Holy Dread – What I think I know after Hurricane Michael


Hurricane Michael
Radar snapshot of Hurricane Michael as he made landfall on Oct. 10, 2018.

What follows is my personal, frail attempt to make sense of a devastating event.

Prologue

(because prologues are cool)

While dining at my sister’s house, I sat beside my nephew, Leader, who was seven or eight years old at the time. He is eleven now. Guided by a profound impulse, he decided to ask me a series of theological questions, which he has been known to do at odd times (for example, he once told me I had to “fight the dragon” so that I could become “a king of forgiveness”).

“Unky Adam,” he said.

“Yes?” I said, turning toward him.

“Do you love God more than money?” he asked, his smile as big as a crescent moon.

“Yes,” I said. I went back to my food, thinking that would be the end of it.

“Do you love God more than houses?” he asked, his tenor elevated. He seemed to know well enough that sequels should raise the stakes.

“Yes,” I said.

His smile broadened. I decided not to take the next bite, knowing that another question must follow in the series. To him, it was a kind of game where the questions must be part of a trilogy.

“Do you love God more than the world?” he asked, raising his volume to something like half a notch above inside-voice acceptable decibels.

I waited, wanting to give myself a moment to be honest even if it led to disappointment. Anyone claiming to be a believer would want the answer to be “Yes”. But I gave myself enough time for it to be a cold, cowardly “No” if the truth of my heart demanded it. I gave myself time to fall if fall I must.

“Yes,” I said.

As soon as I spoke, I knew I had done what for me had always been unthinkable. I had made a commitment. Leader smiled bigger, but not because he had trapped me. He smiled in a kind of child-like awe. You see, because I had affirmed my love for God above money, houses, and the world—because of these affirmations of faith, he seemed to think I was some sort of hero.

The Storm

“Sanctify the LORD of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.” – Isaiah 8:13, KJV

I am awake when the iOS alert goes off. FIND SHELTER NOW. The sound is a challenge to describe. For me, it invites a sudden onset of nausea. If I manage to sleep, I awake within a few hours drenched in chilled sweat. Earlier this year, in Ecuador, I had descended four flights of hotel stairs to the same sound going off minutes after the building had shaken and swayed—a 6.2 temblor 75 miles west had thus announced itself. Guayaquil has seen worse; the traffic never stopped and we were back in our rooms within the hour.

Fast forward one month later: on October 10, 2018, my city saw the worst.

We fled at exactly 7AM and reached Birmingham just as Michael made landfall as the third worst storm in modern U.S. history and Bay County’s most devastating storm on record. But I have no interest in writing about Michael’s power over physical objects. I am not here to remind you how bad it was—if you live there, grew up there, have family there, then you already know.

No, I am interested in something else. I will tell you now so you can make an early break for the door if the topic seems vaporous, like the kind of nonsense a sage would ramble about while falling asleep in his favorite chair. What interests me is the thing we lose when we rely too heavily on our experience. I am interested in my capacity to feel dread—that ancient enemy of Certainty and one of the oldest friends of Spirit. I am interested in the end of pride and the beginning of wisdom.

Remember that Michael was hailed as an unprecedented storm before he made landfall. Keep that word in mind as you read: unprecedented. It is the word of the hour, the year, maybe even the decade. Perhaps your mind has already retrieved a list of unprecedented events of the past ten years. For my purposes, the word deserves to become a proper noun: a name.

Before Michael, Unprecedented may as well have been a street-corner prophet or a flittering, homeless junkie—I would rather dodge into oncoming traffic than pass within six feet of him. You, too, have been avoiding him at every turn. But at last we have seen him uncloaked, and there is no dodging him now.

You might ask why I have chosen a gender-specific pronoun for Unprecedented. For now, suffice it to say that Wisdom will introduce herself soon and it suits my sense of mise en scène to permit a balance of male and female players. But let us not get ahead of ourselves. Not until Unprecedented has made himself more than a street-corner prophet—indeed, not until he has risen to the level of Archangel will Wisdom make her appearance.

See what I did there? Aren’t I clever?

Maybe you agree that I am clever or maybe you are convinced (reasonably) that I have taken the metaphors too far, that I have wandered into the misty Lost Woods of creative interpretation and have strayed from reason’s guiding melody[1]. Perhaps I have. But let me be clear: unlike our Puritan forebears, I do not interpret the ransacking of my village as some divine penalty for my apostasy. If that is your perspective, suit yourself. It is not mine.

