Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Bible and the Supernatural: The Shadow of Death

Scriptures: Job 26:5-6, Job 34:20, Job 38:17

In the midst of Job’s troubles, he has a debate with his three friends, after which a fourth observer has a long monologue. Finally, God steps in and questions Job.

Considering the circumstances of the speeches, it is not surprising that the topic of death comes up. The first reference comes from Job, the second from the fourth observer (Elihu), and the last from God Himself.

Observations: Buried deep within long monologues, these verses can be easy to overlook. However, their shortness doesn’t negate their significance. Indeed, despite their brevity, they offer some significant details about death and the afterworld, as we frequently call it:

1. Other realms exist beyond the one we inhabit. We might not know much about these other places, though Scripture does draw an increasingly detailed picture throughout its pages. Lack of information, however, doesn’t mean these places are nonexistent. They are real.

2. These other realms have a physical location. They aren’t merely a state of mind. They inhabit physical space so specific that Job could declare that at least one of these realms is located “below the waters,” however you might interpret such a phrase.

3. A barrier separates the land of the living and the realm of the dead. They are separate places, and they don’t intermingle. Moreover, this barrier can be opened and shut, implied by God’s use of the word gate. But although this barrier applies to people (and perhaps other beings), God is aware of all that goes on in every realm; nothing is hidden from Him.

4. The transfer between the two realms occurs instantly, suddenly, violently, and irresistibly. So dying might take a long time, but the final crossing is quick, often coming at unexpected times (implied by the idea of the middle of the night). Nor can you stop death. As much as we might try to elude it, we all eventually die. 

Significance: Death, dying, and all the unknowns that go with them are an uncomfortable subject. Probably because there are so many unknowns. If there is something we humans dislike, it’s the unknown. Unknowns remind us we are finite and mortal. They remind us we aren’t in control of the universe—which can be downright terrifying if you don’t trust the One who is in control.

Now God could have left us in the dark about what happens with death and what follows. Yet in His gracious compassion, He has given us glimpses into the mysterious thing call death.

This assures us first of all that God is indeed omnipresent and omniscient. Otherwise He wouldn’t be able to tell us about the gates of death or explain about Sheol. This means that we can trust Him in the matters of death and the afterlife even if we ourselves do not fully comprehend them.

It also confirms that these after-death realms are very much real. They aren’t stories dreamt up to scare us into believing in God. Yes, some of the places described are flat-out scary. But if they weren’t real, God would have made that clear because He does not lie.

Therefore, as uncomfortable as the topic of death might be, as unclear as the picture of the afterlife often is, we cannot escape the reality of either. We will die. We will experience an afterlife of some kind. The question is—how are we preparing for both?

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The Bible and the Supernatural: Night Visions

Scripture: Job 4:12-21, 33:13-18

Caught up in the agony of his many trials, Job finally gives voice to his pain. What follows is a long debate between Job and three of his friends about the source of human pain and God’s dealings with man. The first passage we’re considering comes from the first response by one of Job’s friends (Eliphaz) following the initial outburst, telling of a night visitor he had. The second passage comes from an outside observer of the debate (Elihu), where he talks about how God manipulates the dreams of men.

Observations: Both of these passages make mention of supernatural visitations during the night. This reveals that dreams and night visions are real and used by the supernatural to communicate with humans, possibly because the human mind loses some of its guards and inhibitions during sleep, making communication easier (see Job 33:15-16 specifically).

This does not mean that every dream is supernaturally inspired. But it does mean that some are. Even more, dreams and night visions can come from either God or the demonic.

In Elihu’s speech (Job 33:13-18), he makes it clear that God sometimes uses dreams/night visions to warn us, especially if we are failing to hear Him in other ways (33:14). The purpose of such visitations is to turn us from sin and to protect us from death.

What a far cry from Eliphaz’s vision in chapter 4! Notice the accusatory tone, both of man (v. 17) and of God (v. 18), to the point of implying that God is unjust. And while there is truth in these words (e.g. man is not righteous in of himself), it’s subtly mixed with lies: We don’t perish unobserved (v. 20) for God sees all. And while God does not trust demons (rebel angels) and He charges them with error, this doesn’t apply to all angels, evidenced by the various missions He entrusts His angels with. The result is a tone of despair and hopelessness. All these things point to a demonic, and maybe even a Satanic, visitation.

