Tag Archives: God

PORTAL (6 of 6): Home

It was December 31, the last day of 2019, and Riley Harris was back at the party in Brisbane. The house will flooded with pulsating lights and music blared from the DJs stand.

She blinked, taking in the world around her. She had thought she would die when stepping off that cliff, but here she was.

She was back.

Oh snap! She was back!

She fished out her phone from her pocket. It read 11:52pm.

Shannon tapped her shoulder. “Hey, girl friend!” She had arrived with the shots. “Where’ve you been?”

Riley collected her glass, studying her friend. “Shannon?”

Shannon cocked her head. “Please tell me you haven’t tried the good stuff yet.”

She wasn’t flickering. Riley reached out to touch her arm. She was real! “I’m actually back!!!”

She dropped her glass and embraced Shannon, jumping with glee.

“Shannon, I’m back!!!”

Shannon pulled away, picking her steps among the shattered glass at her feet. “OK, I’m completely freaked out now.”

“Shannon, what time is it?”

“What time is it? Are you OK in the head, Riley?”

Riley didn’t know where to begin. She didn’t know how to begin.

She hurried away, feeling the mass of humanity around her. They were all real.

It wasn’t until she eventually made her way out of the building that she could actually breathe fresh air. There were fireworks in the distance, and music from different buildings all around. Ah, how she had missed the feeling of the breeze on her skin. Back in the Timescape the air was still.

Shannon was not far behind. “Riley, where’re you going?”

“I’m sorry, Shannon. It’s just … all of this is so real.” She raised her hands to feel the breeze.

“OK, I don’t know what Todd put in your drink but you’re high out of your mind, girl. Now you’re going to sit down right now and get a hold of yourself—“

Riley grabbed her hands. “Shannon, Shannon, look at me. I am not high. I just … I feel alive for the first time in a long time.”

Shannon smiled. “I did tell you the party will get you out the dumps, didn’t I?”

Riley knew it wasn’t the party, but she didn’t know how to frame it. “Shannon I’ve needed help for so long.”

“Yeah, we tell you that all the time. You’re sick in the head, but we love ya. This New Year, we’ll make sure there’s no time to think too hard on all the trash that’s bothered you, alright Riley?”

She shrugged. “I, uh … I think I’m just going to sit outside here for a while.”

Shannon frowned. “Why don’t I feel OK about that?”

“I’m not going anywhere, Shan. Look into my eyes. I am fine. I just want some … fresh air.”

Shan actually stepped closer. “There’s a first. Usually you’re the party animal and I’m the sane one.”

“Go have fun, Shan. I’ll be right here.”

“Alright!” Shannon stepped toward the door. “Come in soon, OK?”

She nodded. “Now go!”

Riley sat on the doorstep, staring into the sky. It was so good to see lights again.

But she still had questions. Had all of that really happened? Had she been hallucinating? She knew she hadn’t. She just didn’t know where to go from here.

“God,” she said. “I still don’t know if you really are there. But if You are, they say you can heal me of what has hurt me. I admit, I have carried this pain all this time. I’m really not sure if you are listening. But now I know there is so much more going on than meets the eye. If you really have healing for me, I want that. I want it. If You’ve got something better for me, I really want to know You.”

——

It was December 31, the last day of 2019, and Tolu was back in the car, on the way to church.

The phone was in his hands, and his parents were in front.

I’m home! I’M HOME!

He was so overcome, he didn’t know what to say. He just reached over around his Mum’s seat and hugged her.

Thank you, God. Thank you!

Mum was shocked. “Ah-ah, Toluwanimi? Sho wa okay bayii? (Literally, ‘Are you OK?, but contextually, ‘Are you OK in the head?!’)”

“I’m just happy to see you again, Mum!”

She actually didn’t know how to respond at first. “Aw, my boy. I don’t know how God blessed me with a gift like you.”

Out of the corner of his eye he noticed his father smile.

“I love you too, Dad!”

“Hey, hey, don’t even try and touch me now,” Dad warned as he drove. “Nonsense. I’m still not buying that shoe for you.”

Mum turned to him. “Ah-ah, Honey! Appreciate your son, jo!”

“It’s alright, Dad,” he said. “The shoe is the last thing on my mind right now. I’m just happy to be back … here with you.”

Dad nodded slowly, taking it in. “It’s alright.” He shook his head, wondering what was wrong with his boy.

Tolu sat back in his seat, remembering the last time he had been here. Every second now meant something to him. He just kept staring at his parents as the whispered the rest of their conversation.

He remembered where he’d been, and he remembered what had taken him there. Was the Timescape real?

“Mummy,” he said. “I have a question.”

“What is it, my dear?”

“Is it possible for someone not to enter the New Year?”

She paused a moment to consider that before she hit the chair. “You will make it into the New Year in Jesus Name! Stop using your mouth to say dangerous things like that!”

“No, I mean—“

“Instead of you to be talking with God about your future,” Dad said. “You’re busy thinking about something like that.”

He figured it would be difficult to explain, so he let it lie. “It’s alright.”

“Maybe it’s those cartoons he’s been watching.”

“It haff do,” Mum said. “Oya, start praying in your seat. I must see you praying!”

Tolu smirked at his mother’s training methods, but he knew she meant well. He leaned against the window, praying. As he stared at the world around – living, bright, full of colour and moving people – he wondered what each of them was going through. The fears and concerns and insecurities they may harbour. Just like he had.

He had been quoting prayers he heard a lot when he stopped. It was time to actually have a conversation. “Lord, I don’t know what’s next. But I know You must. I don’t want to stay stuck in the past or in a moment. So I’ll … enter the unknown with You. I will trust You, and I will seek You. Help me find You.”