When I think of Michael, I do not think of wrath or judgment. Nor do I think God is the mastermind behind a storm whose sole purpose was to prompt knee-jerk repentance on a massive scale. I am not Jonathan Edwards, nor am I on the lookout for the next great awakening (sorry to disappoint my fellow charismatics).

Rather, I seek an awakening where we learn that we have all been, at one time or another, patrons to a false god who offers us the promise of certainty in exchange not for our faith but for the complete lack of it.

What false god? What is he talking about? Doesn’t he know we just went through hell and misery and that all we’ve been doing for weeks is helping each other rebuild (while he sits pretty in California sipping a latte, I might add)? Please do not mistake me. You have shown your mettle and are to be held in high esteem. I can only speak of what I have found in myself and, perhaps in the process, help you renew your hope and reaffirm the cornerstone of your faith.

That thing you are holding on to—that job, that man, that woman, that ideal, that business, that house, that goal, that church, that order of things, that prophecy, that calling: imagine yourself without it. What do you fear most in this life to lose? If you can, envision yourself on the other side of that loss. Put yourself in a virtual reality where dread is the dominant emotion. But be warned: this will be almost as painful as the reality itself. Proceed with caution into this lucid nightmare and crisis of the soul.

Take a moment to manifest the vision. Breathe.

Now, what are you left with? What shape does the monster take that now stares you down? Take a long look at this “you” separated from all qualifiers, preconceptions and ideals, from everything you think you know about yourself. Put away your Bible, your creed, your kingdom, your ecclesia, your academia, your wealth, your poverty, and above all your experience—anything that has brought you certainty, negative or positive. They cannot enter here. What did you see? Who did you meet?

When I remember Michael, when I remember my dread, I am left with an opaque vision of something like a jealous Love, an untamable Hope, and Mercy as a juggernaut. If you think this is how I cope with the vision, very well. You might be right. But I believe it is something more. You see, I am a bit cracked in the head. I happen to think the Spirit of the Living God is leading me to a deeper revelation of his power and love. And this next one is a bit more controversial: I happen to think that, in his relentless mercy, he fortifies my faith in him despite my resistance. After all, I tried to ally with Certainty and build walls on the foundation of my experience. But thanks to Unprecedented uncloaked, the deal fell through.

In case you did not see it coming, Unprecedented uncloaked has a name: Michael the Fierce, who in a spirit of might reminds us of one mightier still. He comes because he wants us to remember that our experience counts for nothing unless it can be transformed and redefined by Spirit. He wants us to realize the truth (there is no spoon)—that trust in our experience has led us to invite Certainty into our hearts, where only one can dwell. Little did we know that Certainty would paint himself as a bullseye on our foreheads. A bullseye for whom? All this time and we never knew: our trusty old friend was in league with his older sister, Chaos, from the start. What a twist, indeed. Certainty guaranteed our comfort, swore upon his foundations that we would never hunger or thirst if we sustained him with our lack of faith.

But that is just the problem. Certainty had no basis for his oaths and like the serpent before him promised what was not his to give. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst, for they will be satisfied.[2] To hunger and thirst is to suffer. Faith leads to righteousness, and righteousness requires suffering. We are all going to suffer regardless of where we put our trust. The question is, rather, will we suffer bitterness and betrayal at the hands of Certainty, or will we suffer ourselves to trust in Spirit? Hint: the former guarantees the absence of dread—but who can know the cost?

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom.[3] For some of us, Michael may be that beginning. To dread the Almighty is to invite his guiding power to transform our hearts and minds until we depend on him alone; “let him be your fear, and let him be your dread” commands us to make him our certainty. Lucky for us, sometimes that guiding power manifests whether we invite it or not. We have all welcomed Certainty—a vampire must be invited before he can enter, after all. But the grace of God hovers before no threshold, bows beneath no arch. No longer will we be detained by the prince of this world and his false promises, for Michael has arrived.[4]

Epilogue

(because I obsess over symmetry)

“When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’” (John 21:15, NIV). Whenever I read this passage now, I am moved by its eerie resemblance to the exchange between me and my nephew on a day so uneventful I do not recall the month or the year. But that part about “When they had finished eating” also makes me laugh since Leader did not wait until I had finished eating before asking me a similar trilogy of questions. He just went for it.

