitedly reviewed what God had done for him. The list grew, and I began to feel the need to tell him something. But I hesitated. It’s not that I don’t trust God’s calling—I just don’t always trust myself to pick the right words. You’d think words would come easily for a writer, but they don’t.

So I just kept listening as the stories of tangible blessings from the hand of God went on. The man’s gratitude showed. But the more he talked of jobs and money and health issues, the more I wanted to tell him what God did for me. Not that I could compete. Divine release from substance abuse was outside my experience. As was miraculous healing. God answers my prayers, and sometimes His work is so obvious I know the answer could only have come from Him. But this guy had me beat.

The conversation turned to other matters. Life and family history. Books. Writing. Well drilling. (My husband’s line of work.) Whatever God had wanted me to tell the man slipped away into one of those missed opportunities. I have too many of those.

But then it came back around. He had one more story to share. Another miracle—a money matter. And when he was done, I spoke what was on my heart.

“I’ll tell you the greatest thing God ever did for me,” I said. “I was a hell-bound sinner, but now I’m going to Heaven. And Jesus made it happen.”

He seemed to hesitate. As if he’d remembered something. “That’s it,” he said. And he nodded.

Our conversation wrapped up and I went on my way. Did I say the right thing? Did it matter? Whatever God wanted to get through to the man, I think He did. In spite of my fumbling tongue.

As I pondered what to write for this Thanksgiving blog, I remembered the man’s gratitude. We should all be ready to share our story of what God has done for us. But nothing compares to what He did long before we started counting our blessings. And that is what I choose to keep at the top of my list.

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. Colossians 2:6-7

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Christian Suicide Bomber

What does a devout Christian do when his country’s authorities force him to become a suicide bomber?

If you’re World War II kamikaze pilot Ichizo Hayashi you write a final letter to your mother stating that “for me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” and you vow to “be sure to sink an enemy vessel.” Then you fly off on your deadly mission with your Bible and hymn book.

Hayashi’s tale is recounted in a remarkable book, Kamikaze Diaries by Professor Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

It tells the stories of seven young men who were compelled to become kamikaze pilots – essentially airborne suicide bombers, flying into Allied warships (the Wikipedia entry on kamikaze is here) – by the Japanese military. Most of the seven had been students at elite universities, and they kept diaries, which form the basis of the book.

It’s an invaluable study. It makes clear that high levels of coercion were used to compel the students to “volunteer” for their assignments. And it shows that these were no grinning fanatics – the image that many in the West have of the kamikaze pilots. (An image I vaguely held myself, despite having lived in Japan. It’s not a topic that the Japanese discuss much with Westerners.)

These were highly intelligent, highly thoughtful young men, and though they were very patriotic, they didn’t necessarily want to die. They struggled to accept their fates. They were not blind supporters of their country’s great military adventure.

In fact, another lesson of the book is that many in the military despised the students. We in Australia are familiar with stories of the brutality meted out to our World War II prisoners of war by Japanese soldiers. It seems the soldiers were just as brutal to the students who joined their ranks.

Ichizo Hayashi was from a devoutly Christian academic family. He read the Bible every day. At that time, family members used to send soldiers a Japanese flag with messages on it. Hayashi’s mother and sister both wrote passages from the Bible on the flag they sent him.

He started his diary after being drafted into the military, and he titled it “A Sun and Shield,” from Psalm 84:11, “For the Lord God is a sun and shield.”

Seven weeks before his death he wrote:

How fortunate I am that I believe in God, whom my mother believes in. My mind is at ease when I think that God takes care of everything. God would not make my mother or myself sad. I am sure God will bestow happiness upon us. Even [though] I will die I dream of our lives together…I know my country is beautiful…My earnest hope is that our country will overcome this crisis and prosper. I can’t bear the thought of our nation being stampeded by the dirty enemy. I must avenge [it] with my own life.

How do we reconcile his Christianity with his willingness to slam his airplane – possibly loaded with bombs – into an Allied warship? I’m not sure. The book gives only brief excerpts from his writings. We don’t learn such a lot about his faith. In any case, it seems the original Japanese version of his diary was edited by his sister to emphasize his close relationship with his mother. But we should note that the diary covers a period in 1945 when the Allies were bombing Japanese cities relentlessly. He had reasons for hating them, and for wanting revenge.

Though the book does give a partial answer:

Ichizo Hayashi relied on his Christian faith as he embarked on his final mission. Yet his Christianity was inextricably mixed with doubt. Kierkegaard’s theology was central to the anguished soliloquy in which he questioned the meaning of life and death.

