Archives For Clint Archer

October 17, 2016

Saints on a Mission

by Clint Archer

The Mont-Joux pass is the erstwhile name of a particularly treacherous mountain pass in the Alps straddling Switzerland and Italy. For centuries thousands of lost sojourners perished trying to cross it in the biting winter. When a snowstorm unpredictably arose, there would be a whiteout, and with no way to stay on course travelers would get disoriented, distressed, irrevocably lost, and slowly freeze to death.

percopio-stbernardBut, suddenly, in the 1700s the death rate declined drastically. The reason was not due to any serendipitous technological advances. The climate hadn’t changed. The reason for the increased survival rate was a dog; or to be more accurate, a breed of dogs. This uncanny canine breed possessed a prodigious aptitude for navigation in the blinding fog, a preternatural stamina in below freezing temperatures, and an almost mystical ability to locate lost people in a blizzard.

By this stage in history the pass had been named for the monastery founded by St Bernard of Mont-Joux, so naturally the dogs were also canonized, as St Bernards.

During the 200 or so years that the faithful saints served on the St Bernard Pass, over 2,000 lost souls were rescued from the frost-bitten clutches of an icy death. When the “saints” found a lost soul, they would rescue the iced travelers with a simple but effective, methodical process: first, they located them in the snow with their super-sniffer abilities, then they would deliver a life-saving supply of whiskey and bread in quaint oaken barrels strapped around their necks, and finally they would lead the revived popsicle back to the monastery at a blood-stirring pace by borrowing a pathway with their broad chests at a determined gait.

The rescue dog breed is an apt metaphor for the intrepid sub-species of Christian, the full time missionary. This is a breed of believer that exhibits extraordinary stamina and perseverance, and the exceptional abilities to sniff out local spiritual and physical needs, and lead disciples by example, into the soul-saving truth. Missionaries  also admit that they are impotent to help the lost soul, except for delivering the life-giving elixir they carry with them, namely the gospel message.

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humble-pieIn elementary school I was really bad at playing soccer. But my school tried to be inclusive and didn’t want any kid to feel left out, so they had as many teams as there were players.

The coveted “A team” was kitted out in glamorous, white, satin shirts and shorts with golden trim, while the rest of us had itchy yellow and brown shirts. But at least we got to play. I was too maladroit to qualify for the talented B or promising C team, or even the undaunted D team. No, I was cast down to the freakish menagerie of hopeless misfits known as the E team.

We seldom actually played games since few other schools even had an E team, but when we did, we played our uncoordinated hearts out!

The upside of being on a team—any team—was that you got to go on the annual soccer trip by train to play a rival school in the faraway shire of Greytown. When our E team arrived for our match there were no opponents to play; Greytown didn’t have an E team.  They quickly assembled a team to play us. I think they drafted the chess team who was there to spectate. After a grueling, dramatic game, we managed to beat the hodge-podge team by two goals.

I remember on the trip home the A team was pretty despondent because they had lost all their games. But our E team was in high spirits. We came, we saw, we conquered. And we let everyone know about it.

In hindsight, I cringe at the thought of how annoying our hollow boasting must have sounded to those with real athletic ability and undeniable talent. I sometimes still think of that spectacle of my utter lack of self-awareness whenever I am tempted to be puffed up in the presence of my Savior.

Here are three ingredients in the recipe for humble pie so you can cultivate humility in the presence of true greatness…

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My first job after college was as a high school Computer Science teacher. To further my usefulness to the school they paid for me to attend an advanced computer hardware course. About half way through the twelve-week course I was summoned to the headmaster’s office. He informed me that the lecturer of the hardware course happened to be a parent of a kid at our school. This dad had told the headmaster that the grade I had gotten on the first module of the course was the highest grade in the (four year) history of the computer school, namely 99%. I began basking in the proverbial pat on the back I presumed I was about to receive, when the whole experience took an unexpected turn.

the-theoryThe headmaster then held up two sheets of paper for me to inspect, and said, “I was wondering if you could explain this: here is one bill for your computer course tuition which we paid in full on your behalf. And here is another bill, payment pending, which has been authorized by you, for hiring an outside computer technician to install and repair the computer network in the school’s Computer Science lab.”

So that’s where this pat on the back was going! Blushing from embarrassment, I then had to explain that the first module, which I had aced, was the theory part of the course. It consisted only of facts and diagrams that had to be memorized.

I had regurgitated the text book and aced the exams, but I still had never actually seen the inside of a computer. I had never laid eyes on a network card, never installed a program, never as much as plugged in a monitor!

