TWD in light of WWJD

The Walking Dead is a critically acclaimed television series that premiered in 2010 featuring a group of survivors in Atlanta, Georgia trying to survive the onset of a zombie apocalypse.

 

When I first saw the introductory episodes it was well made and scripted with insight into the human condition where the zombies were a plot device that illuminated the whole idea of what it means to be human. The first season was at times brutal and tender. I purchased the DVD for season 1.

 

Two or three seasons in and the plot device was wearing a little thin and bloody. It’s all well and good using a zombie apocalypse to explore human relationships however the emphasis on horror and gore was becoming unpalatable.

 

I understand the fascination with what Scripture records about the end of the world. If I take popular culture as any indication of what people are thinking, most of us share an unshakeable notion that things are going to go way pear-shaped sometime in the future. In Jesus’ prediction of the end times he did say that “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.” Matthew 24:22 NIV)

 

Watching the first few episodes recently it suddenly occurred to me that the gore of the series did not sit well with me anymore.

Weeds
Weeds

The series seemed to go beyond referring to violence as a lesson and revelled in the blood and guts. I decided that I could no longer watch it and I also didn’t want to give it to someone else. It ended up in the garbage bin and that Tuesday was taken to a municipal landfill where my hope is that it is covered in other garbage and failing that, that a flight of seagulls with the runs have bombed it into oblivion.

 

I don’t believe that God would ever allow zombies to exist. For all the evil in the world that man visits on himself and all the scorn man pours out on God, zombies seem like a mockery of resurrection and therefore distinctly unbiblical.

 

The following test by Paul is helpful to me, from Philippians 4:

 

“8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Reflections on Orlando

Reaction to the shooting in Orlando just this past month was knee-jerk swift, emotional and partisan.

 

The White House (in a see-no-ISIS mode) blamed it on a lone-wolf and AG Lynch reminded Americans that the government ‘may never know’ why Omar Mateen did it. Gun-control advocates were vehement that the gun was to blame and delivered screeds bemoaning the AR-15 carbine rifle, though in fact this was not the model used. Conservatives focused on the Islam/ISIS angle. Liberals were adamant that the target group was the whole point and that the gunman hated gays.

 

The families of the victims probably didn’t care about the how’s and why’s at all; they had someone to mourn and bury, and may themselves have been irritated with the political circus.

 

In my own mind I picture the shooter, completely deluded and spiritually twisted whose expression of religious devotion was to massacre people. I picture the victims terrified, tongue-stuck-to-the-roof-of-the-mouth scared, wishing they had the time to say a proper goodbye to loved ones, confronted with their mortality suddenly as a car spinning out of control, trying to figure out how to call on God, some of whom might not have been on speaking terms with Him.

 

What did God see? What about His perspective? If I use the lens of Scripture, he saw people in mortal peril, stuck in a no-win scenario like passengers on the Titanic with not enough life boats, or the passengers on United 93 on 9/11 who knew they were going to die.

 

Speaking of the lens of Scripture:

 

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38 – 39 (NIV)

 

In the 8th chapter of Romans, Paul writes about grace and concludes by noting that nothing can remove the Christian from the love of God. Not Norris, Seagal, or Sly Stallone; not Monday, poverty or our dying breath; not anything evil, not anything spiritual, conceivable, or created.

 

Not a mad gunman, not an unpleasant present or an uncertain future.

 

I know what some are thinking…Why does He only have to have a perspective? Where was He when this happened? Why didn’t He intervene?

 

What happened in Orlando with the gunman, and a few days afterwards in the same city where an alligator took a 2 year old boy…that’s the way the world is, but not as it ought to be. I know the sinfulness and selfishness of the human heart, intimately…we generally only want God to bail us out but want Him to keep an arm’s length the rest of the time. God is sovereign and wild and carries out His will and isn’t a genie to command. Death and suffering and the idea that God is good simultaneously are a mystery, perhaps the biggest mystery there is.

 

Instead of side-shows and politics the meaning of Orlando is that we should call on God and encourage others to do the same. If God can take the scenario of sinful people falsely accusing and putting His Son to death then he can and does take impossibly horrible events and as always, holds out grace for us to take hold of.

