262. Am I a Man?

Not long ago, I grew a beard. It was horrible, an utter disgrace and an affront to anyone unfortunate enough to gaze upon it. To put it in biblical terms, it was an abomination that caused desolation.

It’s a pity, because I like beards. I wish I could manage a better one. This one made me look like a stoner. In fact, a coworker went so far as to remark, “If I’d never met you before, I’d have assumed you smoked marijuana.”

The Abomination That Causes Desolation

I’m sorry you have to see this. I’m so, so sorry.

In the end, a couple of weeks ago, I euthanized my stoner-beard and got a haircut, restoring my deceptive resemblance to a civilized human male.

I grew a beard for two reasons. First, it was a rebellion against shaving. Shaving is tedious and painful. My beard was the symbol of a revolution, and a remind that rebellion can be an ugly thing. My second reason was a little more serious. A beard—even a hideous stoner-beard—was a reminder that I was a man.

At least, I’m supposed to be a man.

There are certainly times I feel old. The jungles, mountains and beaches of my youth seem very, very far from the quiet town of Berne, Indiana. Much of the time, however, I feel pretty young. I occasionally feel like a kid playing at being a grownup.

I’ve spent nearly a quarter-century knocking about God’s green earth, but I sometimes don’t feel it—and I hardly ever look it. Heck, I was often mistaken for a high school kid during my student teaching. (I was even told by fellow teachers to leave the office or teachers’ lounge because students weren’t allowed!) Many people want to look younger. I want to look older. At the very least, I want a proper beard.

Many of my high school and college chums are getting married, having kids, building careers and watching Breaking Bad. As I play video games, watch cartoons and write silly blog posts about exploding tomatoes, it’s a little scary for me to see how effortlessly responsible and grown-up everyone else seems to be.

I tried watching Breaking Bad once. (It was recommended to me by the same coworker who told me I looked like a weed addict.) The show was brilliant, but also painful to watch. My life was dysfunctional enough without watching Walter White lie to his wife and scream at his boss.

Right about the time [spoiler alert?] Walter and his accomplice tried dissolving a corpse in acid, I realized I wasn’t enjoying the show. It was too grown-up—by which I mean, rife with grown-up problems like lies, unfaithfulness, greed, murder, drug use and nihilistic hedonism. I gave up watching Breaking Bad and went back to the Edenic innocence of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.

Am I some sort of man child, refusing to grow up and take responsibility, chasing fading gleams of childhood simplicity?

Am I… dare I say it… a Peter Pantheist?

I think I am a man.

Admittedly, I am a man who enjoys the wit and silliness of Phineas and Ferb over the gore and drama of The Walking Dead, but still. I would like to think I’m childlike, not childish. There’s a difference. At least, I’m pretty sure there’s a difference.

“When I was a child,” wrote the Apostle Paul, “I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.”

I talk like a man, I think like a man, I reason like a man—most of the time, anyway. I would like to think I’ve followed Paul’s good example and left behind childish ways.

All the same, I want to hope like a child, to trust like a child, to dream like a child. After all, the Lord Jesus himself said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”

241. Things Don’t Fall Apart

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

~ William Butler Yeats

In these few well-chosen words, Mr. Yeats neatly sums up one of my greatest fears: things falling apart.

A few weeks ago, I was sick. I think it was a cold. It felt like ebola virus disease. I spent days shuffling around my apartment in a fevered delirium, coughing painfully and waiting for the sweet relief I assumed only death could bring. My younger brother generously made me hot chocolate and compassionately refrained from smacking me every time I whined about how awful I felt.

At the same time as my sickness, and probably for the same reasons, I had a bout with really severe depression. For my readers who’ve suffered depression—I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. For my readers who haven’t suffered depression, you probably have no idea how blessed you are. Depression sucks. I’m not sure I can overstate this. Depression sucks.

The worst part of all this wasn’t the fever, the fatigue or even the bleak hopelessness.

The worst part was the helplessness.

The prospect of going back to work was terrifying. Hang it, the mere thought of leaving my apartment scared me. I couldn’t make any progress on this blog, and wondered why the ruddy heck I ever thought having a blog was a good idea in the first place. It felt like there was nothing good, useful or meaningful I could possibly do. I was reduced to a shadow of myself, and I was sure it was only a matter of time before things fell apart.

Things didn’t fall apart.

They never do.

As usual, I survived. I took some time off work, took a break from this blog and drank a lot of tea. With God’s help, I made it.