But I assured him that the following week we were starting the practical module where I would be taught how to install and repair the items I’d read about. (I barely passed that module, which was evident in my incompetency as a network administrator, and I was presently transferred to teach in the English department).

Often Christians score highly in the theory module of faith. We can memorize verses, recite creeds, debate deep theology, and explain complex doctrines. But unfortunately we frequently fail to actually apply what we learn to our own lives.

Doctrine must always produce practice.

3 parts of the practical module of the Christian life…

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destinationSome time ago my wife and I flew to Europe from our home in South Africa. We first had to take a domestic flight from Durban to the international airport in Johannesburg. Everyone on that domestic flight was appropriately dressed for the blazing heat and oppressive humidity of midsummer—shorts, t-shirts, and sandals. We were wearing jeans, boots, long-sleeved tops, and were carrying sweaters and snow jackets.

We disembarked at the uncomfortably warm domestic terminal and we made our sticky, sweaty way to the international terminal. That’s when we started seeing more folk with the northern hemisphere in mind. It was easy to tell who was leaving and who was staying by their clothing. The travelers were not concerned about appearances at the airport because they would only be there for a few hours, and in a short while would be grateful for their warm clothes.

Why? Because they had set their minds on a European winter, not an African summer.

Can onlookers tell what your final destination is by the way you behave? Or do you live like this life is your final destination?

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letterBefore e-mail it was rare to mistakenly send a missive to the wrong person. But these days it is a gaffe people make with great frequency and sometimes dire consequences.

In January 2014 Oxford University College accidentally sent a broadcast e-mail to all students, instead of just the academic staff, listing the names and grades of the 50 worst performers.

In 2000, 15-year-old Claire MacDonald in Devon UK began receiving classified e-mails from the Pentagon. Her address had erroneously been added to a list of security council officials with top secret clearance. One mail included New Zealand’s entire naval defense strategy. Another mail, ironically, was the American security council offering advice to the UK on how to prevent the leaking of sensitive documents.

Stipulating to whom your letter is addressed is as important as its content. This is a lesson we learn from Jude 1b. Here we discover in whose inbox Jude intended this mail to land. And it may shock you to learn that one of the addresses in his list may well be yours…

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2 point 0Here’s an idea if you ever decide to play a sadistic but entertaining prank to humble your precocious young nephew. I’m not saying I’ve done it (my sister might read this), but if I did, this is how I would:

Start by supplying him with an innocuous “spot the difference” challenge that he can easily conquer. The two pictures should have several obvious differences. Then you hand him one where the differences are more subtle, and take longer to notice. Then, once his confidence is primed, you raise the stakes with an incentive of a sugary reward, say, one M&M per difference he spots. When he greedily accepts, you hand him two pictures that unbeknown to him are actually identical, and then leave him to stew in his frustration.

Just be sure the photocopy you use is of high quality. In my experience estimation, a determined enough youngster will exploit the minutest discrepancies in the print-quality to garnish his chocolaty bounty.

It doesn’t take a preternatural eye for detail to spot the differences between Israel and the Church. And yet, many Christians ignore the clear distinction in favor of an emphasis on a vague similitude.

Perhaps you’ve heard it phrased this way: “The Church has replaced Israel as the recipient of God’s covenants,” or more bluntly “The Church is the New Israel.”

What I am arguing is that the Church has not replaced Israel and is not the modern day recipient of the blessings made to Israel. Promises made to Israel (e.g. land, cursing such as exile for disobedience, and restoration after repentance), are not now promises to the Church because Israel 1.0 has been replaced by a new Israel 2.0 like an old operating system that gets deleted to make room for a new one.

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In the afterglow of the Rio 2016 Summer Games, I thought I’d reprise this quirky piece of recent Olympic history. The 2012 London Olympics saw a scandalous badminton debacle, which provides an apt metaphor for many Christian lives. Our Lord was fond of these types of real-life snapshots of poor stewardship and its consequence. The New Testament parables are peppered with stewards who weren’t faithful to their assignments (e.g. Luke12:45; Matt 25:26-27).shuttlecock

Here’s a quick recap of the farcical fiasco. At the London games eight of the ladies’ doubles badminton players from China, South Korea, and Indonesia were disqualified for, in the words of the International Olympic Committee’s VP, Craig Reedie, “not using one’s best efforts to win a match.” I love it.

