Meeting the Lion

There are butterflies in my stomach, a rasp in my voice. So many years I have waited, yet I am almost afraid to go in.

I will be alone, I think, though you can never be sure in this place. It is, after all, a place of meeting – if a man stepping into a lion’s den can be called a meeting. A lion no one can see.

Two priests and one king he has devoured for doing what I will do. No, for doing it wrong, I remind myself. He is not unfair. Yet he is still a lion.

I take a quick breath, rest one hand against the other to slow their trembling, and I wait. I am too old to be this nervous, and too alone. My life is narrow and still. No children, no grandchildren. Just my wrinkled wife and I, living out our days. My wrinkled wife, who still stares as mothers pass, children in their arms – who stares as one starving, though we are past our years and there is no more hope.

Will the great Lion receive me, this dried-up old priest who cannot even father a child?

I walk unsteadily toward the door and step into the temple, peer into the golden, glowing Holy Place. I am to burn incense on the altar which stands across the room. Behind the altar hangs the great, thick curtain – blue, purple, and red, with embroidered angels staring back at me. Behind that, the holiest and most dangerous place of all.

I pause for an instant, remind myself to breathe, and take a few steps forward, but something goes wrong. There is a flash, a sudden glare from the golden walls, and I freeze in astonishment. There, by the altar, something stands – not a picture, but a moving creature, bright and tall.

“Don’t be afraid,” it said, which struck me as unreasonable. Dazzled and blinking, I squinted at the brilliant form, shielding my eyes with quivering hands.

“Zechariah, your prayers have been heard, and Elizabeth will have her joy. You will have a son, and you are to name him John. He will turn the hearts of the fathers toward their children, and the children toward the Lord, their God.”

“But… but how can that be?” I sputtered. “We’re too old.”

Well, that was a mistake.

“I am Gabriel,” he said soberly and glued my lips closed for months to come. Until, in fact, the day my wrinkled wife laughed with tears running down her face, surrounded by friends, our baby boy in her arms.

By then, bright Gabriel had appeared also to Mary and she, at least, believed him. A chill runs up my spine to think of it. The sun is rising on God’s ancient promise to lead us out of death and darkness, and the child in Mary’s womb – God’s own Messiah – will accomplish this.

These are things too great for me, for I was a priest of the great Lion of Judah, trembling to go before him, and afraid he had forgotten my name.

But I am different now, for I have felt the tender mercy of our God, who hears our prayers and forgets no one.

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This story is a dramatization of Luke 1 (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=luke%201&version=NIV)

“And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God.”
-Luke 1:76-78

Note: 2 Chronicles 26:18 and Leviticus 10:1-2 tell of a king and two priests who were punished for incorrectly performing this procedure.

Blaming the Walls

There was a collision downtown the other night, a stylish new model smashing through walls that have stood for centuries. And curiously, many who witnessed the event are blaming the walls.

But it’s been that way in our little town. Change is in the air. The buildings look much as they did 100 years ago, a seeming tribute to the art and integrity of generations who came before, but it is no tribute. We live in their houses and do business in their shops, but the people who built this town would not be welcome here.

The collision made this clear all over again. There was a school board meeting downtown, a tense conversation, a new idea smashing into an old wall. Of course, it’s hard to root for a wall, and almost no one did. The new idea, that pornography has a place in school libraries, easily won the day.

It’s been that way in our little town, and it’s not just sex. The same drugs that police fought to keep off our streets are now the biggest business on our streets, with more than a dozen licensed dealers and billboards advertising our product across the state. Just another old wall, toppling into dust.

It’s hard to root for a wall, especially an ancient wall built by strange people, even if those strange people were our grandparents. We honor them, of course, but there must have been some mistake, some flaw that prevented them from seeing what we see. So, we cheerfully knock down their walls, proving we know more than they did.

Or, possibly, that we know less.

The danger of our situation is demonstrated by our impulsive answers to big questions. No one can tell you why marijuana is suddenly good for you. No one can tell you why pornography is suddenly good for children. No one can tell you why there is suddenly no difference between a girl and a boy. No one can tell you, and it’s dangerous to ask.

These are not new questions, only new answers. Very different answers than those given by the strong and intelligent people who came before us, people who won desperate wars and endured crushing hardships and built the towns we inhabit. What makes us so sure that our answers are better than theirs?

We smash through the walls they built to protect their children and culture. We belittle their faith in a kind and reasonable Creator, suddenly convinced that intricate and elegant worlds arise by luck.