—–

It was December 31, the last day of 2019, and Frank Aldrin found himself in Times Square, New York.

The sudden change of scenery jolted him for a moment. It was a cold night, with snow all around. Digital billboards on the sides of buildings were lit with motion adverts of upcoming movies and products. Some still had Christmas decorations on.

It worked! Good golly, it worked!

“…so that’s why I took Benny to his cousin’s school, instead.” A lady was walking beside him, talking to him. He wasn’t sure why he recognised her, but he did. It was when he saw her face that he realised who it was.

Her face. Her disfigured left cheek and smaller left eye. The tiny dots where repeated suturing had been done over the years. The girl he had known 37 years ago had grown. He couldn’t believe it.

“Darlene?”

She turned to him. “Hmm?”

He couldn’t believe his eyes. This woman, probably in her mid-thirties, was his own daughter, Darlene!

“You’re … here?”

She seemed confused as to why he would ask that question. “Yeah. I am here, like I told you before. My interview this Friday brought me to New York, that’s why I’m not with them. Brian and Benny understand that I’m here.”

This was his daughter, Darlene, all grown up and now a wife and a mother. Memories of the years since he’d been trapped in the Timescape came filtering in, as though he had been here all along. For some reason, Frank could put faces to those names she mentioned. Brian Pruitt was her husband, who was in Detroit with their son Benny.

“I have a grandson? Benny.”

Darlene looked a bit disappointed. “Gee, Dad, I’m sure he’d love to hear that his Grandpa forgot he exists. It’s not like we send pictures every year.”

They walked on in silence for a while. The crowd was filled with people running back and forth with firecrackers, some huddled together around street performers, some shops still with their Christmas décor still up. And up on a tall building, the ball drop was being prepared for the midnight countdown into the New Year. 2020 was written in sparkly letters at the top.

Darlene sighed. “Dad, I know things haven’t been the best between you and Mum, or you and me, all our lives. But I’m trying here. It took me years to come to terms with the fact that that’s how things would always be, but it never did it for me.”

Frank didn’t know how to respond. He felt like he barely knew her because he actually didn’t know her.

“You know, if I want to be honest Dad, there’s a lot I haven’t said in years that I need to let out. I grew up angry with myself, and angry with … with you, too. My face was a constant reminder that I have a problem. That I would never find love. That this was why our family broke apart, and why I went through life without a Dad. It kept telling me that I did have a father, and he hated me.”

He was shaken. The problem is me, child. Not you. It was me all along.

“But God healed me,” she said. “He heals me. Maybe not my face, but my heart. I’ve still had my periods where I fight with the reality that this face is going with me through my whole life, and I want to get angry. I think of how you never showed up for my graduation, or even my wedding, or every other things that’s important to me. Until I realised that I was trapped. I was letting my pain keep me from moving on to the much more that God has for me.

“But I look at all He’s blessed me with – life, joy, hope, my f… our family – and I see that He’s never left me alone. He’s never left us alone. Dad, I know it doesn’t always have to be this way.” She held his hand. “But I think you need to know that, whatever it is you feel you’ve done, I’ve forgiven you. I want you to know that you don’t have to shut yourself away from us. You don’t have to, Dad. I want my son to have his Grandpa. I know that we can.”

Frank didn’t know he had been crying until he realised he’d shed a tear. “I’m so sorry, Darlene,” he said.

“Me too, Dad.”

“No, I’m sorry for the years we’ve lost. I was so … I needed to get over myself, but I didn’t know how to.”

Darlene nodded, tears in her eyes. “God can help us. We can do this together, Dad. He can help us.”

And she embraced him.

For the first time in 37 years, he felt light. That burden that had been building up for three decades was gone. His daughter was with him. She loved him. They were willing to find a way to make it work.

He didn’t know what would happen, or if they would ever really make it work. He didn’t know what the future held. But what did he have left, except to trust God and see what He could do? If God truly is, and He had a purpose in time, Frank had no option but to wait and see.

Meanwhile, the countdown to the ball drop had already begun.

“5…

“4…

“3…

“2…

“1…”

The End …?

An Afterword.

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.

😁

THE RIDER: Wilbur’s Story … The Animated Short

What do you do when a story won’t leave you for two years?

That’s kinda what happened to me.

Hi there! Emmanuel here! I want to present to you a little animated short I worked on and to explain some of the thoughts behind it.

Here’s the vid:

So what’s this all about?

The main character in this short, Wilbur, is a side character in a larger story I’ve been working on called The Rider. Like all my other stories, The Rider is especially dear to me because I see it as a depiction of a journey I find myself on much of the time.

The Rider is a parable of how our lives can be defined so many times by our activities. We find ourselves many times in a pointless race. Many of us are running after achievements and a better life. Many of us are running away from the poverty and strain of our backgrounds. We find ourselves plunged into this throng of motion, we lose ourselves in the midst of it all.

We desire some things, legitimate desires all. But there is one major glitch in the system: we are broken. And that’s why we remain stuck.

Truth is we are all thirsty. When we break down all our pursuits they usually come down to satisfaction, relief, rest, affirmation and acceptance, love. All good things. We pursue them in fame, in entertainment, in career pursuits, in our relationships. But the very problem of our broken nature, of our thirst, is that we cause so much destruction in our wake. We lapse into addictions, sap all the joy out of our relationships, ruin ourselves and hurt those around us, all in the pursuit of our satisfaction.

The thing is, while all these things are good, they wouldn’t satisfy because, and gear up for this, they were never meant to. They were meant to be enjoyed, not abused.

