Category Archives: My Musings

Where I share what I’ve been learning.

Twenty

Twenty years.
It sure doesn’t feel like twenty years already. But I know that the years inbetween have been loaded with oh so much. This was probably the hardest article I’ve ever written because, while I knew I needed to get it done, I just haven’t been able to get through it. If you are reading this then that means that I succeeded (Yay!)
I can still remember that cold December of 1999. My father, after a long week of ministrations (yeah, he was a Pastor) and work (and yeah, he was a surgeon in orthopaedics), took us out as a family one Saturday. I always look back on that weekend, wondering if he knew it would be our last family outing, something we had not done in a long while. I sure didn’t.
That Monday, he was coughing profusely. He was taken to the hospital in an ambulance with my Mum and some of our church family. My siblings and I spent the night and the next couple of days at the house of a family friend and fellow associate pastor.
I can remember the midmorning of the 14th, when my Mum came with our Senior Pastor’s wife, Pastor Mrs Obasi-Ike, and we were called to meet with them in the living room. We were watching The Lion King for probably the 100th time when they called us. Quite the foreshadowing, huh.
I don’t remember what Mrs Obasi-Ike said. I only remember her speaking about my Dad, and the line that would define the rest of my life. “…he has passed on to glory. He is dead.”
I remember my sister Joana’s sudden gasp. My Mum’s eyes had been red all along, and now I knew why. I don’t remember my brother and older sister’s reactions. I too was processing the news.
I remember them all going inside and me staying in the living room with the other church ladies. They were talking about how I was probably not reacting because I was too young to understand. But this 7-year old boy did. My father had died. He was no longer here. I would never see him again. These facts were dawning on me gradually.
I cried that night.
The rest of the week passed by in a swift blur with every detail impressed on us. From the Service of Songs to the Funeral to the trip back home and on to his home town for the burial ceremony. We spent Christmas in Zaria with our family friends, the Adepojus, and New Years’ with our Grandpa in Offa.
I remember Grandpa commenting on how it was a new millennium. My Dad never got to see the new millennium.
I always wonder how my brother and sisters went through it all. We talk about it from time to time, but I know it’s not the same. For me especially, my mindset of the world and my existence was forever changed. I would go through my teenage years and adolescence with full consciousness of something lacking. I would observe my classmates and contemporaries and be always reminded that I was missing something. Sometimes I wondered if I would turn out well, or how I could turn out into the complete individual that I was supposed to be.
I wonder how my Mom felt through it all. We talk about it too, and will most likely talk some more today. I know it hit her the hardest. She would take on dual roles for the rest of our lives, something she never prepared for.
I know we all had a lot of questions too. Could it have been avoided? If we hadn’t been where we were would it have turned out this way? Did we pray enough? Was there something we could have done? If our parents hadn’t married, would this have happened?

GOD’S PROVISION
God used many people to cushion the effect of the loss. Oh, I am so grateful for our family in The Redeemed Christian Church of God in East Africa and here in Oyo Province 2. I am grateful for our family in The Navigators worldwide and in Nigeria. I am grateful for the support of our friends in Calvary Ministries (CAPRO).
I am grateful for our family: Aunty Deborah and Uncle Yakubu, Daddy Glory and family, Uncle Sola and Aunty Florence, Uncle Gbenga, Uncle Rotimi and Uncle Femi. They were instrumental in much of our childhood even till now.
For the Adepojus, the Babatundes, the Gbadamosis, the Ozidus, the Baiyes, the Onukas, Pastor Oni, Pastor Bolanta, Dr Arije, the Macauleys, the Gbades, and so many many many others.
There was so much support from people who accommodated us until we were able to stand on our feet. Who helped my Mum to get her car. Who were willing to sponsor our education. Who assisted my Mum in getting a job. Who drove us to and from church for months. Who have kept lifelong friendships
One of God’s greatest gifts to us was Family.

CHALLENGES
It hasn’t always been rosy. We have had our conflicts and bumps along the way, but God has healed every hurt.
Financially, we had to learn contentment early. I can still remember the day we cashed my mother’s N37,000 cheque on the deadline when we were supposed to pay the N30,000 acceptance fee for my admission into secondary school. You can imagine what we had for the rest of the month. Looking back I don’t remember the lack as much as the fact that we were fine.
We had to learn not to expect people to feel sorry for us. The world really doesn’t slow down for you to get back on your feet, you know. We learnt to make the best of what was provided.
It wasn’t always easy. But God has been with us all the way. Some places and opportunities we got were purely by divine favour and not through the machinations of human ingenuity.

LEGACY
God blessed us with a great man as father, and an amazingly super-woman as mother. Bringing these two lovers of God together was God’s wisdom. Godly homes are His wisdom in action, I tell you.
These two had giant libraries of books and videos full of godly material. From music to encyclopaediae to doctrinal writ we had access to so much that, even after Dad was gone, we had a great heritage to build on.
Many of the verses I know off-the-cuff were songs my Mum used to sing casually while doing other work. How would I not remember these Scriptures, especially in the moments when I need them?
Their good record gained them strategic friendships that have transcended times. Many people have favoured us because of our parents’ track record. All our lives we’ve met people who see us and reminisce on some good thing my parents did for them. Even to this day in my new workplace, a visiting retired staffer told me he was treated in my Dad’s hospital.

Our greatest treasure is Jesus.

Godly homes are strategic displays of God’s wisdom, and we are blessed to be the product of one.

HEALING
Going through these together helped in keeping us close. We had our fights and misunderstandings through the years, but at our core we always knew we were the best we had.
God blessed us with the gift of humor and laughter. My Mum bursts with joy and is now uncomfortable where people are frowning or down. She adds life wherever she is. Her grandkids love her so much.
Knowing my father was in heaven with God pulled me to seek God and the heaven He spoke of. I became a sort of escapist believer from a young age, devouring everything I could on heaven and the end times. I lived expecting the return of Jesus in my youth. But little did I know that God was using those times to shape my heart to seek Him, not just for heaven, but because He is worth seeking. Because of His love.
I grew up to understand that God is my Father. I grew to understand that my father had been a caretaker whose time was completed, and that God had always been my Father. That didn’t always make it all better, but I’ve lived most of my life with that understanding.
My siblings and I have been tools in God’s hand to encourage and bless many in our words and influence. No, we’re not celebrities or anything. But I hear testimonies and am thankful how God brought us out of the gloom we experienced.

LOOKING AHEAD
There is much that needs to be said of the challenges my father faced growing up and how God helped him become the man he was, but this is not the place for it. It is not my story to tell yet. But someday we will.
Do I still miss him? Of course I do, mostly because I am gradually forgetting the details of the person I am missing. To this very day I have my moments where I reminisce with God, where I cry my eyes out, and where I rise with the assurance that He is my Father and is with me.
The family has grown so much bigger. All of my siblings are married now with wonderful kids, to God’s glory. I am a grateful uncle!
Once, one of my nephews saw a picture of my Dad and didn’t want to let go of it. That tore at our hearts, realizing he recognised someone he had never met. Imagine when they finally really meet.
I can’t wait for my Dad to meet everyone.
I know he is at rest in the presence of the Lord he followed. I know when Jesus returns we will be reunited. Our attention will be taken by the Lord of course, and that’s where it should be.

WHY DID I WRITE THIS?

I know that someone else is going through similar cases of loss. I wrote this as an encouragement. There really is light beyond this tunnel because God is your Light.Our experiences may not be the same. But with the pen of our lives in the hand of the Great Storyteller, we are assured that will bring beauty in our stories, no matter how dark it might seem now.
When you trust Him with your life, you can also trust Him with your future. He is able to keep you and show you His beauty in the places of the ashes you have seen.
You are not alone.
I pray, above all, this is an encouragement to you as well. When Jesus died and rose He defeated death and the power it should have over us. He can give you the experience of that victory, going through life without the fear of death and its loss.
Treasure the memories of your loved one, though they may be gone. Thank God for the time you had with them. Commit the pain and hurt and regret and anger that you may feel to Him. He can take it. You can’t bear it alone. Don’t hold it inside.
Grieve. You have the right to. You must. But remember that you have hope in Jesus.
Talk about them. Talk about the good times and the questions you have. Don’t keep it inside.
If you’ve read this far, I encourage you also to be a listening ear for someone. Ask how they are doing, and care enough to listen.
If you need to share with, feel free to reach me at eonimisi@gmail.com.
Here’s to healing.
Here’s to victory.