The Apostle Paul had a lot to say about suffering. I admire Paul very much, I suppose because he’s so darn sensible. Books like 1 John are full of baffling statements echoed endlessly. Revelation is full of incomprehensible visions. The Bible is packed with vague poetry and dense theology… and then there’s dear, simple, sensible Paul. I wish he were still around, so that I could hug him.

As I was reading the first chapter of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, I was arrested by the following words.

We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us.

A few weeks ago, I felt as pleasant and cheerful as death.

It is well, then, that my God is the God who raises the dead.

I’m not sure why I had to spend days being utterly miserable and absolutely useless. Perhaps it was to remind me of two things.

First, I’m not in control.

Second, God is.

I may not be able to hold things together, but God will always be there to keep them from falling apart.

211. A Witless Witness

Have you seen those Jesus fish decals Christians put on the back bumpers of their cars?

Jesus Fish

My car doesn’t have one. I have no objection to Jesus fishes—in fact, I value the Ichthys symbol as a relic of Christian heritage—but I don’t want people to know my car is driven by a Christian. I’m not ashamed of my faith. No, I’m embarrassed by my lousy driving. Glory to God and all that, but I prefer not to credit him with my mistakes behind the wheel.

My car has no Jesus fish, but I do wear a cross on a chain round my neck. It isn’t an elaborate rosary or a crucifix with a likeness of Christ crucified—just a plain steel cross. It serves as a constant reminder of my commitment to Christ, and it’s a nonthreatening way to express my faith.

I’m not perfect. I’m most certainly not perfect. All the same, I try to live a godly life. My hope is that people will see the cross, notice my lifestyle and put two and two together. Then, perhaps, conversations can happen about Jesus and grace and faith.

My efforts to witness are rather timid, but they were once quite bold. I would go so far as to call them completely obnoxious. There were several weeks during which I handed out tracts and collared random strangers on the street to share the Gospel of Jesus.

Few thing I have ever done felt so wrong.

Shoving the Gospel down the throats of passersby seemed cheap and shallow—and it was. I wanted to share. They did not want to listen. The best solution was not to share anyway, which was what I did, but to find people who wanted to listen.

There are places where random strangers will listen to the Gospel. America is hardly one of them. In America, where people know just enough about Christianity to be inoculated against it, where Christians have a (tragically well-deserved) reputation for being shallow and judgmental, where faith is a cultural curiosity, the Gospel must usually be shared in actions before people will listen to it in words.

Evangelism isn’t quick and easy. It’s a long-term investment. Evangelism isn’t about statistics and numbers. It’s about people. Evangelism doesn’t consist of cheap tracts and three-step plans. It consists of relationships.

As usual, the Apostle Paul put it well. “Because we loved you so much,” he wrote, “we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.”

202. Church Grumps

I am a grouchy churchgoer.

Every Sunday morning, I find myself griping about something or other: the music, the sermon or some other aspect of church culture.

For example, it bothers me that churches in America spend tens of thousands of dollars on unnecessary, self-indulgent stuff when Christians in poorer countries can hardly afford to rent tiny buildings for church services. (My favorite church in the world met in a disused soccer stadium: pretty much the only building it could afford.)

Instead of building a church gymnasium which will be used twice a week for potlucks and basketball, why not build five new churches in Vietnam or support ten pastors for a year in Colombia or feed thousands of children in India? Come on, fancy churches! There’s a world out there, you know, and it needs food and Bibles a heck of a lot more than you need new carpets or stained glass windows!

See what I mean? There I go: ranting like a madman, shaking my fists and being a church grump.

I miss the old hymns. (Many of the newer songs are, um, strange.) The lack of emphasis on international problems like poverty and religious persecution frustrates me deeply, and I’m appalled at the haphazard way the Bible is taught. Don’t even get me started on short-term missions trips.

I’m not usually irritable, and I’m not sure why church makes me grouchy. During college, I grumbled about mandatory chapel services and tried to avoid mainstream church culture. For months I’ve found something to bother me every Sunday morning.

Then, a number of weeks ago, as I mumbled my way through yet another contemporary song that seemed very emotional and completely meaningless, I remembered something.

The Lord Jesus once told a pleasant little story about two men, one of whom showed definite signs of being a church grump.

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

All churches have problems. However, as I stand in self-righteous (and grumpy) judgment of these churches, I generally forget one all-important fact.

I have problems. I have a lot of problems.

As the Apostle Paul pointed out, “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.”

I have no right to be a church grump. Some of my complaints are legitimate, sure, but I don’t have much authority to make them. A man with a plank in each eye is hardly the chap to go pointing out specks in the eyes of others.