God our Creator became a man like us so that He could tell us that He has the water to satisfy our thirst. But get this, this Water is Alive. He called it Living Water. He said, “…whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:14 NKJV)

The Life that He gives fills us and overflows, so not only do we not have to thirst again, but we can fill the need of others.

We can enjoy our career pursuits and relationships and journey because our affirmation and satisfaction are not dependent on them. We can live beyond our needs and limitations, and love without fear.

In the short above, Wilbur’s dissatisfaction with his life causes him to leave his family and the life he had. By the time he realises what he has lost, he has already caused so much damage and heartache. He decides to return home to make things right, but he hasn’t the strength to make it back.

Our broken natures are our very weakness. It is why our true journey begins when we come to see that we cannot do this on our own. Surrendering to God is admiting we haven’t got it all figured out. When we trust our lives to Him, He gives us the strength to live and do all we are meant to. To mend what is broken, and to live in His rest.

So why haven’t I finished the story?

Because, even though I’m one of those that have surrendered their lives to God, I still find in myself the predilection to see life from the perspective of thirst. I find myself seeking affirmation and fulfilment in the approval of others, and it never satisfies. It is to people like me that Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” (Revelation 3:20 NKJV)

I constantly need to let His reality overshadow mine. I need to drink of His water, to drown in it so that all I see in life is through His lenses. We all do. So that we don’t live the life of thirst when our very spirits are bursting with His Life.
So, yeah, I’m on that journey through the desert. I haven’t figured it all out. But even if I don’t, I’ll trust in His supply. I’ll soon be done though.

For as many in the desert as well, I hope you find the One Who is Living Water, and find that He is the One that’s been seeking you all along.

God bless you!

What are your thoughts? Do you find yourself in similar paths sometimes? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

FACES OF THE CHRISTMAS STORY: The Gift of Immanuel

#FacesoftheChristmasStory

Behold, the virgin shall become pregnant and give birth to a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel–which, when translated, means, God with us.
Matthew 1:23, quoting a prophecy from Isaiah 7:14

Immanuel: God With Us. What a beautiful concept.
It’s out-of-this-world: a Person that is with us, but is also God. Of course, this was fulfilled in Jesus.
But Immanuel encompasses so much … SO MUCH. Imagine that: if God, the Maker of all that exists, was with you what would that really mean?
Let’s take a little look.
God With Us means that God would be among us. He would become a Man like us. He would eat our food, sleep in our human beds, walk our human roads, be involved in our human conversations, and be an all-round human. This is what God did when He became a man. Jesus grew up like a human would and fulfilled the Father’s plan. He was God among us, and He was human in every way. He felt like we feel and knows how we think. He’s been in our shoes, and He knows what we need at every situation.
God With Us also means that God would be, well, with us. Accompanying us. Involved in all of our things. What does that really mean? In Isaiah 41:10 God says, “Don’t panic. I’m with you. There’s no need to fear for I’m your God. I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you. I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you.” God, with you, would give you strength, help you, and hold you steady.
Finally, to those who are saved, we can look back through the lens of the Redemption Work of Jesus to see that Immanuel means God is alive in us. That’s as close as anyone can get. He is at work in us, through His Spirit, to make us will (or want to do) and to make us do what will give Him most pleasure (Philippians 2:13). He is transforming us, making us more like Him, through His Spirit in us.
It’s a refreshing and amazing thing to have such a relationship with the One Who made us and knows us.

The Faces of the Christmas Story Project has shown us a glimpse into the lives of a couple of personalities involved in and affected by the coming of God as a man. The Christmas Story. But beyond and through it all, they also show us what God-With-Us means, for it was Him working behind-the-scenes.
The Prophets showed us that God is with us to fulfil His promises.
The Angels showed us that God is with us to favour us.
Zacharias showed us that God is with us in our doubts, and will not leave us even till we come to believe His Word. He is patient with us in our faith journeys.
Elisabeth showed us that God is with us to do His miracles in our lives, even to the impossible. Nothing is impossible with Him.
Caesar Augustus showed us that God is ruling in the affairs of men, even of those in authority, on our behalf.
King Herod’s story showed us that God is with us to affirm us, and that we need not live with a sense of inferiority, seeking the approval of men.
The Magi showed us that God is with us to make us so highly favoured that others will come to our rising, to receive of His Light shining in us.
The Shepherds showed us that God came for everyone, even to the lowliest.
The Innkeeper who had no room for Jesus to be born showed us that wherever Christ enters (even if it is a stable), He makes into something special.
Joseph showed us the life of a faithful man. God is with us through His Spirit to make us faithful.
Mary showed us that God is with us to make us partakers of His purposing, using us to bring it to pass on the earth.
All of these and more are encapsulated in ‘Immanuel’.
Over the past 11 days we have covered these 11 people. And now we are at the 12th person. The tagline of this Project is ’12 Lives Called to be a part of God’s Story.’ If you noticed, each of the previous articles had names of characters as their titles, but this one doesn’t. We’ve talked about the meaning of Immanuel, but do you get who the final person should be?
Who else is called to be a part of God’s Story?
It’s mostly conditional. Because that person is…
YOU.
The relevance of Immanuel to Christmas is that God has come for you. Not just the world, but you. The story is generally celebrated worldwide, but we must understand it at a personal level.
Immanuel is God with you.
Jesus came to die and rise, to make the way for you to come back to God. The way is still open. But at the personal level, it is completed when you receive His gift, and come into this Way.
This is the comfort and confidence and blessing of the Christmas story. At the personal level, the story is complete when you receive God’s gift of Eternal Life through faith in Jesus Christ.
Immanuel is God’s Promise to us. It may have seemed like He had abandoned us, like we were alone, like we were helpless. But no more. He came to be among us, He is with us, and now He is in us.