He gives beauty for ashes

Strength for fear

Gladness for mourning

Peace for despair.

Grace, Truth, Love and Life

While It’s new and refreshing
It doesn’t always look dashing.
It’s covered in the grime and scrapes and scars
It risked in coming to where you are
To pull you up to where He is.
The cost of love, of sacrifice.
Goodness defined doesn’t always look nice.
This is what Grace looks like.

It sets before you a Standard
Far better than the you you’ve known.
You realise there’s a change you need.
And it tells you, “You are not alone.”
It builds you up, opens your eyes
Drops all masks and every guise
Leaves no room for lies.
That’s what Truth looks like.

The law of God shows His righteousness
From which we all fell short.
But His grace and truth came in Jesus Christ
Bringing all the Life and help He’s got.
Hor all that trust in Him
He holds in life through thick and thin,
Cleansing us from sin.
That’s what His Love looks like.

This teaches us to honour the Lord Not to take for granted His Cross
To follow Him in love and trust Counting as gain what, for His sake, is loss.
In surrender to His Sovereignty
We find our true identity.His divinity in my humanity. This is what Eternal Life looks like.🙂

P.S.: I fear that in my attempts to rhyme
Deep truths were oversimplified. But painting pictures in your heart is what this was for
As the Lord beckons you to explore His ‘more’.
😉

Known

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (20th Century Fox/Walden Media)

“But who is Aslan? Do you know him?” [asked Eustace.]
“Well–he knows me,” said Edmund. “He is the son of the Emperor over Sea, who saved me and saved Narnia.”
— from The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the ‘Dawn Treader’, by C.S. Lewis

Of all the lines in the Chronicles of Narnia, this is one of my favourite.
You see, as we grow, we gain confidence in the things we know because they help us to define our lives and the world around us. But do you know that there is Someone that knows you much more than you could possibly ever know yourself? There is so much more beyond what human knowledge can possibly grasp on its own, because our Maker knows us much more. Completely. What we’re thinking, where we’re going, what we’ll tweet next–EVERYTHING!
And that’s a good thing, either way.

Where we think we’ve figured it all out, He knows that there’s still so much more Help we need.
And where we think we’re too weak or incapable, He knows that we have so much more strength in Him.

Abandoning what we know of ourselves to accept what He knows about us is surrender …but it’s true freedom as well! Really!
And that’s why He’s the only one we need.

So what do you think you know about yourself? Your IQ? Your blood type? Your temperament? Your limitations?
Let no one decieve you…

What you know– what ‘they’ know about you– is nothing compared to what He knows about you. And what He knows is the Truth! And, like He told us, it is the Truth that makes us free.

So trust in what He knows about you.

‘You are My child
My ransomed one
the one for whom
I gave my one and only Son.

You’re to die for
I’ve proven that for sure
I’ve cleansed you
and, by my Word, made you pure.

With Me, you can go up against a troop
With Me, the giants flee before you
With Me, you can leap over walls?
With Me…what can’t you do?
Tell me!

It doesn’t matter what they think they know.
It doesn’t matter what you think you know
You’re who I say you are.
And, yes, it is I that tells you so.’

It may not seem easy to see as He sees sometimes. We may still see problems and limitations. And the Truth of God’s Word may not seem so easy to see.
But keep your eyes on His, your ears listening to Him, and keep your heart on Him. It’ll change you to become like Him. It’s gradual.
But it’s all headed to that day when we shall be like Him, TOTALLY!

To love like He loves.
To see as He sees.

To know as we are known.

‘For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.’

1 Corinthians 13:12

(Originally posted on my Facebook wall on October 31, 2013)

Thoughts on Eternal Life

Think of the pages of a book. Each page is a 2-dimensional construct, with length and breadth. But the book as a whole is in 3-dimensions: length, breadth and height.

Our lives in space time are like a single page in the volume of Eternity.

On this page we consider life in the dimension of length (years) and breadth (achievements). So when we hear the term ‘Eternal Life’ our first inkling is that it means living longer. But it’s so much more. It has more dimensions to it; height and depth, if you will. It is God’s Life not on the grade of man’s.

It’s God’s gift to any who believe and recieve. Maybe that’s why Paul would pray for believers in Ephesians 3:18 that they would come to “…comprehend what is the breadth, length, height and depth.” It’s all encompassing, having promise in this life and beyond what this life can fathom or contain.

In Ephesians 3 Paul continued that he prayed for them “…to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge.” This part always fascinates me. It’s like plugging into a socket, but then that socket shocks and changes you forever. When we give our lives to and recieve Life from God, the course of our history and future, and our very definition of what life is aligns with His because we are assured of His love toward us. Even when there are challenges we are confident that He will keep us and/or show us the way out or give us the wisdom to solve it. We see no need to be covetous because He will never leave us nor abandon us (Hebrews 13:5) and with Him we have ALL we could ever need.

Such a person, who is assured in God’s Love and becoming a channel of His love to others, will live and do things at the scale of God’s standard more and more. He/she would live beyond him/herself and is more likely to recieve ideas and concepts that will bless others. The passions on God’s heart become their passions, and the temporal pursuits that this plane seems to offer either fade away into nothingness or gain more value in the light of God’s purpose.

Jesus called it Abundant Life (John 10:10), Life to the Full. Like a stream that becomes a rushing spring, gushing above and beyond the normal river course.

Height and Depth.

It’s where we’ll only ever truly find purpose in our life’s course. And as we follow Him it becomes clearer.

Just thought I’d share some of the things I’ve been learning. Hope this blessed you.

What does God’s Eternal Life mean to you? Do share.

😁

Accepting Identity

Accepting Identity_2

Hi there!

In my previous blog post I wrote about how humans like to conform to certain laid down labels and stereotypes for a subconscious sense of belonging. I wrote about my own journey into figuring out which one I fit into, and I must say, putting it all down there was quite … releasing. I didn’t put in everything I had wanted to, but it was okay.

This one is about moving on from there.

You see, in trying to pick an appropriate label, we can sometimes be like the girl who walks around a room, looking at pictures of flowers on the table and trying to figure out which one is the most beautiful. She would learn something, of course, and may find out which of the flowers is the prettiest.

But then, someone opens the day and calls to her. “Hey, girl!”

She replies with a reserved but cute smile. “Hey.”

“What you doing?”

“Looking at pictures of flowers.” She holds up one picture. “I think this one’s quite pretty.”

The person smiles. “Come on outside. You’ve been looking at pictures all this time. I want to show you real flowers. Flowers you can touch, you can smell, you can see in … well, in 3D! You think you’ve seen ‘pretty’? Wait ‘til you see the real thing.”

 

__________

We have lived our whole lives in the room full of pictures.

We’ve lived our lives searching for identity in the options laid out by those that have gone ahead of us. We tack on labels popularized by the media in movies and music and novels and the news, picking those that seem to describe us best. We consider ourselves based on our nationality, our background, our race.

But God comes from outside the room and says, “I’ve got something better for y’all. A New and Better Identity.”

Come out. Let me let you in on this Identity a little bit.

Coming to Christ is like stepping out of the room. We receive a new life with this new identity; a new history, a new future, a new background.

With His blood, Jesus “…purchased men unto God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Revelation 5:9) When you buy something from a store it belongs to you, not to that store anymore. It’s no longer called “that shirt on the Top Shelf, Aisle 5, Megabuy Stores”. No, now it’s your shirt. It’s called “my shirt.”

You are God’s own.

He makes you His child with the full identity and rights of a son, an heir of God. Imagine being the heir to Bill Gates estate! Pretty tight, huh? Now imagine being the heir of the Creator of all things. Now THAT’S bigger. MUCH bigger than we can or could ever imagine.

He remains with you forever, and He produces from within you a nature of love, of joy, of peace and serenity, of patience and perseverance. He makes you kind, good, faithful, to not find the need to insist on your own way, and to be self-controlled.

