Incentive Ride

My stomach lurched and my boredom vanished as the sky whirled about me and the ground became “up.”

In May of 2010, as a reward for receiving the John L. Levitow Award at NCO Academy, I had been put on a list for an incentive ride on an F-15 Eagle. A year and a half had passed, with delays, cancellations, and a surgery that medically disqualified me from flight for six months.

I was hopeful at first, but I had been on that list nine years earlier, and missed out on the opportunity when I left Kadena Airbase in 2002. On my return in 2003, I was told that there was no record of me being on a list for an incentive ride, so I gave up that dream long ago.

After my surgery in June, and after several attempts to return to flight duties, I was cleared to fly again in January of 2011… right after a deployment had ended. I thought it would look very “coincidental” if I was not able to perform official duties while we had missions to fly, but suddenly was able to fly to get an incentive ride. On top of that, I was scheduled to deploy, so I declined the ride until I returned. But then the fighter squadron cancelled several flights for maintenance, and then they were involved in exercises. It was one delay after another.

I had two months left before my next change of station, and I knew that I would likely never get this chance again. Then I got the e-mail.

Friday, October 21st. Primary Flyer. Life Support training. Parachute training. F-15 Egress training. G-suit fitting. I’d done all this before only to have the flight cancel on the morning it was scheduled. But my hopes were rising as Friday approached.

That morning, I met Major “Crusher” Osborne, a thin friendly pilot quick with a smile and bubbling over with seeming limitless energy. We talked about what to expect on the flight. Crusher was excited because I had already been through altitude chamber training; this meant he could go much higher than the usual incentive ride allowed. We were also probably going to be by ourselves instead of in a formation, so we would be free to do whatever we wanted in the training area.

Crusher and me
Crusher and me

As it happened, there were two incentive rides scheduled, and the other individual had an assignment one month after me. So the very thing I thought might ruin my chances was what ensured I got a flight.

We suited up with all our gear and G-suits. Then we received a weather briefing before getting a ride to the jet. The G-suit already felt tight; it’s made to inflate slightly, squeezing the calves, thighs, and abdomen, forcing blood back up to the heart when gravity makes it pool in the legs during high-G maneuvers.

Worse than the constant pressure of the suit is the harness. It has two straps that come up between the legs from behind, fastening to clips on the waist. These have to be tight enough so that you can barely stand up straight. That way, they fit somewhat comfortably when you sit down in the cockpit.

Crusher took me on a walk-around, checking to ensure the jet was safe. As he did so, he pointed out all the “fun” features: “Here’s an AIM-9 Mike model, we carry three more here, here, and here. And we have points for four more missiles along the fuselage there… here’s the chaff and flares… watch the gear door… there’s the gun, a 30 millimeter gatling gun… this whole part turns as we maneuver…”

We got in and Crusher went through all his checks. At one point, a warning light wasn’t turning off, even though the controls worked fine. We’ll never take a jet up for a training mission if we know there’s a significant problem. But today, as we waited for maintenance and I worried about a possible cancellation, I was prepared to accept a few risks!

Let's do this!
Getting ready to fly

Ground maintainers worked with Crusher and found a quick, painless fix. Then we were ready to taxi out to the runway. We started rolling, and I laughed as Major Osborne gestured repeatedly to various personnel along the taxiway, pumping fists, waving, flashing a peace sign, returning salutes.   Soon we were staring down the runway, cleared to take off. Crusher had briefed me that we would take off on afterburners–not because we needed the boost, but just for fun. His squadron was videotaping this, so he planned to pull almost straight up as he passed their building.

“I like to look back at the ground when we do that,” he said. “It just looks cool, being over the runway.” I shrugged, not really knowing what to expect.

He pushed up the throttles, and we started down the runway. But, to be honest, it was somewhat unimpressive. It wasn’t much different than a normal take-off on the average commercial airliner… until he pulled the stick back.

In a flash, I was pulled against the chair as sky filled my vision. The few clouds spun in the air, and Okinawa looked like the ceiling. We were inverted. I looked “up” through scattered clouds at the base and the city around it. I was glad that I had a few motion sickness bags, because I knew I’d eventually need one. Or more.

We had a smooth flight out to a nearby overwater training area. “What’s the highest you’ve ever been on your jet?” Crusher asked. I had to think for a moment, then told him we were once at 41,000 feet to get over some weather.

“Well, we’ll beat that today,” he replied as he began a steady climb. We peaked at 46K, then pitched down and pushed up the throttle to break Mach 1. There was no real change in how the aircraft handled or felt–at least as far as I could tell. Crusher just pointed out how the altimeter needle began to flutter and bounce as we crossed the threshold of the speed of sound.

From there, he took the plane around a few clouds and then descended to a thousand feet, skimming the ocean’s surface. This was where motion sickness finally got the better of me. Pulling a few Gs in a turn was no big deal, but the negative Gs when we levelled out were brutal. It felt like I was about to float up out of the seat if not for the harness, lap belt, and shoulder straps holding me down.