The players had all made it through the elimination round and were apparently attempting to lose their games in the hopes of attaining a more lenient placing in the next round. Can you imagine the spectacle of expert athletes trying to lose to each other? These national superstars (evidently badminton is big in Asia) weren’t simply lagging a little in their enthusiasm, they were all willfully playing terribly.

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Have you ever waited so long for a promise that you when it arrives you don’t believe it? Perhaps your boyfriend promised to propose when he felt “ready.” But half a decade later, you’d lost hope, and when he finally did get down on one knee you thought he was tying his cynical

I had such an experience some years ago. I had ordered a landline from our country’s only (monopolized) national telephone service provider. With no competition to rival it, this service provider was not known for its promptness or customer satisfaction. So, I ordered the line about three months before I was ready to move into my new house, thinking I was beating the system.

After moving in, early in March, and without any trace of a telephone connection, I began a weekly routine of calling to ask about the progress of my line. I was repeatedly assured that the line would be installed by August.

August came and went—twice.

Then, one fine day, out of the blue, I received a call on my cellphone from a lady who claimed to be an employee. She casually asked if I would be home the next day, because my landline was to be installed. There was an awkward pause as I considered which of my friends was playing a cruel joke on me. I decided to play along and assured her in a sardonic tone that I would be eagerly awaiting the workman the next day.

To my bemusement, the very next day—two and a half years after the order—a pleasant gentleman arrived wearing coveralls and an air of nonchalance. He effortlessly completed the job, which took all of twelve minutes. By this point I had cycled through all the normal stages—denial, anger, bargaining, acceptance—and so I expressed my genuine gratitude for a job well-done. He smiled knowingly and chided me for my doubt with a hackneyed line he’d proffered countless times, “We said we’d get to it, we just didn’t say when.”

That is why I have sympathy for Zechariah. Continue Reading…

Nadia-CWe usually think of perfection as an ideal for which athletes aim rather than a goal anyone seriously expects to achieve. After all, nobody’s perfect. But that all changed at the Montreal Summer Olympics when a young Romanian girl achieved the impossible.

On July 18, 1976, fourteen-year-old Nadia Comăneci represented Romania in the gymnastics team event. Spectators watched in riveted silence as she confidently completed a mesmerizingly ambitious and astonishingly flawless routine on the uneven bars . . . until the instant her feet planted an unfaltering dismount, which generated an avalanche of applause. But the jubilation dissipated suddenly when her result appeared on the digital display: Comăneci’s brilliant performance had scored only 1.0.

In gymnastics, a panel of judges rates each performance according to its difficulty, creativity, and the technical proficiency of its execution. The highest and lowest figures are discarded and the final score represents an average of the remaining numbers. The highest number a judge can give is a perfect 10, and every judge would need to give a 10 in order for the cumulative score to be 10.


Because this is so unlikely, the electronic score board only allowed space for a single digit on the left side of the decimal point: the maximum number it could show was 9.9, which means it displayed Comăneci’s score as 1.0 instead of the perfect 10 the judges had awarded for the first time in Olympic history. An apologetic voice over the public address system explained the error and the crowd roared to ovation.

Little Nadia was—gymnastically speaking—the world’s first perfect woman.

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sporkIn November 2015 Glamour Magazine named, as its “Woman of the Year”, Caitlyn Jenner. The audacity of this selection sparked a seismic social media commotion of polarized opinions about the magazine’s bold move to name as its woman of the year… a man. Yes, Caitlyn Jenner, formerly Bruce Jenner, is a male.

His erstwhile fame was well-earned by winning the gold medal in the men’s decathlon event at the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympic Games. His newfound celebrity comes from simply declaring that he believes he is actually a woman. What makes him a woman is that a) he says he is one, b) he dresses in feminine clothing and make-up, c) he had some cosmetic surgery to give his face the appearance of femininity. And that was enough to become a covergirl for Vanity Fair and so validate and celebrate his delusion.

If a man believes he is Napoleon Bonaparte, we recommend therapy. It would be a cruel joke for anyone to suggest putting him on the cover of Leadership Magazine as dictator of the year.

As followers of our compassionate Savior, Christians need to demonstrate a sincere compassion for people who are so confused about who God made them to be that they resort to cross-dressing. But that sympathy does not mean we should ignore what the word of God says about gender roles in the family, in society, and in the church.

I don’t know of a biblical topic on which there is no debate, but women’s roles are one of the most controversial. And of all gender-related matters, the question of women deacons is the one on which there is the most disparity of application in churches that otherwise agree on gender issues. Gender wars have no place in the church, because God has left us with clear instructions on the topic. But this is one issue that still causes great confusion.

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