Sounds like the perfect human being. Actually, it’s so much more than that: He’s making you like Himself. That’s much more awesome than being the perfect human being.

The earth and all that is in it is your inheritance, to take care of and to prosper in.

As a child of God, He gives you the ability to heal the sick, to cast out devils, to live supernaturally, and to be an all-round blessing.

That’s what He promises. That’s the new identity He gives.

 

__________

But the girl in our story has grown used to the room. It’s not her fault, though, ‘cause she’s been in there all her life. But now she’s been invited to come out.

“But I’ve never been outside before,” she says.

“I have,” he says.

“What does it look like?”

“It’s … beautiful. There are flowers, lots and lots of flowers. And not just flowers, my dear. Grass, trees, animals! The blue sky, the amazing clouds taking different forms, the water flowing, the breeze in your face … and you can feel it all.”

“I’ve never seen these things you’re talking about,” she says. “I don’t even know if they really exist.”

“They all do! My dear, they are! And it’s all just outside, waiting for you.”

“But…” she crosses her legs as she takes a step backwards. “I’ve been doing pretty well in here. I don’t need to go out there. I’m fine where I am.”

 

__________

We like to hold on to the reality we are familiar with, to the life we are used to, to the things we have seen and experienced. Even the bad memories and painful experiences that we’ve gone through. We want to hold on to it all because, good or bad, they have all contributed in building us into the people we are. In a sense, we see them as a part of us. And as much as we want to let go, we really don’t want to. We are comfortable with them.

We want to stay in the room, while God has a whole world that He’s prepared for us – OUT THERE.

The world we know pales in comparison to the awesome life he offers. We think we are comfortable where we are … but we haven’t even a clue what ‘comfort’ really is.

True comfort can only be found in the one that made us, God.

You know the hardest part? Accepting.

Accepting the new identity that God offers would require giving in. It would require admitting that we were ignorant and wrong in staying in the room of pictures, and that He’s been right all along. It punctures our pride, the shield we’ve given ourselves to building all this time. It shames what bliss we thought we had to think that there is greater bliss beyond, bigger and better, just a door away.

And that’s how we miss out on God’s greatest gifts.

But when we do accept, we realize that we’ve been wrong all along.

When we do accept this Identity that He gives us, we come to know that we’re already accepted. That we’re affirmed and accepted by the Ultimate Dad, who defines fatherhood for all.

There is no more fear of rejection. There is no need to prove anything ever again.

We’ll come out of the room into an awesome new world that makes the room of pictures look like nothing but a mud shack.

It’s a new identity.

And it’s for us all.

For you.

 

__________

“What if I get hurt?” she asks. “Every new picture I’ve seen in here promises something better, but … it never lasts. I’m tired of getting my hopes up.”

“It’s OK. I know. What’s waiting for you outside this room is much bigger and better than you can imagine.”

“I’ve never been outside before.”

“All the more reason to come. It’ll be OK.”

“What if it’s not? What if it’s not everything I’ve hoped it’d be?”

“You can trust me.”

“Why?”

And, with a smile he responds, “Because I made it all.” He stretched a hand out to her. “I made it all for you. You can trust me.”

 

(TO BE CONTINUED)

 

———-

Special thanks to my friend and brother, Joshua Babarinde (author of DONUT) for his suggestions and review on this article. You can read his inspiring writing on his site, HeirWalk.

A Quest for Identity

A Quest for Identity

Susan walks into the supermarket looking for some tomatoes. A few paces past the doorway gives her a good view of the grocery. In there, the vegetables and fruits are grouped in different boxes, each labeled so she can pick the one we want. She hurriedly picks one from the box of tomatoes.

“I’d like to buy this tomato,” she says.

The attendant stares blankly at her for a moment. “That … is an onion.”

She blinks, apparently realizing her error. Sure enough, she was holding an onion! The whole box was full of onions. “Oh, dear me! For a moment there I thought the box said ‘tomatoes’.”

The attendant notices that she was right. There had been a labeling error. But he tried to shrug it off. “Well … one man’s tomato is another man’s to-mah-to–”

“An onion’s not a to-mah-to–”

The attendant folded his arms. “Look who’s talking. You thought it was a tomato.”

“You can’t accuse me. The customer is always right.”

“But–” he sighed. “I’m sorry.”

“See? That would’ve saved you a lotta time, wouldn’t it?”

———-

Labels are a good thing. They keep you from accidentally putting salt in your tea, instead of sugar. We like to sort our fellow humans that way. We stack people into certain culturally accepted groups and relate to them based on the generalized stereotype of the label we’ve given them. Of course I’ve since learnt that people are a lot more than their apparent labels seem to imply. But that did not keep me from yearning for a label.

While we give labels to other humans, we subconsciously find security in appending labels unto ourselves. Once we find that we fit into a particular stereotype we feel secure knowing that we belong somewhere. We conform to the prevailing conceptions and norms of those labels until we somehow forget that we actively tried to become that way in the first place. When we can’t find where we fit in, what our appropriate label is, we feel queasy and set about finding out what our true label is. We all do it.

Stories and movies these days tend to depict that fact, with humans grouped into classes, expected to conform to the prevailing expectations of those classes. That’s what endeared me to stories like The Divergent Series and The Giver.

I know better than to define people by labels and as such I knew that there was no sufficient label for me. But that did not keep me from thinking that lacking one meant I was missing something.

I had made it an ambition not to conform to any predefined notions since I was young. I wanted to zig when everyone else was zagging. For example, while my entire family was in the medical line I chose to study a course that was so not medical because … reasons. In church it was years before I raised my hands in worship or did or said anything everyone else was saying, because I wanted to understand why we had to do those things and what they really meant. But I could not openly defy the status quo due to fear and bashfulness, so I rebelled in private. I listen to rock music in secret, screaming my heart out with the tunes in my head. I embraced my eccentricities because they helped me feel special, different from the clones I saw around. Call me a skeptic. I wanted to be a radical. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t become the ‘Rebel’ I wanted to be. For one thing, I did not have the right clothing; the dark gothic piercings and tattoos. Really, I didn’t even want all that stuff. I might as well have gone about holding a giant sign that read: PLEASE, OH PLEASE, NOTICE ME OH CRAZY WORLD! Also, I love God above all else and any life outside of Him just seemed pointless. So I found my Rebellion in this: while my mates gave their time to youthful pleasures and stuff, I gave myself to God, studying His Word and getting to know Him better. I still love Rock music, though, because the screams, loudness and fast-paced tempo give expression to some of the rage and emotion I love to express. But all the Rock music I listen to is Gospel rock, so while I express raw emotion when jamming out in my room, it’s all to God and in God because it’s the cry of my heart that’s in those songs.

I tried to be a geek.

I thought I saw the qualities of a geek in me and I really wanted to be related to that way. So I beefed up my interest in movies and comic books. I got into the world of Marvel and DC Comics, their movies and TV series, their characters and their backstories. Right now I can say I’m an authority on them all, but that’s a discussion for another day (P.S.: I sooooo can’t wait for Legends of Tomorrow, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Captain America: Civil War, Daredevil Season 2, X-Men: Apocalypse …ALL IN ONE YEAR!!! AAAAHHH!!!) I still haven’t watched all the Star Wars movies, but I’ve caught up on the lore and everything. It was fun. Still is. I think what attracted me to their stories was the consistent theme of uniqueness, of flawed people with supernatural or abnormal qualities that set them apart from the rest of humanity and their desire to fit in or use their uniqueness to help others. I saw myself in that, somehow. It resonated deeply within me. But I could not live a life that was all out for these things alone.

But, you know what? Geekiness never did it for me. Sure, I’m also into computers, but I never got to learn programming. I love and am good at computers and such, and sure I probably spend more time with my laptop than with other humans (and I know that is SO wrong) but I guess what turned me off from going through with it all was the dissatisfaction with the expectations of geekdom. Once everyone sees you’re a geek there are certain expectations and limitations they place on you. I liked geekdom, but I knew I was not a geek.