Once I recovered, we ascended, and the pilot gave me control of the aircraft. I was very hesitant at first; this was an expensive fighter jet and I was not sure how to control it, let alone how well I really could. I pulled the stick a bit to perform a few short turns, and Crusher suggested “cloud chasing.”

There were strands of white and grey as we flew out from Kadena. They were amazing to me, because from above or below, they looked massive, spanning the sky. But as we were level with them, I saw that they were thin like sheets of paper, wispy veils drawn across the blue.

Out in the training area, however, the clouds were massive puffy columns like white cotton candy. We noticed a rainbow, and I pointed the nose at it. As we flew toward this small arc of color in the fluffly cloud-towers, the rainbow circled around us on all sides. I cut some turns around the clouds, weaving between them like pillars.

Oddly enough, what surprised me was how much the flight looked like playing Ace Combat 6 on the Xbox 360… with the noticeable addition of stomach-churning turns and the constant rumbling roar of massive power just behind our seats. I thought of the loops and turns in that game and asked, “Can I just pull straight up?”

“Go for it!”

"...because we were inverted."
It probably looked something like this

I pulled the stick back and pushed the throttles up, filling our view with the deep blue
of the sky and feeling gravity’s futile pull on us. I kept pulling back until we finished half a loop, with the water “above” and the sky “below.”   Crusher was impressed, not because I did something remarkable or skillful, but because I actually did something. Apparently, most people just sit and do a couple turns, then quit, whether from nerves, fear, or queasiness. I was nervous, too. But I also knew I only had one shot at this. I was going to fly this plane for a minute!

Having done the Immelman, I thought about other maneuvers I’d seen. I asked if I could try a Split-S, where the plane rolls over and dives toward the water, pulling “up” until it comes out straight and level, right side up.

“Let’s get a little more altitude first,” Crusher answered. “Then, sure!”

Each turn and maneuver forced air into the G-suit, squeezing tight around muscles and keeping blood flowing. Then Crusher took control to demonstrate brake turns, and we made a punishing sharp turn, hitting 8.2 Gs, or more than eight times the normal force of gravity. I was told to tighten up all my muscles, take in a breath, and then hold it, quickly releasing a puff of air and inhaling sharply for a fraction of a second every three seconds or so. Thankfully, the turn was sharp but short. Even so, it felt like I was being crushed… appropriate, I guess, given my pilot’s handle.

Then Crusher decided to run through some dog-fighting maneuvers. Honestly, that part was just a blur of turns, throttle, braking, and excited chatter as he described how he would deal with an imagined enemy fighter on our six.

Once all that was done, he gave me one more offer to take the controls. I was still feeling a little queasy, and I was so content with what had come before that I answered, “No thanks, I’m good.”

I deeply regret this now. The exhilaration was a once-in-a-lifetime moment, one for which I’m incredibly grateful. But I do wish I had taken full advantage of the opportunity.

Even so, the incentive ride was better than I had imagined…
and well worth a ten-year wait.

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth

            And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings…

            …And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod

            The high untrespassed sanctity of space,

            Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

                        –from “High Flight” by John Gillespie Magee

F-15 at Kadena
An F-15 takes off from Kadena

I Know

http://soundcloud.com/sonworshiper/i-know

Two people are essentially to blame for this song’s existence.

C. J. Monet has really been entertaining me with his music (hence the techno style to this track), and Pastor T. J. Cristobal preached a great sermon on Ephesians 6:10-18 at church today.

Our identity is a crucial component of how we live our lives, how we decide our course of action, how we evaluate what’s going on around us. Our perception of who we are and what we’re worth dramatically affects how we interact with everyone and everything else. “Perception is reality” is a common enough expression, and I don’t use it to mean that if I think I see a pink elephant, there must really be a pink elephant. I use it to mean that I will respond to what I perceive, what I see, what I understand… not necessarily to what is actually true.

For Christians, this “perception” may be found in answers to questions like these:

Am I a sinner? Or am I a saint who struggles with sin?

Am I a failure? Or am I an overcomer who sometimes fails?

Am I worthless? Or am I the object of the affection of the Creator of the universe?

Am I unlovable? Or am I precious enough that God Himself would die for me?

(I’ll add a caveat, lest we Christians get all presumptuous and puffed up in our recognition of God’s love toward us. All those other people out there in the world, the ones our community sometimes wants to judge and protest and so on–those people are just as much the objects of God’s love as I am, and it’s my job to communicate that to the world, because the One I claim to follow “did not come into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17). So yeah, don’t forget that part of your identity either.)

What have you discovered about who you are? What have you learned about what you were meant to do with this life? I know whose I am, and I know who’s in me.

