Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

Deborah, God’s Woman of Wisdom

Deborah - Judges 4-5

Part 1, 26min.:https://trinityandhumanity.files.wordpress.com/2017/06/16-12-11-deborah-gods-woman-of-wisdom-part-1a-judges-4-5-tah-guest-vinson.mp3”

Part 2, 26min:https://trinityandhumanity.files.wordpress.com/2017/06/16-12-11-deborah-gods-woman-of-wisdom-part-1b-judges-4-5-tah-guest-vinson.mp3”

Full Message:https://trinityandhumanity.files.wordpress.com/2017/06/16-12-11-deborah-gods-woman-of-wisdom-judges-4-5-tah-guest-vinson.mp3”

Theological Theme: Faithfulness is expressed in using our gifts for God our Father’s purposes, trusting in Him for victory, and giving Him glory for whatever we accomplish.

Christ Connection: Deborah was the chosen leader of God who not only rescued her people but also ruled with wisdom. Her life points forward to Jesus Christ, the Wonderful Counselor whose kingdom is marked by justice and righteousness.

Missional Application: God the Holy Spirit (as God’s Gift of Himself to us), empowers us to participate with him through the use of various gifts in the service of edification (of those who belong to His family) and in evangelism (of those who do not know Him).

*picture courtesy of lzymtn.com

A Difficult Day

Despair. Starvation. And the voices telling him “you’re no good” and “no one likes you” and “you’ll never fit in with everyone else, they’ll always hate you.” The thoughts of worthlessness and rejection were the worst – worse than the gnawing nausea in his stomach.

Every evening as he drifted off to sleep he thought to himself “tomorrow, I go home” and every morning as he awoke he heard the still, small voice driving him to stay another day in the wilderness. Another day of hunger, heat, and despair.

One morning the voices took corporeal form. He woke to find a suavely creepy man staring at him, obviously watching him as he slept. The first thing he saw was the creep’s smile – a smile that was somehow simultaneously shy and malevolent.

“Well, good morning sleepy head. Hungry much?” An almost uncontrollable urge to eat anything – rocks, bugs, the creep’s eyes – rushed over him. Weakly he rolled off his back and up onto his knees. Looking down at the dust he simply said, “there are a lot of hungry people in the world; we’ve learned what you don’t know, that there’s more to life than just gobbling up everything you want.”

The creep smirked and changed the subject: “Let’s get down to business, shall we? You are experiencing delusions of grandeur coupled with fantasies of belonging. You are nothing, you are a bastard, your family never wanted you, your so-called friends don’t care about you, and you could die right here on this rock-strewn hill and no one would ever miss you. You know I’m right, why don’t you just admit it?”

That arrow hit home – right to the heart. Tears spilled over his cheeks and his face burned with shame. He thought to himself, “nobody loves me.” Tears struck the dust and a twisting sob wracked his body. “Nobody loves me but my mother.” The childhood memory of her praying voice in the night seemed to steady him just enough and bring him back from the edge of the emotional abyss. “Nobody loves me but my mother – and she could be jivin’ too” he whispered quietly as his tears faded to a soft smile.

Still on his knees, he raised his head and looked the creep in the eye. “It’s a funny thing about that – I’ve learned to find my Dad’s love leaking through every crack in the universe, even the broken places in broken people. I think I’ll just stick with what he has to say.”

“Your Dad?” the stranger hissed. “He’s not that smart, he’s just been around longer than the rest of us. If he really loved you he’d make sure nothing bad ever happened to you – but bad things keep happening, don’t they? Ergo, we must conclude that your Dad is either evil or does not exist.”

Strength surged through his body now. He stood to his full height, feet planted wide apart and firmly on the ground, and was surprised to discover that even though he was a relatively short man he towered over the creep. He laughed and shook his head, “It’s not my job to prove that faith is real, that hope will be rewarded, and that love never fails. A new day is about to dawn. You can crouch in the shadows or dance in the sunlight, but you can’t hide from love.”

The creep creeped away and some angels named Simon, James, and John came over the top of the hill, carrying food and looking for their friend. He thought they were the most beautiful sight he’d ever seen.

~ Jonathan Stepp

Epiphany for a gentile

Imagine you are a member of an ancient tribe.  The earth is chock-full of gods, but the one who lives in your area is the one who affects your life.  You have carefully groomed this deity with gifts and flattery (a.k.a., “worship”), so that he will think positively of you and grant you occasional favors.  If you have been really diligent in your flattery, you can have some reasonable expectation that your god will save you from your enemies (who, coincidentally, have the same arrangement with their gods).

As far as you can tell, the nearby tribe of Jews seems to have a similar relationship with their “Yahweh.”  Just like you, they work hard at stroking their god’s ego, and they feed him lots of whatever food he likes (Yahweh seems partial to blood and meat), and they expect him to send them a “Messiah” to crush their enemies.  Good for them.

