Archive for May 2015
This is Part 2 of the What If Character Went Viral Series. Read Part 1 here.
The Bible makes a clear case that all human beings are born into slavery. Either you’re a slave of sin or you’re a slave to God.
Non-Christians mistakenly think they are free when they chose to reject God to follow their own lusts, but the apostle Peter said they are “slaves of of corruption” (2 Peter 2:19). God has freed Christians (with our permission) from sin (Romans 6:18), but we are not free to live as we please. He freed us from sin to make us “slaves of righteousness.”
The question is not “Should I give up my freedom to submit to God?” but “Should I serve sin or serve God?”
In Romans, the apostle Paul spent a good deal of time explaining the human condition and it all boils down to the paraphrase “you are either a slave to sin, resulting in death, or you are a slave of obedience, resulting in righteousness.”
The words slave or enslaved appear eight times in Romans 6:15-23. The words obedience, obedient, and obey occur four times.
Whose slave are you?
If you believe that being under grace means you are free to sin, you do not understand God’s grace (Romans 6:15-20)
What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?
Do you not know that if you present yourselves as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves to sin, you obeyed from the heart that pattern of teaching you were entrusted to, and having been freed from sin, you became enslaved to righteousness. (I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh.) For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free with regard to righteousness.
There are scholars who believe that Paul was responding to a hypothetical here, but I don’t think he was. Paul wrote the letter to the church at Rome from Corinth, which was the Las Vegas of the 1st century — the original Sin City. I’m pretty sure as Paul talked with people, perhaps even Christians, as he mended tents in the Corinthian marketplace, that he had heard this argument before:
Since Christians are under God’s grace and not under the law, we are free to sin, no problem because our sins are forgiven.
Paul’s answer: DON’T BE STUPID!
Really, the emphatic statement here is so strong that we do not have an English equivalent. It’s important to realize that Paul wrote Romans as a letter, not as a series of disconnected verses as we have it today. In Romans 5:20, he made the statement that “when sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” Paul wanted to assure that nobody could weasel around and say “So, let’s sin a lot so that we get a lot of grace.” That would be abuse of his statement in 6:14 that “you are not under the law, but under grace.” Being under grace does not mean you are free to sin. That would be an utterly specious argument.
Law and grace are difficult theological concepts and people who like their theology simple tend to take them to extremes one way or another. Some have feared that if we emphasize God’s grace too much, people will gravitate toward sin and licentiousness and think their lifestyles don’t matter to salvation. This extreme leads to emphasizing the rules for what they consider to be holy living, but more often than not is really manmade rules propped up by Bible verses taken out of context. Good examples of that are Baptists I know who say the Bible doesn’t allow drinking alcohol or dancing, when the reality is that the Bible cautions against drinking alcohol to excess and dancing in lustful ways. Legalists do not focus on sins of the heart such as pride or lack of love for God, but rather on outward sins that can more easily be judged. Pharisees and Judaizers were leading examples of this false, superficial religiosity (Matthew 23; Galatians 6:13).
At the other end of the extreme are those who say “If we’re under grace, then sin doesn’t matter.” These folks view God is the loving, tolerant, sugar daddy in the sky who would never judge anyone. They mistake grace to mean God doesn’t care about our sin and there are certainly nominally Christian religions that represent that extreme.
Now here’s the think to understand — God’s true grace is not the balance between legalism and licentiousness. These are actually two parts of the same flesh. The legalist, acting in the flesh, takes pride in his religious practices and condemns those who do not live up to his standards while congratulating himself on his performance. He views the law as his pathway to reaching God — rather like those more ancient sinners viewed the Tower of Babel. He’s not examining his heart before God. He’s trusting in his good works to not stink like filthy rags.
The licentious person is clearly operating in the flesh, embracing the lusts of the flesh and justifying it by equating grace with tolerance for sin.
Both ends of the extreme are firmly rooted in our human nature … our flesh. God’s grace opposes both extremes, NOT as the fulcrum of a balancing act, but as a completely different way of relating to God. Jesus was called a sinner by the legalists of His day (Luke 5:29-32; Matthew 11:19) and so was Paul (Romans 3:9). Any Christians who emphasizes God’s grace risks that charge. Those making the charge do not understand grace at all, hence Paul’s powerful reaction of “Under no circumstances! EVER!”