If you have made it this far, you might ask how this story is relevant to dread, devastation, faith, or a hurricane. Well, I am still in the middle of making sense of that myself. But if I must give an answer, here is the one that comes to me: my nephew, inspired as he is by Spirit, asked me the same question three times in a row. He asked me if I loved God more than Certainty. He wanted to know if I had the one thing required to please God—to please Being itself.[5] And in the moment, I had answered in faith, “Yes”, knowing nothing of the wrath to come. Now, on the other side of desolation, I can say with some confidence: to that answer I hold.

What will your answer be?

— — — —

P.S.

I pray that those of you affected by this terrible, unprecedented storm are recovering well. If you can, surround yourself with friends and loved ones. If what I have shared here seems too simplistic, please forgive me. Perhaps it would have been easier just to quote a sage and hope for the best:

“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.” – Rom. 15:13, NIV

— — — —

[1] If you are not a Zelda fan, sorry for this one. You will just have to work it out on your own.

[2] Matthew 5:6.

[3] Proverbs 9:10.

[4] See Daniel 10:13 and Revelation 22:20.

[5] See Hebrews 11:6.

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I Am


I am, says the Eternal Flame to Man.

The Man is afraid, abiding the moment as one in a trance or stranded in a dream idling on the edge of wakefulness. The blaze is hot but not stifling. It is a perfect heat, if such a thing can be perfect. Purple and pink tendrils of lighting reach over the mountaintop as if drawn by the flames. The fire drinks the rain. It is a fire unquenchable just as the force fueling it is unstoppable.

The ground is sacred – take off your shoes and feel the earth. Be in this moment. Hear me. Believe me. Trust me. Do everything I say and never again know the fear of man.

Wake up. I am the Lion and I am the Lamb. I spoke and light tore through dark matter like a splintered diamond. I breathed and the wind skipped across an eternal storm igniting a restless ambition. Wake up. Be light. Know me. I am the Lion and I am the Lamb.

I never tire of the flames or of the furious speed. I do not grow weary at the vastness of my thoughts. The songs of stars are not repetitious to me.

Have you ever waited and listened for the trumpet blast of supernovas? Have you counted the gems of Heaven? Do you know their names or their ages? I have waited – I am Time’s Master. I have counted them all. I know their names. I remember when each was born.

I am the Lion. I am the Lamb.

I am the Phoenix. And the resurrection fire is my cloak.

I am the Healing Serpent untethered and shedding his bronze scales; they lie like sunbaked husks in the desert. You could follow them but your path would be aimless, for the relics do not point to me.

I am the unexpected creature that comes after the Great Unraveling of Time and Space.

I am Abel’s blood, shed on every battlefield. I am the mark, both upon Cain and upon the desperate mob in swift pursuit. Blood for blood. Mine for yours.

I am the Lamb.

Where can righteousness be found? Who is seeking it?

Seek the Lamb. You will be cleansed.

Seek the Lion. You will be vindicated.

Seek the Phoenix. You will be restored.

Seek the Serpent. You will be forgiven.

Seek the unexpected creature. Follow her into the storm, beyond the great terror at the edge of infinite possibility, where love perfected drives out all fear. When you arrive, the only dread will be the dread of me.

The Man blinks and the fire is gone. His dripping clothes sag and cling coldly to his skin. The leaves jostle in the wind and cast a cool mist. No smoke. No ashes. A flick of lightning far off tells him the storm passed hours ago. But he knows that one day it will return to this hallowed place.

It must return because it isn’t finished.

He turns and appraises the dirt path that will take him down again into the valley, across the mile-long field and at last to the tent where his wife and sons still sleep. Could he not lie down beside them and wait for the morning? Could he not go back to tending sheep?

It isn’t finished. And neither is he.

Featured Photo credit:
pastoreid.com

The Other Rebellion – Written by Steve B. and Edited by Adam B.


James Dean and Natalie Wood
James Dean and Natalie Wood in “Rebel Without a Cause”

The following post is an original piece of literary analysis from my dad, Steve Burdeshaw. I hope it encourages you while perhaps causing you to see some things in a new way. My dad has always spoken of the New Way of Thinking, and God has helped me to take this concept one step further toward something called the New Way of Being. I believe what follows is one piece of this ideal, one small step toward what may become my family’s legacy: to turn children’s hearts to their parents, and to turn parents’ hearts to their children.

 * * *

One morning my wife and I were discussing movies, the main films being Rebel Without a Cause and Dead Poets Society. She expressed to me how it irritated her that people associated these movies with rebellion, since rebellion is neither what these movies are about nor what they promote.