He carried Kierkegaard’s “Sickness and Death” as well as the Bible onto the plane, along with a photograph of his mother. As his last day approached, he filled his diary and letters with cries for her. Singing hymns and reading the Bible became his way of feeling close to his beloved and faraway mother, herself a devout Christian.

Other Christian pilots also struggled to sustain their faith as they faced death. On the night before his last flight, Tsuneo Kumai urged his comrades to sing hymns together. They chose hymn number 405, whose words ask God to give them strength “until they meet again.”

Kotaro Hagihara, one of those who joined Kumai in the singing, survived and later recalled that singing hymns carried a risk of punishment: “Although we were not explicitly fighting Christianity and thus it was nominally permitted to sing hymns, we could have been in real trouble.”

Amid the severe censorship that prevailed on the bases and the hostile attitudes of some career soldiers toward student soldiers, this final act was a last celebration of the beauty of humanity in the most inhuman of circumstances, a protest against the military aggression, and even a dirge for themselves.

Is there a parallel with suicide bombers in the Middle East? I don’t think so. Hayashi was not a fanatic. He was not a true volunteer. He saw little glory in martyrdom.

But the book shows us how easy it is for even a sincere and intelligent Christian like Hayashi to fall victim to poisonous nationalistic ideologies. One lesson surely is that Christians should always question the dominant political culture of the day.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


Better safe than sorry.

Yesterday, while watching the evening news, I saw the report of a plane crash in Ohio; apparently, all ten people on board died. They showed the plane on fire with flames going everywhere; it was heart-wrenching to watch. Then it occurred to me that the passengers were burning with the plane; it scared me and broke my heart. Such loss!

That fire eventually went out, and the pain and fear the passengers felt eventually stopped, because they were dead. However, there is a fire that someday will burn forever and never go out. Whoever is in it will never stop feeling the pain and discomfort, and boy, does it scare me. Can you imagine burning in a fire that never goes out? I can and I’m sure you can too. But does it scare you like it scares me? I’m not sure, but what I do know is that some people don’t like to talk about hell. Others believe it is a scare tactic to get them to do something they don’t want to do, and still there are others who don’t believe hell exists at all, and if it did, a loving God will not send anybody there.

The Bible is the Word of God, and it is 100% true. Nothing it has said in the past ever failed; everything has been fulfilled exactly. Consider the life of Jesus. Years before His birth, His coming, birth, life, and death were all prophesied in detail, and all happened as was prophesied. When Jesus was arrested in the Garden, before His bogus trial and crucifixion, He asked those who arrested Him a question, and answered it Himself. He asked them, “Am I some dangerous revolutionary, that you come with swords and clubs to arrest me? Why didn’t you arrest me in the temple? I was there among you teaching every day. But these things are happening to fulfill what the Scriptures say about me” (Mark 14:48-49 NLT). On another occasion, He told His listeners, “I did not come to abolish the Law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved” (Matthew 5:17-18 NLT). The proofs of the authenticity of the Bible are overwhelming! The more you read it, the more convincing you’ll find it. For this reason, whatever the Bible says is going to happen, will happen, hell included.

So then, understanding that hell is for real, it makes a lot of sense to discuss it. Although some people would rather not talk about it, many will go there (see Matthew 7:13), regardless of what they’d rather do or not do.  Once they are there, their doom is sealed. They cannot escape, make an appeal, get a new trial, or bribe their way out. Once they set foot in hell, it’ll be a done deal; hell will be their final and permanent destination for all eternity. Recently, two criminals escaped from a maximum security prison in New York with the help of a female prison worker. I can assure you, that scenario will not happen in hell; once in hell, no one can escape from there! Isn’t this scary?
If you are reading this, it means you still have time to make certain you won’t go to hell. But please don’t wait another minute. 

Why go to hell when you don’t have to? If you’ve never placed your faith in Jesus for salvation, you are heading for hell:  the place many don’t want to talk about. Unfortunately, choosing to not talk about it will not change the truth; what the Bible says is what will happen. So if you’re not sure you’ll go to heaven when you die, please stop whatever you are doing and ask God to forgive your sins and save you through Jesus Christ His Son. If at the end of life on earth you discover there is no hell (which there is), you’ll have nothing to lose. As the old adage goes, “Better safe than sorry.” In Jesus’ prayer for believers, He said, “This is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ the one you sent to earth” (John 17:3 NLT).   