Sin put our Savior on the cross. Christians know this. Our sins have been nailed to the cross and we bear them no more because He took the burden on Himself. We now are identified with Him in His death to sin and resurrection to new life, which manifests itself in obedience to God (1 John 3:9). Lawlessness is the mark of the slave of sin (Romans 6:19). Righteousness (right living according to the Bible) is the mark of the one who has received God’s grace.
And you are tested on this. If you think that being under grace leaves you free to sin as if it was no big deal, you don’t understand God’s grace. If, motivated by God’s love and grace in giving His Son, you now hate and fight your sin, striving to be more obedience, then you understand grace. God’s grace trains us “to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:11-12).
Your lifestyle reveals who you are a slave of. If you obey sin, it shows that you’re a slave of sin, headed toward eternal death. If you obey God, it shows that you’re His slave, resulting in righteousness (Romans 6:22). Salvation is your choosing who your master will be. If there is a change of masters, you obey your new master. The master you obey shows whose slave you now are.
Paul contrasted being a slave of sin with being a slave of obedience rather than of God, because he wanted to make it clear that not being under the law does not in any way imply that we are free to sin. Being under grace means that we present ourselves as slaves for obedience to God. This obedience is not the means to salvation. It’s the result of it. Slavery to sin leads to death, while slavery to obedience leads to righteousness (not life). We are not saved by our obedience, but rather we are saved by faith that results in a life of obedience (Ephesians 2:8-10).
A lot of professing Christians like to obey God when it is convenient, but dabble in sin when the mood strikes them. Paul doesn’t give us that option. Either Christ is your master and you obey Him or sin is your master and you obey it. There is no middle ground. There’s no keeping one foot on the dock and the other foot in the boat. You can’t have both Christ and sin as your master.
If that sounds extreme, keep in mind that Paul is echoing the teaching of Jesus. Matthew 6:24: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” Matthew 7:13-14 Jesus said that there are two and only two gates: the narrow gate that leads to life and the broad gate that leads to destruction. There are two types of trees: the good tree that bears good fruit and the bad tree that bears bad fruit (Matthew 7:17-19). There are two kinds of builders who build two kinds of houses: Wise builders build on the rock; foolish builders build on the sand (Matthew 7:24-27). The wise builders represent those who hear Jesus’ words and obey them. The foolish builders hear Jesus’ words but do not obey.
Everybody serves somebody or something and our behavior and actions are evidence of that servitude. Those who live in sin are the slaves of sin. Those who live in obedience are the slaves of Jesus Christ. Those who are the slaves of sin are not under grace and are heading for eternal death. Those who are slaves of Christ have already tasted His grace, are growing in righteousness, and are heading for eternal life.
Are you a slave of sin or a slave of Christ?
So, the month of May is drawing to a close. Blimey, where does the time go?
Anyway, time to post my least interviews of this busy month.
Today, I have the pleasure of introducing Lela Markham, author of ‘The Willow Branch’ and ‘Life As We Knew It’.
Lela is a fellow writer from the Breakwater Harbor Books clan and was one of the first to give me a warm welcome.
As per usual, I hope you folks out there enjoy the interview and will go support another excellent writer!
Here we go…
When did you decide that writing was the thing for you?
My mom said I told stories from the time I could talk, so I must have been around 2. Long winters in Alaska meant a lot of time hanging out in the basement, so I would make up stories to entertain myself and my friends. My 5th grade teacher made me write down one of my stories. I hated the process – way too contrived for me – but it ignited a passion that I couldn’t turn off. I’ve been a journalist, a technical writer, and an editor, but my avocation has always been storyteller.
I think long winters can be very productive for a writer
Tell me a little about your latest book.
Life as We Knew It is an apocalyptic tale that asks what would happen to ordinary if the United States were hit by nuclear terrorism, destroying transportation and communications hubs. The larger events of terrorism are the background for an intimate story of people trying to survive. This is Book 1 of the Transformation Project, which hit Amazon in March, so we will return to visit the people of Emmaus in about a year. Look for Objects to the Rear.
Out of all your characters, which one do you relate to the most?
