Regarding Lies…

‘For nothing that is hidden will not become evident, nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light…’Luke 8:17

‘But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire…’2 Peter 3:7

Does anyone besides me wonder how the world got so screwed up?!

It’s always been the tradition of rock singers and poets to blame ‘them’, the politicians and world leaders. But are they really the problem?

Is it really ‘them’… or is it us?

One in ten people that you meet, you will not like… for reasons that have nothing to do with them. One in ten people that you meet will also not like you. The usual subconscious reason is that they remind of someone that you already didn’t like, and vice versa.

But do you tell them that? Do they tell you that?

Nope. We hold our unspoken motives close to the chest, turning our day-to-day lives into a cloak-and-dagger game. Half the time, we aren’t even aware of our motives… but that doesn’t stop us from acting upon them.

We live in a world of shadows, a world of half-truths and outright lies. We can’t even begin to unravel it all because we’re telling ourselves the exact same lies that we tell others, often blissfully unaware that we’re being deceitful. Only fiction ever makes sense; only stories come with the blessing of tidy, fully-explained endings…

 In real life, decisions are made based almost entirely upon the Unseen.

I’m pretty sure that’s the reason that, in the end, God’s gonna burn this world to the ground.

We need a fresh start…

He is Risen!

Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? – 1 Corinthians 15:55

We are living in a very, very dark time right now!

For those of you who live in a cave, a virus known as COVID-19 was recently unleashed from a laboratory in Wuhan, Hubei, China. Whether its release was deliberate or accidental, it has raged through the Western World like wildfire.

That ain’t the problem. The survival rate for COVID-19 is over ninety-nine percent.

The problem is that the Globalist New World Order unleashed their loyal servant – the Mainstream Media – to inflate and distort the breadth of this ‘pandemic’. Swiftly picking up the ball, governments (at nearly every level) followed by instituting totalitarian, unlawful ‘mitigation’ efforts to see just how far they can push ‘We the People’ before we revolt…

We’re not revolting; apparently, we’re bigger sissies than our forefathers were. How does that Green Day song go? ‘Don’t wanna be an American Idiot/ One nation controlled by the media/ Everybody do the propaganda/ and sing along with the age of paranoia…’

We are all going to wake up tomorrow to a world that will be more socialistic and despotic than it was yesterday… and it was pretty socialistic and despotic yesterday. As South Park’s Big Gay Al once rhetorically asked, ‘The whole world’s gone to hell, but how are you?

To which he replied, ‘I’m SUPER, thanks for asking!’

We may live in dark times right now, but as my man Dave Draiman once wrote: Sometimes darkness can show you the light!

Today – illegally locked in our homes, or not – we celebrate the greatest event in all of human history: The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The triumphant God-made-flesh demonstrated His power by dragging evil into a tomb and leaving it there, and this is the day upon which we celebrate His victory!

Most will, sadly, reject this truth. We still, after all, live in a world plagued by legions of empty, bogus belief systems.

But

Just because Satan hasn’t been done away with yet doesn’t mean that he isn’t still defeated. He’s already been condemned; now he’s just awaiting his sentence. In the meantime, anyone can choose the redemption offered so freely by Jesus Christ. All men and women now have a choice: Embrace these dark times as though that’s all there is, or embrace a bright future in which evil will be burned away and goodness will reign for all time.

We have this hope because Christ died to purge us of our guilt, but that death would have been an empty gesture had He not triumphantly defeated Death…

By His own grace, He did.

The whole world’s gone to hell, but how am I?

I’m SUPER, thanks for asking! HAPPY EASTER!!!

To read more on the subject of Christ: https://shaunmoser.com/2019/12/14/forsaken/

The Hero With a Thousand Faces… (by Shaun Moser)

The following message was delivered to the local Church of Christ in the spring of 2019…

I’m beginning this sermon with one of my customary disclaimers…

Ninety percent of what I’m about to say has no inarguable Biblical backing. I am not giving an expository sermon designed to tell you what you’re supposed to believe. Rather, I am simply sharing some thoughts today because I want to PROVOKE thought. I don’t think Biblical study was ever meant to be a hard-and-fast science. I think that understanding the mind of God requires creative thought, because God is the original Creative Being. And as Moses wrote in Genesis 1:26, we are similar to God in the way we think. Flawed, yes… but still created in His image.

That having been said, turn with me to Luke Chapter 18, starting in Verse 15. Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them.But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

This little vignette about Jesus and the children is chronicled in a couple of different places throughout the Gospels. What interests me, though, is how sketchy the narrative really is. What on earth did Jesus mean when he said that ‘to children belong the Kingdom of Heaven?’ Some teach that this means that one must be baptized as an infant. Unfortunately, that’s a mistake. Peter, in Acts 2, made it quite clear that baptism is reserved for those who have sinned; an infant can’t sin, because sin requires an awareness of right and wrong.

So what was Jesus talking about when he said that ‘we must receive the kingdom of God like a child?’ That always seemed to me to be a somewhat mysterious statement.

Here’s something interesting about Scripture. When it is absolutely necessary for you to understand something in a very specific manner, the teaching will be given in a very specific manner. I mentioned Acts 2 a minute ago; read that again sometime. A very specific question is asked of an apostle, and the apostle gives a specific and inarguable answer. But that’s not always the case. If every single jot and tittle of scripture was written like pages out of an instruction manual, then Christianity would simply be a behavioral system, rather than what it is: A relationship with God. Relationships are complicated sometimes. I’m married. I know.

Similarly, I think that parts of Scripture are a little mysterious because we grow as Christians by trying to figure them out. And I think that Jesus’ teaching on children is one of those mysterious passages.  

I come back to this scripture a lot when I think about God himself. How does a child view God? Actually, let’s step away from religion for just a minute. How does a child view – or mimic – anyone that he or she admires?

When I was little, maybe four or so, I had a stack of comic books that I kept in shoebox under my bed. My mother bought them for me, mostly at yard sales. They were torn and raggedy, but I found them absolutely mesmerizing … and that’s quite a trick when you can’t read yet. I used to look at them for hours, and I’d try to make up stories to go with the pictures.

My absolute favorite character in those comic books… was Superman! To me, Superman was about the coolest person ever. He ran around all day in red underwear, and still managed to look manly.  Now, I lived in a very small apartment when I was little, about a hundred feet from the Atlantic Ocean in Eastern Virginia. And in addition to my comic book collection, we also kept in our apartment a red bath towel. And my mother could never find that bath towel. You know why? Because it was usually tied around my neck. It wasn’t a just bath a towel to me; it was a cape, and I stole it every chance I got so I could run around the yard being just like Superman. I’d spend hours saving imaginary people from imaginary monsters, until my mother dragged me back inside and took her towel back.

I know now that Superman was created in 1938 by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. I am familiar with the eight decades of mythology that followed, and I posses several hundred Superman comics now … but I was just a newbie then. I only had a few comic books, and I didn’t even know how to read those. I just took what I did know and ran with it. Superman was cool, and I wanted to be just like him.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, my future wife lived in the next city over… running around in a princess dress waiting to rescued. I was pretending to be a superhero; she was pretending to be the fair maiden waiting to fall for the superhero.  That’s just what kids do.

I didn’t just look at comics. My upbringing was fairly religious, so my mother read me Bible stories a lot. David and Goliath was a favorite of mine. Samson was, too, although my mother edited out a few parts when she read me that one. (I didn’t get to read the R-rated version until I was old enough to read it on my own.) I remember Noah’s Ark, and Jonah and the Whale. Those stories were inspiring to me as a little boy, and they made me want to imitate the great men of the Bible.

And that was the big epiphany for me. That’s how I understand Jesus’ statement that we should receive the kingdom of heaven as children. Children love stories. Can’t get enough of ‘em. They eat, breathe, and sleep their favorite characters, and then they imitate them.  In the end, I came to the conclusion that the story of scripture is more important than its theology could ever be, because paradoxically…when you come to love the story the theology comes naturally. It’s the story that matters to a child. My comic books didn’t have to say ‘thou shalt wear a red cape when thou playest Superman’. I knew to take the red towel instead of the blue one because that’s the one Superman would have taken.  Easy.

And scripture is a story, unarguably so. Just because it’s a true story doesn’t mean it’s not still a story. Just because we’re meant to live by it doesn’t invalidate it as literature. Scripture begins with ‘in the beginning…’ If they wanted to translate that phrase ‘a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away’… it’d still fit. It follows with ‘God created the heavens and the earth.’  Suddenly, our story has a setting and a timeline. It’s not too long before read ‘and the serpent was more cunning than any other beast the Lord God had made’ … and then your villain appears. You can’t have a tense, exciting story without a villain.