Those who put their faith in Jesus are given the assurance of forgiveness. “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him” (John 3:18 NLT). Also, “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 NLT), and “I am writing to you who are God’s children because your sins have been forgiven through Jesus” (1 John 2:12 NLT). The Bible also assures believers that their names are written in the Lamb’s (Jesus’) Book of Life (see Luke 10:20; Hebrews 12:23; Revelation 20:15, 21:27).

I’m pleading with you in the name of Jesus to call on Him today for forgiveness of sin and salvation through His finished work on the cross. He died for you because He loves you! Hell is not a figment of the imagination; it is a real place of torment. Don’t chance it! 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Plotting a War

There's only one way to end it.

I’m writing book three of a trilogy. Book one brought my main character the satisfaction of meeting important goals, but left him uncertain about the future. I won’t say too much about book two because it hasn’t been released yet. But to readers looking forward to the next installment in Chase Sterling’s journey, be warned, it doesn’t end pretty.

That’s the way it goes with a trilogy. Book one ends on a high, but without complete resolution. Book two brings greater tension. And a disastrous outcome. Book three builds up to the final battle between the good guys and the bad. Between right and wrong. There has to be a war. You know who will win. But you don’t know how.

So here I am planning a war. A revolution. How will it play out? What’s it going to cost my characters? Who’s going to die?

I don’t have to try too hard to strategize the battle. It’s set in the future (though not very far in the future) and I can make up my weapons and my warriors. They’re high-tech, of course. Being a writer who’s also a Christian, everything passing from my mind to my fingers to the keypad and onto the screen is seasoned by a particular worldview. The battle I write has to shift into something bigger in my characters’ minds, and in the readers’ minds. It’ll be a flesh and blood war and a battle in the cyber world. But before its end, the reader will know who really started it. And who will end it. I don’t have to make that part up. I don’t even have to quote the verse to know the reality of it because it’s happening now. Outside my imagination. On my TV screen. But I’ll quote it anyway:

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

Chase Sterling will come to realize he’s got no chance. And then he will win anyway. The battle is the Lord’s. As I watched the news about the deadly attacks in Paris, I remembered this. When I read the increasingly frequent reports about the persecution of my fellow believers, I remember. When the internet is filled with caution about blaming Muslims for terrorism, I take a breath. And then I remember. Our battle is not against flesh and blood. Sure seems like it sometimes. But God will redeem souls from every nation, tribe, and tongue. Even from among the terrorists. And I won’t stand in His way.

The battle now formulating in my imagination is set only twenty or so years from now. In my fictitious future the world is a very different place. Is it possible things could change so drastically in just two decades? Maybe not. Except for my study of the real potential for a transhuman future, I did pull this story from my imagination. But our world is swiftly headed into the unfathomable. As the war heats up in the heavenly places, it will be—it has always been—our war. And yet, it isn't. Preceding the above verse from Ephesians are the battle instructions:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. Ephesians 6:10-11

I’ve brought my characters to the brink of war. It’s not such a stretch for my imagination since I live among the warriors—the followers of Christ. We don’t want violence. We’re not looking for a flesh and blood battle. We’re praying for our enemies. We know who started this and we know who will end it. And we will stand with Him. 
My made-up people, even if only for a few pages in a book, will do their best to live out the instruction of the very real and reliable Word of God. And they will win the made-up war. I know no other way to end the story.
For more about the armor of God, just keep reading Ephesians 6.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Christian Real Estate – A Blossoming Industry

When we sold our house we had no problem in finding an agent to help us. A lady in our church, a good Christian, was regarded as perhaps the finest real estate agent in the area. Our only concern was that she specialized in the top end of the market, and our home was – to put it mildly – far from “top end.”

We had a meeting and she assured us that she paid as much attention to the cheaper homes as to the deluxe. And she did. We got a price about twenty per cent higher than we were expecting (admittedly in a hot market).

“Christian real estate” seems to be a blossoming industry. And why not? Buying or selling a property can be a traumatic experience – emotionally draining, with possible legal and financial pitfalls along the way. Which Christian wouldn’t want a brother or sister in the Lord in charge of the process?

So there are networks of Christian realtors, and some agents openly advertise their religious principles, even donating portions of their fee to charity.

In fact, many other Christian business people – like car sales agents – also promote themselves to fellow Christians by placing stress on their faith and their principles.

For some years my city even had a directory of “Christian” businesses – that is, businesses run by people who were practising church goers (for inclusion in the directory it was necessary to get some kind of letter from your pastor).