Significance: So what can we learn from all this?

1. We are more susceptible during the night and while asleep than during our waking hours. So we need to guard ourselves and our thoughts during the night. This is why we should be careful about where we let our minds wander as we fall asleep; Eliphaz’s disquieting thoughts/dreams (see 4:13 in IVE or NASB) seemed to open the way for the demonic visitation. This is why the psalmists so often refer to meditating on Scripture on their beds and why we need to pray for protection while we sleep—not only physical, but mental as well.

2. Supernatural beings do use dreams and visions to communicate with us. As I already said, not all dreams and visions are supernaturally inspired. However, this doesn’t mean that none of our visions or dreams are supernaturally inspired, either.

3. Even in dreams and visions, Satan must speak his native tongue of lies. Does the dream twist the truth, mix in lies, carry an accusatory tone (rather than a warning tone), or produce despair or hopelessness? Then the dream should be rejected as from Satan, no mater how good it sounds.

4. God speaks to us in many ways, including dreams and visions. God often prefers to use other means to talk to us, but sometimes we fail to hear Him in those ways (v. 33:14). At those times, He may resort to dreams and visions, usually with the intent to warn (not accuse) and instruct us. So does the dream yield repentance from sin, produce humility, or somehow result in the preservation of life? Then it may be from God.

5. Therefore, we must, we must, we must be discerning. Both God and Satan can use this vulnerable time. Not all dreams and visions come from God. Not all of them come from Satan. They must be tested against the truth of Scripture and the already revealed character of God.

Monday, April 2, 2018

April 2018 New Christian Fiction Releases!

More in-depth descriptions of these books can be found on the ACFW Fiction Finder website.  

Contemporary Romance:

Pelican Point by Irene Hannon -- After inheriting a crumbling lighthouse, ex-Army doctor Ben Garrison wants to sell it. But Hope Harbor Herald editor Marci Weber is determined to save the town landmark. Can these two romance-wary souls finds a meeting of the minds...and hearts? (Contemporary Romance from Revell - A Division of Baker Publishing)

An Amish Heirloom by Amy Clipston, Kathleen Fuller, Kelly Irvin, and Beth Wiseman -- From bestselling Amish authors come four novellas about the meaning and tradition found behind every family heirloom. (Contemporary Romance from HarperCollins Christian Publishing)

Historical Romance:

This Wilderness Journey by Misty Beller -- He’s been sent to retrieve the new missionary… But she’s not at all who he expects to find. (Historical Romance, Independently Published)

The Accidental Guardian by Mary Connealy -- Deborah and her sister and two little children survive a wagon train massacre. Trace finds them and takes them home. He finds himself their accidental guardian. He must protect them all and gain justice. When he does, all these friendly visitors--especially Deborah--will leave him forever. (Historical Romance from Bethany House [Baker])

First Love Forever Romance Collection by Susanne Dietze, Marcia Gruver, Cynthia Hickey, Carrie Fancette Pagels, Martha Rogers, Lorna Seilstad, Connie Stevens, Erica Vetsch, and Jennifer Uhlarik -- Coming face to face with a lost love can be awkward when the heartstrings are still holding on to the “what ifs.” In settings from 1865 to 1910, nine couples are thrown back on the same path by life’s changes and challenges. Can love rekindle despite the separation of time and space? (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

All Things Beautiful by Keely Brooke Keith -- It’s 1868 in the settlement of Good Springs, and Hannah Vestal is passionate about writing fiction and keeping her stories to herself. When her father asks to read her work, she decides to have it printed secretly for his 50th birthday. Hannah tries to arrange the printing with the settlement’s pressman, but the witty and dapper Henry Roberts has better things to do with his ink. In order to secure settlement support for his printing press, the elder council says Henry must print an error-free copy of the New Testament before the settlement’s 8th anniversary celebration. He is determined to meet their challenge, but when the enigmatic Hannah proves to be a beguiling distraction, Henry longs for something more than a life at the letterpress. (Historical Romance from Edenbrooke Press)