But then God tells the serpent that someday a great hero is going to come along and crush his head. That all the evil the serpent inflicts on mankind is going to be undone. And after a great many plot twists and turns, that hero does come in the person of Jesus Christ.  And in one epic showdown, in a place called Golgotha…  Christ does defeat the serpent, and saves his people from slavery. That’s how every heroic tales goes: it begins with the villain, who imposes some form of slavery… and then the prophesied hero comes along to save them. It’s an oft-repeated outline that was artfully dissected in Joseph Campbell’s book ‘The Hero With a Thousand Faces’.  Our Bible resonates so deeply in the human consciousness, that it sets the pattern for thousands of great stories.

The story ends in Revelation, where John writes that ‘night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.’ That’s just a really fancy way of saying ‘and they lived happily ever after’.

Great stories provide inspiration, and inspiration inspires imitation. John writes, in 1 John 2:6 that ‘whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did’. Paul wrote that he ‘bore the marks of Christ’ on his body. The Apostles saw scripture for the drama that it is; I don’t think it was just some moldy old theology book to them … nor should it be to us. We should always approach Scripture with the same sense of awe, wonder, and simplicity that a child brings to his favorite story.   

I think the biggest problem we have when we forget the story of scripture and over-focus on its doctrines is that we lose context. One of my favorite books when I was little was Roald Dahl’s ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’. It usually took my mother about a week to read to it me. If she’d started in Chapter Three on Tuesday, and then skipped to the last chapter on Wednesday, I’d have been one mad little fella.  I wouldn’t have been able to follow the narrative. Characters’ actions would have made no sense, and I would have misunderstood most of the dialogue. Now, let me ask you this … if bouncing all over the place doesn’t work for ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’, then why on earth would it work for the Bible? My method of scriptural study, my ‘hermeneutic’, if you will, was best described by Lewis Carrol, the iconic author of ‘Alice in Wonderland’: You start at the beginning, and when you get to the end, you stop!

When you start reading the Bible in Genesis and end in Revelation, it will make sense all by itself. You don’t have to stop along the way to tear apart the Hebrew of a passage. The interesting thing about scripture is that it is preserved for us by scholars, but it wasn’t written for scholars. Kind of like cars are maintained for us by mechanics, but they aren’t made for mechanics. They’re made for ordinary people to roll around in, whether they understand how the car works or not.  The simplest possible approach is nearly always the best one, I think … the ‘Superman approach’ if you will.

You can tell that God meant for us to have a child-like love for Him by how he describes us. What does the Bible call us, particularly in the New Testament? Sheep. Anyone here know anything about sheep? Sheep … are about the dumbest quadruped wandering God’s green earth. They’re complete idiots.

Where there are sheep there is always a sheep dog, and if that sheep dog gets an ornery streak and runs the sheep over a cliff, they’ll go right over without too much trouble. Sheep just aren’t very bright. And God calls us sheep. A lot. Do we really think that God would call us ‘sheep’, and then turn around and write a book that takes a rocket scientist to figure out? Of course he wouldn’t, because that’d be cruel, and God is kind.


Sheep are simple critters. So apparently are we, since God calls us sheep, and therefore so must scripture be, since it was written for us. When we read scripture and we have questions about it, I’m betting the simple answer is usually the right one. Jesus himself kind of spoke derisively about complicating scripture. Remember what he told the Pharisees in Matthew 23? “You blind guides! You strained out a gnat and you swallowed a camel!’ In other words, the Pharisees were so obsessed with the details of God’s law that they missed the big picture. A child would never have done such a thing. A child wouldn’t have noticed a gnat, but he’d have been excited about the camel. ‘Look, Mommy, a camel!’ A sheep would have noticed the camel, too.

Another problem that arises when we fail to approach scripture with a child-like attitude is that we start to add rules that complicate it. We the Churches of Christ are famous for that! When Alexander Campbell called us back to Biblical Christianity in the 1820’s and 30’s, God was using him to do an incredible thing. After nearly sixteen hundred years of misunderstandings – and I do believe the mistakes of medieval religion were just that, misunderstandings – Biblical salvation was being restored on a massive scale. But in their zeal, the Churches of Christ snuck in a few extra-biblical creeds that have haunted us ever since. They damaged our movement; in some cases, they have very nearly destroyed it.

One creed that snuck into our movement was the ‘commandment/example/inference ‘ idea. Anyone familiar with that one? Campbell and his contemporaries taught that when we study scripture, we should look first for a commandment, then for an example, and then if we still can’t figure out ‘proper doctrine’, we should rely lastly upon  inference. Now that’s not a bad method of study, and it often works… but the cold hard truth is that there’s no commandment saying we HAVE to study scripture that way. I think a bit differently on the topic. Because when you look at Scripture as a child does – as a story – it’s example that you should first be looking for, not commandment. The commandments are there just in case you’re too stubborn to follow the obvious example. Israel was given the Law of Moses because they were a ‘stubborn and stiff-necked people’. If they’d have been obedient enough to follow the examples of righteousness get by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, they might not have needed those laws. Example came first, not commandment.

God is all about setting the example. Remember Romans 5:8? God demonstrates his own love for us in this; while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. As we looked at earlier, John says we were to walk as Jesus walked. We dwell on Peter’s commandment to repent and be immersed, but that commandment really didn’t do anything except cement Jesus’ example. Before Peter ever commanded us to be immersed into Christ’s body, Jesus showed us that we need to be. To reiterate His command that we should serve others, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet to show us how.  Commandments exist only to quantify and explain an example. And example is alive, and memorable. A commandment is hollow, and boring. An example inspires you to follow it. A commandment tempts you to look for a loophole in it. A child understands this; a theologian might not.

An author named Clive Barker wrote something years ago that always stuck with me. I read it in passing years ago, and I’ve never forgotten it. He wrote that ‘so often we cut up something that’s alive and beautiful to find out why it’s alive and beautiful, and before we know it it’s neither of those things’. I think of that whenever I read 2 Timothy 3:16: ‘All scripture is God-breathed, and useful for teaching, rebuke, correction, and training in righteousness.’  Anything that has breath is something that’s alive. It’s the breath of God that gives scripture its supernatural power to teach, to correct, to rebuke, and ultimately to train us to be more like Jesus. Scripture’s ability to change us is directly linked to the life that God breathed into it.

But here’s the scary thing. Something that is alive is something that can also be killed. Any doctor knows that there is a difference between an examination and an autopsy. You can examine someone to find out how their system works, but if you’re not careful, you can cut too deeply with your scalpel and bleed the life out of them. I think scripture works the same way. If you don’t approach it with the same reverence and innocence that a child would, it ceases to be a great story and instead it just becomes an intellectual curiosity. When that happens, it’s dead. You’re not studying God’s word anymore, you’re giving it an autopsy. It can’t change you because you’re not interacting with it; you’re just bagging and toe-tagging its body parts.

 A good example of this is Dr. Virginia Mollenkott. Does that name ring a bell to anyone? It should. She was the Linguistic Styling Editor of the New International Version of the Bible. Dr. Mollenkott knows scripture perhaps better than any other living person today. Every single word of the NIV Bible went through her hands at least once, to ensure consistency in the English wording.  Know what? Dr. Mollenkott is a militant homosexual activist. I can’t say for sure because I don’t know her, but I’m wondering if scripture didn’t lose its luster for her because she had more of an interest in dissecting it than she did in simply reading it.

Clive Barker wrote something else, too. He wrote that ‘every single person is a book of blood; wherever we are opened, we’re red’. (And yes, the play on words was deliberate.) Scripture is a book of blood. You can honor it, and you can follow it … or you can – in a cold-blooded, deliberate manner – cut the life out of it. Scripture cuts us, as the author of Hebrews wrote in chapter 4, verse 12. But I think we overlook the fact that we can cut it back. By making scripture boring, by making it just another intellectual pursuit, we destroy it.

You know something?

Children don’t destroy scripture. They don’t mangle it. I remember bringing my mom my books and children’s bible and pestering her to read to me. Tell me about Samson. Tell me about David. Tell me about Noah. Tell me about Jesus. It was only when I was much older that I learned how to butcher the things I read in the Bible. It was only as an adult that that the word of Almighty God became insufferably boring to me. It was only as an adult that I forgot how to receive the Kingdom of God as a child would. God forbid we ever do such a thing.