It seemed a good idea. I used it a few times when looking for a tradesperson. But I knew Christian business people who were not in the directory. One day I asked a friend – a VCR repairman – if he knew about the directory.

“Oh, I know all about it,” he said.

“So why don’t you include your business?”

“Christians!” he replied. “They’re the worst customers. When they find you in the directory they phone at three o’ clock in the morning and expect you to be joyous about coming right away to fix their VCR. And then they expected a big discount off my fee. I was in the directory once, but never again.”

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Steps To Victory In The Lions' Den Or Fiery Furnace

The lions’ den and fiery furnace are allegories for suffering. But why do we suffer? Suffering can be the consequences of our own wrongdoing, God’s chastening, the devil’s effort to discourage us in our Christian walk, or the consequences of bearing the name of Christ. Quite often, the devil engineers problems in our lives to bring about discouragement, with the hope that we’ll disobey God -- his arch enemy. Yet, through the same suffering, God tests our faith and loyalty toward Him. There are other forms of suffering that come with the environment we live in – a fallen world, in which we become victims to all kinds of sicknesses. No matter the origin of our suffering, we can have victory through Jesus Christ, our Savior.

Suffering is nothing new to the Church. Christians have been persecuted for years, since the beginning of the Church to the present. In recent years, in different parts of the world, Christians have suffered tremendously at the hands of wicked men. They have been driven away from their own homes, their properties confiscated, their children killed right before their eyes, while others have faced beheadings. As Christians, how we respond to suffering should be dictated by its cause.

 For instance, God is not honored by suffering that results from our own wrongdoing; in that situation, we need to repent and make restitution where possible. Also, disregarding the law of the land or being insubordinate to superiors or bosses can incur punishment that can be referred to as suffering, but is that really suffering, when you bring it on yourself? The Apostle Peter’s instructions are clear: “If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler” (1 Peter 4:15). Breaking the law has consequences, so if we suffer for breaking the law we shouldn’t be looking for sympathy. Breaking the law causes God’s name to be blasphemed, and brings shame to the Church. Christians should be the most law-abiding citizens, because all authority is set up by God our Father, and rebelling against such is rebelling against God (see Romans 13:1-6).

On other occasions, suffering comes for the simple reason that we bear the name of Christ and seek to please Him. This is the type of suffering that pleases God. It usually comes in the form of persecution, nevertheless, it is honorable, because it proves we are participating in Christ’s suffering (see 1 Peter 4:13). Jesus Himself said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NIV). Again He encouraged the disciples, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also … They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me” (John 15:20-21). The apostle Paul reminds us, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12 NIV).

Our attitude towards persecution should be joy: joy that we’ve been counted worthy to suffer for the name of our Lord, and slated for a reward in heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:11-12). In addition, James recommends joy in suffering because the process leads to maturity in Christ (see James 1:1-4).

This is the response God expects of us when we are persecuted: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28 NIV). That response would challenge observers and bring glory to God. In the Beatitudes, Jesus admonished his disciples, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16 NIV).
Before we can be victorious in the lion’s den or fiery furnace in a God-honoring manner, we need to have a few things settled in our minds:

God’s power, ability, and sovereignty – God is all-powerful, and therefore able to deliver us from all trials and difficulties. However, He is also sovereign, and might not deliver us from every impending or ongoing suffering every time. He does things as He sees fit, differently to different situations at different times. When threatened with the fiery furnace for not worshiping the king’s golden image, the three Jewish young men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, told the king, Nebuchadnezzar, “We do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand O king. But even if he does not … we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:16-18 NIV).  

Our position in Christ – We are loved by God our Father, and after giving us His Son, the Scripture tells us, there is nothing else that we need that He wouldn’t do for us. So when He doesn’t fix our problems right away, it is for a good reason. After all, we are reminded that, “In all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 NIV).

We are in an on-going battle – Our enemies-the enemies of God - are like their father the devil. They hate us with “cruel hatred” (from the hymn-A mighty Fortress), and will stop at nothing until they’ve caused havoc. They don’t know how to do good; they consistently plan evil. We need to always remember that we are in an on-going battle, and remain in a perpetual state of readiness (see Ephesians 6:11-18).

When we find ourselves in the lions’ den or fiery furnace, let us arm ourselves with the mindset that our Father is none other than the loving, all-powerful, and sovereign God. He’ll equip us and grant us the grace to do His will. That mindset should encourage us and make us hopeful that when our suffering is over, we will come out on the victory side, because God’s will and purpose for our lives and the Church will have been accomplished for His honor and glory.  