Without really rehearsing in my mind what I was about to say, these were the words that came out of my mouth: “These movies are most definitely about rebellion, but they are not about a son rebelling against a father or society. Rather, these movies are about a father rebelling against a son’s purpose. In Dead Poets Society, the father rebels, refuses to repent, and loses his son forever. In Rebel Without a Cause, the father not only repents but sees his son for who he really is, and from this we might hope that they are able to begin a real relationship.”

Sons are a gift from Yahweh, God, and as parents we should concern ourselves with God’s purpose for our children rather than our own purpose for them. Old men will dream dreams and young men will prophesy. Without these two things coming together, nothing of significance will ever take place. It is young men and young women who see and change the future. As for me, I would like to be a facilitator of this purpose and go along for the ride.

 * * *

This is me, the son again. I don’t really have much to add except… well… I bet you never thought a father could rebel against his son, did you? But I am happy to tell you there is a cure to this epidemic. All you have to do is relinquish the control you never really had to begin with into the hands of One who has always had control and who always will. And yet you can still be active in that selfless trust, to the point where you look down at your own hands and see the hands of your Heavenly Father at work in you and through you. I pray that with every new day you embrace the hope of new beginnings, new ideas, and a new way of being. Thanks for reading. 

– Adam B.

A New Way of Being


“If you want to see what it looks like for God’s renewed people in Christ to be ‘royal,’ to be ‘rulers’ in the sense indicated by the vocation to be a ‘royal priesthood,’ don’t look at the fourth and fifth centuries, when the Roman emperors first became Christian. That raises questions and challenges at other levels, but to begin there would be to miss the point. Look, instead, at what the church was doing in the first two or three centuries, while being persecuted and harried by the authorities—and announcing to the whole world that Jesus, the crucified and risen Messiah of Israel, was its rightful Lord. That is what it means to be ‘rulers’ in the sense we’re discussing here: to be agents of that King’s reign, the reign of the Prince of Peace, the one through whom tyranny itself (not to mention any individual tyrants) was overthrown with the destruction of its most vital weapon—namely, death—and the one through whom therefore was brought to birth a new world in which order and freedom at last meet.” – N. T. Wright, After You Believe

————

Some of you will like what I am about to say; many of you will not; a few of you may quit reading it halfway through. I realize that, in sharing my heart on these matters, it is possible that I am setting myself up to be pitied by some and ridiculed by others. Even so, I ask that you consider what follows with an inquiring mind. Do not take my word for anything I write, but seek the scriptures and Holy Spirit regarding the things I am putting forth. If Holy Spirit leads you to different conclusions, then I am eager to hear from you. I should add that I have not read the Bible cover to cover (as many people older and wiser than I am have done) and on that basis I question my capacity to make a case for anything written in it. Yet, as you can see, I do not question it so far as to stop writing….

In Christ we find a new way of being that challenges us to put to death the old human (Rom. 6) and to become bearers of His image. At present, I cannot see the need for any revelation, doctrine, or prophecy that does not point me toward this goal. Anything beyond this—beyond eagerly awaiting by faith and “through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope” (Gal. 5:5, NIV)—is irrelevant to those who wish to establish Christ’s kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven. If the “only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (5:6), then I get the feeling that I may have spent the past twenty years or more being “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching” (Eph. 4:14). If this is not true for you, then I simply ask that you bear with me a while longer.

Through Christ, “forgiveness of sins is proclaimed” to each of us (Acts 13.38), but this extension of grace should not be misunderstood. While it provides us with a direct link to the Father, it does not allow us to justify our sin, mistreatment of others, verbal abuse, or manipulation (e.g., threatening someone if they act contrary to our wishes). Should we “go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!” (Rom. 6:1). Rather, the promise and the purpose of being baptized into the life of Christ is that “we too may live a new life” (6:4). Put another way, in Christ we find a way of being that does not allow us to excuse behaviors that lead to sin, the most common being “jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions” (Gal. 5:20). Among these, I have seen fits of rage and selfish ambition justified under the pretense of respecting leadership. Do I plead guilty to this kind of behavior? Without question. But I hope I never again justify these behaviors in myself or in another. And if you justify these things because of all the good you or another person have done, then you oppose the renewing power of Christ and his holy spirit.

Now, you who are led by the Spirit and therefore not under the law (Gal. 5:18), consider first what it means to be led by the Spirit of Him who raised Christ from the dead (Rom. 8:11). Why are you not under the law? What does this mean? Surely it implies that legalism is old-fashioned and that it is much more fulfilling to be yourself, to do what comes naturally, and to justify wrong-doing because, hey, nobody’s perfect. Right?