Let me add a couple of caveats here. I’m not saying we don’t need scholars, and I’m not saying we don’t need theologians, because we do. In 1 Corinthians 12:28, Paul writes that ‘God has appointed teachers for the churches’. I’m just saying that teachers must be very, very careful, lest they – with their superior knowledge of scripture – over-complicate it, butcher it, and kill it. Anyone been to the movies lately? It’s amazing what Hollywood can do with special effects, isn’t it? But I’m betting it’s not so amazing to the director, and that’s what it’s like to be a teacher.  We need teachers, but teachers have to be careful not to lose their simple appreciation for God’s word.

And while I am saying we need to be child-like, understand that that’s not the same thing as being child-ish. Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3 that ‘we are to grow in wisdom by studying the scriptures’. But maturing is not the same as becoming jaded. We’re meant to outgrow childish foolishness, as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:11. But we are not meant to outgrow child-like enthusiasm, and child-like simplicity in regards to the things of God. We see that in the words of Jesus Himself, in John 8:29: He who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him. How simple is that? That’s not a very complicated idea at all.         

Just think about it for a second… what do you love best? A bunch of dusty old books, spouting a bunch of hard to understand philosophies… or a good story? Stories are alive. They inspire us, and capture our imaginations; they have a way of settling into our collective consciousness, and influencing entire cultures. What do we remember most about ancient Greece? The wars they fought, the kingdoms they conquered… or their myths? The Odyssey and the Iliad, Jason and the Argonauts, Achilles and his cursed heel, the Trojan horse and the golden fleece… Stories survive even the cultures that created them.

I think we’d win a lot more converts if we remembered what Jesus said about children. So many people look at Christianity, and they see an insane amount of negative drama.  They see creeds and doctrines and denominations and clerical hierarchies and hypocrisy, and in the end most of ‘em don’t want anything to do with it. Maybe we’d do better to teach people simply to climb onto Jesus’ lap and listen to the wonderfully exciting stories that he has to tell, and then live like He did, not because someone told you to, but because you admire Him… and you love Him.

Fire and Blood: A Fable in Seven Parts

Author’s note: Fables are not my strong suit. Nor is writing in the present tense. But sometimes breaking one’s mold is satisfying, and more than a little cathartic…

Part I

In all the world, there is none so graceful, so beautiful, or so powerful as the Phoenix.

The awe-inspiring bird of ancient myth soars high above his world, transcending even Time itself. He soars in, out, and through all the ages of men, carried aloft by wings be-feathered with incandescent flame. He turns his piercing eye toward the doings of mankind with open scorn, his plumed head un-bowed. Un-bowed… before man, beast, and even the Almighty Himself.

For who is greater than the Phoenix? He is the dragon-bird of the Heavens, the Watchman of the Ages.

Perhaps he had a beginning, or perhaps he never did. Perhaps someone plucked him from the pyre of his birth. Or perhaps he is simply timeless, without beginning and certainly incapable of ever coming to an end.

In his travels the Phoenix gazes often upon the mountain of the Almighty. He finds it in odd places sometimes, the mountain, and always unexpectedly. Sometimes it rises from the desert, overlooking the heathen hordes of the Middle East. Sometimes it appears on lush isles, surrounded by the resort cities of America, the modern Roman Empire. But always it seems to follow the glorious Phoenix, the mountain, and always the great dragon-bird turns and sails disdainfully away from it, flicking his crimson tail feathers in irritation.

For the Almighty is really just a crutch for the weak, is He not? His worshippers grovel at the feet of their deity, their praise mixed always with barely concealed terror. They are addicts to religion, those weak-minded mortals who must need cling to the idea of a Greater Being. But not so the Phoenix… The Phoenix has sailed through all the ages alone, dependant on none, and will continue to do so.

The immortal Phoenix has no need of either the Almighty or His mortal servants. Do they love their master, really… or do they simply desire release from the fear of death?

Either way, the Phoenix is his own being, an entity apart.

As the sun rises over Eden, hits its zenith over the half-built Sphinx, and sets behind the crumbling Mount Rushmore, the Phoenix flies effortlessly across the fluid eonic winds – ageless, changeless, and proud beyond all measure.

For who, in the end, can be greater than the Phoenix?

Part II

The mammoth trumpets loudly, calling out in anguish as golden claws tear into its hide.

Crimson wings beat about its head, forcing it to the earth in unwilling surrender. It thrashes like a fish, a massive hulk of struggling sinew, fur and tusk. Its piteous cries tear into the frigid Siberian air, mingling with the vicious snarling of the hungry Phoenix.

At last the great mammoth dies, as everything must in the end. It settles into the snow, spreading a scarlet stain upon the pristine white blanket.

The Phoenix throws his head up in triumph, his chilling victory scream piercing the still, frozen night as blood drips from his razor-sharp beak.

While the Phoenix hunts here often, he disdains to actually eat here… For what union can a creature of fire and flame have with the never-ending ice? Grasping his kill in his curved talons, the Phoenix takes wing toward another age, another place.

The Phoenix drops his prey atop a high, lonely mountain, one whose peak pierces the cloud barrier. Here mankind will hinder him not; here, he may continue to remain the stuff of mystery, of myth.

Of course, every boon has it price…

For where mankind is not, the celestial becomes more tangible. Here there be the guardians and warriors, the protectors and killers of mankind; they flock about the Phoenix curiously, cherubim, seraphim, and nephilim all. The winged, ethereal creatures – male and female both – flit about the Phoenix as he feeds, the ghost-like tendrils of their clothing just brushing the great dragon-bird, their touch as light as a whisper.  

It is not long before their presence becomes odious; the Phoenix rises from his gorging, his tearing of flesh and cracking of bones, and snaps angrily at the celestial minions who come too close. This is his prey, his kill, and he is determined that they should hinder him not.

They eye him but coolly, completely unbothered by the rage of the mythical Phoenix. He is merely legend, their indifference seems to say… But they are the sort that pre-dates even legend. As such, they are beyond even the Phoenix’s reproach and retribution. They are as numb to his attempts at rebuttal as Death was to the mammoth’s frantic trumpeting.

The Phoenix will later tell himself that he’d eaten enough, that he was about to leave anyway. He takes wing furiously, leaving his gory, dismembered meal to sully the mountain’s craggy peak, and leaves this hell of angelic torment.

He’d eaten enough… really, and truly, and the celestials mattered no. They had nothing whatsoever to do with his leaving.

Really.

Part III

The Almighty is an elusive thing, easy to see, easy to identify but hard to follow, and impossible to pin down.

The Phoenix resents Him mightily for this.

Sometimes the Almighty is obvious but distant, a shining form that tops of the mountains from which he views the entirety of His creation. It is then that the Phoenix resents Him the most, for He is untouchable then, unfathomable and omnipotent; His very presence seems to scorn the mighty Phoenix.

The Almighty, in His untouchable, all-powerful form. How the Phoenix hates Him!

Often the Almighty becomes Spirit, the sentient, changeless phantom. This form, also, the Phoenix dislikes. But he is not so afraid of Him then; he cannot see the Spirit of the Almighty, after all. But he can sense Him, and he finds him frightening nonetheless. The Spirit is separate from the God upon the mountains – but yet He is the same singular, sovereign entity that is the Almighty.

Some days, though, for brief, passing moments, the Almighty becomes simply… mortal. A perishable vessel of flesh. A man, much like any other.

The Phoenix cannot say why he even recognizes this incarnation of the Almighty, this Son of Man. Perhaps he can sense the Spirit within Him, or perhaps the tangible Almighty simply shines even more brightly upon Him.

The Son of Man, too – like the mountaintop Almighty, or the Spirit – is also the Almighty Himself, yet the Phoenix grasps this not. One thing, however, is certain; the Phoenix does not fear the Son of Man. He follows Him daily, floating effortlessly on astral winds, watching as the human Almighty does very human things with His time.

Some days the Son of Man works at mundane tasks, wielding hammer and saw as lustily as any carpenter. He sweats, bleeds, laughs and grunts like any other man intent on building the buildings that house his world.

Yet sometimes the Son of Man pulls away, to pray, to connect with the Almighty upon His mountaintop – this Almighty who is also the Son of Man. Sometimes He wanders the known world with those He has chosen, His select followers. The Phoenix, if he would follow, is forced to fly far and wide, watching from a distance as the Son of Man spreads whatever news He carries to the far corners of His humble nation.

Sometimes the Phoenix lingers within the age of the Son of Man for a time, and sometimes he travels to another, leaving the Almighty-made-flesh to His own devices.

Today, however, the Phoenix is earthbound, watching lazily, preening his crimson feathers disdainfully as the Son of Man stands at the foot of a tall mountain, speaking quietly to his closest friends. The Phoenix cannot hear His words, nor does he care to. He is simply here to observe, to find some new reason to cast scorn upon God and Man both.

The Phoenix raises his plumed head, suddenly intrigued.