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Needy Won't Be Forgotten

More and more the world seems like a scary, terrible place. Terrorists, bombings, wars—all these beg the question, “Where is God?”

This isn’t a new question. Each generation has seen horrific hardship and pain at the hands of wicked human beings. Separation from God’s heart began with the eating of an apple, and continues in the hearts of those who desire world domination. How do we keep fear from overwhelming us in the face of these catastrophic events? By turning to the Psalms.

I love how David asks God the same questions we have today. He looked at the events in his world and his heart ached for those who were oppressed and persecuted. Out of that pain he asked, “Where are you God?” David found his answer by reminding himself of God’s character. 

The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you…The wicked return to the grave, all the nations that forget God. But the needy will not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the afflicted ever perish.” Ps. 9:9-10, 17-18

David chose to believe in God’s heart and character, even when scary circumstances brought fear. Pray for courage to face these difficult times trusting in God’s love and sovereignty. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The God Particle

Can physics explain how we got here?

Studying science is an important step in penning a science fiction story. So in my quest to write believable sci-fi, I read a lot of non-fiction. But I don’t read the science stuff just for research. I enjoy it. I used to say I liked to study physics. Among other books, I read Einstein’s Out of My Later Years and became aware of his perceptiveness not only in matters of physics, but regarding social issues. Then I tried to get through a little book called The Principle of Relativity, and I realized what I really liked to study was not physics, but physicists. While their gray matter understands the equations, mine barely catches on to the theories. The possibilities. The seeking. The great thinkers search for truth and I find their exploration fascinating.

So I keep reading. As a believer I can’t help but discern the validity of science in light of Scripture, and I’ve found some of the theories of physics may be supported by the Bible. For example, if there was such a thing as the Big Bang, it will be brought to completion by what is referred to as the Big Crunch. The universe begins, the universe ends. The in-between is filled with expansion. The understanding of space and time at the beginning is different than it will be at the end.
Is that contrary to the Bible? A godless physicist might say it is. But they aren’t all godless. Even before I discovered a few who study the universe from a Biblical worldview, I found two verses seeming to support the theory of the beginning and the end. I’m careful not to read my own agenda into Scripture, but there’s no denying the Bible teaches us that God created the universe. These verses might give us a glimpse of His creative plan.

Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord my God, You are very great: You are clothed with honor and majesty, Who cover Yourself with light as with a garment, Who stretch out the heavens like a curtain. Psalm 104: 1-2
Physics supports an expanding universe. Is God stretching out the heavens?

"You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish, but You remain; And they will all grow old like a garment; Like a cloak You will fold them up, and they will be changed. But You are the same, and Your years will not fail.” Hebrews 1:10-12

Theoretically, the expanding universe will eventually collapse. Will God fold up and put away what He stretched out?

Of course, an even greater truth and deeper understanding is expressed in these verses. The physicist may take a Biblical view but miss the point. The Psalmist worships, and it’s personal. The God who stretches out the heavens is his God. In the book of Hebrews, recognition for the entire work of creation is given solely to God, as is His ownership and authority of the temporal and the eternal. He can expand the universe, and He can fold it up.

 Science might try to explain the universe, and may even get it half right. Physicists smashed protons into each other and proved the existence of what some refer to as the God Particle. I listened to a reporter interview Peter Higgs, the physicist who formulated the equation in the 1960s theorizing the existence of the elusive particle. He seemed like a simple man, though he certainly isn’t, and claimed the only tools he needed to change our understanding of the universe were pencil and paper. But it took an eight-billion-dollar underground particle accelerator to turn what was written in pencil into an experiment few can understand. In the invisible world of particles, a micro-second of effect was witnessed and analyzed, and the theorists claimed they’d found something important about the beginning of mass. The beginning of us.

Such news makes me smile. Not because of my fascination with physicists. Not because we might soon understand how we got here. Not even because of my relief those geniuses didn’t accidentally form a black hole and suck us all into oblivion. (I hear that’s not an actual possibility.)

I smile because I know the One who made the particles. And the heavens and the earth. And the black holes, if they exist. And the Big Bang, if that’s how He chose to start it all. And the Big Crunch, if He’s so inclined to end it all. And me. I smile because I already know how I got here. And where I’m going when I leave.

Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God. You are very great!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Christians and the Shaman

Daniel Pinchbeck has written a book “Breaking Open the Head”, an account of his efforts to achieve spiritual enlightenment through psychedelic drug-taking encounters with shamans.