So what do you say?
Have you received His Gift?
Will you?

And when you do receive God’s Gift, you enter into the line of those who are a part of God’s Story, and He writes the best stories for His characters. He’s with and in every one of them, working things out for their good. In saving us, He has given us His best. And He is still with us.
This way, Christmas for us becomes a celebration of all God is to us and all He gave to us when He came to us. The birth of Jesus was just the beginning.
And now every single day becomes a celebration too, not only Christmas. Because we are never on our own, and never alone.
God has come to be with us.
Immanuel.

Thanks for joining this 12-day journey.
Have a Very Merry Christmas!

FACES OF THE CHRISTMAS STORY: King Herod

KING HEROD
“When Herod the king heard this, he was disturbed and troubled, and the whole of Jerusalem with him…” Matthew 2:3
Herod the Great was the designated king of Judea in the days when Jesus was born. Judea was already a client state of Rome and Herod was once a governor of one of its territories, the Galilee territory. When a conflict arose he hurried over to Rome to obtain favour with Caesar and, when Rome responded to quench the uprising and end the status quo hitherto, he was placed as ‘king of the Jews’, sent to rule over the entire country. He is largely remembered for his very ambitious and very expensive building projects such as the building of the cities of Caesarea, provision of water supply to Jerusalem, building of about five fortresses, and most especially the expansion of the Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount, a portion of which still stands today as the Western Wall (or Wailing Wall). He sought to make Judea befitting to the standards of the world of his day. He also enriched and gifted other nations, creating a name for himself. These projects brought much employment to the people of Judea.
Son of an Idumean (or Edomite) father and a Nabatean (Arab) mother, his family was circumcised and converted to Judaism. But his decadent lifestyle undermined any religious identification he sought to portray.
The building of the Temple, and his marriage to a Jewess named Mariamne, was all a lobby for the favour of the Jews. But he didn’t stop there. He still lobbied for favour from the pagan population of his land and from Caesar, constructing a Roman Eagle statue over the very gate of the Jewish Temple (an abomination to the Jews), and also building the cities of Caesarea and Sebaste (formerly Samaria) in Caesar’s honour with many pagan idols and shrines. All his building projects were funded by a very severe taxing system that weighed heavy on the people. So while he transformed much of Judea, his motives were anything but selfless, and the people weren’t fooled.
He knew he was ruling a nation that resented him, so he was very paranoid for much of his reign. He had a secret police to monitor and report the general feelings of the populace, a bodyguard of about 2000 soldiers among other units, and he had his opponents forcefully dealt with. He actually had his Jewish wife and her sons for him executed on charges of unfaithfulness and incitement of revolt. So much for Jewish favour there, Herod.
For all his achievements, scholars report that he suffered through depression and paranoia throughout his lifetime. It was in these days that a contingent of Magi, a priestly order of astrologers and royal advisers from the lands of the East, came to visit him. Prepared to host such dignified guests, he was shocked when they declared that they were seeking someone who had been born ‘King of the Jews’, as they had seen his star rising all the way from their lands, and that they had come to ‘worship’ him!
“King of the Jews? I am king of the Jews!” He sent for them and when they had come, he confirmed their quest. It was clear they were seeking someone, and it was definitely not him.
It was all he could do to mask his terror behind a pasty smile. Of course he knew about the expectation in the Jewish conscious of a Messiah that was to come and deliver them from their ‘oppressors’, a term Herod knew many would call him. He mostly dismissed it as the superstitions of a weary people, but the possibility had always stood out in his mind.
Could it be true? Or had these men just come based on the rumors of another possible uprising? News of his turmoil spread to the rest of the city, and everyone else was troubled. They knew that, when Herod fears an uprising, there’s going to be blood in the streets.
Meanwhile, as his people entertained the Magi in an adjoining room, Herod paced. He had to tell them something, or these guys would consider him an uneducated idiot. He had to show these Magi that he was in the know of everything going on in his land. He wanted to find favour in the eyes of these men too. So he sent for the chief priests and learned men in Jerusalem. “So … about this Messiah you all keep talking about…” he began. “Where do the Scriptures say he will be … born, so to say?”
Without missing a beat, they replied him. “In Bethlehem of Judea, your majesty. For so it is written by the prophet Micah, ‘And you Bethlehem…’ ”
But Herod’s mind was already blanking out. He could see the priest’s mouth moving but his pulse thumped in his ears. He rubbed his beard. “Bethlehem, you say?”
His mind was in overdrive. He knew what he must do, but he had to be discrete.
With the priests dismissed he met the Magi privately. “How long ago exactly did you see this star rising?”
“About two years.” They even gave him the exact date, but much of their astrological jargon was gibberish to him.
Could he be late already? He directed them to Bethlehem, telling them to return when they’ve found the child, “…so that I too can come and … worship him.” He felt sick just uttering those words.
That night he stared out into the sky. It looked as normal as any other night sky. He had so much, he had accomplished so much, yet he felt so alone in the universe. No matter how much he tried, he much he acted, he never fully felt appreciated. Now someone else had been chosen to be king of the Jews. A child?! It brought a bitter taste to his mouth. He needed to end this.
But the days passed. And the Magi never returned. Herod was furious. The rejection and flouting of his orders stung. He ordered his soldiers to invade Bethlehem and its surrounding hills, to kill every boy two-years-old and under. Surely that would be his boot to squash this ant before it became a problem (spoiler alert: God sent angels in an undercover mission, i.e. while Joseph was asleep ‘under covers’ ;), to warn him to escape with the child and his mother to Egypt before the soldiers arrived)
But the massacre never brought Herod the satisfaction he craved. He died not much longer, but his last days were wrought with much turmoil and political intrigue. Quarrels with his eastern neighbours brought him into displeasure with Caesar Augustus, a relationship he had laboured to build for years. His health dwindled into a ferocious temper as his insides withered. He felt so much excruciating pain that he even attempted suicide. He is recorded to have said to his sister and her husband, “I shall die in a little time, so great are my pains; which death ought to be cheerfully borne, and to be welcomed by all men; but what principally troubles me is this, that I shall die without being lamented, and without such mourning as men usually expect at a king’s death.”* He ordered that a multitude of distinguished men be invited and, upon his death, they should be killed so that there would, at least, be some mourning in the land. Thankfully, upon his death, his son cancelled that order.
He lived his life seeking the favour of men and died that way. He even tried to kill the One who had come to give him a full and abundant life. He didn’t know.
Herod’s story is a picture of many today. We live in a self-conscious culture where everyone wants to be affirmed and appreciated by others. It is a human desire which, in itself, is not bad, but is also sad. On the social media, for example, it is easy to judge our relevance and fulfilment by the number of likes and retweets on our posts and selfies, to feel hurt or that we did something wrong when we don’t get enough or any, to try to please men so that they can favour us. And this has been translated to how we live our lives. If we could, we would even want to know how many people would mourn us if we died!
It is why many are suicidal today. And it is not a joke.
We all want to be affirmed, because no matter how much we try, there is a void inside that cries for more.
And, as the saying goes, hurt people hurt people. Our desire for affirmation tends to lead to selfish disregard for the well-being of others as we crush them in order to obtain some acceptance. We may not all execute those that hate us, but it has become the base evil of humanity. It was the root of the first murder, when Cain killed Abel because he didn’t get the favour he desired. It is the core of every villain, both in fiction and in reality. At their core, everyone, be they heroes or villains, wants fulfilment. How we go about obtaining that fulfilment tells on our very natures. The hero obtains fulfilment in helping others, while the villain obtains fulfilment in hurting others.
It is why people cheat, slander, betray … assuming that putting others down automatically lifts us up. But all it does is send us all sinking into miry clay (or quicksand). It ruins relationships and marriages too, when each person is seeking their own gain, focused on receiving from the other instead of giving, and judging them based on personal needs.
The void in man is a form of death, and it is a consequence of the sinful nature. There is nothing we can do to fill it, and it always cries out for more. Only Jesus can fill it, and that is what He came to do. God came that we may be whole, complete in Him, fulfilled and full-filled. He came so that we can have Life and live it to the full (John 10:10).
He fills our hearts with His love (Romans 5:5) and lets us know that we are complete in Him (Colossians 2:10), lacking nothing. In Him, we see our true selves: beautiful, loved, accepted, affirmed. We are His own, and He is ours. The more we grow in Him the less we will base our fulfilment on the approval of others. Rather we will realise more and more, and it will be more real in our mindsets, how He fills and surrounds us with His everlasting and boundless love. We have never really been alone, and we never will be.
Immanuel.
Herod did not realise that he had a front row seat on God’s plan to answer the cry of his heart. Don’t miss out on the opportunity God has presented before you too. Call to Him. He is closer than near, and He hears. He wants you to know Him much more than you think. He’s got so much for you.
And, from this place of affirmation in Him, we can more effectively be a blessing to others. This is the kind of life that can give to others without expecting appreciation or reward, and would not be hurt if it doesn’t come. It is the kind of heart that can be slapped (or cheated), and will turn the other cheek. It is the confidence that will put out its best foot forward in love, knowing that it might be stepped on but not minding. It is the life that can break through cold hearts, and warm and comfort them with love.
It is the life Jesus spoke about. It is bizarre and crazy, like walking on water. But it is also supernatural and amazing, just like walking on water.
He showed us what it’s like, dying for us when we were still ungodly, sinners, in enmity with God and without a promise or care of responding to His love. He rose to make the way that we may be united with God in Him, by believing in Him. The way is still open today.
Remember that, this Christmas.
You are loved, and can love.
#7DaystoChristmas
*Source of Herod’s dying quote: Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Chapter 6, note 5 (translated by William Whiston)