The Son of Man has risen above his followers, hands outspread, moving aloft as though pulled by unseen strings.

Now, thinks the Phoenix with macabre humor, Man has learned to fly?! Smiling with his hooked, cruel beak, the Phoenix lunges from beneath his shade tree.

Far, far above the awestruck assemblage, the Almighty shines from His mountain. The Son of Man sails toward Him, as though somehow drawn by the majesty of the Frightfully Eternal.

Determined suddenly not to be denied a privilege handed to a mortal – even a wholly Divine, Immortal Mortal – the Phoenix flies upward, determined to follow the Son of Man into whatever heaven might await Him atop the mountain.

And who truly knows what really waits at the top of the mountain of the Almighty? Only the Almighty Himself, and His Spirit… and the Son of Man.

But soon, the Phoenix vows silently to himself, he too will know.

Part IV

Straining more with each flap of his thunderous wings, the Phoenix rises higher and higher, following the Son of Man as He ascends toward the mountaintop.

Flames lick at the tips of his wings the beat at the chilly air, but the Phoenix worries not. These are not the flames that consume, but the flames that illuminate, that the world may see the Phoenix and stand in awe.

The Phoenix breaks through the clouds and then through the atmosphere, breaking into the Eternal Night as he struggles to overtake the Son of Man. The Son looks serenely down at the Phoenix, shaking his head a little. Silly bird, He seems to be saying. You cannot seize my world for yourself, any more than you can seize the wind

The Phoenix pays Him little heed. He merely redoubles his efforts, determined not to be outdone by anyone, divine or otherwise.

Still the Son of Man rises, moving past star and planet, through the Endless Nothing toward the mountaintop heaven.

The Phoenix begins to tremble more and more with each passing stroke of his wings. Tarnished feathers fall from his aching wings every now and again, drifting slowly toward the atmosphere, where they disappear in flashes of flame and puffs of smoke.

The Phoenix is slowly overtaken by a dawning realization, the sinking feeling that he might actually be able to die.

Still the Son of Man rises serenely, paying the Phoenix little mind.

The ageless beast continues his ascent, but with increasing sluggishness. He hangs his head low, his plume all but gone now, diminished feather by missing feather until it is no more.

One… last… flap, one last desperate plunge toward the Son of Man – who is all but out of sight.

The bedraggled tail feathers that once pointed toward the earth point suddenly skyward, and the Phoenix begins to fall.

He resists, of course, managing a feeble movement of his twitching wings every now and then. But to no avail; he has reached the end of his strength, and he is utterly spent. There is no help for him now… For who would bother to aid him who has scorned all?

The Phoenix hits the atmosphere with a rush of searing pain, and a sudden stab of fear. Like the returning space capsules of the modern age, the force of re-entering the firmament causes massive heat.

As his body begins to simmer and scorch, the Phoenix realizes that this is not the sort of flame that illuminates…

This is the sort of flame that consumes.

The Phoenix stares downward with bulging eyes. Gone is the stunned crowd who watched the Son of Man ascend into heaven; gone is the lush valley of earlier, the tree beneath which the Phoenix preened his once-lovely feathers.

The earth opens up slowly, a hungry maw of flaming fissures, cracks that scar the face of the earth like veins on a dying man.

The Phoenix plunges down, down, exhausted beyond recovery. He looks upward painfully; the Son of Man is far beyond his gaze.

Gone is the crowd, the followers of the Son.

There is no one to listen, no one to hear as the Phoenix crashes into a fissure and begins to burn.

Part V

The Phoenix lifts his head wearily; exhausted, he lets it fall. The flames in which it lands are unbearably painful, yet he lacks the strength to fly away.

His wings crack ominously as he rolls over; his crimson feathers burn one by one, curling away from his blistering flesh in withering clumps of smoldering ash.

So this, then, is Death. To burn yet not be consumed, to suffer and yet not die.

Squawking weakly, the Phoenix struggles to his knees. His golden claws melt and drip away, and his toes dig into the softened earth. Looking skyward with smoke-blurred eyes, the Phoenix looks skyward at the stars, toward the sky that was once his playground.

The Son of Man is up there somewhere, while he – the great Phoenix, the timeless demon-bird – wallows here, in the flames of his own making. All that he ever knew, all that he ever wanted although he’d taken it for granted, is up there… nearly within the grasp of his twisted talons.

So close… and so far that it may as well be on another planet. Life, liberty and all that is good are just out reach but within easy eyeshot, tormenting, mocking.

The Phoenix flops painfully toward a shadow at the edge of the fissure, dragging his broken wings painfully behind them. Maybe it is cooler here; maybe, he thinks, the fire is not quite so hot.

He curls up in the crack, covering his de-plumed head with his spindly, tattered wings. Gone is the glorious creature of ages both past and future; gone is the Watchman of the Ages. Only this tormented beast remains, worse off than any creature who ever perished beneath his grasp.

The Phoenix lays his head down. Groaning, his breath coming in short, ragged gasps.

He feels something beneath his head, something that shouldn’t be here, something that should not have survived the flames.

Ever curious even in his agony, the Phoenix blinks the smoke from his eyes and peers through the darkness.

A scroll. He’d lain his head upon a scroll, something perishable, a creation forged of parchment and ink. Something easily destroyed by flame and heat… yet here it is.

Bits of his burnt and melted feathers cling to the scroll as he unfurls it, his need for distraction overcoming even his pain.

He reads the first few words aloud, mouthing the words with a smoke-blackened beak. In the beginning

‘In the beginning’, here at the end of all that is worthwhile, the end of all joy…

But he can sit out there, wallowing in the flames… or he can hide here in this crack that barely hides him, where even the flames lick inward every once in a moment, and read.

In the beginning…

Part VI

The Son of Man stands at the edge of the fissure, looking down upon the Phoenix.

The Phoenix looks up, knowing what he must do. He knows why the Son is here, and what he came to do. He knows for what purpose he has been given the scroll…

But such a loss of pride! Such a humiliation, to do what the Son expects of him!

The Phoenix groans as he looks around. He had once lived for his pride, valued it above all else. But now he knew better.

For as long as he clings to his pride… he will burn. It was not the Son of Man who threw him into this furnace, but he himself, and by virtue of his own pride, his own sin. And there was no help for him, by his own effort; he could only, by his own effort, do nothing but sit here and burn.

Giving in at last, the Phoenix raises his voice and cries out to the Son of Man, begging for mercy, for redemption. Screeching, he recants his pride and his rebellion; he wails out a raucous song of repentance and supplication.

As though He had been waiting for just such a cry, the Son of Man readily raises His arm.

His sleeve falls down His arm, revealing a gaping hole in his wrist. Blood pours from the wound, as though the wound is yet fresh, and deliberately un-bandaged. The Phoenix stares in disbelief, wondering what on earth this has to do with his cries for mercy.  

The blood gushes into the fissure like a flood, slowly beginning to fill it. The Phoenix thrashes about in alarm, frightened. He is burnt nearly beyond recognition, still in terrible agony… but what good is this blood going to do him?!

The blood pours in, filling the fissure, rising like a flood…

The Phoenix raises his beak above the rising tide, squawking in terror… But his cries are cut short by an abrupt gurgle. The blood covers even his head now, and there is utter silence.

There is only the Son of Man…

And the fissure full of blood, the sanguine pit that once held an eternally dying Phoenix.

Part VII

The Phoenix stands up, flexing his golden claws… claws that, moments ago, had been melted beyond recognition.

He raises his head slowly, the head once crushed in defeat, the head whose plume had been burned to ash. He clicks his once-scorched beak and surveys the dusky-gray sky above with piercing eyes, eyes undimmed by neither smoke nor tears.

He looks to his left, to his right as he spreads his wings. His crimson feathers gleam wonderfully even beneath the slate-colored dawn, and his shoulders and breath ripple with fluid strength and renewed resilience.

The Phoenix looks over his shoulders and eyes his tail, a glorious thing meant to flow behind him like a trail from a comet.

Awed by his new being, the Phoenix looks around. The blood soaks the fissure yet, the Pit that had once been his Hell. The Pit in which he burned and died a death of sorts, the Pit in which he lay feeble and wounded and tormented by Death that refused to become something final, and clean.

The blood boils yet, but only a little as the heat dies; already it is cooler here. The Phoenix cocks his head, listening to the dead leaves scattering in the breeze above. They make a rasping sound, pleasantly reminiscent of trees limbs, scratching gently on a windowpane on a cold, windy night.