 

C.S. Lewis said that ‘pain insists on being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.’

Come the man and come the hour

Standing abreast, about to face off against the Springboks the Irish tourists sing their anthem:

 

‘Come the man and come the hour

Come the power and the glory

We have come to answer our country’s call

From the four proud provinces of Ireland

 

Ireland

Ireland

Together standing tall

Shoulder to shoulder

We answer Ireland’s call’

Paddy power

South Africa and Ireland have been playing rugby against one another since South Africa first sent a tour to play the home nations in 1906, beating Ireland, Scotland and Wales and drawing with England. It was the first time the South African tourists under Paul Roos went on tour and were dubbed the ‘Springbokken’.

 

South Africa and Ireland have both had a history of four proud provinces; Connacht, Leinster, Munster and Ulster for the Emerald Isle and the Cape Province, Transvaal, Orange Free State and Natal for South Africa. Of course now South Africa has nine provinces.

 

The two countries also share a sectarian history. South Africa is known the world over for its chequered past and racial animus, whereas Ireland went through a bout of political violence euphemistically called ‘the Troubles’ by the locals.

 

Some of the finest sons of Natal have come to play for Irish clubs, like RuanPienaar, Louis Ludick, WianHerbst and most recently the inimitable Marcel Coetzee.

 

Tragically for South Africa, they have not been able to leave racial politics behind and every selection is parsed for racial meaning and evidence of being a quota. Thankfully for Ireland, they have been able to leave their recent troubles behind and no distinction is made between Protestant and Catholic. This makes things far simpler for the Irish who stand or fall on their own. How refreshing for the fans who follow their endeavours.

 

It’s difficult to dislike the Irish who, although their weather is terrible, are full of life and song and dance and sometimes excess of ale or whisky.

 

It’s been a pleasure to follow their current tour of South Africa and perhaps one day we will have nothing more complex to talk about in South Africa than the Springbok players and their endeavours on the field of play.

Blessed be your Name

One of the seminal Westerns ever made is the movie I consider to be Clint Eastwood’s magnum opus, ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales’. Josey Wales becomes an outlaw, going on a journey of vengeance and redemption because his idyll is torn apart by bloodthirsty soldiers from Kansas led by the villainous Captain Red Legs. They pillage his homestead but not before slaughtering his wife and child. Amid the devastation he lays them to rest quoting the Scripture through clenched teeth , ‘The Lord gives…and the Lord takes away’. He leans into the small cross marking the grave and crushes it in grief. Mostly stoic, he then sits by the graveside until the next day when a posse led by Bloody Bill Anderson comes through vowing to ‘go up to Kansas and set things aright’, to which Joey replies, ‘I’ll be comin’ with you’.

 

For me it was always a profound picture of observing grief. Cowboys do actually cry , but they don’t overdo it. When the time came for me to taste grief on a cold winter morning when we found out about Tracy, my reaction was not like that of Josey Wales, or for that matter like any Biblical character or giant of faith that I’ve read about. Profanities and Jack Daniels.

 

From the Sermon on the Mount, and in the context of praying for one’s enemies, Jesus said that God sends His rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. The same common grace is available to all, and all also are subject the mess this world has become. Therefore His children also suffer. He sends his rain and sometimes he withholds it.

He causes his rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous
He causes his rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous

It is not a comfortable idea but it is true that he gives and takes away. We praise Him when He gives and when He takes away, what do we do or say?…is it correct at any level to vent our rage and disappointment with God? God is almost certainly not insecure when we tell Him about what doubts we may have, however being as He is God, I wouldn’t presume to cast aspersions on His character or call His motives into question.

Blessed be your name...all the time
Blessed be your name…all the time

This idea of God giving and taking away is explored in Matt Redman’s song ‘Blessed be your Name’. In time – even after a gut-wrenching episode of having the breath sucked out of you because of something so horrible – praise should return. Like vegetation after a wild fire, or sunshine after the rain, His Name is still blessed though we utter it through our brokenness.

 

My heart will choose to say

Lord blessed be your Name

 

“…The Lord gave me what I had,

and the Lord has taken it away.