Adoration by Olivia Rae -- Sir Darrin de Longue is desperate to get his lands back from Lady Faith de Sainte-Marie, the woman who betrayed him and may have had a hand in his father's murder. But King Richard discloses on his deathbed that Lady Faith is the king's daughter and then issues an ultimatum Darrin must obey. In order to reclaim his lands, he must marry Lady Faith and get her with child in a year's time. Lady Faith has loved the rowdy and bold Sir Darrin since childhood, but cannot be a true wife to the bitter, angry man whom she has wed. In order to gain his trust and love, she vows to find the truth about his father's murder. But when she stumbles upon deadly secrets, will she be able to prove her innocence--and his--to erase the past and win Darrin's heart? (Historical Romance from HopeKnight Press)

Under Prairie Skies by Cynthia Roemer -- Illinois prairie, 1855. Unsettled by the news that her estranged cousin and uncle are returning home after a year away, Charlotte Stanton goes to ready their cabin and finds a handsome stranger has taken up residence. Convinced he’s a squatter, she throws him off the property before learning his full identity. Little does she know, their paths are destined to cross again. Quiet and ruggedly handsome, Chad Avery’s uncanny ability to see through Charlotte’s feisty exterior and expose her inner weaknesses both infuriates and intrigues her. When a tragic accident incites her family to move east, Charlotte stays behind in hopes of becoming better acquainted with the elusive cattleman. Yet Chad’s unwillingness to divulge his hidden past, along with his vow not to love again, threatens to keep them apart forever. (Historical Romance from Mantle Rock Publishing)

The Pirate Bride by Kathleen Y’Barbo -- The last time New Orleans attorney Jean-Luc Valmont saw Maribel Cordoba, a Spanish nobleman’s daughter, she was an eleven-year-old orphan perched in the riggings of his privateering vessel proving herself as the best lookout on his crew. Until the day his infamy caught up with them all and innocent lives were lost. Unsure why he survived but vowing to make something of the chance he was given, Jean-Luc has buried his past life so deep that no living person will ever find it—until a very much alive and very grown up Maribel Cordoba arrives on his doorstep and threatens all he now holds dear. (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

General Contemporary:

Shadows of Hope by Georgiana Daniels -- Crisis pregnancy worker Marissa Moreau suspects her husband is cheating, but little does she know how close to home her husband’s infidelity hits. College student Kaitlyn Farrows is floundering after a relationship with her professor leaves her pregnant. Soon she lands a job and a support system at the local pregnancy resource center and things seem to be turning around. But when Marissa and Kaitlyn become friends, neither one knows they share a connection—Colin, Marissa’s husband and Kaitlyn’s former professor. When their private lives collide, the two women must face the ultimate test of their faith and choose how to move forward as they live in the shadows of hope. (General Contemporary from Barbour Publishing)

Romantic Suspense:

Secret Past by Sharee Stover -- With gunmen at her doorstep, Katie Tribani learns her true identity. She’s been in witness protection since childhood, and now her crime-lord father has found her. (Romantic Suspense from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

Young Adult:

Chase by Glenn Haggerty -- Tyler, a middle school newbie, shadows drug runners to rat out the methamphetamine dealer before his friend turns into a brain-dead druggie. (Young Adult, Independently Published)  

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Bible and the Supernatural: The Misfortunes of Job

Scripture: Job 1:13-19, 2:7-8

When God gave Satan permission to strike, Satan wasted no time. After the first meeting with God, Satan destroyed or stole all of Job’s livestock and then proceeded to kill all ten of Job’s children in one day. After the second meeting, Satan struck Job with a chronic and debilitating illness.

Observations: Although the book of Job provides us the readers a behind-the-scenes look, Job, his family, and his servants are not privy to that information. All they knew for sure is that multiple, devastating disasters befell on the same day, with Job becoming gravely ill some time later.

As a result, it is interesting to note whom the servants blamed for the catastrophes. Twice they were attributed to men (the Sabeans and the Chaldeans, verses 15 and 17). Once they pointed to God as the source (v. 16), and lastly, a natural disaster is credited (v. 19).