In the Daermad Cycle (which Book 1, The Willow Branch, was published last year), one of the main characters is Ryanna. I modeled her physically after my daughter (a tall, strong, slender dancer, which isn’t me), but I realized recently when writing some scenes for her that I had unconsciously used a lot of myself in her character. She’s caught between two races, comfortable with both, not loving the prejudices of either, a woman of faith who occasionally argues with her god, a young fool who has grown In wisdom as she has matured. I’m part American Indian, raised to be proud of all of my heritage and I see both sides of my heritage as both good and bad. My faith is complex and I am still growing as a person even now.
Do you listen to music when writing? If so, what kind and why?
I do and depends on what genre I’m writing or what the tone of the scene is. For example, writing the Daermad Cycle (a Celtic influenced epic fantasy) I listen to a lot of Celtic music – wild tunes for action scenes, gentler tunes for more intimate scenes. Transformation Project has a lot of rock music playing in my ear phones. I try to create a mood in my head with the music that helps me to envision the scenes. Since I write at home while the family is living life sometimes in the same room, it also helps to screen out the distractions.
Yeah, music does help to screen out distractions. Sadly, it is only partially successful!
What novelty item would you like to see spawned from your novels?
Wow, I had never thought of that before as I’m not much of a consumer. There’s a novel I’m working on that is about grief, loss and guilt. It’s provisionally titled “What If … Wasn’t” and the main character’s full tag line is “I’m living in what is.” Coffee cups, t-shirts, plaques – if I wanted to teach the world anything about reality it would be that we ought to live in reality and stop thinking the world is fair, because it’s not. What if wasn’t … so let’s live with what is.
What motivates you to put pen to paper (or fingers to keys)?
Characters show up from time to time to tell me their stories. I might as well write them down. If along the way, I can write about some of my beliefs in narrative form, then maybe I’ve made the world a slightly better place – or at least warned it about the messes that it’s making.
Which book do you wish you had written?
There’s a lot of writers I admire for many diverse reasons and I enjoy their books greatly, but I am comfortable with not being them or writing their books. If I had to name my absolutely favorite book – The Young Unicorns by Madelaine L’Engle. Every time I go back to read it, I am incredibly impressed with how good it is.
The best thing about being a writer is…
Writers live dozens of lives without ever leaving the comfort of their living rooms. That can be said of readers too, but writers get to create the worlds we visit. That’s what I love about it.
I couldn’t agree more.
The worst thing is …
The way non-writers really don’t get the writing process. Even readers who are very enamored of our books seem not to get that you don’t just sit down and crank out a good book as easily as they read that book. I have to suppress the eye roll when people ask “Are you finished yet?”
What next from Lela Markham?
I’m in Daermad Cycle mode right now. I’m working on Mirklin Wood, which is the sequel to The Willow Branch and also working on a short story for a Breakwater Harbor Books anthology that will be a stand-alone in the Daermad Cycle universe. That’s been interesting to write because it’s my first short story in 25 years, so it’s sort of like remembering how to ride a bike. Hopefully, I’ll be done writing both by August so I can start the editing process for Mirklin Wood, which I hope will publish by the end of the year.
Thanks for the interview, Lela!
Here comes Lela’s bio and links:
Lela Markham is a pen name. I grew up in Alaska in a house built of books. Long winter nights meant a lot of time in the basement curled up with books or acting out what we’d recently read. It was a great environment to breed a writer. I told stories from the time I could talk. A teacher made me write one down in 5th grade and that ignited a passion in me that has never gone out. Alaska is a grand adventure like none other with a culture that embraces summer adventure and winter artistic pursuits. I’ve been a journalist, worked in the mental health field, and currently work for the State of Alaska, but my avocation has always been storyteller. My husband is extremely adventurous, my kids are fearless so we spend a lot of time hiking into the woods where be dragons — another excellent experience for a writer.
I completely disagree with Rep. Kito. The minority wants to hit pause on any economic development in Alaska to fund programs that have shown themselves to be short-term boondoggles that have zero return on investment. We don’t need more people in Alaska sitting on one welfare roll or another. We need people working and growing our state.
Minority fighting for Alaskans on budget – Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Community Perspectives.