FACES OF THE CHRISTMAS STORY: Caesar Augustus

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.” Luke 2:1

 

Gaius Octavius was the adopted heir to the Roman throne, being the grandnephew of Julius Caesar. His road to the throne was not so easy, however, as the nation was in the midst of civil wars especially after Caesar’s assassination. Octavius came out victorious, returning to Rome as sole master at the age of 34. Consummate politician that he turned out to be, he settled relations with the Senate of Rome (something his predecessor had totally ruined with dictatorship), rejected any monarchical title like ‘king’, preferring to be called ‘First Citizen of the State’, spread the reaches of Roman rule through conquest of much of the known world, and he turned what was a Republic into an Empire. His reign was an era of relative peace, laying the foundation for the next 1500-or-so years of the Roman Empire. He had left many architectural achievements, initiated a taxing system, an official police, and even a fire-fighting system (yes, this was all BC!) among other things, including a steady constitutional framework. He was a lover of the arts as well, relating with poets and writing some literary works himself. The people loved him. To this day, many historians consider him Rome’s greatest Emperor, considering his many achievements. Some explain, though, that his peace actually came through disguised force and ruthless methods.

The Roman Senate gave him the title ‘Augustus’, meaning ‘the illustrious one’. It was a religious title designating authority over humanity and nature, and was the beginnings of a culture of emperor worship. Full of it, he went ahead to tack on, among many other titles, the title of ‘Son of the deified one’, or ‘son of god’ (the god here being Julius Caesar, who they had already elevated to god-status). Still, he hung the civic crown above his door, a crown that was usually placed over a general’s head as the Latin phrase ‘Memento mori’ was chanted, meaning ‘Remember that you are mortal.’ For all his claims to godly fame, he knew he was a man and would die someday. By 6 BC, as his age told more on him, he was already preparing his stepson, General Tiberius, to take the throne.