Not quite. If we live in such a way as to produce the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control)[1], then the extrinsic authority of the law has now become the intrinsic nature of our human hearts (Jer. 31:33). Remember Peter’s advice: live as free people without using your freedom as an excuse for sin, but commit your lives in everything you do to serving Christ and each other (1 Pet. 2:16-17). It sounds wonderful and seems simple, but I believe it may need some explanation. So allow me, in my limited capacity, to point us toward what I believe is a good starting place for attaining this kind of freedom in Christ.

If we are not daily turning from behaviors that come naturally to us and instead choosing to adopt those of Christ’s indwelling Spirit,[2] then our minds are not being renewed and our claims to being Spirit-filled and Spirit-led are fruitless, as are our claims to both freedom and order.

So, what does being led by the Spirit really look like? To pick the most clear-cut image out of scripture, it looks like a son of man praying by night in the Garden of Gethsemane, renouncing his hopes and desires in favor of his Father’s perfect will.[3] Perhaps it is safe to say that being led by the Spirit means first adopting the self-denying character of Christ until our behavior becomes indistinguishable from his own. While this may sound simple, we need to understand in detail what being Christ-like really means for us here and now.

For those of us who desire to be like Christ, it might help if we understand a thing or two about his character. To sum it up (and so do it poor justice), the character of Christ is one of humility and servitude[4] tempered with a dash of zeal for the Father.[5] Looking at Saul of Tarsus, we might see that he was a zealot in the tradition of Elijah, and Phinehas the son of Eleazar before him.[6] But when he met the Son of God on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:5), that zeal was redirected toward a new way of being—the zealot for Yahweh’s kingdom must, according to the new covenant,[7] be a servant of Christ[8] and a living vessel for the “truth that leads to godliness” (Titus 1:1). In other words, our vision of reigning in the Kingdom of God means nothing if we do not embrace our role as servants of the firstborn Son and look to him as the “foundation already laid” (1 Cor. 3:11).

In my time, I have seen the idea of ruling in Christ’s kingdom misunderstood on three different fronts: 1) there are people who believe their success and prosperity to be the main demonstrations of their kingdom authority; 2) these same people often subscribe to a harmful misconception of son-ship by submitting to a spiritual father[9] or to an apostle as their primary source of revelation (please note my emphasis), which in effect has caused some to either turn away from the “champion who initiates and perfects” their faith (Heb. 12:2, NLT) or to relegate him to a second-tier position in their lives;[10] and 3) some believe it is the church’s present responsibility to judge the world rather than to await Christ’s judgment, which is set for an appointed time (Acts 17:31). This last idea is especially dangerous, as it fills people with a false sense of omniscience while causing them to reach toward the kind of power that Christ attained only after he defeated the one who held the power of death (Heb. 2:14). Truly, if we do have this kind of power (thus implying that we are as perfect as Christ rather than being made perfect through Him[11]), then why would we ever need a high priest who “always lives to intercede” for us? (Heb. 7:25). If you are as qualified to judge as you think you are, then it stands to reason that you no longer need Christ to intercede on your behalf.

Referring to the three issues listed above, the first usually shows up among people who become so enamored with the idea of “ruling and reigning” that they are oblivious to the cost that comes with this kind of power (e.g., crucifixion).[12] As to the second issue, I find that it sometimes produces unadulterated devotion to a single church leader at the expense of ostracizing those who do not share this devotion (even though they are followers of Christ). At its core, this turning away from fellow believers in the name of “loyalty” is nothing more than idolatry and is in direct conflict with Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians when he says, “So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God” (1 Cor. 3:21-23).

Finally, if any question remains as to how we should function as agents of Christ’s authority and power, Paul at least clarifies what we are not to do: “My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.” (4:4-5). I do not know how to make this scripture any clearer than it already is; it speaks for itself without any help from me. If Paul is correct (and if I am not taking his words out of context), then we should judge nothing until the Lord comes.[13] So, where exactly does that leave us?