You’ll say that I am weak, that I’m not worth a thing

You’ll say I should give up, that there’s no chance for me

You’ll say that nothing’s changed, that I am still the same

I say that Christ is in me and there’s power in His name

The old is gone, and the new has come

My victory is won by all that Christ has done

 

 I know whose I am

and I know who’s in me

I’m not who I was

’cause Christ has set me free

I know what He’s done

And how He’s changing me

I know the Holy One

And what I am called to be

Jesus, I am Yours, I am Yours

Jesus, I am Yours, I am Yours

 

I am called, I am chosen, I am loved, I am redeemed

I am free from condemnation, rescued from my enemy

I am purchased by my Savior, who lives inside of me

I am dead to sin, I am secure in Christ my hope of glory

The old is gone, and the new has come

My victory is won by all that Christ has done

 

No matter what the world may say

No matter what the world may do

My identity and destiny are only found in You

Paizo is Eevil, pt 1

Dear Paizo,

SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!

No, seriously, it’s about like that.

Now, maybe all you gamers out there are already well aware of how many useful products are out there. But some of us have been overseas for a few years, and some of us are Luddites that don’t understand how to shop for things online.

So walking into the local game store and seeing all they had to offer was a terrible experience… at least for my wallet.

Because I love their products and I am all too willing to give them money, I’m going to post a product. Then I’m going to tell you how to do the same thing (more or less) for cheap. Maybe I’ll do a few of these, because I keep ending up with Paizo products on my game accessories shelves.

Let’s start with the GameMastery Combat Pad.

You know you want one
Magnets! How do they work?

Depending on the RPG group you’ve got, combat can be one of the best or one of the most frustrating parts of game time. Someone’s probably browsing Facebook on their iPhone, someone is off getting snacks or hitting the bathroom, and someone’s reading the rulebook to challenge a decision you made ten minutes ago because there’s a clause they’re sure will give their character an edge. (Grammar nazis: please note the proper use of they’re, their, and there in the same sentence.)

 

Inevitably, you get to someone’s turn, and they blink twice, shake their head, and try to figure out where their character is at, where the enemies are at, what happened while they were out in space, and gosh, what are they going to do this round, because it came up as a surprise that they’d have to participate in the game soon.

GameMastery’s Combat Pad won’t magically fix that player, BUT it gives them no excuse!

You get 8 magnets for enemy names, 8 for PC names, 4 for NPC names, 0 magnets for DM PC names (haha, kidding), and a few indicators for the progression of combat rounds. You also get a handy pad for eraseable notes, and columns for delaying or readying actions. And there’s a far better write-up of the product on the website I linked, so if you really want all the details, go there.

The product certainly looks nice and all. Being able to move the magnets around is convenient. You can buy additional magnets if you are running an enormous group (more than 8 players? seriously?) or if you’re the sort that unleashes entire armies on your party (more than 8 types of monster? nice!).

Maybe that’s worth your $20. Or you could cut the price by more than half, give up the pretty look of the Paizo product, and just get one of these:Half the cost, all the function

Or if you’re like me, you run your game mostly off files on your laptop (the perfect DM screen!), so it’s nothing to pop open Notepad and create an initiative tracker right there. Of course, then you have one more thing to communicate–  “Borak, you’re up next, and then Lucan.”

But then you don’t get to play with magnets.

Vestigial Souls

(inspired by two “word of the day” exercises, for “vestigial” and “subtilize”)
For the Agworkers of Sector 5, nothing ever changed. Nothing needed to change, because every need had already been taken into account… every need but one.

Cado paused to take a deep breath. His chiseled muscles rippled under his pale skin as he hefted the bag of ferti-seed over his shoulder, and sweat dripping from his brow to the fresh-tilled earth below. Filtered sunlight washed over the domed production field.

This week’s crop would help satisfy the famine, he thought as he knelt and aimed the spout. The moist chemigenetic mixture of seed, fertilizer, and enhanced soil trickled out into the softened furrows Cado made earlier in the day.  There was tell that last week’s harvests met the monthly quota for Ag-Industrial Sector 5, where Cado worked. The next two weeks’ produce was destined for transport.

“From those with plenty, to those who have need,” the Maxim echoed in Cado’s mind. He knew it was his duty; it was everyone’s duty. But more than that, it just made sense. The soil would not support life on its own without scientific enhancements, and the famine’s impact on the food supply meant everyone had to do their part. DoD gathered all “nurtural” produce and allocated all resources for the good of all the varied Sectors in the Union, each with their specialized industries.

The speakers blared the signal for midday rest, and Cado stooped once more to set the seed bag down, avoiding the green shoots already poking through the wet earth. He double-checked the spout to ensure none of the precious material leaked out. Waste not, want not. Ferti-seed cost the Union time and energy to produce; it was everyone’s responsibility to prevent waste.

There was a row of shade-trees at the edge of the tilled fields, and Cado made for his favorite spot. Before he sat down, he plucked one of the dozen ripe red-orange citrus apples that beckoned to him off the lower branches. The pulpy flesh of the fruit was filling as always, a nutritious lunch, acceptable fuel for an afternoon of hard work in the farm complex. The juice rehydrated his body and the gnawing in his belly quieted down somewhat.

Far above, the safety-shield tint of the dome’s hexagonal panels shifted to transparency. The full, dangerous light of the sun burned through the empty sky onto the fields below during the midday break. The ferti-seed was designed to handle what Cado was not. Just before the next bell, the radiation shields would be back in place, protecting the Ag-Ind workers. The Manager thought of everything.