More to the point, being a church grump won’t help anybody.

Acknowledging my faults and trying to be humble seem like good ways to start. Then, perhaps, without shouting or shaking my fists, I can suggest how churches can be better.

181. My Battle with Depression

I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth. Whether I shall ever be better I can not tell; I awfully forebode I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible; I must die or be better, it appears to me.

~ Abraham Lincoln

I don’t often write about depression. It’s not a pleasant subject, and I make an effort to be optimistic. Quoth Louisa May Alcott, a ridiculously cheerful person: “I can only say that it is a part of my religion to look well after the cheerfulnesses of life, and let the dismals shift for themselves.”

Besides, depression is kind of embarrassing. It’s easier not to talk about it.

I’ve struggled throughout my life with periods of anxiety and hopelessness—I once wrote a post about the worst of them—but depression isn’t usually a severe problem.

Recently, however, it has been more of a struggle. More than once in past weeks depression has impaired my ability to function… and today is one such occasion. Earlier today—not today today, but the day I wrote this post—I made some last-minute arrangements and came home early from work.

I just couldn’t do it.

There was no way on God’s green earth I could spend eight hours in a group home administering medications, washing dishes, changing soiled undergarments or doing whatever the heck else needed to be done. It was hard to do anything except keep breathing.

Thank God, I’m feeling much recovered—well enough, at least, to write a blog post. (Tea, rest and Brawl in the Family are fine cures for depression.) This is a post I’ve wanted to write for some time: not as a complaint or a plea for attention, but an honest acknowledgment of a personal struggle.

Dash it all, personal posts are the hardest to write… except for top ten lists and book reviews. But I digress.

I’m thankful not to have any troubles worse than depression, and extremely grateful for the loving support of friends and family.

Several people in my family suffer from depression. My old man, for example, has battled it throughout his life. Do you know what else?

My old man is awesome.

I will consider mine a life well spent if I grow up to be just like him. My old man is consistently cheerful, funny and kind. People are always surprised when they learn he suffers from intermittent depression and chronic physical pain. He gives me hope that I too can live a cheerful, useful life despite my own struggles with depression.

I wonder sometimes why God allows me to experience anxiety, fatigue and hopelessness. Wouldn’t I be a good deal more effective doing good things if I were not occasionally burdened with debilitating depression? I mean, really, God?

In the end, I always come back to the passage in the New Testament in which the Apostle Paul suffers a paralyzing problem of his own:

I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Depression might be a thorn in my flesh. It’s certainly a nuisance. Nevertheless, God’s answer to me has been the same as his answer to Paul. The grace of God is sufficient. That, as they say, is that.

God may not have spared me depression today, but he enabled me to pull some strings to come home early from work. He didn’t give me the strength for which I asked. Instead, he gave me tea and rest and funny webcomics.

I continue doing what I can to prevent depression: eating fruits and vegetables, drinking too much tea, working out (often while listening to music from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, which is either really stupid or really awesome), watching cheerful cartoons, trying to get enough sleep and asking God for his help.

I have good days. I have bad days.

Through every kind of day, God’s grace is sufficient. Always.

Help, I’m a Christian! – Faith and Works

Long ago, a clever fellow named Martin Luther changed the way a lot of people look at Christianity.

In his day, you see, the Church was a political organization that gave religious traditions almost as much importance as God’s commands. Luther protested against the Church, claiming Christianity was less complicated.

Luther’s beliefs were based on a few simple doctrines. Two of the most important were sola fides and sola gratiafaith alone and grace alone. His idea was that people didn’t have to do stuff to be saved. All they needed was to have faith in God, and God’s grace would save them.

Luther was bothered by the book of James in the Bible, which emphasizes the importance of good works. It seemed to contradict the rest of the New Testament, which claimed salvation comes through grace.

So which is it, faith or good works?

In the end, Luther’s followers came to this conclusion: “We are saved by faith alone, but if faith is alone it is not faith.” In other words, faith without good works is empty—as James put it, “faith without deeds is dead” (2:26).

I’ve spent a lot of my Christian life swinging like a pendulum from one extreme to the other. I tried living only by faith, and I became complacent. I tried living only by good works, and I became legalistic. Both extremes brought disillusionment and anxiety.

At last it occurred to me that it’s possible to live by faith and good works: to do my best to live for God, and to trust that his grace is sufficient for me when my best isn’t good enough.