But one of the Jewish splinter groups believes that Yahweh has already sent their Messiah, this Jesus.  Okay, whatever.  But here’s the weird part:  They are saying that their messiah is your savior, that their Yahweh has crushed your enemies.  That Jesus is not only the Messiah of the Jews, but is also the Savior of the whole world and all the people in it.  Huh?

Here’s their logic:  They say Yahweh is not just their local deity, but the Creator of everything, the God of gods (including yours).  They say Yahweh’s kindness to them is a gift, not dependent on the quality of their sacrifices and worship.  Taking the weirdness even further, they say Yahweh has been kind to them for the express purpose of extending his unconditional kindness to all people, including you.  They call this “the mystery of the ages” (Ephesians 3.6).  It’s a mystery alright…

But if they’re right, if this Jesus is what they say he is, it means the world does not work the way you think it does.  This is worth thinking about more…

The Book of Eli

Keeping the Bible alive has not always been an easy task. In times of persecution the authorities have always tried to destroy as many copies as they could get their hands on. Up until 500 years ago every copy of the Bible had to be written out, laboriously, by hand. Some monks devoted their entire lives to sitting at desks, working by candle light, to hand copy the Bible and hand it down to us.

I was thinking of all this earlier this evening while watching the movie The Book of Eli. I wish I could recommend the movie and tell you to go watch it, but it is very violent (like the books of Genesis and Judges) so I hesitate to just say it is great. The violence might be too much for you.

But the premise is very interesting. It is set in a post-apocalyptic world where a few survivors struggle to eke out an existence in the midst of a shattered landscape (hence the violence.) Denzel Washington plays Eli, a wanderer who thinks he may be carrying the very last Bible in the world and who believes God has called him to carry that Bible safely to a place where it will be protected. The problem is, Eli doesn’t know exactly where that place is and he has been wandering and looking for it for 30 years.

I found the ending surprising and inspiring, though I won’t tell you what it is since you might want to see it for yourself. If you can stand the violence, you might want to check this movie out. At the very least I think it will help you appreciate the value of this book we call the Bible and which the hero of the movie, Eli, calls his own in a deeply personal way.

~ Jonathan Stepp

An Evening Stroll

He stands on the beach in the dark and stares across the wild, windswept lake. The moon is hidden behind the clouds of the storm. Dawn is still a few hours away. The pounding of the surf and the crash of the tempest driven waves are the only sounds.

A deep breath, pulling in the scent of the fresh rain and the howling wind. He’s been praying since sundown, alone on the hill top. He feels better now. John is still dead, that obviously can’t be changed, but he has a peace about it he didn’t have before. Like yesterday’s red sky, John’s death can only be a sign of a coming storm. And yet here he stands, in the midst of the storm prophesied by yesterday’s red sky and it’s not so bad after all. Maybe the tempest to come after John won’t be as bad it seems now. The anticipation of fear is always worse than the fear itself.

Well, no one knows what tomorrow brings but he knows he can rest in the Father’s love. That love, that embrace, that assurance pouring into his soul through the filling of the Holy Spirit – that’s what kept him on his knees all night, even after the others had gone on ahead without him. And as he stares out at the crashing waves in the storm, and the specter of storms to come lingers in the back of his mind, it is that baptism of the Father’s assurance through the Spirit that gives him peace. He is loved. His future is secure. And not only his future, but the future of everyone he loves. And even the future of his enemies. The Father has embraced it all.

And then the still, small voice: “Walk out on the water.” What?

“Dad, is that you?” he asks. Again, the Spirit’s voice resonates in his soul, “go ahead, it’ll be fun – one for the books – the night you walked on the water.” He doesn’t need to hear it a third time. He only does what he sees his Father doing and he can clearly see that his Father is doing this.

A few brisk, long strides out into – no, wait, onto – the water and he is really doing it. The water crashes all around him, it’s like trying to climb up an enormous mound of hay with everything shifting constantly under him – but somehow he keeps his balance. Climbing two, three, even four feet up the face of the waves and then back down into the trough behind the wave. It’s like walking through an incredibly convoluted field of desert sand. His feet, his legs get soaked by the rising and falling waves of the lake but he never sinks.

“Wow, Dad, I am actually walking on the freakin’ water!” he prays. “Something so amazing, silly, and inspiring at the same time.”  He can feel the Spirit’s empowerment, right down through his skin and flesh to his bones – somehow, miraculously, making him less dense than the water. He can feel the Father’s love embracing him – somehow, miraculously, holding him up so that his feet touch, but never sink below, the surface.

And now the moon at last breaks out from behind the clouds. The rain fades away but the wind keeps blowing. In a pool of flickering light he can see the others in the boat, straining with all their might to row against the waves. He laughs out loud, “they are going to jump right out of their skins when they see this!”

He wonders: How much do they already know that they are in him and he is in them? How much do they see that they are also embraced in the Father’s love? Can any of them see that all of this, the Father’s love, the Spirit’s empowerment, the walking on the water, includes them?

Only one way to find out: walk up to the boat and see if anyone wants to join him.