Praise the name of the Lord!” – from Job 1:21

You have searched me

From Psalm 139:

You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.

The covenant keeping God of Israel has knowledge of my inner being, my heart and soul; He knows me more completely than my wife, kids, folks, family and boss knows me. Neither the CIA, NSA, Google nor Julian Assange could enter the sanctum of my soul. He knows my personal successes and failures, highs and lows, my history and my destiny.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.

He knows my schedule, the patterns of my relaxing and getting going in the morning, from ploughing through evening episodes of ‘24’ to coffee and browsing on Breitbart.com when I wake in the morning. He knows my thinking patterns, the way I think about issues of the day, what websites I frequent, what sport I prefer, what food gets me salivating, what arouses my indignation and more intimately than that, my anxiety and despair, my likes and dislikes, my moments of inspiration, the things I normally pray about.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.

He knows my route to work and back home, my shift times, my driving and picking up the wife and kids; He knows my patterns of thinking, speaking and doing from daily to yearly, which row I prefer to sit in at church, my old familiar fears.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.

He knows my thoughts before they form words, or even if they are pure emotion and words cannot utter them. Though I may not utter obscenities or profanities the thoughts are there for him to see.
You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.

He is all around me, like Secret Service agents hemming in the US President in diamond formation; not since the attempt on Reagan have they failed. The Lord is better because he knows where the danger lies well in advance.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

He knows the quirky about me, the goofy sense of humour, the personal, the minutiae and seemingly silly and useless details that number in the trillions; like what I’ve had to eat every day of my life, the number of hairs on my head at any given time and how many are gray, which days were good and were bad, memories that I’ve forgotten, dreams that I have discarded. The level and scale are beyond comprehension…why would He choose to know me or anybody as ridiculous as me at this level? I must be worth something to Him.

 

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?

His Spirit is present; there are no geographical or time boundaries – how could I run away? The idea that I could hide from him is like a conceit that a 3 year old child can hide in their cupboard and not be found by the parent who knows they are there.
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

Sitting in an airplane seat at 35 000.00 feet, being present in heaven, or my body being in the grave, He is there wherever I am. All these places are inaccessible or hard to get to; when a person’s body dies (bed in the depths) we cannot see them or access them but He can access them. In heaven once again those left behind cannot see us, but being apart from the body is to be at home with Him. In a remote and dangerous place, He is there where we are. He knew us ‘before’ we existed and he knows us in our passing and eternity. No one has more knowledge of us than that.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,

Whether travelling supersonically, at dawn or dusk, in Cape Town or Leytonstone, He is there…
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.

…with me, holding me with his right hand they way I would hold what is precious to me with my right hand, it’s natural.

 

11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

My doubts, any depression or confusion is like darkness [John 1: 5 says that ‘the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’], and at times my thinking is like when the Earth was formless and void and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters and God said for light to be and there was order. God knows and understand everything and my confusion and doubt cannot trip Him up. He reaches to me even then, especially then.

 

13 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

He has knowledge of and participates in molecular biology; either He established the biological principles, or even more stunningly also participates in the development of a baby. This is a powerful argument against abortion; can you imagine God seeing His Son developing in Mary’s womb? The mystery of the incarnation that is too deep to comprehend.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.

I’m a wonderful creation with cognition, a body and a soul in wonderful combination, able to seek and know Him, with highly developed systems and specialisation in function: endocrinal, immune, cardio, muscular, visual. He is an artist.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.

Gynaecologists rely on ultrasounds and blood tests. The womb, so intricate and robust, He sees everything about me as I grow. Nobody else comes close to that knowledge. He saw me before anyone else did and sees me after no-one on Earth sees me anymore. He is at the beginning and at the end. He planned how many days my body would live. Forensic pathologists may grab a piece of the puzzle but He sees it all unfold and knows the beginning from the end. The information on tomb-stones and obituaries is an informational echo of His knowledge and what is written in His book. No one can refute or escape it.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts,[a] God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you…

His thoughts about me are priceless, they cannot be purchased and they are voluminous; His knowledge of me is encyclopaedic. Are the more than the grains of sand a hyperbole? Or what if it isn’t and He has that many thoughts about me?
23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

I want Him to examine and test me, to know for sure what is in me. A prosecutor would use it to punish me but He uses that examination to root out everything that is bad and put me back on the right way with Him, the most precious thing in the world, or the next. His purpose is always at the right time, useful and redemptive.