Daniel clearly knows a lot about drugs, but less about spirituality, which is a shame, as I wish he could have told us more about one particular meeting, in Ecuador, with shaman Don Esteban.

He had been a shaman in his youth, but when the missionaries arrived he assumed that Christianity had greater power. He abandoned his traditional spiritual culture and became a Christian, working with the missionaries. They told him not to take ayahuasca [drug], so he didn’t. But as time went on, he realized that, as a Christian, he was no longer able to heal anybody. A nephew of his died, and he knew that with ayahuasca he would have been able to heal him. He decided that Christianity didn’t have all the answers and he returned, after a thirty-year hiatus, to ayahuasca.

I personally doubt that Don Esteban “assumed” that Christianity had greater power. Rather, he knew.

My wife is Korean, and before our marriage several times consulted a shaman about her future. According to her, the shamans say they cannot do their work if a devout Christian is present, as Christians possess a spiritual power much greater than their own.

When she was 24, and wanting to find a Westerner to marry, my wife consulted a shaman. He told her that when she was 27 she would marry someone from America or Japan. This was a shock, as she had no desire for a Japanese husband.

And then, after she had turned 27, I arrived on the scene, from Japan, where I was living. We were married two months later.

In 1992, shortly before we moved from Japan to Australia, she was back in Korea, visiting her family, and she went again to the shaman, to ask about our future. She didn’t tell me about this visit, as she knew I was extremely antagonistic to fortune tellers and the like.

“Your husband is going to turn to the cross,” the shaman told her. “Don’t ever come to me again.”

Shortly after we moved to Australia, I became a Christian. My wife never told me about the shaman’s message until some years later, and she never really pushed me into becoming a Christian. It wasn’t a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Is there a connection between shamans and Christianity? Does God perhaps use shamans to build a relationship with those of His people who have yet to hear of Jesus? I wonder if Christians should perhaps recognize the good sometimes done by shamans.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


The fruit we bear as a result of abiding in Christ is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Are you a child of God? You might be surprised that I asked, because you are wondering, “Isn’t everyone a child of God?” What kind of evidence should there be? 

Here are the Bible’s answers to these questions. God is the creator of all life; He created man in His own image, and so in that sense, yes, everyone is a child of God. However, Satan cunningly lured us into his camp, by deceiving Adam and Eve in the Garden, and thus causing a separation between us and God. The Bible explains our condition this way: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 NIV). Sin has definitely put a separation between us and God.

In order for that separation to be bridged, God sent His only Son to die in our place -- to take on the punishment that we deserved. As a result, Jesus became our sin-bearer. And the Bible says faith in Jesus as our Savior restores our relationship. God doesn’t force us to believe in Him; it is a choice each individual has to make on his or her own. “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9 NIV). Also, the apostle Paul reminded the Church of Galatia, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:26 NIV).

Sin placed us in the devil’s kingdom of darkness, but God transfers us into His kingdom of light when we place our faith in Jesus. Only then can we claim that we are God’s children. The apostle Paul reminded the Corinthians of God’s promise: “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:18 NIV). If being created by God automatically made us His children, this promise, “I will be,” would not be necessary. But as it stands, we need to become His children.

There are characteristics of the children of God, and there are characteristics of the children of the devil; they are not the same. If you are a child of God, you’ve become a new creation, your former way of life has become a thing of the past (see 2 Corinthians 5:17). God’s characteristics will be evident in your new life, because He lives through you, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 NIV). The following characteristics are proof that a person is a child of God:

The believer/child of God:

Is indwelt by the Holy Spirit – “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ” (Romans 8:9 NIV). Do you belong to Christ? If yes, do you have the Holy Spirit?

Has the assurance of being the child of God – “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Romans 8:16 NIV). The Holy Spirit gives us the inner assurance that we are God’s children. Are you a child of God? Do you have that assurance?

Has the hope and assurance of eternal life – “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2 NIV), and “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13 NIV). Can you say with certainty that if you die today you’ll be ushered into the presence of God?

Is controlled and led by the Spirit – “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Romans 8:14 NIV). When there is leading, there has to be following. In other words we take direction and instructions from God; we don’t do our own thing. Who is the charge-person in your life, God or … (insert your name)?

 Does not live in sin – “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him” (1 John 3:6 NIV). Do you claim to be a child of God? Are you enslaved by any particular sin? Reconsider your claim, and don’t allow the devil to find excuses for you. If the Holy Spirit lives in you, you should be uncomfortable living in sin.