With his family name of ‘Caesar’, which he turned into a title for future emperors, Gaius Octavius is now more popularly known as Caesar Augustus.

 

One of the lands conquered by Caesar Augustus was a middling nation named Judea, which he then annexed to the province of Syria. Moving on to more lands, he had no idea that he had just plugged in to a livewire that predated him and sovereignly superseded any authority he thought he had. He had just been joined to the history of God’s chosen people, and the unfolding of God’s mighty plan.

As it turned out, Caesar sent out a decree for all in the Empire to be registered, like a census scenario, except that they would all have to return to their hometowns. This is what caused a Jewish carpenter and his pregnant wife to make the long journey from Nazareth to the carpenter’s hometown in the South. Bethlehem. It was in that town that their baby was born, a baby who was the true Son of the true God. Jesus the Messiah.

 

Caesar played a part in the Christmas Story and exited as soon as it was done. Really, his name only occurs in one verse. But God used this pagan ruler in the ordering of set pieces for the fulfilment of prophecy surrounding the birth of Jesus. Micah had prophesied that Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), but the key players were based in Nazareth. God used the Roman emperor to fulfil His plans for His own.

In the same way, God can order the political terrain of any nation, or any other official construct, to favour His children. He’s done it many times. Scripture tells us, ‘The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as are the watercourses; He turns it whichever way He wills.’ (Proverbs 21:1, ironically written by Solomon, a king himself)

God used Cyrus, king of the Persian Empire, to allow the exiled Israelites to return to their land and rebuild their temple. He caused Ahasuerus, another Persian king, to favour His servant Mordechai and deliver him from death. He revealed cryptic dreams to Pharaoh in Egypt and Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon, dreams that only His servants Joseph and Daniel respectively, could decrypt in order to elevate them and set them in positions where they could save many and rule with justice. He is still doing that today.

Many nations today are ruled by people who don’t know God. But that is not a barrier to the Lord, as He can cause them to order legislation to favour His own. Beyond governance, even in school or the workplace, the Lord can influence the management to make decisions that favour you. And, in some cases, when His people are thus rightly favoured and rightly placed, He can do even greater things in those offices.

This is what Jesus’ coming promises us. God still rules in the affairs of men. Even of those who have rule over you. The fact that they have become your governor or president or chairman has made them subject to God’s will for you.

That is something to be thankful for, and something we can trust Him for too.

 

Hold on, there’s more.

Caesar Augustus’ famous last words as he died were, “Have I played the part well? Then applaud as I exit.” He considered the regal authority that he’d put on as emperor, as all play-acting. He knew he wasn’t the big deal they all made him out to be. Memento mori. He died in AD 14, in his 77th year.

You know, your leaders are human too. Even the worst despot has fears and doubts, dreams and aspirations, and loved ones too. They need the Lord just as much as anyone else does. The Bible encourages us to pray for all men, for our kings and leaders and all who are in positions of authority. It is pleasing in God’s sight (1 Timothy 2:1-3). Pray for them to have the right counsel, for their families, and for their souls so that they will know the Lord. As a part of God’s Kingdom, this is your duty. If all is well with your leader, the country will function well as well. As God’s children this is our charge, the watchtowers we are called to defend.

Remember, we are of a kingdom that transcends these, but it’s a kingdom that serves. Pray for your leaders too.

Christmas is a great opportunity for all the world to slow down and relax and rest. With fewer distractions, it is a chance for some to hear and see the true purpose of Christ’s coming: God’s plan for them through salvation in Christ. Pray for your leaders, that they encounter these opportunities and for their hearts to be receptive to listen.

Jesus came for them too.

 

#8DaystoChristmas

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.

🙂

Audience of One

Audience of One

It’s the best day of my life; it’s the worst day of my life.

I haven’t decided which yet. Its fate would eventually be determined by the seventy-nine year old man sitting beyond this window right now. Sir Hugh Wright.

There he sits, his brows knotted in a frown, his hands resting on his cane, leaning towards to the big screen before him.

It’s always been my dream to meet my favorite author. I grew up loving Wright’s stories, following every new novel he wrote, purchasing each new one as soon as it came out. His sci-fi and space adventures were the in-thing back when we were kids in the Star Wars/Star Trek generation, with an added bit of quirky humor and deep values. I became a filmmaker so that I could make stories like his. Forty years of my life have been invested in this journey, working for the big studios just to get a tiny place on previous space operas like this one. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Akpos in Space…

That last one, a comedic piece about an African ‘Mr. Bean-type’ character on a space adventure, had been a financial risk, but it had surprisingly done well at the box office, even garnering a Golden Globe nomination for Best Independent Picture. I had loved the script as soon as I read it, and had taken it to a couple of studios, but I was initially turned down. Some of my filmmaking friends and I put some money together to make this into the best of movies possible. My work on that last one finally gave me a voice in Hollywood, and it was then I heard about the studio that had purchased the rights to Wright’s novels.

Did I submit a script? You bet I did! My tenth submission was accepted, after some modifications by the studio. Some changes to the setting were necessary, especially in adapting a novel from the ‘70s for a 21st century audience.

It was a dream come true. The first of the best-selling Space Junkies series was finally headed for the big screen. And I would be producing it. No one could understand all that I was feeling in those moments. From the casting, through preproduction, filming, and post-production, my dream was taking shape.