I tried to be a writer. I’d been writing stories since I was a child and I’ve never stopped wanting to. Creating new worlds and new characters gave me an opportunity to retreat into my imagination, to create a world where everything turned out right, where everything turned out the way I wanted it to. If I had no control over the world outside, I could have control over the little ones I created. I loved it, and everyone called me a writer. But then when you put yourself into the jar of ‘writers’ it places certain expectations on you. When you read the works of others and behold the darkness, loneliness, gloom and bleakness their words are coming from, you wonder if you could ever live up to that, or if you’re in the right room. I understand where they are coming from, and I’m there a lot of times. If that’s what being a writer means, I’m outta here!

I tried to be a comic. To make people laugh every chance I got. It was depressing.

I tried to be an academic.

I tried to be a revolutionary.

I tried this…

I tried that…

I even tried being a romantic, whatever that means. Didn’t last.

I kept trying to fit into a mold, and trying not to fit into others. In the end I never fit into any. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t measure up to some standards and expectations I had placed on myself based on the stereotypes I tried to conform to.

But they never did it for me.

The Labels Just Don't Fit

And it made me feel, somehow, less than others. Not belonging anywhere. I would be walking down the road, trying to convince myself that I’m not the idiot I was certain I was. I felt I deserved crap and so I did not expect the best things to come to me. I’d get into friendships, places and associations and expect things not to work out. Expecting the worst kept me from getting into many things. And when they did work out, if they did work out, I kept expecting things to turn out badly. With no sense of belonging or acceptance, I felt like a vagabond, though I was in no way related to James Bond.

But looking back, you know what I see? I see God walking with me through it all, showing me Himself and in so doing, teaching me more about myself. What I thought was my ‘Rebellion’ in leaving youthful raves and embracing Him was His way of setting me apart for Himself and for His use. My love for cartoons, comics and movies embodied an even deeper love for stories that depict the human situation and our quest for something bigger and something better. He teaches me and shows me how He is turning our stories around so that we can see our need for Him and how He changes us and makes us live as His people in a fallen world, in this world but not of this world. My love for comics and stories also birthed a passion for producing godly and wholesome entertainment.

He used my love for computers to help me get better at computers and to help people with their tech issues. Oh, I get great joy when help someone solve in 5 minutes something that they’ve been trying to solve for hours or days on end. No, I don’t love the misery they’ve gone through, but I love the joy and relief they get when they find it’s solved.

And through my quest for a good jar to jump into in this grocery store, for a good label to tack unto myself so I can belong somewhere and so that people can relate to me in a particular way … He’s been there.

He’s been here.

I see that the labels really just don’t do it. They’re just words on cards that can be taken off. It’s the substance, me, and you, that really matters. You are much more than the labels anyone can give to you.

Nerd, Geek, Slut, Jock, Neanderthal, Liberal, Republican, Conservative, Hippie, Bohemian, PDP, APC, Ajepaki, Ajepako, Ajebota, Ajebo’a, Yuppie, One-Percenter, Klutz, Butterfingers, Four-eyes, Ne’er-do-well, Idiot, Casanova, Area.

Labels.

Labels based on observations, and nothing more.

If you think you are nothing but what the labels say you are, you limit yourself to only a small percentage of all that God made you to be.

Even worse, the labels may just be a lie. A big, fat, blatant, lie from the armpits of the pits of hell.

I see myself as one loved by God. And because I have received His love, I can love Him and love others too. I see things in a bigger, better and brighter perspective. I have a bigger heart and can take anything from anyone. I can take crap, but I can also take a compliment. I can expect much more and I can expect better because God has made me His son. He has given me a life that transcends all mistakes and limitations that once held me down and held me bound. Every day I learn more about who he has made me to be.

So while I’m done with labels and am content with who I am in Christ, I still struggle with insecurities once in a while. Sometimes, simply saying hi, making phone calls and taking phone calls feels like a chore when I’d rather just be left alone. I used to think it was fear of rejection, but it’s just downright rude. I still prefer to stay in the background when I don’t know what to say to people. I still make eccentric wisecracks and artsy quips to conceal all of that, making everyone smile and laugh to avoid exposing myself or feeling vulnerable.

I still zig when prevailing sense says to zag.

I still love Rock Music.

I still read comics, and make some too.

I still write (as in, DUH!)

But beyond all that, I live a life that’s bigger than all that. The life God made me to live, that I may be a blessing to all. And that is how I get better, how I grow into the person He already sees me as.

 

I am ME.

And God loves ME.

I can’t think of a better label than that.

THE ARCHER

‘For sin shall have no dominion over you, for you are not under the Law but under Grace.’
ROMANS 6:14

Lately my mind has been on archery and the movement of an arrow. For the arrow to go far, the archer must pull its tail and the bowstring in a direction directly opposite to its projected trajectory (just follow, I’m unto something here, don’t worry). With his/her target set on the bullseye, the archer releases the arrow and lets it sail through the air. Its path is influenced by prevailing air currents, physical laws such as the downward pull of gravity, and the material the arrow is made of. All of these forces active, the archer’s attention and input is in that initial pull on the arrow. And he/she fires. If it misses it’s intended target, he/she misses a few points. In ancient Hebrew parlance, this scenario is a ‘sin’ (not in the ‘religious’ sense, just as a term, for now), meaning ‘to miss the mark’.

Our lives can be like that arrow. The Ultimate perfect good life is everyone’s target. But our getting there is influenced by conditions within, conditions around, and the downward pull of the Law of Sin and Death (like gravity), which makes man miss the target. That’s what sin is. But you know what, sometimes we don’t even know the right target. God does.
His intended bullseye for us all is much better than the targets we all want to achieve. It’s called ‘The Glory of God’. It’s a life that’s so awesome, it’s victorious over all spheres of life. It’s the Life of God, Eternal Life, and that’s His target for us all, His Plan for us all. So not only do our arrows fall short of that target (Romans 3:23: All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God), sometimes the life of man may be focused on the wrong target altogether.
That’s a life under the Law of Sin and Death. With an arrow pointed away from the target, it has no choice but to result in ‘sin’ over and over again.

But then God’s Grace…oh, how Amazing this is!
God’s Grace is God’s energy directed towards us, working through us, helping us, making us reach His bullseye! And you know how He exercised it? He did it, like the Archer, by focusing on the initial pull of the arrow in a direction directly opposite to its projected path: to give us Life, He died.
His Death and Resurrection dealt with every single thing that could have held us bound to sin. He made us free from the Law of Sin and Death and gave us a Life that operates under a new law: the Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus, i.e. Grace.
So He pulled the arrow (died) and when He released it (resurrected), He rose with us, now we’re in Christ. Identified with Him, we’ve been released with a force so great, no physical laws can stop it. It’s the Power that raised Christ from the dead and set Him far above all principalities and power (Ephesians 1:19-23). And with all those laws silenced, we’re given a Life that reaches God’s intended target for us at all times!
I pray you see and comprehend the depth in this.
This is a Life where sin (missing the mark, and all that could make you miss the mark) has no dominion over you, for you are living a life under the Grace (enablement) of God. It’s His strength, His power, His Life at work in you (Galatians 2:20: I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ liveth in me. And the life that I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God Who loved me and gave Himself for me).
Whenever, if ever, you feel weak and these things don’t seem true, if it seems your career or family or academics or any other sphere of life seems not to exhibit this life, look again into what God has done for you in Christ. That’s where your victory lies through all eternity. It’s through His death that we have life.
And your faith in His work is what gives you access into this Life of Grace (Romans 5:2: By [Christ] also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God). It’s established in Scripture that when you recieve this Gospel message, it comes with faith, and you have the faith required to gain access. (Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God…Romans 10:17)

So don’t live life as if it’s one hustle to another that helps you survive. Acknowledge and thank Him for His grace at work in you, assured that He’s the one that taking you forward, closer to Him, closer to where He wants you to be.
Let all you do and all you are be identified in this, and you will see His Grace at work.

🙂

If I Had to Die for Someone

if2

With one final gasp of the acrid air, Martin hurried into the burning building to the screams of the onlookers below. The window gave in to his weight as he stumbled into the smoldering room. In the smoky interior he winced as his eyes watered, his nostrils stinging, heat searing his skin. It was hell.

Help!” The scream came from downstairs. “Somebody! Please! I don’t want to die!” There was more, but it was swallowed up by the roar of the fire and the crackling of burnt wood.

Abigail!