Yet we know from the surrounding context that Satan is the source of these things. This reveals that Satan, when given permission, can manipulate people, employ natural forces, and bend the supernatural to his will. Illness, death, natural disasters, armed conflict, and destructive supernatural phenomenon can all find their source in the Satanic, proving that Satan’s hallmarks truly are death and destruction.

It is interesting to note, on the other side, that God doesn’t cause any of this. Nor did He force Satan to bring any of this about. Yes, God removed the hedge around Job. Yes, He gave Satan permission to act and the freedom to bring out these things, even as He knew what Satan would choose to do with the freedom given. But Satan could have struck differently or with less ferocity. In fact, Satan didn’t have to inflict the damage he threatened at all. He could have walked away. But he didn’t. Rather, Satan chose to go forward because of his determination to break Job.

Significance: Catastrophic disasters can and do strike. That is a fact of life. The reason they strike, the place from which they originate—these things are less clear.

As we saw with the Flood and as will see again in Exodus, God can be the source of disaster, usually for the purpose of judgment. But as these passages reveal, Satan can also be the source of the catastrophes, usually with the intent of causing division, destruction, and death.

Unfortunately, from our human perspective, it can be difficult and even impossible to tell the two apart. Both God and Satan can influence human actions, wield natural forces, and employ the supernatural in their work. In both cases, the destruction of property and the loss of life can result. About the only things that separates the two are the target and the purpose: God’s judgment falls upon sin, and Satan attacks the godly in order to crush them.

As a result we need to exercise caution when assigning a purpose and a source to external events, especially when we are not directly involved. Many unseen factors may be at work behind the scenes, sometimes simultaneously: Satan may turn a judgment of God into an opportunity to attack the godly (e.g. the bricks without straw for the Israelites; the sufferings of Jeremiah during the destruction of Jerusalem), while God may manipulate a Satanic attack for His own purpose (e.g. Joseph being sold into slavery in order to save lives; the men who sought to destroy Daniel ending up in the lion’s den themselves).

How then should we react when disasters bombard us personally? With humble examination first: Is there some area of sin that would have brought this upon us as a judgment? Is there some area of evil from which to repent? And while it may be tempting to push quickly through this stage, don’t. That is where pride and hardness of heart often set in. Moreover, even if you find no direct link to the problem at hand, sin is sin and breaks the world in some way, which contributes to the larger brokenness of the world that may be the cause of the disaster. So consider any sin, any way, you may be contributing to the larger problem or issue. 

Or course, if anything is uncovered, repentance and seeking forgiveness is your next step.

Then, after cleaning house, stand firm. Don’t let Satan use difficulties or distress to destroy you. Rather, lean into God and depend on Him. Let Him strengthen you and teach you as He bends the circumstances, even those of our own making, to His glory.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Bible and the Supernatural: God’s Challenge

Scripture: Job 1:6-12, 2:1-6

As we saw last week, these passages deal with Satan arguing with God over the faithfulness of a righteous man named Job. God had blessed Job with great material prosperity, and as a result, Satan accused God of unfairly protecting Job, insisting that Job would turn on God the minute the protection was gone.

Observations: While these passages have much to say about Satan, as we saw last week, these passages have as much or more to say about Who God is:
            First, God is supreme. The angels had to go to Him and present themselves. So God is in charge of angels and to Him even the most powerful supernatural must give account.
            God takes the lead, rather than follows. Satan didn’t trick God or back Him into a corner in order that he might hurt Job. No, God is the One who initiated the conversation with Satan. God was the One who brought up Job and pointed him out, not Satan. God practically invited Satan to make his accusations against His servant.
            God also is aware of individuals and their actions. God didn’t ask Satan to consider a vague, generalized people. He picked a specific person—Job. Moreover, God was able to make confident claims about Job’s character, showing that He was aware of Job’s doings, public and private.
            God takes pride in His people who do right. Why else would He make the claims He did to Satan? Or why bother bringing up Job at all, if God wasn’t delighted with what Job was doing?
            God is the Giver of protection, possessions, and prosperity. As Satan points out, God set a hedge around Job which Satan could not penetrate. Moreover, it was God who had increased what Job possessed. It was God who blessed Job’s work.