Despite what some may think, I am not suggesting that we should all just lead ourselves, picking and choosing how we want to submit to authority. Rather, I am pointing us toward what I think could be a more perfect plan to bind us together in a spirit of faithfulness and so protect us from the abuse of power. Among people who are preparing for the kingdom of heaven, the reality of what unity and faithfulness should look like is summed up in Philippians 2:

“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (2:1-4)

Paul has just defined kingdom order. As we know, factions arise among us when our convictions drift so far apart that they become irreconcilable. The question remains: why are our convictions diverging in the first place? Perhaps multiple reasons exist, but I want to suggest the possibility that either you or I (or both of us) have taken our eyes off of Christ.[14] In Philippians 2:1-4, the first factor in the equation is unity with Christ. This is the essential element because it is only when we are united in Christ that our convictions become identical. Being united in Christ means understanding his nature and character, and working with all of our hearts to emulate that character by way of a vital gift from heaven—the Holy Spirit, who is our living witness of the resurrected Son and the assurance of everlasting life.[15] Once we are united with Christ by his Spirit, the other components begin to lock into place: we become like-minded, we have the same love (and convictions), we unite in spirit and purpose (we share a vision that is universal because it is the vision of Christ rather than the vision of a single church or individual), and we begin to relate to one another in a spirit of humility. As easy as this last part sounds, it is often the most difficult to grasp. Humility is not second nature to me; I hope it is to you.

Based on the previous scripture, then, the key to unity is humility. Unfortunately, many believers think of unity as something inorganic that must be imposed by the hierarchy lined out in 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11. However, what Paul may be saying in 1 Corinthians 12:28 is that Yahshua appointed the apostles—as messengers of the good news and as prototypes for the new way of being—before he appointed anyone else in the church. Put simply, they came first in a chronological sequence and were entrusted with one task: to cultivate a body wherein the working “parts should have equal concern for each other” (1 Cor. 12:25).[16] Also, Ephesians 4:11 is often preached to justify the five-fold ministry (and perhaps rightly so) while the ultimate purpose of this order is overlooked: “so that the body of Christ may be built up until we reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (4:12).

Is Paul suggesting that the means lead to an end or, more specifically, to the realization of a meaningful hope that transcends all other agendas? I think so. If the ministry is not building up believers in the knowledge of the Son of God—that is, if we are not being led toward a revelation of who Christ is and how we are to reflect him to the world—then we are wasting our time as unfaithful stewards of the gospel. Further, if equilibrium in the body of Christ is not evident, then the body-parts are not functioning according to Yahweh’s plan. So, how do we become this fully-functional body of Christ? Read 1 Corinthians 13, and then get back to me.

As for the good news, it is simply this: that Yahweh, God of all creation, has made a new covenant with humanity through the resurrection of His son, who having ascended into heaven has left us His indwelling Spirit, who is—in us, through us, and for us—the promise of life eternal and the assurance that we will live, in bodily form,[17] with the true King of heaven and earth. Any message or gospel that deviates from this essential truth is not the message of the kingdom.[18] Moreover, any ministry that does not concern itself with winning people to Christ does not share in the interests of heaven, for “there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Luke 15:7). I do not care how many people I get to come to my church, and I hope I am not among those who care how many people leave my church to go somewhere else—if I can lead people to a revelation of who Yahshua (Jesus) is and what this new way of being means for them, then I will have fulfilled my God-given mandate as a follower of the firstborn Son.

~ Thank you for reading, and may you be blessed as you choose to walk in the love of Christ. ~

————

Works Cited

Wright, N. T. After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2010. Print.


[1] See Galatians 5:22-23.

[2] Galatians 5 and Romans 6 are two great signposts for this; I reference them because they are the ones with which I am most familiar.

[3] See Luke 22:42.

[4] See Philippians 2:6-11.

[5] See John 2:17.

[6] See Numbers 25, 1 Kings 18:40, Galatians 1:13, Philippians 3:4-6, and  N. T. Wright’s “Paul, Arabia, and Elijah (Galatians 1:17)”.

[7] The new covenant is summed up nicely in Jeremiah 31:33-34 and in John 3:16.

[8] See Romans 1:1, 1 Corinthians 3:5, and 4:1.

[9] This is remarkable to me when I consider John 20:17, where Yahshua (Jesus) refers to his disciples not as sons but as brothers. See also Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:1-7.

[10] Note that I am not discrediting the concept of spiritual fathers and sons, nor am I suggesting that we should not submit our lives to the instruction of people who exceed our knowledge in the faith. In 1 Corinthians 4:15, Paul writes, “for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel,” and in verse 17 he calls Timothy his son. Also, in 1 Timothy 1:2, Paul refers to Timothy as his “true son in the faith”.

[11] See Philippians 3:12 and Colossians 1:28.

[12] See Matthew 20:20-24.