The staircase was gone. Getting down there would be close to impossible. The fire was everywhere, and that breath that still lingered in his lungs would soon give out. Never before had he missed fresh air so.

But Abigail could not die. Not now. Not ever.

Dear God … what do I do now? His shirt stuck to his back, his face matted with sweat. He coughed, desperate for more air. With nothing to hold, he sank to his knees.

“Abigail!” he called. “Where are you?”

“I’m here!” The faint cry reached him. Now that he thought about, maybe she really wasn’t downstairs. What if…?

He bounded towards the toilet, stopping short at the door. It had the profile of a girl on it.

Really, Marvin? Still wondering if it’s OK to enter a girl’s bathroom at a time like this?

He pushed the door in and it shriveled into bits under the heat. There, in the ceramic-walled –and hot— bathroom, curled in a corner, was the most beautiful person he knew. Wide-eyed. Scared.

Abigail. Even with soot on her face, she still looked amazing.

Marvin thrust his hand out. “Come with me if you want to live!”

She just stared at him for a moment, heaving in shock. “Seriously? Like, are you … a firefighter?”

“What … me? No, I’m … Marvin. Marvin Bishop. We’re in the same class. Same school—“

“I don’t know you.” She looked genuinely wary.

“Look, that’s the thing. I figured you wouldn’t remember me. So I came here, to rescue you so you can know me … and I can finally show you how I … how I feel about y—“

“Look, I’m sorry, I’d really love to hear what you’ve got to say, but it’d probably be more interesting if there wasn’t a BURNING ROOM BEHIND YOU! We’re gonna DIE!”

Marvin squinted. “Th-that’s what I said. I came to rescue you and get you out of that window over there, risking life and limb, ‘cause I lov—

“Through that fire? How’ll we get there? I’ll get burnt!”

“Y-you don’t have to. See, I’ll carry you. I’ll protect you—”

“This all just sounds like a really bad script.”

Marvin was stunned. “Do you want to get rescued or not?”

He never got to hear her answer because a burning log dropped from the ceiling and knocked him out.

At least that’s what his friend, Bob’s knock on his head felt like as he woke up from his latest daydream.

“What?” he yelled at Bob, back in their classroom. “What was that for?”

“You daydreaming about rescuing Abigail from a burning building again?” Bob asked, a smirk on his face.

“No!” Marvin turned to stare at her across the classroom. As usual, Abigail was laughing with her friends, oblivious to his very presence. He sighed. “Yeah.”

“Dude … that’s just —“

“Don’t say ‘romantic’,” Marvin interrupted. “The word makes me sick.”

“I was going to say ‘disturbing’.” Marvin shot him a double-take. “Seriously? It’s sick! You want to set a building on fire and put some girl in it just so you can tell her that you … like her?”

“I wouldn’t set a building on fire. That’s crazy.”

“What, you think burning buildings grow on trees?”

Marvin waved him off. “Let’s just forget about this, OK? And I never said I was thinking about that. You did.” He picked a book to start reading. “And I wouldn’t put her in a burning building. I’d rescue her from one. Thats the point.”

“I thought you wanted to forget about this.”

“Right, right, yeah … let’s … forget about it.” He returned to pretending to read. “Never happened.”

 

———-

PRIVATE KEN YOUNG stared at the landscape around as their Humvee bounded across the Northern Afghanistan landscape. The howling winds around them kept reminding him that winter was approaching. It wouldn’t be too soon for his platoon. There was little to look forward to here.

Vasquez nudged him in the side and showed him a picture. “That’s my li’l Whitney.” The joy in his voice only barely masked the choke behind it. “She’s already crawlin’. Should be walkin’ by Christmas, I reckon.”

Ken smiled. It was probably the twentieth time that Vasquez had shown him the picture of his newborn baby girl, a daughter he had not seen since his tour in Afghanistan had begun. Ken could only imagine the pain the man was going through in their separation, so he allowed him his bragging rights.

“It’s awesome, man,” Ken said.

“Should be ropin’ cattle by the time I get back. Just like her Pa.”

Ken smirked. Yeah, right. “You sending her anything for Christmas?”

The man nodded. “Making an Afghan with her name on it.”

Ken nodded. It’d been six months since he’d left the States. He was already missing home, his friends, the life he had been used to. He wondered if he’d ever stop missing it all. Or if he’d ever get back at all.

“You know,” Vasquez added. “She probably doesn’t know me. Has never set eyes on me. Sally put to bed just days after I reported in.” He smiled despite himself. “Gonna take a while for her to accept me as her dad.”

“You’re gonna be a great father, Vasquez.”

He arched a brow. “I think I already am a father.”

“I meant … you know what I mean.”

“Yeah, just foolin’ with you, kid.”

Vasquez chuckled, and then he sobered after a while. He tapped the photograph. “This here … it’s what makes it all make sense.” Ken was going to ask, but he knew it was best to listen when this guy needed an ear. “When this crapfest gets in my head and I wonder why I’m here, why 9/11 brought us to Afghanistan of all places … I think of her. Whitney, Sally … everyone I care about. They deserve to live without fear. And these Arabs do too. And if my toting a peashooter around till kingdom come is going to make that happen … then I sure as heck will tote my peashooter the best I can.”

Ken smiled weakly with a shrug. He’d never seen a purpose to this. He’d always wished he did. Perhaps it’d make it all make sense. Maybe if he was here for someone … somehow it’d all make more sense. “Keeps everything in focus.”

“Thanks for the rousing speech, Vasquez,” Kirk said from the opposite row. “Should get you an Oscar.”

“Oscars are for movies, doofus,” Vasquez said.

“Yeah, whatever, man.” Kirk said. “But you’re wrong. We’re not here because of some honourable piece of—“

“Easy there,” another private said.

“No, he’s gotta hear this. We’re gonna die out here ‘cause we’re messing with something that wants to be left alone.”

“We’re trying to help them—“

“What if they don’t wanna be helped? Al Qaeda is just the beginning, man. It’s not going to end anytime soon. You just wait and see. Soon the body bags would be lined up on the ground, and BOOM! It’s all over. Hastalavista, baby.”

“Well, aren’t you full of goodwill today,” Ken said.

“Wait,” Vasquez cocked his head. “What do you know?”

Kirk stared at him for a moment, then shrugged and spread out his hands in front of him the way he did anytime he wanted to share something. “ ‘Kay, there’s this guy that supplies the base with merch and stuff. Ali? We’ve been talking lately. Told me there’s this group of crazies, a deviant sect, developing within Al Qaeda, destined to take over if Bin Laden dies.”

“How does he know that?”

“Rumors travel fast out here.”

“Bin Laden dead? Yeah, like that’ll ever happen,” another officer added.

“Let’s just say it will. These guys are more brutal, and they’ve got it in their thick skulls that they can model the world after their own brutal image. They’ve already got a name. It’s weird, I know, but I hear they call themselves ‘ISIS‘. “

“ISIS?”

He never got a response to that because, in a second, it was all over. The Humvee hit a mine, and the resulting explosion reverberated for miles. No one survived. Not Ken, not Vasquez, not Kirk – no one.

It was another statistic in the casualties of war on the news that year.

 

———-

I’m sorry that story ended quite abruptly. I hope it’s not too dark for you. If it is, then this part is for you; a light little intermission before the final story, where I explain what all this is about.

The thing is we know we’re not going to be on this planet forever. We know that the only way we’re leaving is either by dying, or in the Rapture, or perhaps on a trip on a rocket from NASA (OK, that one would be temporary, but still…). Death has been a sure part of the human cycle since Eden. It’s like a game that resets over and over again, with new players at each reset: Live, Die, Reset…Live, Die, Reset…Live, Die, Reset…

Over and over again.

But we don’t want to just … die. We know we’re leaving here soon, yes. But if we’re leaving at all, some of us want to leave with a bang! To make a real difference. And it seems the only way to leave with a bang is to die for a cause. For someone or something.

When people die for reasons beyond themselves, they are remembered as heroes. It doesn’t matter how much their lives may have sucked. As long as they had a selfless heroic death, they are hailed for generations.

In stories, sometimes a man may risk his life to rescue the typical ‘damsel-in-distress’. In some tragic stories, this heroic character dies (and I wonder why such stories ever bothered being written, except in some cases where it contributes the story or its central theme). We leave that story remembering them this way.