C.S. Lewis put it really well: “Christians have often disputed as to whether what leads the Christian home is good actions, or Faith in Christ. I have no right really to speak on such a difficult question, but it does seem to me like asking which blade in a pair of scissors is more necessary.”

Both scissor blades are necessary, of course. In the same way, both faith and good works are necessary. Each is inadequate and incomplete without the other.

It’s a simple lesson, but an important one.

The Apostle Paul wrote:

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

God saves us by grace. We accept that salvation through faith. Once saved, we’re equipped to do good works.

In other words, we do good works not to be saved, but because we are saved.

~

Before I conclude this series, there are two things I’d like to say.

First, I’d like to affirm that the Christian faith is an awesome, joyful, exciting adventure. It can be hard. It’s a relationship with God, and every close relationship—whether a marriage, a friendship or a parent-child relationship—has difficult stretches.

In the end, however, it’s worth it. Heck yeah, it’s worth it.

Nothing in the world—not coffee, not Legend of Zelda games, not my closest friendships—has even begun to come close to being as awesome as God.

Through everything, God has been there. No matter how great my mistakes, he has never let go of me—not once. His faithfulness has been perfect. His kindness has been incredible. His love has endured.

Faith in Christ can be hard. It takes commitment, patience and persistence.

It’s worth it.

The second thing I’d like to say: Thanks for reading!

Help, I’m a Christian! – Relationship

Perhaps the most important lesson I ever learned is that the Christian faith is a relationship, not a system.

When I was younger, I was convinced faith was a system made up of logical rules. I thought all I needed to be a good Christian was to spend x number of minutes praying and read y number of chapters in the Bible and do z number of good deeds every day. Being a follower of Christ, I believed, was sort of like being a member of a club. All that was needed was to meet the minimum requirements.

To put it simply, I believed Christian living was just about doing stuff.

I was wrong.

For years I felt vaguely anxious, guilty and perplexed. Praying was awkward. Reading the Bible was tedious. Doing good things, and not doing bad things, seemed pointless.

I prayed, but not to know God or to help anyone. I read the Bible, but not to learn. I did good deeds, but not to be honor God or to serve others. I went to church, but not to strengthen my faith. I did these things simply because they were what Christians did.

I’d gotten the how right, but I’d totally missed the why.

Faith isn’t a system. Treating it like one will only lead to confusion, disillusionment and pain.

What, then, is faith?

It’s a relationship!

Granted, it’s more formal than most relationships. A relationship with God is sort of like a parent-child relationship and sort of like marriage.

We’re dependent on God, just as children are dependent on their parents. He provides for us, protects us and sometimes disciplines us, just as parents do for their children.

As for the marriage example: there are rules that guide our relationship with God, just as there are rules that guide the relationship between husband and wife.

It’s not enough just to “pray the prayer” to become a Christian. That’s the first step. A marriage relationship is more than just a wedding! The wedding is only the first of many, many steps.

In our relationship with God, do we make mistakes?

Absolutely.

That’s when we realize why a relationship is a thousand times better than a system. In a system, mistakes demand remuneration, atonement, compensation. In a relationship, one person simply forgives the other.

However—as in all other relationships—the whole thing falls apart if one person tries to take advantage of the other.

In a marriage, the wife can be the kindest, sweetest woman ever, but the relationship won’t last if the husband is selfish or unfaithful. A father can be the most patient, loving man in the world, but he can’t care for his children if they insist on running away from home.

God forgives us when we make mistakes. However, if we insist on disobeying him, he eventually lets us go our own way. To quote C.S. Lewis, “There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, ‘All right, then, have it your way.'” God doesn’t force us to obey him. He gives us the freedom to choose, even if our choice is to turn away from him.

If we turn back to God, he will always accept us. Just look at the story of the Prodigal Son!

If we want to accept God, however, we must accept him on his terms.

One those terms is that God speaks to us indirectly. As nice as it would be to chat with him face to face over coffee every morning, he chooses less direct methods to communicate: the Bible, literature, nature and people, to name a few.

This is admittedly frustrating. I’m not sure why God isn’t more direct, but there is one thing of which I’m sure: this indirectness is temporary. Quoth the Apostle Paul, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

All this is fine theoretical stuff, but what does it mean in practical terms? How does it affect how we live?

It means we must understand the why of Christian living as we live out the how.

We should pray in order to help others and build up our relationship with God. We should read the Bible in order to learn. We should obey and serve in order to be useful. We should attend church in order to grow closer to each other and to God.