Cado took another bite. The vitamins and electrolytes which enriched the fruit energized his body. The weariness drained out of his muscles. Cado felt ready to jump up and finish the field ahead of schedule. But it was scientifically proven that the seventeen-point-five minute midday rest was essential for maximum production. It was another detail the Manager took into account. Cado closed his eyes and began the proper deep-breathing regimen.

A soft female voice broke the silence.  “It’s perfect, isn’t it?”

Cado’s right eye opened in a narrow slit. “Lilly, this is not social time,” he hissed.

“I know,” she whispered back as she peeked around the tree.

She was three years his junior, according to her Personal Information File. Two years ago, when she first arrived in Ag-Ind Sec 5, he had accessed her file. He was surprised to find above average marks for physics, technological development, comprehensive theoretical application, and a few words he didn’t even know. Cado wondered back then how it was that the Aptitude Testing & Allocation branch of the Department of Distribution had found her suitable for grain production.

Then he remembered he did not work in DoD for a reason. He was a simple Agworker. The Manager’s judgment was infallible, his purpose pure: From those with plenty, to those with need, for the good of the Union.

And as far as Cado could tell, Lilly had been a dependable worker. Ag-Ind workers who did not meet DoD-mandated quotas were reassessed and transferred to a task better suited to their education or medical condition. Everyone had a place in the Union.

Lilly giggled, and Cado was shocked to see her bare feet in the thick grass, verdant blades between her wiggling toes.  “Why have you taken off your workboots?” he barked.

“I don’t need them to sit in the shade, silly,” she countered, and then added with a mischievous whisper, “It’s… pleasant, relaxing. You should try it.”

Cado’s face wrinkled at the archaic word. Relaxing? No one talks that way any more. “You should have a care about such non-standard behavior, Lilly. Why are you acting this way?”

She snickered, and he heard her take a bite from a citrus apple. “Mmm… it’s jusht–“  She paused to swallow. “Oh, that’s so tasty after a few hours’ of good hard work.  Look at the sunlight, how the dust dances and sparkles over the field… I don’t know, it just makes me feel…” she stumbled over the words. “Warm… and alive.”

Eyes open wide now, he shot quick glances to the left and right. Unless some Ag-Ind workers had received aural upgrades, no one should have heard her comments. But they will soon, if she doesn’t stop talking like this.

She continued without concern. “A few weeks ago, a small pebble stuck in my boot heel, and I took off my boot to get it out. When my toes touched the grass, it felt…” She sighed as she reached for words. “Soothing… tender… ticklish…”

Cado struggled to understand, but the concepts were so alien, the words unfamiliar and unused.

She turned to face him. He caught his breath at the sight of her auburn eyes; there was more energy in her gaze than a bushel of citrus apples could provide. She smiled, and he felt his cheeks burn, though he could not say why.

“You have some stuck to your face,” she said with a laugh as she plucked her right glove off. He sat frozen as she reached out to brush small bits of orange away from the stubble on his chin. Her hand lingered, stroking the sharp lines of his jaw, fingertips rubbing with a raspy noise across his rough face.

Cado found her touch uncomfortable… no, terrifying.  His cheek tingled at her caress; her hand felt like electricity against his skin.

The bell sounded the end of the midday rest. Lilly smiled and replaced her glove as she turned. Cado watched her jogging–almost dance–back to the field. He took a much-needed breath and returned to his work. But every so often, he caught himself stealing a glance at Lilly. Worse than that, a couple of times he caught her watching him.

It wasn’t even two months later that Lilly was reassigned from Sector 5. Cado thought about her as he ate his midday citrus apple, guessing at what position she might have been given. He did not investigate; it was not within his purview to ask. Whatever it was, he knew it was for the best. No doubt, she was reassessed and positioned where her skills and intelligence could better serve the Union.

Eyes closed and engaged in the deep-breathing regimen, Cado smiled.

Lilly was right. The grass did feel soothing between his toes.

Approach Boldly

Hebrews 4:14-16 states, “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are– yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

If God was going to speak to you today, what might He say? What thoughts arise to answer that question? Imagine for a moment that Jesus Himself was standing there in your office. What would you say to Him, and what do you think He might say to you?

Many times I have found myself expecting judgment, discipline, or condemnation from God. Sometimes, I hesitate to pray or to worship based on that expectation. After all, He is a holy God, seated on His throne of righteousness and justice, and here I am, little old me; I stumble and fail in so many different ways. If I go to God in my condition, He’ll probably tell me how many things I am doing wrong, or correct me for my faults. He probably doesn’t have a lot of time for a failure like me. On top of that, I’m reminded of everything I should be doing… I don’t pray enough, I don’t read my Bible enough, it’s been a while since I went to church, etc.