[13] In John’s Gospel, Yahshua says, “I pass judgment on no one. But if I do judge, my decisions are true, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me” (8:15-16). Even though he is qualified to judge (because he is the only one who can stand with the Father), he instead chooses to wait because the time for judgment has not yet come.

[14] See Hebrews 12:2.

[15] See John 14:15-21 and Ephesians 1:13-14.

[16] If you want a summary of what the early apostles were like, what they endured, and what their responsibilities entailed, then refer to 1 Corinthians 3 and 4. Primarily, they are the servants of Christ through whom we come to believe (1 Cor. 3:5).

[17] See 1 Corinthians 15:12-58.

[18] See Galatians 1:6-7, 1 John 2:22-29, 4:1-3, 2 Timothy 2:8, and Titus 1:2. See also “Gnosticism” in the Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, E-J, Vol. 2. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993. 404-406. Print.

Fake Blood


My life has been marked by symbolism, with video games providing some of the most poignant moments. Yes, you read me right: time-ravaging life-debilitating muscle-atrophying video games.

When I first held the original Nintendo controller, I held it upside down. The black cord jutted toward me, level with my bellybutton, and then curved down and away—an umbilical between me and the 8-bit box. Mind you, it wasn’t that I thought the controller was right-side up. Rather, I was convinced that upside-down was the better way to play. That Mario and Luigi had a hard time conforming their behavior to my inverted will was not really my problem.

The moral to this fable? Even as a child, I was predisposed to making things more difficult than they were designed to be—a trait I lugged with pride well into my adult years. So, hurray! Nintendo has taught me something about myself, and the lesson is a heavy one. But that’s not the half of it.

I learned to drive in an arcade at the ready age of three-and-a-half. Sitting in my father’s lap while he worked the pedals (my legs were too short to reach), I would steer the roving racecar as if I were dodging landmines, yanking the wheel right then left and watching with evident satisfaction as the car burst into an orange blip coupled with the digitized crunch of what must have been somebody’s idea of a sound-effect. It was in this same arcade that I learned you shouldn’t yell Damn! every time Mario gets killed, though I couldn’t understand why at the time.

The way I saw it, the games demanded an unadulterated display of aggression. To lick my chops at an exploding car or to curse Mario for getting whacked by a turtle shell was just my way of honoring the deal.

Roughly a decade later, the gaming structure had evolved so that four friends could sit side by side, stare at the same TV, and casually—not to mention methodically—plot out the most gratifying way to kill one another. For me to say that I was a kind of prodigy in this enterprise is not to embellish the truth: I gunned down my opponents with such alacrity and precision that pretty soon it became second nature to me. Just ask any of my friends.

I remember my first experience with this new and intriguing world. Here, the awareness of a short, scrawny, pale-skinned twelve-year-old could be transferred into the 64-bit polygonal framework of a muscular, scowling titan who wielded some type of modified assault rifle—or if you got lucky early in the match, a bazooka. In this world, I was someone to be both feared and respected.

I won’t say that I won every match, but I did win most of them. What’s more, I made doubly sure that everyone was aware of my God-given proficiency. After a few hours, my friends were ready to take the fight off-screen and kill me for real. I don’t blame them; by that point we were all so numb to our bloodlust that hatred and venom came as naturally as breathing. If we could say something nice, then it wasn’t worth saying. For the rest of that day, wherever we went—to the beach, the mall, a pizza buffet—our spite followed us like a cloud, ready to unleash at any moment a storm of our own making. None of us wondered why we were so quick to anger.

A few years passed, and on we played. A popular game among our ranks was far less violent than the one previously described, but the consequences were no different. The premise: choose your favorite Nintendo character, pick an arena from a dozen different Nintendo environs, and utilize items ranging from baseball bats to laser swords—deposited randomly at the auspices of an invisible god—to knock your opponent out of bounds. Good old-fashioned knock-out fun, right?

Not for me. As innocent and bloodless as the game was, I was still in it for the glory of the kill. If I couldn’t win, then what was the point? So, I found ways to manipulate the rules without cheating. The way I saw it, anything the game let you do had to be considered legal even if it was unconventional or even a tad “cheap.” There was just one problem: my friends did not share my conviction. So, when I figured out that I could grab my opponents, strap them to my back and then leap out of bounds, thereby killing my character and theirs too, all hell broke loose.

“You can’t do that, Adam!” they would shout, to which I would reply with a smirk, “Really?” and then do it again. To me it was just the logic of winning: if I had more “lives” then the rest of them, then this became a very effective strategy. No matter how many times I killed my character, I would end up on the upside—because I would be the last player standing. There’s no doubt that I was right and that it wasn’t really cheating. But it doesn’t change the fact that the game turned me into a plain-dealing ass.