It has all been headed toward this very moment, as Wright himself accepted our invitation for a special screening of the movie. There he is now, watching it alone. Per his preferences, the room is dark and the only lighting comes from off the screen. He’s got a glass of water beside him, and he just sits there with his fingers crossed under his chin. The movie has been over for minutes now, but he just sits there staring at the rolling credits.

I wonder what must be going through his mind.

What does he think about the changes we made?

Oh, man … he hates it. He really hates it.

He has not spoken to us in the last two hours. His eyes are fixed on the screen.

Behind me, the door opens. It’s Ryan, my intern. “You OK, Boss?”

I rub my eyes. “Well … you know how it is … Kid.” Actually, he doesn’t, but what can I say? Ryan is as close to me as any friend I’ve ever had, despite the generational gap between us. He never quits making me feel my age, and I never stop making him feel younger than his.

He pulls up a chair and seats beside me. “So, this must be like Christmas for you. You taken a selfie with him yet?”

I chuckle. “You kids and your selfies. I’ll never get what freaks you out about those.”

“Selfies are cool.”

“Yeah, and they’ll die a natural death with time, just like bell-bottoms, muttonchops and disco.”

“C’mon, think of the fans. You can even tweet it, they’ll love it. Lets ‘em know you got the author’s approval. They’ll accept the changes we made in the story better. Least, it’s not as if you pulled a Tauriel or anything.”

I stare out at the man. “Right now, the only approval I care for is the approval of that man over there.”

Ryan arcs a brow. “What’s he still doing in there? The movie’s long been over.”

“I knew he’d hate it.”

Ryan stares at me. “Dude, what’s your deal? You’re a star! Kids come to Comic-Con every year just to get your autograph. Those Akpos guys are still grateful ‘cause you brought their idea to the big-screen. And you’re here, fidgeting, expecting this guy to trash your work?”

I shake my head. “It’s different. I never gave a hoot what anyone cared about my work before. Now, it’s different. You won’t get it.”

I can see him smile in my peripheral vision. He pats my lap. “Hey, you’ll be fine. You put your best foot out there with this. He’s gotta appreciate that.”

“I hope so, kid.”

“I know so.” Ryan pats my shoulder and stares out at Wright past the window. “Sir Hugh Wright. Hey, If I get to meet him, I’d go, ‘Sir Hugh Wright, you write … right?’“

Ryan is not as funny as he thinks he is. “What he’d probably say to that is—“

“Samuel,” a gravelly voice comes in over the speakers. “Can I have a moment with you, please?”

It takes me a moment to gather my thoughts, savouring that old British accent. Hugh Wright has just called my name! “Ah, yes. Yes, of course. I’ll be there in a moment … Sir.”

Ryan gives me a fistbump. “Break a leg. Hey, Francis called. He’s waiting out back to take you both to lunch once you’re done. You tell him that when you get in there.”

“And you pick now to tell me that?” I put on my jacket and adjust my cufflinks. “How do I look?”

“Dude, I’m a guy! What, you expect me to say you look hot?”

I just stare at him. “You’re fired.”

“Yeah, like I haven’t heard that a billion times already.” I keep a straight face as I open the door to the screening room. “Wait, you were joking, right? Sir?”

It’s like I’ve entered into another world in the second it takes me to enter and shut the door. The darkness reverberates with a still buzz that fills my ears. The stillness is eerie and foreboding, with the man still seated ahead, facing the screen.

He hates it, man.

With quivering steps, I approach his seat, never taking my eyes off the bald spot on his head. Now I get to speak with him. Not through a studio rep or anything, but to Hugh Wright himself!

He turns to stare at me, his eyes hidden in the shadow of his brows. “Please, take a seat.” There is only one couch and he is seated on one end. He expects me to sit beside him.

I am Frodo going to meet Gandalf. I am a Pevensie walking up to Aslan. I take a seat beside him.

I should ask him what he thinks. I should ask him if he’s comfortable. I should take control of the conversation. But when I open my mouth to speak, nothing comes out.

Proposing to my wife had not been this difficult.

He inhales loudly. “I take it you wrote the script?”

Does he expect me to respond? Oh, he does! “Yes. Yes I did, sir. Well, not really. Not the final product. It was actually a group effort. I mean, I laid the groundwork, and a couple of other screenwriters pitched in, the studio made some modifications—“

“But you wrote it?” Staring into those ancient eyeballs, I can be nothing but honest.

I nod.

He turns back to the screen for a second. And another second. The seconds that follow are driving me nuts.

He takes off his glasses, wiping his eyes. When he turns to me I finally see that they are moist. “Samuel … there is something I need to tell you.”

No conversation that starts that way could possibly end well.

“Have you ever wondered why it took decades before I finally sold the motion picture rights to my books?”

A thousand responses whizz by in my mind. Because of budgetary constraints? Insufficient CGI? Bizarre hairstyles? But he does not let me respond before he continues. I actually prefer it that way.

“When I started writing, all those years ago, I took my work from a place deep inside. My experiences, my childhood, my agonies, the questions I grew up with, and the future that I desired. My faith. My heart. There was just too much heart in there. They were all like a part of me. I hold my stories in such high esteem, like my own children.” He pauses. “Not that I love them more than my real children. Far from it. Though, on occasion, I did forget my late wife’s birthday.”

I chuckle at his attempt at … self-deprecating British humour? Is that what it’s called?

“I did not want that to be lost—the heart in the story, I mean. I know the procedures that occur in the journey from book to screen … and I just could not afford to let it … go. Apparently, not all books were meant for the cinematic world. I’m sure you would agree.”

I try to read between the lines. He is telling me that this sucked big time, isn’t he?