Ever feel that way? This phrase, “approach God’s throne with confidence,” shatters that fear of God’s anger and judgment for all those who are covered by faith in the high-priest ministry of Jesus. Christ’s blood was the perfect sacrifice, making atonement and “reconciliation for the sins of the people.” Our high priest is called “merciful and faithful.” He understands our weaknesses because He has walked in our shoes; He does not stand aloof, out of reach, glaring down on pathetic and pitiful humanity. Instead, He became pathetic, pitiful, “a man of no reputation, familiar with sorrows,” in order to reconcile us to God.

Now we are free to come to the throne. The throne is the seat of authority, and is approached with reverence and fear. The one who sits on the throne in a particular land holds the power of life and death for anyone who approaches that place. But because of our high priest, we are not coming to a throne of judgment, but a throne of grace, of unmerited favor. Nothing I can do will earn God’s acceptance– He has already accepted me! We come with confidence because the One on the throne has granted us His favor and love. He has approved us, selected us, welcomed us to come before Him.

This breaks down all my thinking that my relationship with God is based on “Jesus and _______.” All the good things that I do will not grant me special favors from God. “Without faith, it is impossible to please God,” and when I work to earn something from God, my faith is in what I have done instead of in Him. God’s plan works the other way around: He saved us by His grace, through faith, and not by good deeds that we have done, so that we can’t boast about our “special” relationship with Him as though we did it on our own. But we were saved for a purpose, so that we can be in the right position to accomplish good deeds for God’s glory. We do good deeds because God loves us, not so that God might love us.

At all times, knowing that we have received His favor, we can come boldly to God in prayer and in worship, knowing that we can receive His loving assistance (mercy) and find divine power and strength (grace) to help us whenever we have a need. Jesus is a faithful priest in things pertaining to God; He is always able to administer the blessings of God to us. There is no time where He takes a leave of absence; He is never too busy; He is never taking a break. We can always rely on His ministry, and find mercy and grace at every point of need.

Praying for Apocalypse

Over the years, I’ve had friends ask me why or just make the comment that “Christians are crazies looking forward to the end of the world.” The Left Behind series and its immense popularity (as far as Christian fiction sales go) is a good example from a few years back. There’s always a curiosity about “the end” even if we know it’s not really the end… a pastor makes a rapture prediction that becomes a news story, and the Mayan calendar ends in 2012, and what about those asteroids out there that are supposed to pass close to Earth in the next decade or so? The end of the world holds our interest, and it seems like Christians are actually seeking it.

Apocalypse is defined as:

1. A writing prophesying a cataclysm in which evil forces are destroyed.

2. The name of a book of the Bible

Cataclysm is: a violent change or upheaval.

The English versions of the New Testament often use the word “revelation” for the Greek word “apokalupsis” (which also is the Greek title of “The Revelation of John”).

Revelation means:

1. an act of revealing

2. something revealed; esp. an enlightening or astonishing disclosure

The Greek word “kalupsis” is translated into English as “veil.” It is also defined in the phrases “to hide, cover up, and wrap around.” In the way that our skin covers our inner body parts, it serves as a “kalupsis.”

Apo-kalupsis is simply adding the prefix that means “off or away.”

 

The word apocalypse has been transformed as the years have gone by into the meaning as defined above. Taking the title of the last book of the NT and applying it to other similar texts may have started the trend, and as such trends go, the meaning is further distorted when people assume their definition is correct. Apocalypse is now often used as if it means “the end of the world,” or at least “a terrible catastrophic situation” (which is close given the “cataclysm” reference in the definition and the events portrayed in the Apocalypse). All this is simply meant to say that the word apocalypse carries a very negative connotation.

Interestingly enough, looking from a Christian perspective, many people view a literal apokalupsis as a cataclysm in their lives. When the veil is taken away (2Cor 4:3-4) a person has to face who they really are, what’s “under the skin” within their hearts and minds. This is true of both Christians and nonChristians. Few want to face their own failings and weaknesses. But such an apocalypse is necessary in order to grow. You cannot change the problem you are not aware of.

Jacob’s apocalypse on the day he wrestled with God’s Angel is a great example. Before he could receive “victory” he had to acknowledge all that he had been… “What is your name?” His name is Jacob. Supplanter. Schemer. Trickster. Swindler. In recognizing who he is, he becomes someone he is not… Israel.

But he had to lose his ‘skin’ to get there. Notice the violent manner in which this change takes place. This is a cataclysm in the life of Jacob. It really is the end of the world as he knows it. It affects him both physically and figuratively for the rest of his life.

What’s my skin, I wonder? What stuff from my past is keeping me from the better things God has in store? What about the church at large? Where are we missing the mark? Where are we walking around blindfolded or veiled?

Maybe it’s time to pray for an apocalypse in the Church of Christ. An uncovering. A violent upheaval. A complete change. Revelation of who we are.

Maybe even the end of the world as we know it. One can only hope. And pray.

Ambassadors

He spoke to them again and said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (John 20:21)

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given complete authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

God has given us the task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. This is the wonderful message he has given us to tell others. We are Christ’s ambassadors… (2nd Corinthians 5:18-20)

At our church we were studying the term “apostle.” It comes from a Greek word that translates as “sent one.” This makes a lot of sense given Jesus’ commission and commands to His disciples (who are also referred to as apostles).