Scapegoat

Nemuel tugged hard at the rope to keep the goat moving. It was hard going through the gravel and dust of the wadi and he knew they had a ways to go yet. Aaron had been quite clear: get this goat so far away, out into the wilderness, that he will never find his way back. Ever. Aaron was ancient, hardly able to stand on his own now, but the glare in his eyes was enough to strike the fear of El into Nemuel. And there was something else there, a kind of pain that said “let’s not make any mistakes, like we did that first time.” Truth be told, Nemuel didn’t much care whether the goat stayed out here in the desert or not, but those priests – they know things. So it’s better to do it the way they say to do it.

Besides, it was an honor, really. That’s what he’d told Zuar from the start. Zuar was what he’d decided to name the goat after their first couple of hours of walking together. “Zuar,” he’d said at noon, when they stopped for a break in the shade of a huge boulder, “it’s an honor, really, to be the one to drag you out into this Nephilim infested wilderness. A true honor.” And he actually had felt honored when the priests had come to his tent, nine days earlier, and said “Nemuel, son of Simeon, the lot has fallen on you.” But after struggling through the empty desert all day it didn’t feel like an honor anymore. And now the sun was setting and it was going to be a long trip back to the camp, even if he would be able to travel faster without this wretched animal balking all the way.

He struggled to the top of a low ridge, small rocks scattering under his feet so that he nearly fell. He surveyed the wide plain of rock hard dirt that spread out before him and stretched on to a high range of red cliffs in the distant. Here, this would have to do. If the goat found its way back, well Aaron could just get up off his dusty, bony, old butt and do it himself next year.

Nemuel slipped the rope from around the goat’s neck and shouted “Git! Go on!”

And in that moment Nemuel felt something he had not felt since he was a small boy: he felt compassion for an animal. The goat actually seemed to be looking at him, as if to say “so, this it then? you’ll just be leaving me here to die of thirst and starvation?” Nemuel felt tears well up, unexpected, sudden, with a sob that he barely stifled – even though there was no one around to shame him if he did cry. “Git outta here!” he shouted, his voice cracking slightly. “You’re nothing but a piece of meat with legs, and the priest cursed you, so go! And you stink! And you’ve got one crooked ear!”

Now Nemuel felt a terrible rage that boiled up out of the hot water of his stifled tears. He thought of Mahlah, and how she’d turned him down when he asked her to marry him. He thought of the long hours he spent laboring over his carving, only to have the masters say “not quite good enough, yet; maybe next year.” He thought of the dust, and the heat, and the fear of living in a tent in a desert all his life. How dare this stupid animal make him feel weak! He picked up a fist of pebbles and hurled them right into the goat’s eyes. Then he spit on him and kicked him. “Go! you miserable sack of hair!”

And then the goat turned, with some strange animal patience, and began walking slowly down the far side of the ridge – away from Nemuel and in the opposite direction of the camp. Nemuel felt a great release of frustration wash over him. The tightness in his chest vanished and his limbs felt warm and slightly weak. It was over. That cursed goat was going to stay away and he could go back to the camp and everyone would be glad to see him, alive and well; maybe even Mahlah would be glad to see him.

At that moment the air itself suddenly began to vibrate. Right in front of Nemuel and the goat the air seemed to catch fire, glowing with a brightness that made Nemuel lift his hand to shield his eyes. At that moment a real, live, demonic Nephil appeared right before them. Nemuel stood rooted to the ground, paralyzed except for the sudden spray of urine running down his bare leg and soaking his robe.

The demon was like the darkest terror of his worst nightmare: it was covered with eyes, in front and in back; it had the face of an eagle and six wings. Suddenly, there were three others there with it – one had the face of an ox, the other the face of a lion, and the last the face of a man. They were all covered in eyes, there were even eyes under the wings, so there was no doubt in Nemuel’s mind that they could see him quite clearly.

He clenched his stomach but his guts went loose anyway and the stench of his soiled robe seemed to fill the air around him. The demons were reaching out to the goat, they laid their hands on it and shepherded it toward the brightness glowing all around them. The goat bleated cheerfully and walked toward them. And then they were all gone, the Nephilim and the goat, vanished into thin air.

Nemuel came to himself and looked around. He could move again. The terror was gone and he was alive. Tears rolled down his cheeks unhindered. The relief he felt now was like plunging into a cold oasis pond and feeling all the dust and grime of weeks in the desert wash away in one moment. He stood for a little while, soaked in urine and feces and tears, and just caught his breath. “So,” he chuckled to himself, “the goat will not die of thirst and starvation, alone in the desert. He will be roasted and eaten by demons.” His chuckle burst into a full fledged laugh that rolled away into the darkening desert.

Nemuel turned and headed back up the wadi in the general direction of the camp. “Those priests,” he mumbled to himself, “they really do know things. It’s best to listen to them.” Aaron had said, “when you get back, make sure you wash thoroughly in the water of the large basins at the edge of the camp and put on new clothes before you cross the border back into the community.”

With the smell of his stained robe all around him, Nemuel was looking forward to that bath.

~ Jonathan Stepp

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