 

I love this psalm because while it reminds me that I’m known and loved, it also infers that He is knowable and invites me to find Him. My knowledge of Him is experiential, scriptural and historical. Who has known the mind of the Lord? This psalm concerns His mind about me and one thing I desire then is to know Him in return.

Invisible

It’s an afternoon in May in Cape Town and I’m looking at clouds in the sky. There are a lot of clouds in May and Africa has some of the best sunsets in the world, and this is what the writer of Psalm 19 is referring to when he says that ‘The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands…”

Dark skies all around
The work of His hands

The forces at work that create the conditions for clouds to appear, and determine their type and altitude are invisible; things like convection, wind, gravity, static electricity and a host of other phenomena. The sun sets and rises the next day without fail, “at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is deprived of its warmth…”

 

The psalmist begins with the God of creation and in verse seven moves to the LORD, the covenant-making One who reveals himself deeper than mere nature can. He has made the law, scripture that illuminates us and points us to Him.

 

The law is perfect, refreshes the soul, imparts wisdom to the simple, giving joy to the heart and establishes righteousness. Like the forces that act to make clouds that we can see, the law works inside the human heart in ways we cannot see but with each the effect is visible. Can you see righteousness? Can you point out wisdom? Establish a test to observe the refreshment of a soul? Quantify the fear of the Lord? There is more in this world and the next than we can see.

 

Strange that we don’t trust things we can’t see. We have no idea what the future holds and that terrifies us, some more than others. Well, who made the dimension of future and who has already been there and who has promised to take care of us? God, of course.

 

At our absolute worst, when we may entertain doubts we may know what the atheist feels like but only for a short time. To a lesser degree we may not doubt God’s existence, but we may doubt his goodness or his power. The author of psalm 73 begins to doubt that God is fair because as he looks around there appear to be no consequences for those who do evil and as a moral being he innately knows that fairness means that God should reward the good and punish the evil. Though of course, ‘who is good except God alone’? When he entered the sanctuary of the Lord, then he ‘understood their final destiny.’ (verse 17b). Technically invisible, but with eyes of faith we see truth.

 

Ultimately God will right every wrong and it takes a lot of faith to be able to see that. A shaft of light can look unremarkable until a prism splits the light into its component frequencies from Red to Violet. Faith is like peeling back the curtain and looking at the world that lies beyond.

Peel back the curtain
Peel back the curtain

Hebrews 11: 1: “Faith is being sure of what we hope for. It is being sure of what we do not see.” Peel back the curtain, put that prism in the sun, and let scripture tell us the truth, the way God looks at things.

How wonderful it is

Psalm 133:

1 How wonderful it is, how pleasant,

         for God’s people to live together in harmony!

2 It is like the precious anointing oil

running down from Aaron’s head and beard,

down to the collar of his robes.

3 It is like the dew on Mount Hermon,

falling on the hills of Zion.

That is where the LORD has promised his blessing –

life that never ends.

The above Scripture reminded me of one of the things impressed upon me by the Holy Spirit. As I was worshiping, I thought suddenly of how different God is from the world. I mean, in the world today, there is Islamic terrorism, unrighteousness in our government, rampant taxes, and corporate mega-greed. The world seems designed to bring us all down, to lay us all low, and what’s more, to ultimately and spectacularly reject us. Rejection is part of this world’s system.

Looking at all the things listed above, radical Muslims want to take me out, the government doesn’t want to represent me, but at the same time wants my taxes, and corporations are out to lighten my wallet but never give me value for that money.

As I was worshiping, I thought…how different it is with God. Everything about His way of doing things is poised to accept me. He wants to preserve me and keep me safe. Jesus represents me in heaven, as does the Holy Spirit, and intercedes for me. He always does what is right, and even goes beyond that to do that which is gracious and merciful. He always wants to give. He gave His Son and keeps on with the blessing. And He keeps extending invitations to approach Him.