Smiling, the Phoenix crouches a little, holding his wings behind him…

Shrieking like a resurrected banshee, the triumphant Watchman of the Ages lunges from the Pit, soaring toward the clouds in a geyser of color and flame… The sort of flame that glorifies, that illuminates; the flame that consumes is dead now, extinguished once and for all by the outpouring of blood.

Ah, the Blood…

Confused – suddenly unsure of himself – the Phoenix looks downward, gliding for a moment upon a convenient breeze.

The Son of Man stands by the edge of the fissure yet, watching the Phoenix circle the sky, His wrists bleeding yet. Yet the Son of Man seems unconcerned about this, as though He doesn’t mind bleeding. As though He was so eager to watch the flames die that the blood bothers Him not; He seems in no rush to seek a bandage, or healing.

The Phoenix looks up, peering beyond the veil of time…

He looks out across the courtyard, toward the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The great works of man, from Colossus to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon…

He stares across the golden bridge into the New Sodom, imagining it falling into the bay when the Father’s vengeance comes to the city at last…

He watches with growing hunger the migrating mammoth herds of Siberia, and the hustle and bustle of the glory that was once Rome…

And he suddenly realizes that none of it matters. Vanity, meaningless…

Empty.  

The Phoenix circles a little, and looks down upon the one thing in his life of arrogance, death, and re-birth that ever did matter.

Making his decision, the great dragon-bird abandons the skies that he once so loved, and plunges toward the earth.

The Son of Man raises his arms, smiling His gentle smile, as though He’d been waiting. His wrists bleed yet, but perhaps they must; perhaps there are other flames that need snuffed, other victims that need re-birth.

The Phoenix skids to the earth at the feet of the Son, bowing his head in a gesture never before known to him… And there he remains. He spreads his wings, lowering them humbly to the ground, waiting.

Come with me, the Phoenix seems to stay. Let me be your beast of burden; let me be that which bears through all time, to do the work which you came to do. Let me be that which carries you across the sky, in all your glory.

The Son of Man lays a gentle hand on the feathered head before Him, spilling a few more drops of blood as He does.

Let me do this for you, the Phoenix seems to say. Please, not because you need my help…

But because it would be my honor, for I love you.

FINIS

Regarding Football, and the Roman Empire… (by Shaun Moser)

If a man watches three football games in a row, he should be declared legally dead– Erma Bombeck

Karl Marx, the author of The Communist Manifesto, once wrote that ‘religion is the opiate of the masses’…

Religion’s got nothing on ESPN. If only Karl Marx could have seen that one coming! His cynical statement instead would have read ‘organized sports are the opiate of the masses’.

Now don’t get me wrong; I like watching the occasional game as much as the next guy, especially American football and boxing. I was pretty good at baseball as a kid, too. And I can’t wait to see the North Dakota State Bison fall from their college-football pedestal. Seriously. It is statistically impossible for a college team to rack up that many championships. They’re either using untraceable steroids, or manipulating the rules to keep playing a league below where they belong. They need to be investigated ASAP, and I’m pretty sure criminal charges are in order.

But I digress…

Sports are meant to be just that: Entertainment. Today’s culture, however, has twisted athletic competitions into something subversive; they’ve gone from being an amusement to being a willful, destructive distraction.

Sadly, this applies across every layer of American life: individual, familial, and societal. What’s amazing to me is not only how obvious this fact is, but how few people see it. When I talk about the concept, your average person looks at me like I’m completely insane. Which is weird, because our culture readily acknowledges the negative consequences of internet and video game addiction.

So let’s break this issue down, and first look at the individual results of being an obsessive sports nut…

At this level, the cultural malaise affects mostly men. As I’m fond of pointing out, men and women possess complimentary-yet-opposite natures. (Yes, sparky, men and women are actually different! Go figure.) Women (painting with a broad brush, of course), are collectively collaborative but individually competitive; that’s how they corral off husbands for themselves, and then coordinate with the neighbors to make sure all the children are looked out for as they play outside. Men, on the other hand, are individually collaborative but collectively competitive; that’s how we form teams and armies, and then try to kick some other army’s rear end.

Because men enjoy competition on a collective level more than an individual one, team sports are extremely seductive to them. (Boxing is the exception to this, but exceptions don’t disprove a general rule.) Men’s interest in team sports is fine in moderation, but it’s incredible how sports – especially in this age of satellite TV and hi-speed internet – often seem to consume men’s lives. I’m in construction, and half of my co-workers do nothing on their days off except watch sports. When they’re at work, the topic of the day is usually everyone’s Fantasy Football League. (I always breathe a sigh of relief once the Super Bowl is over.)

Why is this a problem?

Here’s why: Because such men know little to nothing about politics, sociology, or religion – you know, the fundamental building blocks of a healthy community. The numbers vary based on exactly which statistic you look at, but the statistics all agree in one area: The number of ‘low information voters’ turning out for political elections is alarming. We basically have dimwits running our republic; they simply refuse to put in the time necessary to educate themselves on the issues of the day.

Yes, a lot of these people are just plain stupid by nature. (As Winston Churchill was supposed to have said, the best argument against self-rule is a fifteen-minute conversation with your average voter.) But how many of those know-nothing voters – whose ignorant choices influence government – can tell you what Tom Brady’s stats from last football season were? How many of those voters, I wonder, made their foolish decisions at the polls because they were too busy memorizing Tom Brady’s stats to research the candidates?

Men were meant to lead families and so create a stable world in which women and children can thrive. Being glued to a digital sports feed 24/7 doesn’t serve that end, and the epidemic is worse now than it ever was. In addition to television, newspaper, and radio – the old methods of providing a ‘fix’ to sports addicts – now everybody and his uncle is carrying a ‘smart’ phone with a high-speed data plan.

And it’s very easy to tell the sports addict from the casual sports fan: Just try talking to him about anything else except sports. Not even a deer in the headlights looks that confused!

But let’s look beyond the individual for a moment. What does sports addiction do to families? Obviously, it creates pseudo-absentee fathers. But it has even more devastating effects on children, education, and civic finances.

Sports addicts tend to aggressively push their kids into athletic programs. This is a terrible thing in a world where – with two working parents, day care, after-school programs, etc. – children have very, very little ‘down time’. Sports just add an extra layer of stress and commitment to modern life, and this is a serious problem. It’s a problem because in order for a child to grow into a smart, well-rounded, intelligent adult, he or she must have a certain amount of un-allocated time in which to explore his or her own interests. What good does it do Junior to score fifty goals in the hockey championship if he grows up to be a boring dunce?

It was also very frustrating to me, as a minister, to see how many families often skipped church because ‘Junior had a baseball tournament’. What exactly are we teaching our children about priorities, here? Jesus is only important if there doesn’t happen to be a ball game?

Our school system is part of the problem, not the solution. Sports do not qualify as ‘education’! A traditional western education, historically, was deeply rooted in the arts. But this became a hindrance in America and Europe, where our governments have become increasingly socialistic; it’s easier to foist socialism onto a dumbed-down society than a well-educated one. Sports teach group-think and mindless conformity; the arts teach individual creativity and innovation.  Intellect is the enemy of socialism, and thus arts programs are scuttled and under-funded in favor of sports programs.

Over-funding school sports is also an incredible waste of taxpayer money. At my local university, the college built a new research building for its science program. The building was small, with a modest construction budget. The building’s purpose? Oh, you know… just doing agricultural research so we can do a better job of feeding the world. No big deal.

That selfsame school built a new athletic complex shortly thereafter. It’s the second largest building in the city, and it came with a price tag that was nearly nine figures.

How do I know this? I helped build both the research building and the athletic complex! I was on and off the research project in a matter of months…

But the athletic complex took two and a half YEARS!

About the same time that the athletic complex was being built, our city passed a ninety million dollar school-bond referendum. Property taxes and ‘special assessments’ (a predatory, capricious tax unique to the American Midwest) went through the roof. This money was all supposed to be used for ‘educational purposes’.

Guess what? Half the money went for sports-related expenditures, the most notable being a huge hockey arena. Think about that: Homeowners were jacked tens of millions to fund Junior chasing around a hockey puck.

To make matters worse, school sports programs are damaging the career prospects of students, particularly boys. I had an apprentice recently who was a promising worker, but he had to quit his trade because his shoulder was too severely injured from playing high-school football. How many talented tradesmen, I wonder, have we whittled out of the workforce by crippling them before they even got started? Only one percent of college athletes become professionals, and I’m betting we injure way more than one percent badly enough to impact their career choices. Over the years I’ve gotten apprentices with bad shoulders, knees, and backs due to sports injuries; many of them were forced to change careers because of their handicaps.