I’ve been fiddling around with a Vietnamese copy of the Bible. I decided to look up the word for “apostles” to see how they convey the meaning of that word. In so doing, I had one of the most interesting insights. The word is actually a combination of two words. One means “an ambassador” and the other means “a tracing” like a picture that is made by tracing another image. I’d like to share a little on that.

An ambassador is “an official envoy; an authorized representative or messenger” (Webster’s). They operate with delegated authority of the one they represent. Christ’s message that “all authority in heaven and on earth” have been given to Him is followed by the words “therefore, go.” Our act of going and making disciples is the expression of His authority. We can make disciples of all nations because He, having all authority, said so. We must because He said so.

An ambassador is an envoy– he or she must be sent to a location where the one they represent is not present. If we are called to be ambassadors, then we have to represent Christ in a location where His influence is not already present. In one sense, we can’t fully function as Christ’s ambassadors only within the church community, because we’re trying to represent God to the world that does not yet know Him.

An ambassador also must be faithful in representing the one who sent him or her. Jesus said that He was sent by the Father. At the same time, He made it known that He did nothing on His own– He only did what the Father was doing and what He had been sent to do (John 5:30). He faithfully represented the Father, to the point that when the disciples asked to see the Father, Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father, because I and the Father are one” (read John 14). In the same way, Jesus has sent us, and said that “anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater.” It sounds presumptuous, but our goal is to come to a point where we can say, “If you have seen me, then you have seen Jesus.”

An ambassador has to carry the message of the one who sends him. If I am Christ’s ambassador, I cannot pick and choose parts of the message that do or do not apply. That is not for me to determine. Christ’s commission included the command to “teach these new disciples to obey all the commands” He had given; not just the ones we like, or the ones that make us popular.

That faithful representation leads very nicely into the second aspect I referred to– being a “traced image.” Time and again, the apostles in Acts were noticed by others as being faithful representatives of Jesus, who had already departed the scene. In Acts 4, the teachers took notice, looking at Peter and John, that “they were ordinary men who had had no special training. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus.” Acts 11:26 shows us that at Antioch, the disciples were first referred to as “Christians.” This was probably a form of mocking, but there is truth to the joke– Christians means “little Christs.”

Many times we think that we are to simply learn the concepts and theology of the Bible in order to be good Christians. When someone is particularly interested in learning the teachings of the Bible, they may be called a disciple. Discipleship actually carries a much deeper meaning; in the time of Christ, discipleship meant a day-to-day, moment-by-moment training where the disciple learns in all things to follow the example of the master. A good analogy would be the way the Air Force does training. A bad trainer would simply throw you a study guide and say, “Read it and follow it, and you’ll be fine.” A good trainer sits down with you and shows you by example how to perform the various tasks that you are required to do. He or she teaches you from experience, from having been there before. “It was necessary for Jesus to be in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. He then could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. Since he himself has gone through suffering and temptation, he is able to help us when we are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:17-18).

Jesus became like us, so that He could present us an example to follow and make atonement for our sins. Now we are taught that we are to follow His example (not simply comprehend His teaching) until we become more and more like Him in all things. Here are, in closing, a few verses to express this thought:

2nd Corinthians 5:15, He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves but for Him who died for them and rose again.

1st Corinthians 11:1, And you should follow my example, just as I follow Christ’s.

Ephesians 5:1-2, Follow God’s example in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love for others, following the example of Christ, who loved you and gave himself as a sacrifice to take away your sins.

What a challenging and difficult calling, but what an exciting opportunity to recognize that wherever we find ourselves, God has sent us there to accomplish His purpose and be His representative, to literally be the visible image of the invisible God.

Therefore, go!

This is What I'm Living For

This is What I’m Living For (Soundcloud)

Several years ago, I was driving around the Kadena flightline on the way home from work. and I was listening to a Hillsongs Australia CD with the song “Faith” playing. If I recall correctly, there’s a line of their song that says, “I give my life for this…” as in, “I am going to commit myself completely to this relationship with God.”  

That sparked a question: What did God give me life for? What does Scripture tell me about who God says I am, as opposed to who I feel I am, or what the world says about me?

I started looking through a lot of verses that talk about what we have “in Him” (which is an awesome list of amazing benefits) and also verses that talk about how God sees us and what He calls us.

In the future, I hope to get a copy of the song loaded, because it’s not quite the same without the music. But here are the lyrics:

In You, all things have been made new!
In You, I am not who I once knew!
I am made new! I am in You!

In You, my life means so much more!
In You, I find what I am living for!
I am made new! I am in You!

Grace and glory on display! Made holy in every way!
Mercies new with every day! This is what I’m living for!
Dignified, called royalty! Making known Your majesty!
Christ my King alive in me! This is what I’m living for!
Blessed to be a blessing! Love and mercy offering!
Light in darkness shining! This is what I’m living for!

In You, I find such perfect peace!
In You, I find such sweet release!
I am made new! I am in You!