Significance: Sometimes we think of Satan as God’s archenemy. In one sense that is true, in that Satan is trying to replace God, but when it comes to power, God far outstrips Satan. God sets limits on Satan’s power. God holds all accountable to Him, including Satan. God is in charge and decides how things will proceed. As a result, we need to be aware of Satan and his work, but we do not need to fear him. We serve the Greater.

Likewise, everything good we have comes fro God. Do we enjoy health? God gave it to us. Are we prospering in any way? God gave it to us. Do we own any possessions? God provided those things too. More than that, God provides us things we may not be able to measure or sense, such as protection from Satanic attacks and hedges which guard us from harm. Why and how God distributes such things may not always be evident, but that doesn’t change the reality that He is indeed the source, and we owe Him our praise and thanksgiving accordingly.

Which leads me to what may be the biggest point we can glean from these passages: God is intimately aware of us, our actions, and our circumstances. He didn’t start the world spinning and then head off to do something else. No, He sees us. He knows us. He cares about what happens to each and every one of us. And when we do right, He takes great pride in that.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Bible and the Supernatural: Meet Satan

The book of Job is believed by many to have occurred around the same time Abraham (our next section in Genesis). So in order to keep the Patriarch’s story together while maintaining basic chronology, we will be taking the next few weeks to look at the story of Job.

Scripture: Job 1:6-12, 2:1-6

Job was truly a good man, following God’s commands and avoiding all kinds of evil. As a result, God blessed him greatly in every area of his life. However, an evil being called Satan (literally “Accuser” or “Adversary”) didn’t like this and challenged God to test the true faithfulness of Job.

Observations: This is the first chronological reference to Satan by that name. As a result, this passage reveals several things about our adversary:

1. Satan is a supernatural being (Job 1:6, 2:1). The sons of God, or what we typically call angels, came to present themselves before God. Satan was among them, implying he was of their kind.

2. Satan roams the earth freely (Job 1:7, 2:2). We might not be able to see him or recognize him, but he spends at least some of his time walking among us, watching us.

3. Satan is an accuser (Job 1:9-11, 2:4-5). Satan is a master of twisting circumstances to suit himself and find something at which to point a finger. These passages exemplify this well: he advocates that Job serves God purely out of selfishness to gain prosperity.

4. Satan is a divider (Job 1:11, 2:5). When God praises Job, Satan immediately sets out to put a barrier between God and Job. First he tries to turn God against Job (“put forth Your hand”), a trap God eludes by refusing to act against Job, instead laying that responsibility on Satan’s shoulders. Then Satan tries to turn Job against God through a series of horrendous afflictions (see 1:13-22 and 2:7-10).

5. Satan is limited (Job 1:10, 12, 2:6). Satan could not afflict Job directly. In fact, this was part of Satan’s complaint; God had placed a hedge around Job so that Satan could not get to him. And even when God gave Satan permission to hurt Job, Satan still had restrictions—lines which he could not cross.

Significance: Satan is a master of lies, and over the centuries he has cloaked himself in numerous myths in order disguise his true form and methods. This is why passages like the first two chapters of Job are so vital: We are able to see Satan for who he really is.

We see that Satan is real and that he is here. Satan is no fairytale villain, created by some writer’s imagination. He exists as much as you or I do. Moreover, he isn’t off roaming some distant edge of the universe or restricted to some dark abyss. He walks the earth, watching, observing, acting among us now. To believe otherwise is to place ourselves in grave danger, as such a belief allows him free rein to act without detection.

We also see that Satan is powerful but limited. As we will look at later, Satan has some pretty powerful abilities. He is, after all, a supernatural being with all kinds of capabilities which far exceed what man can do. But although powerful, he is not all-powerful. He cannot do whatever he wants whenever he wants however he wants. He is not omnipresent either. He might be able to move rapidly through space, and he may have many others reporting to him. But Satan himself can only be at one place at a time. By remembering this, we should be able to view Satan with a balanced perspective: Although we should not treat him or his influence/abilities lightly (which is why we must be on our guard against him), neither do we need to fear him.