As I was worshiping…I thought, the world is completely insane! And although I frequently don’t understand God’s ways, He makes sense. The whole idea of God I mean. Of course He is and rewards those who earnestly seek Him.

The other thought that came later was about the fellowship of Believers. Like the oil running down Aaron’s beard and robe. I believe God was saying that I should give my brethren a chance, and keep on keeping on with them. Because the result is life that never ends.

When you are a soldier

Every time I watch ‘Saving Private Ryan’ I cry. Without fail. Especially the part where the poor guy representing the Army has to go along with the Padre to tell Mrs Ryan that 3 of her 4 sons won’t be coming home.

 

I can think of no more devastating news than that. It’s almost akin to the news Job received that all of his children had been killed.

 

The Army decides that they have to bring Private Ryan back home to his mother so that she can still have one last son out of the mess that was World War 2. A reluctant squad led by Captain Miller is tasked with finding Private Ryan and getting him back to base. As they try to find Ryan in the chaos after the paratrooper drops at Normandie they take casualties one by one. Ryan refuses to abandon his soldier brothers. In the heat of the final battle Captain Miller, dying from a bullet wound tells Private Ryan to ‘earn’ their sacrifice and to live a good life.

 

Though that scene does not bear any resemblance to Christ’s sacrifice for us, the Biblical principle can still be seen: Christ said “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15: 13). He has made us his friends and he gave his life for us. This is what I think of as we come to 6 June. The landings at Normandie were so awful and full of blood-letting that they literally defy understanding. The first 27 minutes of the movie ‘Saving Private Ryan’ were masterfully, viscerally and awfully captured on film by that master Steven Spielberg. And it’s difficult to watch and I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts that the reality was worse than the imagining on the silver screen.

 

Many film-makers have tried to use celluloid to depict the sufferings and anguish of Christ as he laid down his life for us. In my humble opinion it falls short. A sacrifice like that is unimaginable.

 

On this eve of Normandie I remember Dick Winters and the men of Easy Company, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, the men of the 82nd Airborne, the men of the 75th Ranger Regiment, SEAL team 6 (DEVGRU) and all those men who are ready to lay down their lives for their brothers.

 

And of more importance I think of Christ who laid down his life for us all. On a rescue mission that is the greatest story ever told.

Muhammad Ali

The boxer Muhammad Ali died 3 June 2016 at the age of 74 after suffering the effects of Parkinson’s disease for 32 years.  Generally considered the greatest heavyweight boxer in the history of the sport he reached his zenith in the 1960’s.

 

Like the passing of the artist known as Prince, the passing of Muhammad Ali did not affect my daily life but for other people he was an inspiring sportsman and American. I know next to nothing about the man but for his family it will feel as though the sun, moon and stars have fallen from the skies. The media have written a score of articles detailing his life and exploits which I have only glanced at in passing.

 

The poet and priest John Donne wrote of the passing of man and noted that every man’s death diminishes the human race; firstly, death is undignified and secondly, since we can’t perform Vulcan mind-melds, the soul and mind of that man is no longer available to us.

 

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”

 

I’m not sure why but I got to thinking about Billy Graham, the greatest evangelist possibly in the history of the world. At the age of 97 you can think that there are far fewer days ahead than behind for him. And when one day the Lord takes him, will the media pay as much attention?

 

Maybe I’m being unkind to the media, but I somehow don’t think so. Looking ahead to Billy Graham’s date with destiny a comparison emerges: Muhammad Ali’s fame derived from when he was in his peak physical condition and for many years he was a feeble and sad shadow of the awe-inspiring boxer he once was. The march of time is never particularly kind to the body. Billy Graham is also a physical shadow of his young self but I’m reminded of Paul’s juxtaposition:

 

“Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.”

 

1 Timothy 4: 8 (New Living Translation)

 

Hard at work
Hard at work

When I think about Billy Graham I think of a life lived in service to God and it seems much more appealing to me than being a super-dooper sportsman, especially since I’m past my physical prime. Thinking of the bell that tolls for me, hopefully far in the future, I don’t think I will have any regrets that I wasn’t a Super Rugby player for the Sharks, however I don’t want to have any regrets about applying myself to knowing God and serving him.