In You, lovingkindness overflows!
In You, blessings like I’ve never known!
I am made new! I am in You!

By Your grace now reconciled, loved, accepted as Your child!
Cleansed and pure and undefiled! This is what I’m living for!
Saved to see Your kingdom come! Made to let Your will be done!
A Servant of the Holy One! This is what I’m living for!
Free to know You as I’m known! Free to be Your very own!
Never will I be alone! This is what I’m living for!
Free to bring You my heart’s cry in songs of praise to glorify
My Lord until the day I die! This is what I’m living for!

You gave Your life for me and You’re the One I’m living for!
You gave me life for this and this is what I’m living for!

A Christian nation?

I have a lot of friends who have discussed the topic of a “Christian nation” — saying that America is a Christian nation, or maybe it once was but is not now, or maybe it never really was at all, or maybe it should be. I’m blessed in that I have a lot of good friends who are Christian and generally share the same views as me, many good friends who are Christian but with whom I tend to disagree, and many who are not Christian but are still awesome friends. So I get a lot of different viewpoints on this subject.

One of the first issues with this topic is “What do we mean when we talk about a Christian nation?”

I offer a few possible definitions and my thoughts on whether the U.S. fits these terms:

1. You could see it as a nation that is explicitly founded to advance the cause of Christianity. Laws and policies would be governed by the Bible, or more accurately by interpretation and application of biblical principles. The leaders of the nation would be chosen through a religious process or for a religious reason. An example of what this might look like would be the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, governed by the Law and with a King appointed by God through the prophet Samuel. Another example might be the various theocracies in the Middle East.

The US is NOT a Christian nation by this definition. We aren’t a theocracy, we’re not governed by the Bible, our national leaders aren’t religious officials, etc. I *think* it’s safe to say no one is really arguing for this to change in America. But I don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouth.

2. You could see it as a nation with an established state religion. Some examples were brought up, like the European nations that many of the colonists fled, where THE religion, or the only accepted religion, was what the state said. The religious leaders in this system are appointed and controlled by the head of State (unless my memory of history is mistaken). I suppose there were a number of places where the Church influenced the State as well.

It seems clear that this is what the Founding Fathers specifically tried to avoid. They did not give America a state religion, and they made provision for freedom of religious belief. I am pretty sure no one is arguing for America to become a “Christian nation” in the sense of selecting a state-approved denomination or establishing The Church of America or any such thing. Again, please let me know if I’m wrong.

3. You could see the nation’s policies and laws as being based on many Christian principles and ideals, looking at the beliefs of many of the Founding Fathers and their cultural background, coming to the conclusion that they made the most “Christian” nation possible, in all but name. Informed by their knowledge of the Bible and of the human condition, these leaders set up a system of government that would not constrain anyone in an official way, but would allow for Christianity to flourish. It could be argued (and I believe some of the Founding Fathers expressed this) that this system depends on, or presumes, the Christian virtue and lifestyle of the governed. Therefore, the definition might also contain the thought that the great majority of the people of the nation adhere to Christian values and morality.

I imagine this is the way most people think of America at its founding, and this is the Christian nation most people are talking about when they seem to long for a return to our “Christian roots” in America. Let me know if I’m wrong or if there’s that much more to it that I’m forgetting.

4. One could make the case, perhaps, that much of the social and cultural religious practice in America has been only that, despite all the Christian terms and symbolism. Actual relationship with God through Jesus Christ might not have been as common as we all would hope. America may have been steeped in Christianity the religion, with very little of Christ at work in the people. From this point of view, a person might say that “Christian nation” means the vast majority of the people are God-fearing and fervent in their faith, doing their best to live up to God’s will. Regardless of what state we feel the nation is in, I’d wager all of us want America to be a Christian nation in this sense more than any other.

It’s possible that much of the religious content of speeches and documents in the past falls into the category of following social or cultural norms instead of truly following Christ, though I would hope that is not the case. It may be that a good deal of the “religious” roots of America come from political posturing similar to what we see in campaigns and politics today. It’s impossible to prove and difficult to judge; the fact is we’ll never know this side of heaven how fervently any of these men believed in God. From this perspective, the religious references in American history don’t prove that God was influencing the nation. A good comparison might be the Jews in Jesus’ time, who certainly felt like they enjoyed special spiritual privilege. Jesus showed them that they missed the point. I suspect that some here are arguing from this position, saying that America might be very much like Israel was, “Christian” in name but not so much in practice. I could be wrong or I could be misunderstanding the view; if so, please clarify.

—————–

Once we identify what we mean when we say Christian nation, then we can talk more about how that impacts us. A good question at this point is, “Are we really called to go create a Christian nation? Is that what Jesus commanded of His disciples?” My honest opinion is “no, it’s not.” But I know that there are many who may disagree with me, or who think that it’s important for America to remain a “Christian nation.”

A good question for those who advocate America becoming or remaining a Christian nation is, “What would have to change, and what steps would have to be taken, to get there from where we are now?”