Finally, we see Satan’s strategy is simple (though powerful): divide and conquer. Satan knows that on our own we cannot withstand him. So he will take every opportunity he can to drive a wedge between us and God first, then among ourselves. Divisions, quarrels, jealousy, accusations that create division—these things are his handiwork. Therefore, when we see such things arise, we must point them out as such. Likewise, we must exert every effort to walk in humble dependence on God and to maintain the unity of the bond of peace among our fellow Christians. It limits the tools Satan can use against us (although as the story Job shows, he can always find something to use), and denies him victory.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

If Oscars Were Given to Books…

Watching the Oscars this past Sunday has inspired me to take a break from my normal series on the Bible and supernatural and have a little fun: I decided to imagine which Oscars I would award to various books.

Now obviously books create a very large category, and I could narrow it down in many ways. Since this blog focuses on science fiction and fantasy, especially for Christians, I decided to create my list around that. So here’s my current “Academy Awards” list, with a few adaptations, for current Christian speculative novels:  

Male Protagonist (Leading Actor)
Kieran, The Restorer’s Son by Sharon Hinck. This memorable character brings the page the right combination of strength and tenderness, flaws and virtue. And I’m pretty sure most would say his rugged good looks don’t hurt either. :o)

Male Secondary Character (Supporting Actor)
Albert, The Prophet, the Shepherd, and the Star by Jenny Cote. This big, Irish scaredy cat wouldn’t be considered the brightest bulb in the box, but his lovable manner, his huge appetite, and unwitting wisdom brings humor and insight at the most unexpected of times, providing the perfect complement to his more serious cast members.  

Female Protagonist (Leading Actress)
Firebird, Firebird by Kathy Tyers. This spunky character, much like Wonder Woman, combines strength with femininity. She is smart, skillful, and artistic, yet vulnerable in all the right ways. She asks a lot of hard questions, but when she finds the truth, she embraces it with her whole being.
Female Secondary Character (Supporting Actress)
Sandy, Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball by Donita K. Paul. The younger sister of the main hero, this character’s influence and effect is charming and sweet; we wouldn’t like the main protagonists nearly as much without her.

Book for Readers Under 14 (Animated Feature Film)
The Dreamer, The Schemer and the Robe by Jenny L. Cote. This retelling of the Joseph story, mainly through the eyes of animals, brings to life this familiar Bible story with plenty of humor and intrigue.

Description (Cinematography)
Undercurrent by Michelle Griep. Her turn of phrase, whether about a person or place, are both vivid and memorable.

Clothing (Costume Design)
Failstate by John Otte. Because every good superhero has to have a good costume. . .

Makeup and Hairstyling
Secret of the Swamp King by Jonathan Rogers. Let’s face it; the wild feechiefolk who live in the swamp are going to need an extra layer or two…

Original Score
Firebird by Kathy Tyers. What can I say? The chapters even have musical headings.

Original Song
“Day of the One,” The Deliverer by Sharon Hinck. Haunting and beautiful.

Setting (Production Design)
The Opposite of Art by Athol Dickson. Although this covers a multitude of locations, each place is vivid and real both due to the setting at large and the props within each location.

Narrator Voice (Sound Editing)
Ultraviolet by R.J. Anderson. Written about a synesthete, where things like sounds take on visual representation, Ultraviolet creates a very unique voice as she tells the story.

Dialogue (Sound Mixing)
DragonSpell by Donita K. Paul. With quotable lines like, “I like questing generally speaking, expect for the uncomfortableness of it all,” and character voices so distinct that you know exactly who is speaking, dialogue doesn’t get much better than this.

Visual Effects
Circles of Seven by Bryan Davis. Excaliber. A boy who breathes fire. A girl with dragon wings. A land seemingly inhabited by ghosts (characters whom your hand passes through). Just to name a few. Yeah, the special effects are amazing…

Novel Based On Another Story (Adapted Screenplay)
Waking Beauty by Sarah Morin. This “retelling” of the Sleeping Beauty legend is unexpected yet true to the original, bringing extra dimension to the story and characters you always thought you knew.

Unique Story (Original Screenplay)
A Little Taste of Poison by R. J. Anderson combines a fantasy world with a mystery plot, populated by memorable characters and seasoned well with humor.

Best Picture
Impossible to choose!