Archives For Clint Archer

On 7 November, 2007, Trevor Arnold was piloting a Boeing 737 from Cape Town to Johannesburg when it experienced some technical difficulty a few seconds after takeoff. To be exact, its right engine fell off.

engine-offMr. Arnold recalled from his training at flight school that it was a bad sign when engines start falling off your plane.

His job was simple: land the plane. But if it was just the engine that was gone, that would have been a relatively good day for Mr. Arnold.

During the incident, the aircraft also lost most of its hydraulics, meaning that brakes and steering were virtually non-existent. But that’s not all. The whole incident took place in stormy weather with dangerously strong crosswinds. The outcome? Arnold maintained his composure, harnessed his training and instincts, and successfully landed the Boeing without anyone on board sustaining any injuries.

Many people refused to fly with that airline again but I booked my next flight on that airline with great confidence. This was the only airline that I knew for certain had pilots who could handle a plane in freak, catastrophic conditions. I know all pilots have to go through training and simulations, and all claim to be able to handle emergencies. But the only person in the world I know for a fact can do it, is Trevor Arnold.

Why? Because only Trevor Arnold’s skills have been proven in real life.

Most passengers have no idea how well qualified their pilots are until their skill is proven in a trial by fire. And that’s what the Apostle Peter said about Christians. No one knows their faith is genuine until that faith has been exposed to intense conditions and shown to be true under fire.

Last week we looked at the grand design behind fiery trials; this week we examine the results of trials.

THREE RESULTS FIERY TRIALS HAVE ON OUR FAITH…

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Think of the most physical pain you have ever been in. Perhaps it was a broken bone, or a burn, or an abscess or migraine, or labor. Now I want you to be honest about whether you would choose that pain twice over when compared with what Mr. Sampson Parker endured.

gold-in-fireParker had been harvesting corn on his family farm when some stalks got stuck in a set of rollers. He reached into the (still-running) machine to yank out the obstruction when the rollers grabbed first his glove and then his hand. There was no one near enough to hear his desperate cries of agony. He managed to reach an iron bar and jam it into the chain-and-sprocket mechanism that drove the rollers. With his fingers growing numb he pulled out a small pocket knife and started to cut his own fingers off to free himself.

And if his ordeal had ended there, it would have been a good day for Parker, compared with what happened next.

More of his hand and wrist was pulled into the teeth of the mechanism and simultaneously the machine and the grass around Parker caught fire. He grimly realized he had to cut his arm off immediately or burn to death. So with a pocket knife he sawed off his own arm.

And if that was the end of it Parker would still have been having a good day, but the trial wasn’t over yet.

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reformation-wall-in-genevaHave you ever wondered why people call themselves “Reformed”? The word “reformed” generally means “improved”—as in, desperate parents may send an incorrigible adolescent to a reformatory school to get them back in line; politicians promise economic reforms to undo the damage of their predecessors. In theological circles, the word is written with a capital, and acts as a self-designation for those who consider themselves to be direct doctrinal descendants of the progenitors of the Reformation, namely Martin Luther, Jean Calvin, et al.

For example, plain vanilla Baptists get upgraded to “Reformed Baptists” if they embrace not only the tenets of Baptists, but also the doctrines for which the Reformers risked life and limb.

Exactly 499 years to the day (October 31, 1517) the Catholic priest, Martin Luther, nailed, to the door of the Wittenburg Castle Church, his list of 95 things the Catholic Church needed to reform/improve in order to be faithful to what the Bible teaches.

Reformed folk today come in various subspecies: some don’t hold to all five tenets of the Calvinist TULIP* scheme, others have shed the Reformers’ eschatology and ecclesiology, such as infant baptism. But all who brandish the prefix “Reformed” will share a profound commitment to the five slogans of the Reformation that functioned as the five-fold battle cry of essentials around which all Reformers united.

Ironically, these five mottos are commonly referred to by their Latin monikers. I say it’s ironic because the Reformers were committed to translating the Scriptures and theological writings out of the elitist Latin language and into any and every vernacular tongue imaginable. But the description of this commitment has come to us in Latin: Post tenebras lux,(after darkness light).

post-tenebras-lux

Any visitor to South Africa’s Kruger National Park wants to see the Big Five: lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and buffalo. Though there are countless species to keep career game wardens busy for a lifetime, nothing trumps the satisfaction of spotting the Big Five.

Here is a quick primer on the doctrinal biggies of the Reformation, the so-called “Five Solas.”

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As a warm-up to Reformation Day–next week Monday–I decided to re-run this post, which I wrote when Benedict XVI became the first pope ever to resign from his post.

Pope Benedict XVIYou’ve got to admire Pope Benedict XVI for knowing how to quit while you’re ahead. As far as climbing the corporate ladder goes, getting the keys to the kingdom and the company Popemobile is a sign you’ve maxed out your promotability. An ironic flavor or the “Peter principle.”

The responsibility of being infallible is a burden no octogenarian should have to bear for long. When you’re getting on in years, and noticing an increased frequency in “senior moments” you don’t want to have to invoke St Anthony to help locate your misplaced keys.

As for the new kid on the block, weighing in at a spritely seventy-six years young (getting the white smoke green light two years sooner than his predecessor), Pope Francis the First ushers in a new era of pontificating. Personally, I think the name Jorge Mario Bergoglio is a cooler name than Francis (no offense pastor Chan), but having a 1 in your name certainly scores points for originality.

My concern whenever the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) perennially makes the news, is that Evangelicals get swept up in debates with their Catholic counterparts at the water cooler without really knowing what Catholics believe. Evangelicals assume that Joe Catholic at work knows and believes what the Pope teaches.

I grew up in a loving, fun, and staunchly Catholic home. When my Evangelical schoolmates lobbed half-baked assaults on my Mariology, purgatory, indulgences, and praying to St Christopher for a safe bus ride, they accomplished no more than convince me they were ignorant of my beliefs.

My Baptistic buddies learned, from their youth pastor no doubt, that Catholics believe in arcane ideas like the treasury of merit, that contraception is evil, and that Mary was born sinless and was assumed into heaven without ever tasting death. It was true that the Pope and other die-hards knew, understood, and believed in all those doctrines, but I could dismiss most of their attacks by honestly denying that I believed any of it. This curtailed their conversion attempts, and left me just as Catholic in my own mind as I would be if I actually did subscribe to the official teachings of the RCC.

I’m going to let you in on a dirty little secret a nun taught me in the 1st grade when I questioned transubstantiation (it turns out trace elements of Sola Scriptura were already stashed deep in my spiritual DNA from before the foundation of the world, according to Eph 1:4). Here it is…

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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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