All of these factors combine to create a less stable society rather than a more stable society. Sports-addled dads don’t pay attention to their kids, and kids don’t have the down time they need to develop versatile intellects. Churches – which, as Alexis de Tocqueville pointed out, are the backbone of American greatness – are suffering ever-decreasing attendance. Citizens are over-taxed to pay for programs that have nothing to do with education, and our government is populated with second-rate incompetents – elected, in part, by men who understand nothing about politics except the propaganda commercials they saw during ‘the game’.

An empire loves nothing more than citizens who are too dumb to notice their own government’s malfeasance; as Rome and Greece were, so is America. History always repeats itself, and this is not the first time that sports have been used to ‘dumb down’ a society, or to amuse it into complacence; Rome and Greece did the same thing, so much so that their respective social fabrics tore completely apart.

When Greece fell, its collapse ushered in the rise of Rome – the most brutal empire in human history.

When Rome fell, it caused a power vacuum that led to a thousand years of savage feudalism.

Wanna avoid the next Dark Age?

Read a book sometime. Listen to music once in a while, instead of some yahoo re-hashing how awesome so-and-so’s ‘home run’ was yesterday. Give your kids some free time, and tell ‘em that a sport is off-limits if it would cause them to miss three Sundays out of four.

I’m honestly not saying that sports aren’t fun once in a while; I’m just pointing out the need for balance. It’s not about the activity; it’s about indulging in it to the point of excess.

You addicts KNOW who you are!

And ironically, it’s almost certain that none of you are actually reading this…

Upon This Rock… (by Shaun Moser)

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things. You know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you to where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

                                                                                     John 21:17-19

            The story of the Apostle Peter has long held my fascination.

            Peter, originally known as Simon, was born the son of a fisherman named Jonah. It was Christ Himself who gave him the name ‘Peter’, by which we know him today.

            The word that Jesus used when He dubbed Simon ‘Peter’ was the Aramaic cephas, which means ‘rock’. The gospels, however, were written in ancient Greek so that the early Church could easily understand them; ‘rock’ in Greek is petros, which in English is Peter.

            It would seem that ‘Peter’ was a nickname or a term of endearment, since the word cephas was never used as a name.

            My belief is that Jesus had a twofold reason for bestowing such a name upon Simon. I believe that He saw in Peter great potential, potential for strength of both spirit and character. I think that the moniker was also the manifestation of Jesus’ gentle sense of humor, as Peter was indisputably the most hardheaded of the Disciples/Apostles.

            Peter was among the first chosen by Christ to be part of His ministry; when he first encountered the Messiah, he was fishing with his brother Andrew on the Sea of Galilee. That was a perfectly normal thing for a man to be doing. Scripture doesn’t say that Peter was a deeply spiritual man, or learned. Quite the contrary; it says that he was a fisherman, and when he met Jesus he was just… well, doing what fisherman do.        

Scripture says that those who believe do so by Grace. Peter, in this sense, was immediately granted Grace in unbelievable measure. This Jesus just walks up and shouts out, ‘Hey! Come follow me. I will make you fishers of men.’

If someone were to shout that to you or I, we’d probably laugh and throw a fish at Him. Maybe some of the other fisherman did; Jesus got picked on a lot like that.

But Simon simply answered, ‘Okay’. He dropped his net and, along with Andrew, went ashore and threw his lot in with Christ. I’m betting some other fisherman stole his abandoned boat and I don’t think he really cared, for such was the finality of his instantaneous decision to follow the Lord.

Peter was in many ways a weak man, more than a little impetuous and somewhat arrogant. I think he was also a man of extremes; his great, awe-inspiring words and actions were almost always followed by behavior that earned him much-deserved rebuke.

For instance, it was Peter who first made that legendary confession; ‘You are the Christ (or Messiah), Son of the Living God’. At which point Jesus praises him mightily; ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in Heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys to of the kingdom of Heaven; whatever you bind in earth will be bound in Heaven, whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in Heaven.’

What a touching statement of faith, and rewarded with such a sacred charge.

But Matthew chapter sixteen does not even become chapter seventeen before Peter catches it. That ‘blessed are you’ promptly becomes ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ Peter’s sin? Challenging the very words of Jesus Himself, whom he’d just confessed as God. 

‘Blessed are you… Get behind me!’ Peter’s life, both in and apart from the physical presence of Jesus, seemed plagued by both extremes.

I chuckle when I think about Peter in the garden of Gethsemane, as Jesus is being arrested prior to His crucifixion. Someone (note the sarcasm) struck Malchus, the servant of the high priest, in the ear and cut it off. At which point Jesus restrains Mr. Sword-Happy, and heals the ear.

There seems to be a great reluctance on the part of the Disciples/Apostles to rat each other out. For instance, Matthew records the incident as ‘one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.’

Mark, whom I see as being very straightforward and matter-of-fact, would’ve been my first guess for the tattletale. But even Mark hesitates to spill the beans; Mark says the attack came from ‘one of those standing near’ – making his account even more vague than Matthew’s.

Even Luke – the doctor, the man of science – chooses to be most un-exact, as well as quite unscientific when he records the incident. Luke writes that ‘one of them’ struck the servant of the high priest.

No, it is not Matthew, Mark or Luke who drops the dime.

It is John, of all people! John, the ‘Disciple of Love’, who started some of his most famous writings with ‘my dear friend, whom I love in the truth’ and peppered them with such phrases as ‘my dear children’. It is John who boldly points the finger and writes: ‘Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)’

When Jesus sent out the twelve to spread the Gospel, He ordered them to drive out demons, to cure diseases, to preach the Gospel and to heal the sick. I don’t think ear-chopping was part of the job description. When Jesus later sent out the seventy-two, He sent them out ‘like lambs among the wolves’.

Yet I get the distinct impression that Peter was thinking ‘Lamb, my eye! I got yer lamb right here, pal!’ And what kind of swordsman tries to lop off someone’s ear, for crying out loud?!

Let’s not kid ourselves; ol’ Peter was trying cut Malchus’ head clean in two. Fortunately, he was a fisherman, not a soldier, and apparently had lousy aim. Which is why Jesus simply healed an ear instead of resurrecting a corpse. Had Jesus been anyone but the Messiah Himself, I think He would’ve rolled His eyes in annoyance and said something withering. As it was, He simply rebuked His hotheaded and overeager disciple.

Peter seemed to do – and need done – everything in threes, probably since he was so obstinate. For instance, he denies Christ three times when questioned about knowing Him. Three times, and that before the rooster even had time to crow. 

We know that Peter was crushed with guilt over this, too. In his denial we see not so much distaste for his God as we do simple human weakness, weakness that Christ loved him in spite of. Or maybe not ‘in spite of’, but because of, for God loves to use the weak things of the world.

In either case, when Jesus reinstates Peter he asks him not once but three times, ‘Do you love me?’ Peter response is clear-headed and born of absolute faith, not weakness: ‘Yes, Lord. You know that I love you’.

It is Peter who addresses the crowd on the Day of Pentecost, speaking for the Apostles; Peter almost always spoke for them.

Yet it was Peter whom Paul had to rebuke sharply for not eating with the non-Jews, the Gentiles. In fact, it was Peter who argued fiercely with God Himself about associating with Gentiles to begin with.

On the flip side, it was Peter who performed the second recorded baptism on a Gentile, Cornelius the Centurion. (The first was the unnamed Ethiopian, baptized into Christ by Philip.)

Such a contradictory man, Peter!

            The Bible does not record Peter’s death, but most accounts put it around 64-68 A.D., in Rome under the emperor Nero. (If there were anyone I’d rather not die under, it would be Nero. Simply put, the man was cold-out crazy.)

            Some accounts say that Peter died ‘in the arena’. This could mean that he was eaten by lions. Or maybe the gladiators got him. Maybe he was pulled apart by chariots, or something just as horrid; use your imagination… because ‘in the arena’, the uber-decadent Romans would most certainly have used theirs.

With the possible exception of John, who might simply have died in exile, most accounts agree that all of the apostles were martyred. I tend to believe this, because I think that God was making a point by their deaths. Apostolic authority – the laying on of hands, the healing of the sick, or the divine authority to write Scripture – was meant to end with the Apostles. With the book of Revelation, John finished recording the Word of God. Thus Scripture – the perfection of God’s communication with man – was completed.

Therefore, Apostolic power – the deliberate, one-time ‘passing on’ of Jesus’ authority – ended with the original Eleven, Matthias, and Paul.

The more common account of Peter’s death is far more striking than ‘death in the arena’. It is said that he, like Christ Himself, was crucified. However, Peter protested that he was not worthy to die as his Lord did. So the Romans, perhaps reflecting the sadistic humor of their ruler, pretty much replied ‘Okay, smart guy. Let’s try something else…’

Such accounts say that Peter was crucified… upside down.