Medicaid expansion will cover working Alaskans making up to $54,000 (for a family of four) who must currently pay a premium employer provided medical insurance. Many of these people are State of Alaska employees who pay $200 a month for insurance.
Let’s think about that. $54,000 a year, $2400 a year in premiums — they need “free” medical care???? The cost to the state under the current federal scheme seems reasonable until you remember that the federal government is $18 trillion in debt and currently borrowing more than 25% of its annual budget. What happens when reality sets in?
Alaska will be on the hook for the full cost of this program and probably unable to opt out. That’s billions of dollars. Which means this is a program that will eat the state budget, chew up the Permanent Fund and leave us with NOTHING.
This week’s interview is with multi-genre novelist Alan Place.
I may also have another article on developing novel characters.
I entitled this whole series as “What if character went viral?” because I think character is a lost principle in our era.
I daresay most of us don’t know what character even means. When I googled it, I got a lot of articles about how to write great characters for a novel. While fiction does imitate life, life should probably not imitate fiction. Sadly, that is no longer true.
What is character? It is a pattern of behavior, thoughts and feelings based on universal principles, moral strength, and integrity combined with the courage and fortitude to live by those principles every day … even when it is inconvenient, unpopular or even illegal. Character is evidenced by your life’s virtues and the “line you never cross.” Character is the most valuable thing you hold and nobody can ever take it away, although you can trade it away for temporary popularity or convenience
Character is essential both for individual success and for our society to function successfully. Each individual must do his or her part every day by living a life of integrity. Integrity is adhering to a moral code of honesty, courage, strength and truthfulness – being true to your word and values. When you don’t exhibit integrity, other people get hurt, but you actually hurt yourself even more.
When you cheat, any “success” gained by that cheat is false. Breaking a promise shows that your word is meaningless. Lying deceives others. These are just some examples that will destroy your reputation because they represent the broken trust others have put in you. Without your good reputation and trustworthiness, your relationships fail.
Damaged relationships undermine your life. When you destroy the relationships with your friends, you will have no friends. You will be isolated and alone. If a student cheats, she is taking unfair advantage to put herself ahead of others without deserving it. This is why, if caught, such a student often faces broad consequences to her academic record and her job prospects forever.
When a businessman makes a promise to customers and doesn’t deliver, he destroys his relationships with his customers, who will go elsewhere … resulting in failure of the business.
My father-in-law is a highly attractive man who managed TWICE to build a multi-million-dollar electrical contracting business. By the world’s estimation, he was a success (TWICE). But he was also crap husband (three times) who neglected his children, cheated his business partners and failed to fulfill his contract obligations. He’s now old, more or less broke, alone, and his children are not all that attentive to his needs. So was he really a success? He doesn’t feel like one these days.
Breaking your relationships breaks the foundation for success in your life. How do you define success? Well, as I showed with my father-in-law, that defintion really matters. If we define success in school as having higher grades that everyone else, cheating becomes just a means to an end. If we define success as beating the competition at all costs, then lying to our business partners or cheating our customers seems like a good idea. If we define a successful marriage as a fantastic sex life that scratches all of our itches, we’re likely to go from one spouse to another as the excitement fades. If we define successful parenting as our children being just like us …. My father-in-law is dealing with the fact that the only child who regularly contacts him of his own free will is the son who is the least like him – Brad, my husband, who lives in Alaska and has chosen to make far less than his skills can earn to spend time with his kids.
Your good character is the most important asset you have. It’s a lifetime in the making, but you can destroy it in a minute and it is nearly impossible to regain. It’s more than just your reputation. In fact, what other people think of you is the least important part of character if you are a Christian. Your true character is revealed when no one else is looking or when everyone else is insisting that a questionable path is the true one. Character does not waver in the societal winds.
More on that in future posts.
Does minority want shutdown? | Juneau Empire – Alaska’s Capital City Online Newspaper.
The fact is that this is not a one-issue conversation. The writer is right and the Legislative majority is right at this point in time about refusing to expand the budget, but the long-term fiscal picture requires killing some of the sacred cows of the majority as well. Yes, use the earnings reserve, but require pay back as revenues come in and then have a serious discussion about how we want to fix our fiscal house in the long term.