He expects an answer. “I … agree.”

“I could not afford to let my stories lose that heart in the cutting room. It would be tantamount to suicide.” He turns to the screen. “And I was right to fear.”

Adrenaline runs down my spine. I feel as if I’ve been doused with ice cold water. I have failed…

“Thank you for not letting that happen, Samuel.”

I’m confused. “Sir?”

“Past the special effects and necessary changes to the subject, I could see the hand of someone fighting, trying to save the elements of what made my story … my story.” He smiles, and no smile has ever been so reassuring. “That was you, wasn’t it? You knew what was important and you made sure it was apparent in the picture. And for this I am very grateful.”

I’ll be honest: I was not expecting this. Not at all. I nod, smiling. “We loved your story, sir. It had to be told.”

“You just had to comment and ruin the moment, didn’t you?”

“What? I’m so sorry, I—“

He laughs, patting my back. “You’re a good lad, Samuel.” I haven’t been called ‘lad’ in decades. “What do you say we go get that lunch we were promised?”

“I was just about to tell you, the driver’s here. He’s ready for us. Whenever you’re ready, that is. And it appears you are.”

“Come,” he stands, leaning on his cane. “I feel we’ll have much to discuss, Samuel. Much indeed.”

But, in this moment, I feel on top of the world. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. He thinks it is awesome, and that’s what matters to me.

I could leap through the roof.

As soon as I open the door, I see that Ryan has been listening. He pretends to have been working on something over the phone. He stands awkwardly. “I … I wasn’t listening,” he says. “Scout’s honour.”

I’m not sure if I should be embarrassed or not.

But Wright saves the moment again. “You never were a boy scout, were you?”

 

Six months later…

“Of course, the movie was a total failure,” I say as I turn to Lisa. She lies beside me, staring at me with those magical eyes. “The studio called it a ‘hit-and-miss’ and refused to make sequels. My generation had mostly moved on from the series, and it just didn’t resonate with the new generation. You know how it went. But all that didn’t matter to me. Once Wright loved my take on his work, it was all that mattered to me.” I stare up at the ceiling. “I just wish the whole world saw it that way.”

“No, you don’t. You know that’s never going to happen.” That’s my Lisa. Always blunt to a fault. An adorable fault.

“I guess you’re right. But it would be nice if everyone saw it that way.”

“So he said he liked it all?”

“No, he said all that just to be nice. Over lunch he explained the changes he didn’t enjoy. But, in his own words, it’s not as if he was the one acting it out onscreen. Changes were bound to be a problem.”

For a moment all is quiet. I’m thankful she takes the time to listen to a story she knows already. Perhaps I just needed to talk about it again, because no matter how much I say about how it doesn’t matter, the truth is that it really does matter to me. I still feel hurt that the movie did not perform well out there. It was just one major blip in my career that was better left forgotten. Not to mention all that time and money wasted that was wasted.

“You know what this all makes me think of, though?”

I turn to her. “Hm?”

She inhales and stares at the ceiling as well. “It’s just like how the rest of our lives are. Everyone’s going to have their own opinion of what we do and how we do it. But they didn’t write the scripts we live by. God did. It’s His opinion that counts.”

I smirk at her metaphor. “God wrote our scripts?”

“Uh-huh. He made us, didn’t He? He knows how we should live. Just like Wright knew how the story should be.”

“Hm…”

“The Scriptures are like … well, God’s script for us. A guide to live by. We’re all actors on this stage, but there’s a standard. God’s script.”

“So we’re like movies acting out this script. But not so well, apparently…” I smile as the picture forms in my mind. “You know you’re quite right. You’re very right. I never saw it that way before.”

“Quite smart, aren’t I?”

“No, you’re Lisa.”

“What?!”

“And you know the best part? He doesn’t leave us to try to please Him on our own, or to try to figure out how to act His script well enough. He’s right here with us, in us through His Holy Spirit, helping us live lives that are pleasing to Him. Through Jesus, He’s given us a heart that wants to please Him, and that can actually please Him.”

“So when we do our best, and no one else is pleased…”

“It doesn’t matter, as long as God is pleased. That’s what really matters.”

“Exactly.”

I nod, knowing she really understands how I feel as she holds my hand. “Thanks, Lisa. I’ll never forget. You are smart.”

“I thought I was ‘Lisa’.”

“You’re smart, and you’re Lisa. In fact, you’re the smartest wife I’ve ever had.”

“Right. I’m the only wife you’ve ever had.”

“I know.”

“I should write a book.”

I laugh. “I’d read it.”

“Would you make it into a movie?”

“Well … it depends. Let’s finish this next project with PureFlix, and we’ll see how it goes…”

 

END

 

 

Thanks for reading. Before you go, I’d like to share the lyrics of one of my favorite songs. Its themes are similar to those of the story above.

OPEN BOOK

In the evening, when I start to pray

I think about this day

Another page is turned forever

Another yesterday.

And as the story of my life unfolds

I know You’ve read it all.

Another line to be continued

Will I stand or fall?

Open Book, to You I am an Open Book

You know every page by heart

From the ending to the start.

Open Book, my life is like an open book

As I read between the lines

It’s Your Love that truly binds this Open Book

When the cover of this book is closed

The final chapter read

I hope You find it worth the reading

I hope ‘well done’ is said

Open Book, to You I am an Open Book

You know every page by heart

From the ending to the start.

Open Book, my life is like an open book

As I read between the lines

It’s Your Love that truly binds this Open Book

Cover to cover, Lord, You know me

And what I want to be.

As You read the pages of my life

Please tell me what You see.

(By Petra; Album: On Fire! [1988]; Words and Music by Bob Hartman)