We assume that we have learned something new about the world, but we have only forgotten something old. And now we must learn it all over again, as our children pay the price.

The Good Giant

I know; Fathers’ Day is over. For a few weeks, we thought a little more about the man who first gave shape and color to our world, who gave us one of our first images of our self. Perhaps it was an image of something precious, to be treasured and protected, or… perhaps not.

It’s a risky thing to be born into a world of giants, to be so powerless and fragile. It is also a fearsome thing to be the giant to whom a child is given. There are so many ways to fail and to forget, so many things you must surrender if you are to become the good giant, the one who carves out of the hard world a soft, safe place for your child.

Our father was our first hero if he was any father at all; awesome in size and strength. We reached for his giant hand and stared up into his face and hoped to see a smile, some assurance of his love. It is a picture woven into the world, repeated in the experience of every child: our weakness cast upon another’s strength, our desperate need for someone’s mercy, the beauty and necessity of compassion.

Christians recognize in this the careful design of a Creator who built a universe to help us know him, who placed on human fathers the frightening responsibility of having almost godlike power over their children. It seems a terrible risk, and some men prove it so. But, for many more, becoming a father is a door to redemption, an invitation to choose godlike love over our natural gigantic ambition.

I love these pictures because they show what happens when we accept that invitation. Day by day, our pilots practice the beautiful art of Fatherhood, using their strength to care for people who are not strong. We hope to emulate, in our small way, the greatest giant of all, who laid down his life for his friends, and the one Father who is truly good.

-2019, with Wings of Mercy. (HTTP://www.wingsofmercy.org)

Reviewer comments for “A Different Kind of Sky”

One of the best books I’ve ever read. Such a captivating story…

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Started to read at 11 p.m. last night. Finished it at 5 a.m. this morning. Bad idea but well worth the loss of sleep.

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Such a descriptive narrative. Well thought out and expertly written. I feel like I just lived life alongside Mike… There is so much depth and richness in the storytelling that I didn’t want it to end.

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This book had me laughing and crying. It was an emotional read full of wonder, hope, and sadness.

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I found myself experiencing side-splitting laughter, bouts of deep, heartfelt grief, and curious excursions into the overwhelming vastness of human existence, confronting the age-old questions: How is it that humans exist, and for what purpose?

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The characters feel like real people. The storyline contains a solid mix of humor, sadness, suspense, and drama.

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This book was really hard to put down. The character development by the author draws you into the story, making you feel a strong connection to their life’s journey. Excellent book for a club as the depth is well beyond a surface discussion of life, faith, joy, tragedy, etc. Can not wait for more from this author!

Find the story on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1625862393

The Brains We Are Building

It’s the most important job of each generation, and we get to do it twice.

We are building the brains that will replace us – those of our children but also those vast new mechanical brains that read and remember more than we can imagine.

The brains we build will believe us, at least for a while.

And that might be a problem. Take the recent experience of law professor Jonathan Turley. A recent article composed by the artificial intelligence (AI) tool, ChatGPT “reported on a claim of sexual harassment that was never made against me on a trip that never occurred while I was on a faculty where I never taught. ChapGPT relied on a cited Post article that was never written and quotes a statement that was never made.”

This is a helpful example because the facts can be easily verified. The AI brain lied.

Our Washington representatives have been discussing “the weaponization of Government,” which is indeed a disastrous thing. But, here, we meet something dramatically more disastrous – the weaponization of speech.

Speech is at the heart of human relationships. We speak to transmit. We listen to learn. The invisibly obvious assumption behind every conversation is that the words will be true.

A lie murders speech. It makes a weapon of the hearer’s good faith and uses it against her. It betrays trust and attacks the very possibility of human connection.

And our culture is full of lies.

The brains we build will believe us, at least for a while. The vast mechanical brains of AI will be as truthful as their programmers, and the lies they create will be bigger, faster, and more alluring. The brains of our children will be as discerning as our educational system, which distorts our history and can no longer tell a girl from a boy.

It’s the most important job of each generation, and we’re failing at it twice, in heartbreaking ways that may cripple future generations.

Let’s hope their precious brains don’t believe us for long.

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“He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
-Jesus, describing Satan in John 8.

More about Professor Turley and AI: https://jonathanturley.org/2023/04/06/defamed-by-chatgpt-my-own-bizarre-experience-with-artificiality-of-artificial-intelligence/