There we have, I think, the first written account of the upside-down cross as a blasphemy. But I think, if that was indeed how Peter died, his death held much more significance.

Peter who denied his Lord, Peter who argued with God, who rebelled against authority time and time again, earning reproach from both God and man… Peter who behaved arrogantly toward the Gentiles, who was violent and rash… It was Peter, called ‘the rock’ as much for his mulishness as his strength, whose utter devotion to Christ gave him the courage to face such a death.

In death he refused to deny the Messiah even once, let alone three times. In death he submitted utterly, doing God’s will instead of running or fighting. In death he showed more courage than he ever had in life, and more obedience, more humility.

The word ‘crucifixion’ shares the same Latin root as the word ‘excruciating’, and that in itself speaks volumes about the twofold agonies of crucifixion. The victim, nailed to a cross precisely as the Catholic crucifix depicts the Christ, is forced to suffer twin tortures: the physical pain itself, and the psychological agony of being forced to constantly choose between hideous pain and asphyxiation. To wit: hanging limply brings about quick suffocation, but pushing up on the nails (so that one might breathe) causes stabbing pain throughout the entire body.

In forcing the dying victim repeatedly to make this choice, crucifixion is in some sense a forced suicide.

Imagine all that…

Now imagine being forced to suffer it upside down, with the blood rushing to one’s head, and the collarbone and shoulders cracking from the strain. One’s ability to draw breath would be hindered further by being able only to pull up on the hands, as opposed to pulling up on the hands and pushing with the feet.

Imagine suffering all this while the temples throb like drums and the eyes bulge painfully. While death certainly came more quickly than during a traditional crucifixion, it must also have been far more traumatic.

So died Simon Bar-Jonah, also called Peter. A man whose love for Jesus was tested mightily, both in life and apparently in death. By saying those fateful words, ‘Lord, you know all things. You know that I love you’, Peter invited the Almighty to test his love. It would seem that in death as in life, his love – if not his strength, or his humility – was absolutely perfect. 

For all his weakness, for all his arrogance, folly, disobedience and sin, Peter loved his God with all of his flawed heart. I also think that he was beloved of God for these very shortcomings, and I think that God rejoiced in Peter’s eventual triumph over his own demons. In Peter God reminds us that even the obstinate and sinful can serve Him; actually, in Peter He reminds us that especially the obstinate and sinful can serve Him – for what need is there for God in the life of a perfect man, if such a man could even exist?

I could never have been, say, John. I am just not that loving or empathetic, although I wish that I were.

I could never have been Paul, the disciplined scholar, the fearless evangelist.

Nor could I have been Luke, the Beloved Physician. I’m just not that smart.

I’m not sure that I could have been Philip, the Spirit-filled waiter, or the nameless Ethiopian who believed the Good News at the drop of a hat. (My own conversion was accompanied by much agonizing, soul-searching, questioning and terror.)

I could have been none of those men; my character lacks too much, and falls too short of their sterling examples in so many ways. I am hardheaded and arrogant, occasionally weak and quite hotheaded. I am often cephas, and never by virtue of my strength of character; only my rebellious streak justifies said title.  

However, I’d like to think that in another life and another age, in another set of circumstances and in another skin…

I’d like to think that I could have been Simon Bar-Jonah, also called Peter. And I would take the utmost pride in having been dubbed petros

The Rock.

Forsaken

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

                                                                                                                         John 1:14

            Yeshua Bar-Joses.

            If indeed they had birth certificates in Bethlehem, that would’ve been the name on one filed at the town clerk’s office about two thousand years ago.

            There would’ve been nothing odd about it, either. ‘Yeshua’ – a Hebrew name derived from the name we translate as ‘Joshua’ – was quite common. ‘Bar’ means ‘the son of’, and Joses (or Joseph) was quite commonplace as well. If little Yeshua went to school, his teacher probably called him something like ‘Yeshua J.’ to distinguish him from all the other little Yeshuas.

            Of course, that was before his thirtieth birthday, when he came to be known as Yeshua Mi’Nazareth, or ‘Yeshua from Nazareth’. Bear in mind that this didn’t necessarily separate him from the other Yeshuas from Nazareth. When the twenty-something Yeshua filled out building permits for his father Joseph’s carpentry business, I bet he signed his name ‘Yeshua Bar-Joses Mi’Nazareth’, just to avoid confusion.

            But at the age of thirty-three, right around the time of the Jewish Passover, Yeshua Bar-Joses Mi’Nazareth picked up a name that was all his own, a name that would forever separate him from the hodge-podge plethora of Yeshuas that wandered the width and breadth of Israel.

            Yeshua Mashiakh.

            Translated in Greek as ‘Yesous Christos’.

            In English, ‘Jesus the Messiah’… or ‘Jesus Christ’.

            Referred to by numerous titles ranging from Emmanuel to the Son of Man to simply ‘The Lord’, Jesus Christ was, beyond any shadow of a doubt, the fulfillment of God’s promise made to Abraham: ‘As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations’. Through Jesus all men – men of ‘many nations’ – can come into the covenant that God made with Abraham, the patriarch of the Jewish people.

            In the beginning – as in around 4000 or so B.C. – God’s relationship with man was imperfect. This was not because God is imperfect; far from it. It was because that through Adam sin entered the world, and sin absolutely cannot stand before God.

            Under the Law of Moses – God’s first formal law for the nation of Israel – this was dealt with through sacrifice. Since the beginning of time, transgression could be atoned for only by blood. Thus, under Judaic law, hapless sheep, cattle and the like paid the toll for men’s misdeeds.

            But such sacrifices were imperfect, and served only to delay punishment; they did not completely cancel the debt that man owed to the Living God, a debt created by the enormity of his own sin. While the full wrath of God may have been appeased temporarily by such sacrifices, such a lopsided relationship between the mundane and the Divine could still only end one way: in the eternal destruction of all that is mortal.

            But God never desired such a relationship, and it was God who worked out a plan to free us all from that debt. It was God the Father – whom the unbelievers like to paint as a cruel tyrant, bent upon damning mankind – who set events into motion that would forever cleanse sin from those who choose His redemption.

            ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men.’ I’m not sure what ‘the Word’ was, although He was certainly a part of God, one of His mysterious facets – much like ‘God the Father’ and ‘the Holy Spirit’ are unique faces of the multiple-yet-wholly-singular Deity.

            What is more certain is this: ‘the Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us’. The Word, whatever His holy nature may have been before, was born sometime between 4 and 6 BC, and given the name Yeshua Bar-Joses. And while He was indeed still God, He was born in the humble body of a human child.

            I often wonder what Jesus was like as a baby. He was, being fully God as well as fully man, completely without sin. But did he cry a lot when he was sleepy, or was he a perfect angel of a baby? Was he fully cognizant as a child, being God, or did he – being also man – come into a knowledge of Himself only slowly, as we do? Did He torment the family cat because He didn’t know any better – or did he know better, because He was God even if he was a toddler, and therefore left the cat in peace?

            I don’t know the answers to those questions; neither does anyone else, and anyone who says he does is lying. Scripture is silent about such things because we don’t need to know them; they are peripheral curiosities, and nothing more. Jesus didn’t come to torment the cat, or for that matter to spare the cat; He came for a much more noble reason.

            Not much is said about Jesus’ actions until He was twelve years old. He was already wise and full of God’s grace; scripture says that His teachings amazed even the teachers at the temple. He was quite aware that He was the Son of God, too, for he told his mother that He had to be ‘in his Father’s house’.

            (Some ascribe to Jesus’ mother Mary the nature of a goddess, and she is often the favored recipient of prayers. But scripture makes it quite clear that Mary was most ordinary, and somewhat befuddled regarding her task of raising the Son of God. She was – just like me, and any other believer – just a flawed human being, whom God chose for His own reasons to use for great things.)

            Nothing else of significance is written about Jesus until He was baptized at the age of thirty, the Jewish age of manhood. While ordinary men are (or should be) baptized for the remission of sin, which makes them pure in order that they might receive the Holy Spirit, Jesus had no need of this. He was just as sinless – just as pure – going into the water as He was coming out of it. What was accomplished, though, was that the Holy Spirit descended upon Him, so that He might begin His ministry. The Spirit took the form of a dove, the traditional symbol of peace. (Remember that one of Jesus’ names is ‘the Prince of Peace’.)  

            While scripture – as it should – focuses on Jesus’ ministry and deity more than anything else, I wonder what His mundane life was like. He was baptized at thirty years of age, which means he’d already lived through his teens and twenties; His personality, habits, and hobbies were already pretty well established. (I, for instance, am forty-one and I have a great many quirks; I imagine that Jesus was much the same.)