Faith isn’t a system, and God doesn’t ask us to do things for no reason. Understanding that faith is a relationship, and Christian living is part of that relationship, is probably the most important lesson I’ve ever learned.

Next: Prayer

171. Quirky Bible Translations

During Holy Week, TMTF will feature the Help, I’m a Christian! series, beginning on Palm Sunday, March 24, and concluding on Holy Saturday, March 30. Regular posts will resume on Monday, April 1.

There are many English translations of God’s Word. How many? I’m not sure, but I prefer not to spend years of my life counting.

I often read the Bible, and when I do, I prefer the 1984 New International Version.

Yes, I'm this guy.

Confession: I am a Condescending Bible Translation Guy.

In my twenty-two years, I’ve stumbled upon some Bible translations that are best described as… quirky.

Here’s part of 1 Corinthians 13 in the plain English of the New International Version.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Here’s the same passage in the HWP Bible. That’s the Hawaiian Pidgin Bible, in case you were wondering. Read this excerpt aloud. Read slowly. Savor it.

Wen you get love an aloha, dat no goin pau eva. Da guys dat talk fo God, bumbye no need fo da tings dey say. Wen peopo talk diffren kine, bumbye nobody goin talk lidat. Da stuff da smart guys know, no matta, bumbye no need. You know, we ony know litto bit. Wen we talk fo God, we get ony litto bit fo tell. Bumbye, goin come da time wen everyting stay perfeck. Dat time, no need fo da litto bit kine stuff no moa. Small kid time, I wen talk jalike one small kid. I wen tink jalike one small kid. I wen figga everyting jalike one small kid. Now, I big, dass why I no do da tings da same way da small kids do um.

Right now, us guys can see stuff, but ony jalike wit one junk mirror. Hard fo figga wat we see dea. But bumbye, goin be clear. Us guys goin see everyting jalike was right dea in front our face. Right now, I ony know litto bit. But bumbye, I goin undastan everyting, jalike God undastan everyting bout me.

So now, get three tings dat stay: we can trus God, an we can know everyting goin come out okay bumbye, an we get love an aloha. From da three tings, da love an aloha kine, dass da main ting, an da bestes way.

Then there’s my favorite offbeat translation of Scripture… the lolcat version.

Luv no haz endingz. Tellin the futurez, tungz, an alla stuffz u know wil die. We haz knowingz a bit, an we haz profacy a bit. We no haz two much tho. O, wait. Win teh perfict coemz, teh not perfict will dyez, lolol. Wen i wuz a kitten, i meweded leik a kitten, thinkded liek a kittenz, an I chazed strings liek a kittenz. Wen i wuz becomez a cat, i NO WANT kitten waiz ne moar. For nao we see in teh foggy mirorr like when teh human gets out of teh shower, but tehn we see faec tow faec. Nao i haz knowingz just a bit, tehn i will haz all teh knowingz, as i haz been knownz.

Nao faithz an hoepz an luvz r hear, theses threes, but teh bestest iz teh luv. srsly.

Yes, this is a real translation. The entire Bible has been translated into lolspeak, the Internet language of funny cat picture captions. After all, the Apostle Paul did write about becoming “all things to all people.”

 What’s your preferred version of the Bible? Are you a Condescending Bible Translation Person or do you prefer idiomatic versions like The Message? Let us know in the comments!

Zealot: A Christmas Story – Last Chapter: Luke

Chapter Five can be found here.

“Let us pause,” said Luke. “My fingers ache.”

“This was your idea,” said his companion, leaning back and gazing out over the city. From their vantage point upon the housetop, Rome gleamed in the morning light. Armor and chariots flashed as a military procession passed in the distance. The sun turned iron to silver and bronze to gold. It was a splendid sight.

Luke’s companion scratched his nose, evidently unimpressed.

“My dear Luke, you have only yourself to blame if your fingers ache. You insisted on taking notes.”

“A foolish decision,” said Luke. “This may come as a surprise, Paul, but other people are not always as wise as you. Not everyone can be as wise as Paul, whose writings are renowned in Rome and Jerusalem and all the provinces in between.”

“Do you think you are the only one ever to have suffered the pain of aching fingers?” asked Paul. “Every time I wrote a letter I asked, ‘O Lord, how long until you provide your servant with a scribe?’ My life has been difficult here in Rome, you know, but I have one great consolation: our brothers from the synagogue write my letters as I dictate.”

Luke nodded with mock seriousness. “It is certainly a blessing for the churches, which are no longer burdened with the difficulty of deciphering your handwriting. Your letters are hard enough to understand when they are written clearly.”