Delights in pleasing God – “Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God” (8:8 NIV). The opposite of this verse is also true: those controlled by the Spirit of God do please God! Do you sometimes sense God saying to you, “Good job!”? How does that make you feel?

Abides in Christ: Jesus describes Himself as the Vine and us as the branches. The branch, of course, will die if it does not receive nourishment from the tree. Receiving nourishment from the tree does not only keep the branch alive, but also helps it to blossom and bear fruit (see John 14:1-5).

Bears Fruit – According to the book of Galatians, the fruit we bear as a result of abiding in Christ is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (see Galatians 5:22). Is anything on this list missing in your life? What kind of fruit are you bearing? Is it fruit that can lead observers to the conclusion that you are a child of God? If you’re not bearing godly fruit, please pray for the grace to be able do so. You can then agree with the apostle Paul, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13 NIV).  

Accepts Corrections – we all need to be corrected from time to time, or we’ll make the same mistakes repeatedly. Correcting us when we go wrong is one of God’s ways of expressing His love for us, and He grants us grace to endure during those times. If we accept His corrections, we emerge from our experiences as wiser, mature, and better people. Job tells us, “Blessed is the man whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty. For he wounds, but also binds up; he injures, but his hands also heal” (Job 5:17 NIV). Also Proverbs tells us, “My son do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in” (Proverbs 3:11-12 NIV).

Dear child of God, we’ve been commanded to be light and salt (see Matthew 5:13-14) in the world, in order to make Christ attractive to people. We can’t be effective in ministry if there is no evidence in our lives that we are God’s children!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Giving Good Gifts

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 7:7-12

We’re coming into the holiday season filled with lots of asking and giving. I love this passage because it helps us line up our beliefs about needs and wants. Here’s the lessons I learn from Matthew:

1.    God created us to have needs. So many folks incorrectly label themselves as “selfish” for having legitimate needs. We are amazing, complex creatures made by God to have a wide variety of needs. Acknowledging our neediness keeps us humble and dependent on our loving Heavenly Father.
2.   God wants us to ask for everything. There’s no shame in asking, whether it be for a something material, relational, or financial. Matthew doesn’t say we can only ask for “spiritual” needs vs. “secular” or “material” needs. Children don’t hesitate to be vocal about what they want. Part of parenting is to create a safe environment where conversations take place helping kids grow in discernment about needs. As God’s beloved child, I talk to him all day long about how I feel, what I think I need, and how to live a healthy, godly life. Knocking and asking leads to learning and maturing in understanding the good gifts God wants to share with me.
3.   God teaches us how to love others well. We are called to love our neighbor as ourselves so in order to meet the needs of those around us, we must learn to do a great job of acknowledging and validating our own needs.

Every morning of every day is like Christmas morning for me. My child-like heart is super excited to see what good gifts my Father will bring me. I love beautiful sunshiny days, a hug from a friend when I’m sad, a call from my son, a chocolate peanut butter ice cream cone, and a great deal on a new car. Since I’ve learned to ask for everything and see God’s hand in every moment, I get a boat load of gifts every single day!

Take some time now, before the holiday season takes off, to sit with God and critique your beliefs about asking and giving.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Saints in Waiting – the Christian Martyrs of North Korea

Korea has the fourth-highest number of Catholic saints in the world. Why? Because present-day Christianity in Korea – particularly the Catholic stream – was molded from the blood of its martyrs, thousands and thousands of them. Probably more so than just about anywhere else.

Christians were also at the forefront of the resistance against the Japanese occupation, that ended in 1945, and they helped lead the fight in the 1980s for democracy in their country. Today, Christians comprise about 30% of the South Korean population, and a vibrant Christian expression is everywhere.

By contrast, North Korea is once again a land of martyrs.

It is sadly ironic that former US President Jimmy Carter, after meeting North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung, reportedly pronounced him “friendly” towards Christianity.

Yes, he was friendly when he thought Christians might help prop up his regime, and garner some international support. That’s why he occasionally sent North Korean “Christian” leaders to travel abroad for international conferences.

My wife is Korean, and a while ago some North Korean Christians came to Australia for talks. A pastor friend met them.

“They said that North Koreans couldn’t worship any more, because the Americans had bombed and destroyed their churches during the Korean War,” our friend told us. “They also said that North Koreans didn’t really need religion, because they had Kim Il Sung.”

And in a crazy way it was true that North Koreans didn’t need Christianity. After all, they already at that time had the father (the late Great Leader Kim Il Sung), son (his successor Dear Leader Kim Jong Il) and spirit (juche – the doctrine of self-reliance that supposedly inspires the populace).