But what about the girl, the damsel that’s left to go through life tormented by traumatic images of the man that loved her and that died instead of her? The therapeutic sessions she’d have to go through? The resistance she’d have to other men because of her perceived devotion to the dead guy?

OK, I almost digressed there. But, at least Shakespeare had the decency to not allow even Romeo and Juliet to end that way…

 

Soldiers risk their lives for a cause they believe in. A country, a home, an ideal … or, admittedly, the paycheck they’d get (though I doubt that last one is a factor for most). They are trained for the worst, to be the ones to bridge the gap where others never could, to do what’s necessary to secure the country to which they are loyal. And many die in this effort; some forgotten by all except their families and those that loved them.

 

When I think about these scenarios, I wonder if I’d ever do that. Would I willingly give my life – as in, die – for a person, or a cause? Is it worth it? Sure, there’d be lots of honour and stuff, but I’d never get to enjoy it. My family would miss me. Sure, we’ll meet again in the future, but then they’ll have to endure unnecessary hurt.

Is it worth it?

But, in a sense, it seems exciting. Not to just die and go back into the earth, but to actually die for a reason. It comes with this surge of adrenaline, dying for something bigger and something better.

What would I die for?

I hope I’ve jolted some questions in your mind. What would you die for?

Would you die for anything?

Here’s the last story … and then … I’ll be back (hey, anyone else notice the Terminator references so far?).

 

———-

Winter’s cold winds washed against the man’s coat as he trudged through the snow that night, a sack lugged over his shoulder. His breath came out in heaves, trailed by short steamy wafts.

Katya’s old bike still stood in the lawn, draped in snow and ice. He decided to carry it in later. It would be good to finally meet his family after so long.

He sneaked a peek behind him. The neighbourhood was quiet. He turned and knocked. He could have tried the secret knock, but he wanted this to be a surprise. Who knew what they could expect in times like these?

After a tad suspicious thirty seconds, he heard a strong female voice call out. “Who’s out there?”

He could not hold it back any longer. “I’m home, my darling.”

It took a moment, and then she hurriedly unbolted the door. She was in a scarf and her characteristic brown blouse, a hand on her chest. The shock and beauty in her face warmed him to his heart as he dropped the bag and held out his arms for an embrace.

“You … didn’t use the secret knock,” she struggled to mutter.

“I wanted this to be a surprise. I’m sorry—”

“Pyotr…” She hurried into his embrace. “You’re back!”

“I love you, Corrie,” he whispered. What was that? He should be hurrying inside in this cold. But that was the only thing left to say in his melted heart after the sight of his beloved. “The Lord has kept me. I’m home.” They kissed.

Man, I’ve missed home!

She pulled back and held his face in her hands. “You’re home…” Her eyes were moist, her smile curving into those beautiful cheeks. “Oh, thank the Lord. Quick, come in, come in! It’s cold out here!”

Pyotr picked the bag. “Really? Cold? Somebody should’ve told me.”

“And don’t think I’m kissing you again until you brush those teeth.”

“I’ve missed you too, Corrie…“

“Pyotr?” It was Ivan, his brother, peeking from a doorway. “It’s you! You’re back! Thank the Lord!”

It was his brother. Faithful Ivan. Pyotr smiled and came over to embrace him, as Corrie hurried in to tell the others.

“You didn’t use the secret knock,” Ivan whispered.

“I know, I’m sorry, but you were all faster this time. I could have been the police. Can’t be too careful, these days.”

“How’d you get past the border?”

“Not now, brother. I just want to have a nice dinner with my family.”

“We’re being followed more and more these days. We have to be careful.”

Pyotr placed the bag by the doorpost and stretched in the warmth.

“Is that it?” Ivan gestured towards the bag.

Pyotr nodded. The stash of Bibles and Christian literature was the result of the contributions of believers in the West, so that Pyotr’s people could have the words of God to live by. In the radical Communist stronghold on their region, uninstitutionalized religious activity was rapidly becoming more illegal in definition. Believers were sequestered to hidden secret gatherings when possible. Without these books, much doctrine was subject to the whim of those that taught it. But it was Pyotr’s dream and the dream of thousands more, to get these into the hands of those that needed it the most.

Ivan palmed through the sack, poring through one book.

“Papa!” Katya bounded out of the dining room and into her father’s arms.

“My, how you’ve grown!” Pyotr exclaimed.

She giggled. “I missed you, Papa!”

“I missed you too, my angel. Let me look at you. My, you’re beautiful as ever.”

“You didn’t use the secret knock, Papa. We were all scared getting everything out of the way—“

“I know, I know. And I’ve been rightly chewed out for that. I’m sorry.” He stole a glance at Ivan as he ruffled her hair. “Dear God, I’ve missed you.”

“Papa, why are you … smelly?”

He tried to stifle a laugh. “Papa’s been on the road for days, dear.” He leaned in and whispered. “I haven’t had a bath in—“

She pulled away and covered her nose, laughing. Pyotr chased her around, laughing. It was good to be home, with the people he cared about. “I’ll take that bath, don’t worry.”

“Did you bring a present for me?”

“Now, Katya,” Corrie was back. “Let your father have his space. He needs to meet everyone.”

“I actually brought one especially for you, Kat,” he said as he followed them in, Katya on his arm. It was a colouring book of Bible stories. “I’ll give you in a moment. You just wait.”

“Brother Pyotr!” One, and then another, called from the dining room. It was like heaven to him. There was Old Mark, Vlad the baker from Leningrad, the Stefanovichs together, the Groznyys … and many others he did not know, all families united by one faith in one God through Christ.

All he had been through on his trip suddenly felt worthwhile.

It is worthwhile, Pyotr.

After greetings all round, they then settled to pray, thanking God for Pyotr’s safe delivery through the tight security at the borders, for the sake of the Gospel. Never before had he felt so close to heaven.

It couldn’t get any better than this…

As footsteps bounded down the stairs, Pyotr realized that all was not well. They were faster and more resolute as they approached. He opened his eyes and his gaze fell on Katya, her eyes still shut. Corrie was staring at him, worry etched on her features. She knew.

“Run,” he mouthed.

But it was too late. Patric, their lookout stationed in the attic, stumbled in. “They’re coming!”

The next moment, just one moment, that passed among them all dragged for a few seconds. In that time, the enormity of the situation dawned on them all. Pyotr’s eyes were still on Corrie’s. Lord, save us. He realized that he should have been suspicious when he noticed the deserted streets. Who knew how long they had been watched? But now… dear God …

And then the scurry began as everyone tried to hurry to the basement. This was no drill. But that was when the front door burst open with the police officer at the door preceded by an icy cold wintry draft.

“Hold it right there!” the officer yelled. “If anyone moves we will fire!”

To shrieks and screams, more policemen bounded in, weapons trained on them. Pyotr tried to take a headcount. Everyone was still here … right?

The captain walked in, and the other officers surrounded them. Pyotr recognized him from border patrol. Had they followed him since then? Their eyes met. The captain snarled.

“Get him!”

Pyotr stood tall. “This is my house. What’s going on here?”

Two officers grabbed him by the arms, to Corrie’s screams. When the Captain raised his hand to slap her Pyotr edged closer but was summarily stomped to the ground by a boot. Corrie covered her mouth, tears trickling down her face.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…

The captain walked around Pyotr, staring him down. He finally stooped and placed his baton under his chin, nudging his face up. “The sack. Where is it?”

Pyotr would not reply. I will fear no evil … for You are with me…

After a moment, the Captain struck him with the baton, cracking his jaw. “Search the house!”

The officers smashed all the windows, flipping furniture over, all in an effort to trash the place. Books toppled to the floor, leaving the room a cluttered mess.

“I know you carried a sack in. If there’s anything incriminating in there, I swear you all –all of you, including that little girl – will never see the light of day ever again.”

Pyotr stared up at his daughter. She looked scared. It had all happened so fast. No child should have had to see this. It’s going to be OK, my dear.

Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me…

He sneaked a peak at the doorpost where the bag was supposed to have been. It was gone.

The captain followed his gaze and headed for that area.

“Here,” an officer said, holding up the sack. “Found it.”