A moment passed as Luke flexed his fingers and loaded his quill with ink. “I am ready,” he announced. “Where were we? Ah, I remember. We left you dangling from the wall of Damascus in a basket. Paul, would you kindly pay attention? I will never finish my book unless you stay focused.”

“I apologize,” said Paul, rubbing his jaw. “I have a toothache.”

Luke laughed. “A toothache? I thought you were meditating.”

“I was thinking of someone I once knew,” said Paul. “I have thought of him often in past weeks.”

“Tell me.”

“Before my conversion, you know, I went from house to house in Jerusalem arresting all who professed faith in Jesus of Nazareth. One afternoon I raided a home where some of the Lord’s disciples were meeting. There were about a dozen men with me. The moment we entered the house, an old man jumped up and said to the others, ‘We are discovered. Run!’ Then he charged at us.”

Paul chuckled. “Since I was the first to go down, I do not remember exactly what happened. I was later informed our attacker knocked out five of us before he was arrested. The strange thing was that he stopped fighting once the other disciples had escaped. After his arrest, we learned the man’s name was Jehu. He had been a notorious assassin before becoming a disciple of the Messiah.”

“What happened to the man?” asked Luke.

Paul made a chopping motion across his neck. “There was no trial,” he added. “Jehu reminded me of Stephen. Neither was afraid to die. Jehu’s execution made quite an impression.”

“Besides the one he had already made upon your face, I suppose.”

Paul smiled gingerly. “My jaw hurt for weeks. Since then, I think of Jehu every time my teeth ache. You know, there is one thing I shall never forget about him.”

“What?”

“His eyes.”

“What about them?”

“They were the calmest and kindest I have ever seen.”


Author’s Note:

I enjoy telling a story from multiple perspectives. The Infinity Manuscript, a novella I posted as a serial on this blog, delivered each chapter from a different character’s point of view. As a writer, I like bouncing from one character to another as I tell a story. (I really hope it doesn’t annoy my readers.) This story is another victim of my favorite narrative trick, and it’s been fun for me to describe Jehu’s journey through the eyes of six different characters.

This story is also a victim of rushed rewrites and revisions. I’d like to expand, fix and polish it someday. Maybe next Christmas.

I like to imagine solemn historical figures having a lighter side. We don’t really get to see Luke, Paul or anyone in the New Testament being anything but serious. (Paul occasionally betrays a hint of humor, but not often.) I wonder what kind of things made men like Luke and Paul laugh. I mean, P.G. Wodehouse wasn’t born until 1881. What was funny before Wodehouse?

Thanks for reading!

148. New Year’s Resolutions

In Ecuador, people celebrate the new year by burning effigies in the streets.

Good times, good times.

Ah, sweet memories.

In Indiana, however, the local authorities frown upon such celebrations. It’s too bad. Since setting things on fire is out of the question, I’ve decided to begin the new year by making some resolutions.

I’m sharing these resolutions on TMTF in order to make them official. After all, a resolution is much harder for me to forget (or ignore) once I’ve announced it publicly.

I will be focused, intentional and self-disciplined

I’ve squandered countless hours on the Internet: reading trivial articles, watching pointless videos and generally wasting time. I’ve also lost many hours due to procrastination, poor planning and sheer aimlessness. This year I intend to invest my time, not merely to spend it.

I will finish the manuscript for The Wanderings of Lance Eliot

I wrote about this resolution in my last post, so there’s not much left to say. This year Lance Eliot shall resume his journey. I hope we both survive it.

I will not be anxious, insecure or obsessive-compulsive

I can’t control my feelings. However, I can control my actions. This year I’ll try to remember what the Apostle Paul wrote about love, which “always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” That’s a good example to follow.

I will improve my Spanish

My grasp of the Spanish language—a dodgy thing at the best of times—has weakened severely since my graduation from high school. How do I intend to study the language? By watching cartoons in Spanish, of course.

I will grow sideburns like the Tenth Doctor’s

Saving the universe? Bah! A negligible accomplishment compared to having such awesome hair.

Saving the universe? Bah! A negligible accomplishment compared to having such awesome hair.

During his tenure as the protagonist of Doctor Who, David Tennant boasted some splendid sideburns. This year I’ll strive to grow sideburns of comparable majesty.

I will take steps forward

Now that my life has settled down, I must start planning for years ahead. This year I intend to look into future career options.

Have a truly fantastic new year, dear reader!

Do you have any resolutions for the new year that you’re willing to share? Let us know in the comments!