Sure, I was the victor often enough, but what did I win? The more than deserved enmity of my friends, to be certain. And if someone else won, the results were usually no different. It should have been about having fun, but how could it be when the game’s sole agenda was to pit brother against brother, while each sat side by side drinking sodas and pausing every few minutes to wipe pizza grease off on their shorts?

To be fair, conflict was not always the result. I remember playing one-on-one with my good friend, Chad. As we realized that we were both down to our last lives—that it was a matter of sudden death—he paused the game, stretched out his hand to me and said, “Good game, dude.” I remember being convicted because I had not thought to do the same. But then, of the two of us, he has always been more prone to show humility.

I, however, was still in it for the kill. In this particular case, the game was not the problem. We hashed it out fair and square until the moment he sent my character soaring. That was one of the few times I remember losing with something like a speck of dignity. It was a thing I had to be taught.

Years later, when I became a man—or close enough to one to be admitted into that category—I found that the only way to play games was to make time for them. So, I didn’t play that often. I was attending college in Colorado and most of my time was devoted to studying; if I did play, it was to pass a wakeful half-hour with something casual before going to bed: Yoshi’s Island, Donkey Kong, and Sonic the Hedgehog to name the favorites. Like me, my friends were dispersed across the globe in pursuit of their singular quests. It had been ages since I’d fought in the arena of simulated warfare. I was certain that I had gotten rusty, that I had lost my touch.

As it turns out, I lost a great deal more than my touch. But in the process, I gained something else.

Returning home one summer, I decided to go back and play one of my all time favorites. A revolutionary game for its time, it immersed the player in an Orwellian world of resistance fighters pitted against the forces of a totalitarian government. Almost anyone who played the game could tell its story-writers were apt students of literature and history, and that the game’s design was the result of gifted physicists, engineers, and architects. It was then and still is a work of art in its respective medium. So there I was, home for the summer with a day all to myself to do whatever I wanted; I couldn’t wait to play it again.

When the first enemy started shooting at me, I aimed my pistol at his head and squeezed off three shots. The controller vibrated in my hands to simulate the aftershock of pistol fire, and I watched a burst of red spatter the concrete wall behind the enemy’s head. Clearly, the game-designers had studied the various behaviors for specific kinds of exit wounds. My artificial, make-believe enemy crumpled to the ground in a heap and just lay there. Simulated killing had resulted in simulated death. What else did I expect?

I felt a cold shock go through me. The controller slid out of my hands and into my lap. I just stared at the screen, at the glossy pistol that served as the only evidence of my presence in that world.

Out loud, I said, “I am pretending to blow someone’s brains out.”

After all the time I had spent defending simulated violence as a way to release aggression (a fact which is supported by research), as a harmless pursuit, as no different from watching an R-rated war movie, I had never considered it for what it was at its most basic level.

“I am pretending to blow someone’s brains out.” I sat there and I recited this phrase, like a litany, for I don’t know how long.

And as I sat there, I saw the history of myself in video games. My first experience with the Nintendo had instantly brought out the rebel in me, the contrarian for contrary’s sake. In the driver’s seat I learned to enjoy carnage in perhaps its most innocent and unassuming form, and with Mario I learned there was something in me, a spark of rage, that could be lit like a fuse and charged to ignite. Later, when I was most impressionable, I learned that I could gun down my friends in a make-believe coliseum, that they could gun me down as well, that when it was all said and done it was just a game and it really didn’t mean anything. Just like it didn’t mean anything when we were out in the real world and one of us would lash out at the slightest provocation.

In games, my competitive spirit thrived. It didn’t matter what we played; if I played it, I played to win. To kill even when killing was not the emphasis. It took an outside influence to remind me that there was such a thing as a noble way to lose—that while winning temporarily sated my lust, humility was the way to never be hungry again.

Many people may think that I am doing now exactly what I did with my first controller; that I am making something more difficult than it needs to be, or inverting facts based on my own subjective experiences. Maybe I am.

That day when I played the same game I had played a hundred times before without a second thought, only to feel the act of killing for what it must really be like—to have my breath sucked out of me as I put a pretend bullet through a pretend head and watched pretend blood spray a pretend concrete wall—may have just been an off day for me. Maybe I was just more vulnerable than usual. Who knows? They’re only games, after all.