That’s where much of the fear and confusion comes from, I think. When an atheist hears talk about a Christian nation and returning our Christian roots, they might think we’re all looking at option #1, wanting to appoint Billy Graham (or whoever) as Minister-in-Chief or whatever. I won’t waste much time with this option, because I personally know not one Christian who wants this.  But it’s good to recognize that some people really expect this from us.

Or perhaps they think of option #2, and look at the Religious Right, assuming that “we” are trying to develop a Church and State relationship, sharing power between the two. I know no Christian conservatives who really want to establish a state religion, but again, people honestly fear this is our intent.

More likely, if they are willing to think well enough of us as to consider we mean option #3, then they’re going to wonder what sort of laws and policies we might put in place in order to bring about that “Christian” nation. And that’s where my question above comes in. If option 3 sounds right to you, what do you see as the necessary steps to get there?

And I suppose if they consider option #4, that for some of us the hope is that the nation will become more of a Christian nation as more individuals freely choose to accept and follow Christ, they might fear that down the road, the collective Christian community will think options 1-3 are a good idea. The same question applies, though; for those who think of option 4 as the ideal (whether option 3 appeals to you or not), what do you see as the way to get there?

It’s really hard to discuss a topic like this without first ensuring we’re all talking about the same thing. So I’ll stop here for now and follow up later (if needed) about why I feel we’re not meant to be a Christian nation, never really were in the first place, and shouldn’t be pursuing that as a goal.

Creative Kids are Creative

Sooner or later, you’ll notice that I have a fondness for Role-Playing Games, and Dungeons and Dragons in particular.

A while back, my wife and I were chatting about what to do with our children, since we try very hard to make sure that we both get to be a part of any regular gaming group. (This eases tensions, it keeps her from being stuck at home with the kids she’s stuck at home with during the work day, and it keeps me from quitting groups in order to save my marriage. Win all around.)

Participation in any regular gaming groups means taking away significant family time from the kids, who usually end up on “game night” watching movies and playing games by themselves until bed time.

But what iftheywere playing the games?

About a year ago, we tried it out. I spent some time with the kids, helping them create characters and understand the basics of the rules.

Deborah had been given a half-tiger/half-man figure as a present, and she begged me to let her make a tiger-man. The beauty ofD&Dis, if you’re not taking it too seriously, you can do whatever you want. So that was an easy “yes.” Her tiger-man became an archer with the unique name of “Beastly Tiger.” (She has a stuffed bunny named Bunny. This is a trend.)

Jonathan wanted a wizard. But he had seen some pictures of 4th Edition D&D books, so he also wanted “one of those dinosaur guys,” better known as a Dragonborn.

A Dragonborn, from 4th Ed D&D
One of those dinosaur guys

Now if you’re familiar with 4th Edition, you will probably know that Dragonborn don’t make for ideal wizards. They’re more the burly fighter types, solving things with battle axes and brawn instead of balls of lightning and brains. But, again, we’re not taking this serious. And, quite honestly, in my head that gives his character something unique and interesting, a background story that raises questions (and creates opportunities for the DM).
Why did this guy learn to use magic when the rest of his society pursues martial training?
What did he experience growing up–was he an outcast?
Is there something he hopes to achieve through magic that he knows he can’t accomplish by traditional means?

So the answer was, of course, a whole-hearted “Yes.”

Justin was about 6 years old at the time, so he didn’t have much attention span for this sort of thing. He was happy to create a “sneaky guy” and decided to name his character “Clayface” because Justin is an insane fan of LEGO Batman (where Clayface is a villain). Clayface has the power to make himself look like other people… and I can easily picture a stealthy Rogue who is also a master of disguises. So again, a definite “Yes.”

My wife made a character based on a previous campaign, a battle-captain named Bethrynivere who could inspire the others to better performance in a fight. And I threw in a favorite half-orc sorceror whose unique approach to problem-solving often made my kids laugh. So we had our party.

Things only got better once we started playing. After getting the feel for combat with a few bouts in the training arena, they pulled a shift of guard duty and were able to rescue a merchant whose wagon was under attack by goblins. Justin decided his rogue would do some acrobatics as well, jumping into a pit for cover while throwing knives at his target. Jonathan’s wizard cast a couple spells, and then decided he really wanted to run around the pit to crack some goblin on the head with the wizard’s staff (highly unusual behavior for a wizard, but it was still awesome).  Jami had her elf spring up onto the wagon to fight the goblins, sending them flying off the back of the out-of-control vehicle. Seeing that the goblins were beaten but the merchant and Bethrynivere were about to be in a wagon crash, Deborah had Beastly Tiger leap up onto the wagon, grab hold of both of them, and spring off in a backward flip to save them from harm. (Borak, my half-orc, pretty much slept through the whole event.)

I love game night with adults — it’s always interesting to see what creative solutions (or attempted solutions) my friends come up with. But I never knew how full of surprises my kids and their characters could be. I’m sure there will still be some D&D nights where they’re stuck watching a movie or playing upstairs in their rooms. It’s great that there can also be some D&D nights where we hand them their dice, lay out the maps, and ask, “What do you do next?”