Yet Christianity has persisted, even though any friendliness that might have been shown to the faith by Kim Il Sung was not replicated by his son. He was a tyrant. In the words of the National Association of Evangelicals, North Korea is “more brutal, more deliberate, more implacable, and more purely genocidal” than any other nation.

As many as 100,000 Christians are in concentration camps, enduring regular torture. Executions are common.

Prisoners unable to contain their horror at executions are deemed disloyal to the party and are punished with electrical shock, often to death. Others are sent into solitary confinement in containers so cramped that their legs become permanently paralyzed. Eight Christians working in a prison smelting factory died instantly when molten iron was poured onto them, one by one, for refusing to deny their faith.

Yet something remarkable is happening. A growing number of North Koreans are escaping, to China or South Korea, and many of them are turning to Christianity. There at last they find hope.

So while no decent person in a million years would wish on North Korean Christians their present sufferings, it is possible to see in them the seed of a future renaissance.

German doctor Norbert Vollertsen was stationed in North Korea in 1999-2000 for the relief agency German Emergency Doctors. Later he interviewed hundreds of North Korean refugees in China and South Korea. His message: what has been going on in North Korea for more than half a century bears a strong resemblance to the World War II Nazi genocide against Jews.

“Like the Jews then, Christians in North Korea face their executioners praying and singing hymns,” he related.

But as the church father Tertullian reportedly said at the dawn of Christianity: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Vollertsen, whose reports have made him a legendary figure in Japan and South Korea, found out that as a result of this Communist campaign of persecution an underground church was growing rapidly. “I am sure that once North Korea is free, Christianity will boom there in a way that will even dwarf its growth in the South.”

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


He allows only perfect people. Unfortunately, no one is, or can claim to be, perfect!

Are you a good or perfect person? Answering this question honestly will settle forever whether your current belief will allow you into heaven after this life, and if not, what you can do differently to reserve a place in heaven.

When it comes to the topic of God and heaven, some people are doubly sure that God will let them in since they are good, likable people. These people are undoubtedly very good. Are you one of them? I have no doubt your family and friends will attest to the fact that you are a great person, but God will not allow good or great people into heaven; He allows only perfect people. Unfortunately, no one is, or can claim to be, perfect!

How do you define good? I think I can guess your definition—good is being kind, friendly, giving, sharing, polite, and on and on. But wait: are you good all the time, some of the time, or most of the time? Can you say honestly that you do everything right, every single time? Can you think of a single instance when you failed to meet even your own standards? If you’re human, the answer to this question is a resounding yes. You are not alone though, because there’s not a single person in the world who doesn’t fall short every now and then.

The people who think they are very good think that way because they are busy comparing themselves to others. They listen to the news and hear of the evil that people commit, and think they are so much better. They know co-workers and neighbors who are probably not as nice, kind, courteous, and helpful as they are. Armed with that knowledge, what do they conclude? They say to themselves, “I am not as bad.” However, God does not make His decisions by comparing people. He doesn’t go: good, better, and best. He is the standard!

God in His holiness, love, and justice decided that for man to have fellowship with Him now and in the life to come, he needs to be born again. What does it mean to be born again? In the days of Jesus, a Jewish rabbi and a member of the ruling council by the name of Nicodemus had the same concern after Jesus told him he needed to be born again. He asked Jesus if he needed to go back into his mother’s womb to be born again.

Here is part of Jesus’ response. “No one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to Spirit” (John 3:5-6 NIV). So you see, the new birth is not a physical birth at all; it is a spiritual birth, and to obtain spiritual birth, you need to repent of your sin, and put your faith in Jesus, the Son of God, who died to pay our sins. Jesus further explained the new birth this way, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NIV).   

When you are born again, the Holy Spirit comes to indwell you and renews your mind. A transformation occurs in you, resulting in your desire to live for the One who took your sins upon Himself on the cross. The Bible says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV).  The new birth makes you a new creation. Through this process, you become the child of God and a member of His family. You are no longer your own; you belong to Him. You get to live a decent, peaceful life here now, and a glorious life in heaven after death.

If you’d like to go to heaven someday, put your faith in Jesus and live for Him by reading and obeying the Bible, which is His instruction for His children. Make your decision now; tomorrow might be too late. This is a decision you have to willingly make while you are alive; no amount of prayers after your death can change your destination. If you don’t go to heaven, the alternate place is hell, so please don’t treat this issue lightly!