            For instance, while Jesus is generally called ‘the carpenter’s son’, He was almost certainly a carpenter Himself. One can just about take that for granted; it was the family duty of boys to pitch in and help their fathers, much like the girls were expected to shoulder some domestic responsibility. I picture Jesus looking much like I do some days, wandering across the jobsite, clutching His hammer and scratching his Head, because Joseph told him to hang all the doors but neglected to tell him that the doors were still ‘back at the shop’. (‘Back at the shop, by the way, is always where something is when you can’t find it on the jobsite!)

            I work construction; I know how these things work. And Jesus would have been scratching His head, too, and unable to locate the doors. Because although He was God, Jesus seemed to have accepted certain limitations, perhaps so that He could fully relate to us. To wit: He wasn’t completely omniscient. While He could read the thoughts of all men – at least while in their presence – He wasn’t immediately aware of John the Baptist’s death; He had to be told. Neither did He know that it was the bleeding woman who’d touched Him so that her affliction would be healed.

            I also find it amazing the Jesus could be a carpenter without ever breaking something, but even in death He was kept whole. Not a single one of his bones was broken. How did He manage to avoid smashing his thumb? Falling off a scaffold and breaking a rib? Dropping a board on his toe? Somehow, He did. I find this to be a miracle in and of itself, which pre-dates even His turning of water into wine.

            I see a twofold purpose in Jesus’ three-year ministry on earth. First and foremost, it was ministry of wisdom and compassion. Jesus cared deeply for the poor, for the sick. He also selflessly gave His time, even when He was exhausted, to the masses who’d come to listen to Him. He was defined by (or perhaps tormented by) deep emotion. What is the shortest verse in the Bible? ‘Jesus wept’. (The italics are mine.)

            Secondly, Jesus began an arduous task which continued on with His apostles, and indeed plagues the true believer to this day: He went head-to-head with the hypocritical and heretical religious orders of his era. Just as King David’s nemesis were the Philistines, Jesus’ archenemies were the Pharisees, the most prominent body among the Judaic religious orders.

            We see this today in our own lives. The true Christian, with a decent understanding of scripture, must understand and combat a wide spectrum of denominational bull-hockey when trying to win converts. Modern faith is endlessly tainted by modern heresy, and so it was in Jesus’ day as well.

            Jesus worked a fair few miracles…

            He healed a great many sick…

            He raised a couple of dead people…

            He preached…

            He took vengeance upon those who made a mockery of His Father’s house. He ate, drank, laughed, loved, cried, and lived.

            And when he’d done enough, enough to fill all the books that have ever been written, He finally did that which He’d really come to do.

            He died.

            The perfect sin offering come at last, the sacrificial lamb that could wipe away all sin, once and for all. Despite all the fire that he showed in life, despite all the sternness with which he could rebuke and chastise, Jesus Christ died with absolute meekness.

            The last prayer Jesus prayed before Judas Iscariot betrayed Him was a twofold supplication: He prayed first for His disciples… and then he prayed for us. Past, present and future, to the Father He referred to us as ‘those you have given me’. And we ‘who have been given’ are many and timeless; Peter refers to us, saying ‘you, your children, and those who are far off.

            Here we see a man going to the worst possible death – and the last thing He prayed for… was us, even thoughit was we who crucified Him, each and every one of us. You and I may as well have picked up the hammer and nailed Him to cross personally.

            I could go on and on about what a physically horrifying death Jesus suffered. I could write about how traumatic it was to have the flesh scourged from one’s back, to have been beaten, to have had a crown of razor-sharp thorns forced into one’s head.

            I could impress upon you, my unknown reader, the feeling of having a nail the size of a railroad tie pounded in between the bones of your wrist. I could go on about how much it hurts to have your feet impaled, too, and how agonizing it is to push up on those nails just so that you can breathe.

            I could do all of that, with style and aplomb; I was once an expert writer of horror and dark fantasy, and I challenge anyone – even Clive Barker himself – to write as sadistically as I once did. I could make your skin crawl if I wanted to, and the hair stand up on the back of your neck.

            But I won’t.

            I won’t, because I don’t believe the physical torment was what hurt Jesus the most, nor was it what worried Him most as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. No, I believe what hurt Him the most was the state in which He died.

            In all the history of the world, there is no man who has ever died knowing that he was separated from God. No one, with no exceptions. Some may not believe in Him. Some may have placed their faith in pagan ‘gods’, or in denominational teachings that make a mockery of God. Some may not know about Him. But the simple fact of the matter is, that anyone who has ever come into the full knowledge of God will run screaming to Him, entering into the Kingdom through the blood of the Son. Such men may even fall away later… but they do so making excuses for themselves, and not really believing that Eternity will be denied them.

            Any man who knows, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that he is separated from God will move to repair that oversight. No man has ever deliberately died cut off from the Creator.

            Except Jesus.

            The last sound He made was an inarticulate cry, but His last coherent words were ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ (‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?’).

            What do we know about God the Father? First and foremost, He cannot look upon sin. That was why the Levitical priests had to go through massive purification rites before entering the temple area known as the ‘Holy of Holies’. It’s why sacrifices were constantly required from the Israelites.

            In the moments approaching death, Jesus Christ of Nazareth became the filthiest flesh-and-blood being ever to have lived; only demons were more impure than He. He took upon Himself all the sin that had been – or ever would be – committed, and nailed it to the cross.

            Somehow during the course of that process, Christ did exactly what we fear to do; He cut Himself off from God, from Himself. And then He did what no man has ever knowingly done; he perished in that state. He gagged on His last breath, keenly aware that the God whom He’d known – who He was – since the beginning of time had forsaken Him. Not by choice, but by a self-imposed limitation. God must, by His very definition, be kept holy. Yet Christ, in dying stained by our sin, became most unholy. 

            I’m sure Jesus didn’t like being scourged, beaten, or pierced by thorns and nails.

            But I am also sure that those became a small matter, overshadowed by the horror of being abandoned. Of being left to die as something foul, something unclean. I don’t know at which point God became unable to look upon His Son, upon the part of Himself that He’d sent to redeem His creation. I suspect it was right after Gethsemane, for Christ told those who arrested Him that ‘this is your hour, when darkness reigns’, and I think that his anguished cry of ‘Eloi, Eloi’ simply came out when He was unable to bear the separation any longer.

            I could be wrong. Just as I cannot see Salvation (yet), I cannot read Damnation. Only God knows when His own being became fragmented. But beyond any shadow of a doubt, that agony tore apart God’s heart just as surely as it did Jesus’.

            We love so much to talk about the courageous men of our world, the George Washingtons and the William Wallaces and the Robert E. Lees. They were great men, too, and worthy of honor. But human courage always shares one element, one that subtly robs it of its grandeur, and that is this: human bravery is simply a virtue born of necessity. Courage only blossoms as a last resort, the alternative to the unthinkable.

            No one ever chooses to be courageous, any more than he chooses to die separated from God.

            Yet God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit all suffered the unbearable agony of having His inner being ripped apart, and He chose it. He always had the option of walking away – for He is God, after all. He could’ve turned around and made another world, a better one, instead of hurting so badly for this one.

            But He didn’t. He willfully chose to suffer the single worst torment of all time, and He chose it because He loves us so very, very much. 

            Christ was resurrected by the Father in whom He’d placed perfect trust; after three days, He emerged from His borrowed grave…

            But sin didn’t. It can come out of that grave only when we willfully pull it out. Otherwise it just lies there, inert, made a silly thing by Christ. But as quickly as we can repent and be baptized, all the sins that we’ve retrieved can be forced right back into that grave, and they will stay there for as long as we remain faithful.

            Under Moses, the blood of sheep and cattle was sprinkled upon altars of stone, so that men’s sins might find some measure of imperfect mercy.

            Under Christ, His perfect and blameless blood is sprinkled upon our hearts, splashed freely across an altar of flesh, so that we might come into perfect mercy. Pagans will reject this truth. Atheists will scorn it. Denominationalists will flirt with it and, ultimately, miss its point entirely.

            But for those of us who know, who understand what was done for us and what we must do to claim that Gift, there is eternal life. Life lived out side-by-side with the Son of Man, who sits at the right hand of God, filled with the Holy Spirit.

            ‘Repent and be baptized,’ said the Apostle Peter, ‘in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit…’

That’s great news. But Peter didn’t stop there. ‘The promise is for you and your children,’ he continues, ‘and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.

            Christ died for all. For those to whom the Apostles spoke, and those before them. For their children…

            And for those who are far off.

            In case you need further clarification… that would be us!