The only problem was that the sack was empty. How did—? Pyotr turned and his eyes fell on Ivan’s knowing gaze. He had emptied the bag before the soldiers came in. Good one, brother. But where had he taken the Bibles? Had someone escaped with them? Who wasn’t here? That Patric kid, where was he? Had he taken them?

The captain squeezed the sack in his hands, fuming.

You have prepared a table before me, in the presence of my enemies.

The officers flung the dishes of food against the wall, breaking the table in two.

You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows…

The captain was visibly furious. He wanted to break something … or someone. And Pyotr was unfortunate to be the subject of his anger.

Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life…

“I know you’re all spreading sectarian doctrine, poisoning the minds of our good citizens. You’re a cancer, I swear! I’m of a mind to arrest you right now. But let this be a statement.” He pointed at them all, staring at Pyotr. Then, with pent-up rage released, he kicked his head in, smashing his cranium in.

Katya, I’m sorry you had to see this…

The captain waited a couple of seconds more, and then pulled out a pistol. Carrie was barely containing herself now, weeping with all she had.

He trained the gun on Pyotr’s head. Adrenaline washed over his body. “Tell me, Pyotr Konor, are you a follower of the Christian doctrine or are you a citizen in good standing with the community? If you are a good citizen … then renounce this Jesus. Right now.”

They all stared. This was it. The moment of truth.

Pyotr’s eyes could not leave Katya’s. She was scared, her gaze panicky. What’s going on, Papa? She would probably have wanted to ask. Why is this happening to us?

He knew that his choice right then, what she saw, would have its effect on her. Probably for the rest of her life. Lord, keep her…

And Corrie… Dear God, Corrie… How could I have been so blessed to meet a woman like you?

I love you. I really do.

I know you understand.

“You’re trying my patience.” The captain said, his anger grating through his words.

…and I will dwell in the house of the Lord … forever.

The Bibles were out of reach of these men, and that was a good thing. Many would get their hands on those books, and the church would grow. If for that reason alone, Pyotr hoped it was all worth it.

And with that, he leaned forward, eyes shut, and placed his forehead on the nozzle of the pistol.

Amen.

 

———-

 

I grew up reading and listening to stories like that last one. I always wondered what I’d do if I was asked to renounce Jesus or die. Would I give in?

I’d like to say that I’d never give in. I’ve always believed that I would never give in. But, until that day comes, if it comes, I guess I may never know the answer to that.

Or do I?

We’ve come a long way from just ‘leaving with a bang’ now, huh?

Some famous guy once said that something to die for is definitely something worth living for. (You probably need to read that again and think about it. And, while we’re on the subject, I don’t remember the famous guy that said it first. But he said it, and I said it now, so I guess that makes it TWO great guys that have said it now … OK, I was kidding there. But, seriously, you probably need to read that sentence again. Have you?)

So I could go with a bang for something, yes, but would I live for it? If it is worth dying for, then it is probably worth living for too, right?

But living for something is much harder than dying for it, in my opinion. Don’t think so?

Think about this: If I died for something, everyone would know when it happened. I would not need to do anything more, because my statement has been made in my death. It’s done once, and that’s it.

But if I were to LIVE for such a thing, now, no one may know at first. It would show in my lifestyle. I may not get the rewards or any public acclamation immediately … or ever. I would give my every word, my every waking moment, thinking about what more I could for the person or the cause for which I’m alive.

I would lose my identity for that thing. It’s like a living death in itself.

And I would ask myself, “Is it worth it?”

That’s what love is. You love your wife or husband, so you live for them for the rest of your life.

It’s what being a parent is like. You love your children, so you stick with them and raise them. You’re not bothered if they do not appreciate you or not, or if they’re naughty or not. You hang in there, diligent make them better because you love them. Even when it’s not convenient, you hang in there.

It’s what life in the military is. You lose your right to a unique identity for the discipline and uniformity needed to operate as a unit, for a common goal.

It’s what living for Christ is like.

Love is the defining factor in all these examples. Paul knew what he was saying when he wrote that “…if I have not love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2) We could offer our bodies to be burnt instead of someone else that deserves it, or give all we have away, or win all awards we can, but if it’s not done in love, then all we’ve been doing is making noise. Anything outside this is not life.

We may not all have to decide who we’ll die for at gunpoint, but we can choose who we live for. We may not all have to ‘die’ because we serve God, but we’re all called to live for Him.

In Romans 12:1, we’re encouraged to “…offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy (separated) and acceptable unto God, which is our reasonable service.” It’s the only reasonable way to live. Every waking moment: our eating, sleeping, breathing, surfing the Net, watching movies, gisting … give it to Him. Let Him define them for you.

Like I like to say, it’s sacrifice, but that’s the only way we’ll ever find true freedom.

And it’s awesome! The good thing is that, He doesn’t leave us to figure out how to please Him. When we believe in Him, He lives through us, working through us to make us want to do what pleases Him, and to actually do what pleases Him. We can decide to get with the programme and allow Him to use us and make us all He wants us to be, ‘cause that’s the best we can ever be … and it’s a bazillion times better than the best we think we could ever be!

Soon, you’ll realize that there’s no better way to live; that there’s no other way to live.

Than to live for Him.

The point has never been who you die for.

It’s who or what you live for.

Heroes & Villains

Heroes and Villains

You’ve probably noticed that superhero movie franchises are becoming a thing these days. With every new year, the number of such movies released increases. And it is not going to end anytime soon.

The recent rise in superhero movie franchises is just the product of a sentiment that has been building up for ages. Throughout all time, we’ve all found ourselves intrigued by stories with heroes defeating villains, good triumphing over evil and happily-ever-after endings. We love these stories because of the much bigger picture that they paint. Or maybe this picture is all too familiar to us. Maybe we want these stories because we see ourselves in them, somehow.

Stories have come a long way since … well since as far back as they’ve been around. But we don’t just narrate events in our stories. Some say our stories influence our lives. I think our lives also have an impact on the stories we tell. It’s a circularly-causal relationship between stories (art) and life.

The classic ‘good-and-evil’ story thread was built on absolutes. They usually had heroes of impossibly ultimate charisma rising up to defeat villains with evil intent, monsters that were evil for the sake of being evil, in whatever form they took. The Heroes were people with good manners, good hearts, and conveniently excellent muscular form (wink). The Villains were dark and ugly to behold. Some deceiving through their words, some bruising with their might. Myths and legends of monsters terrorizing villages, and demigods rising up (or coming down) to defeat those monsters, sprang up through the ages. They filtered into fables and stories over time.

These days I find that I’m drawn to stories that have believable villains. When I was younger, the villains in most stories I came across were all evil just for the sake of being evil. But these days, stories have villains that actually think, and that you agree could exist. They are actually endearing in their own creepy, demented ways.

“D’you wanna know how I got these scars?” *

“There’ll be nothing but fear and darkness … and me…” **

“Showdown at midnight. Wanna trip, baby?” ***

Creepy.

If you did not get those references, the first is by the Joker in The Dark Knight (2008), the second is from Pitch Black (the Boogeyman) in Rise of the Guardians (2012), and the last was from Marsuvees Black in Showdown (Ted Dekker).

In these guys –be they good or bad guys – we see a little bit of ourselves, and that is what makes them endearing or repulsive to us. Either way, they make us interested in the story.

This is what makes your story a winner: when your audience can identify with at least one of the characters, or the circumstances in which they find them. It pulls us into your story so that we subconsciously have a friend in your fictional world, heightening the reader or viewer’s senses and emotions, so that every plot point affects us almost as much as it affects your characters. Our new friend keeps us coming back for more, to check up on him or her, joining them on their journey through the pages.

(SIDE NOTE: Jesus did this in His parables too. Whether His stories were about a sower sowing in a field, or a woman looking for a precious coin, or a woman trying to get the attention of the judge before her case came up, His first century Judaean audience could identify with the situations described in His parables. This was part of what set His teachings apart from those of the liturgical sermons they were used to hearing. They could actually see themselves in His stories, and could see their application to life.)

Storytellers (writers, filmmakers, etc.) these days have realized this secret to some extent, and that is why the heroes in our movies are a bit flawed, and no longer the ultimate models of humanity that used to be iconic. The flaws may be personality problems or just unfortunate circumstances that scar them for life, making them more human to us. Bringing them down to our level, so to speak.

  • Peter Parker (Spider-Man) has acrobatic skills, a sense of humor, and can shoot webs, but he lives with constant guilt because he feels responsible for his uncle’s death. And his city thinks he’s a nuisance, no matter how hard he tries to convince them he’s not.
  • Tony Stark (Iron Man) may be a billionaire genius that has a mechanical suit that helps him fly and shoot lasers and missiles, but he’s still got a piece of shrapnel near his heart and he lives moreorless on life support. (Sure, he finally got rid of it in the movies, but he’s got more challenges coming his way. Trust me.)
  • Bruce Banner (the Hulk) may be the strongest there is, but he still can’t control his rage or himself. And, seriously, who wants to go out with a big green rage monster? The future only gets worse for this guy, no matter how much good he tries to do.

I could go on and on with—

  • Oh yeah. Bruce Wayne (Batman) lost his parents when he was a boy. He grew up in this dark and brooding phase that’s affected him, even as an adult.
  • Thor has got complicated family issues—

OK! That was me geeking out a bit there. Sorry. The point is that the writers make us see that these heroes aren’t so perfect after all. And we’re OK with that because, we know we’re not perfect either. We may not be so far off from these guys, after all. And if they can save the world, so can we (on a different scale, no less, but still…).

But it’s not only typical of superhuman stories. Some of the more human stories show people without a chance of winning any battle suddenly rising as the hero through selfless acts. Characters like the little hobbit, Frodo in Lord of the Rings, who saved Middle Earth by taking the evil ring to the place where it could be destroyed; or Samwise Gamgee, his devoted friend that encouraged him along the way and helped him up when he was weak. We like these guys not because of their strength or abilities, but for the strength of their hearts.

 

And then, [Scottish-sailor’s-accent kicking in] “Therrre be Villains…”

Now, if you’ve noticed, the best Villains are those that believe, in their own demented way, that they are actually doing the right thing. There is nothing as dangerous as a man who perpetrates evil and yet sincerely believes he is doing the right thing. The suicide bombers on the news today have taught us that. This approach to the villainous character amplifies his (or her) humanity. We loathe and/or fear them for the evil that they do, but we also understand that they’ve just been affected by something or an incident in their past that warped their sense of right and wrong. As they say, “It all takes one bad day.” Just one bad day that messed up with the rest of their lives. We empathize with them, and wonder just how the hero is going to defeat this character. Somewhere deep inside us, we hope for his (or her) redemption or satisfaction. We do not want to admit it, but it’s there.

I’m not saying that these guys are good, and I’m not saying I agree with them. I do NOT. They are evil, and that’s that. But those strong stories accentuate their humanity by showing, for example, how much these guys love their own children, or loved ones.

  • The Evil Stepmother wants her daughter, instead of Cinderella, to marry the handsome prince. It’s not her fault that her daughter’s not as pretty as Cinderella. (you can blame the Disney artists for that one … lol)
  • Gothel (the Witch in Disney’s Tangled) stole Rapunzel because she wanted to always look young. The girl’s hair gave her the power to prevent aging.
  • Erik Lehnsherr (aka Magneto, from the X-Men series) is a mutant who hates humanity because he grew up among people that hated and maltreated mutantkind. His parents were even killed in a concentration camp. So his entire life is one long crusade to create a world where mutants can live free, even if humans have to be trampled on to get there.
  • The Joker (Batman’s foil and archenemy) just wants to have some fun. He’s crazy and demented, yes, but he wants the thrill of some real fun; be it through chaos or … more
  • No one believes in the Boogeyman (Pitch Black in DreamWorks Animation’s Rise of the Guardians). How else would he get some attention, except by scaring people with nightmares? [and seriously, his ‘Night-Mares’ were actually dark horses that ran at night. I loved that pun]

Some stories, however, dare to shatter any hope that there’s any humanity in the Villain(s) and present us with some of the darkest creatures, with no love or life left in them. They are not just evil for the sake of being evil, no. They show us just how evil they are… and it could get really dark. These are also interesting in that they show us that evil is just that: Evil, and not something to be meddled with. Deeply, dark, demented and torturous evil. It pushes the storyteller, who wants to wrap up a good story, to write a reasonable hero or a believable heroic circumstance with as much depth and power and goodness to defeat such an evil character. How the storyteller pulls this off will tell on the quality of his or her story, and on his or her heart as well. If they could get the story to such a dark point, they should be able to bring us back to light.

But even these dark villains have a goal. They want devastation and destruction and death because that’s the only way they could ever get satisfaction.

 

In his classic ‘Mere Christianity’, C.S. Lewis explained that because creatures were made by God, the Good God, that’s why they all desire something good. Be it love, or satisfaction, or a thrill, or a home. We all want good things, deep down. For Villains, it’s not so easy to figure this out. But deep beneath all their quests for power and control is a desire for something good. Our quest is supposed to lead us back to God—the Good God. But sometimes we don’t see that far. What makes the difference between a hero and a villain however is how we go about getting that good thing we desire.

A good man asks. A bad man steals.

A good man works. A bad man kills.

The Good or evil we do is a result of the contents of our hearts.

The truth is we are all Heroes in our respective stories. Heroes, flawed by weaknesses but still trying to do what’s right. And we fail. Time and time again.

But we are also the Villains of our stories. Villains, making selfish decisions and feeling selfish emotions that tear us apart until we have attained or apprehended what we desire, no matter what we do to get it. Don’t believe me? All it takes is ‘one bad day’ to show what’s really in our hearts. When push comes to shove, how do we respond to the impossible circumstances and conflicts we face? How do we take on the battles we face without and within?

How do we get those things we desire?

Heroes at heart, but Villains too.

One bad day away …

This conflict we face on the inside is what pulls us toward the conflicts we see on the big screen, or in books, or even on the news. Whether the story is set in Middle Earth, or Narnia, or a dystopian future or the Victorian past, we feel we are in the same world with the characters we have come to love so much because we’ve been there before, facing those familiar struggles.

 

How do we get that ‘Happily-ever-after’ ending that we desire?

Is there a Happily-ever-after?

Did God put this desire for good in us and leave us to wander? Like a sick Toymaker winding his toys and leaving them to simply jerk around the room until they are simply wound out?

 

No.

Heavens, NO!

Ha!

 

He is the Good we want. He is the Love we’ve sought. The Freedom we’ve ever hoped to gain.

He is the Spring to satisfy our souls’ deepest thirsts. The Fountain to cleanse us from all that is bane.

 

Coming to Him for help would mean burning away a lot of pride; the very same pride we’ve built up as a defense to protect ourselves from the antagonism around us, but the very same pride that’s also killing us from within. That which we want to be cleansed of keeping us from That which would cleanse us.

Surrender.

Not to the evil, but to God.

Surrender everything that you hold so dear to yourself. Surrender all that you’ve accepted yourself to be and accept who God says you are. Surrender your will and your right to complain, to act, to live … to be. Surrender yourself.

Myself.

It’s very difficult, but it is the only way we can truly be free. And when we do, we find that we’d been prisoners all along. We wonder why we had not surrendered sooner.

 

So the Hero and the Villain are at war to this very day. To this very moment.

That ‘one bad day’ will come. The Bible calls it ‘the day of adversity’ in Proverbs 24:10. It says:

[If] you faint in the day of adversity, your strength [is] small.

The ‘day of adversity’ may not be an alien invasion, but it could be something as small as an opportunity to get what you want by lying or cheating or taking advantage of someone. It could also be an opportunity to do the right thing – it depends on how you see. How do you see?

The one that will rise up in that day is the one who has won in the heart. Good or Evil.

We were never meant to fight this battle alone.

We weren’t made to.

 

There really is a Happily-Ever-After, my friends. It is not going to be a mushy lovey-dovey ending, but a satisfying one. And there are many confrontations and battles between now and then.

But only Good can really give us the Good we desire.

Only God can bring us to God.

And He did. Through Christ. The battle that needed to be fought has been fought and won for us by Him already. He only asks us one thing.

Just one choice can make a difference that would ring through all eternity.

Surrender.