Archives For Clint Archer

I’m sure you’ve encountered the quirky literary technique sometimes employed to drive plots in some novels and serials known as the doppelgänger. A doppelgänger is the look alike of another character. In popular fiction the doppelgänger is usually a foil for the protagonist, often as an evil twin or as a deliberate double. Examples are Twelfth Night, Tale of Two Cities, The Man in the Iron Mask, Dave, and Superman III.kirk doppelganger

At the climax of the story, a third character is often called upon to authenticate one of the two. This resolves tension in the denouement. A classic technique is to quiz both with personal questions that would stump the evil twin. Other traps include luring the doppelgänger into eating food the real character is allergic to, or challenging the doppelgänger to a task only the good guy can do.

But my favorite unveiling is in Star Trek: The Original Series in the 1969 episode “Whom Gods Destroy.” Spock encounters Captain Kirk being imitated by a shapeshifter. They get into a fight and the one Kirk orders Spock to shoot them both to prevent the imposter from escaping. Knowing that only the real Kirk would sacrifice himself for the safety of the Enterprise, Spock stuns the other one.

Psalm 1 supplies us with a tried and tested technique to discern between the righteous and the unrighteous.

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monte cristo escapeOne of the most loved and enduring prison escape stories is The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas. He was incarcerated on a tiny, isolated island, in a jail made of cramped, ill-lit cells. No one who had been banished to the island left it alive. Indeed, the only way to leave the island was after you died, wrapped in a cloth sack and tossed off a cliff into the ocean. Dantès saw this as his opportunity to escape. He would need to swap places with a dead man. If someone died, he could live.

His chance came when the old priest who had been coaching him died. Just before he died he confessed the location of a hidden treasure. Through the old priest’s death Dantès became free and wealthy.

In the same way the escape from Egypt could only be accomplished by the death of a substitute, and with that escape would come freedom and eternal life.

Easter and Passover will forever be inextricably linked on our calendars. This is because Jesus deliberately died during the feast of Passover. As the Lamb of God his death was the fulfillment of the feast.

Passover was a teacher of the vital gospel concept of substitution. Here are three lessons we learn from this feast…

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Once upon a time there was a girl named Goldilocks…you know the rest. With her insufferable nonchalance for private property, she samples a hijacked bowl of loot and declares it overheated. The next was unappetisingly tepid. But the third offering was deemed to be just right.

Like our picky little porridge connoisseur, cosmologists who explore our planetary neighborhood have also encountered an unexpected unique state of copacetic conditions. Our pale blue dot of a planet is the only chunk of real estate we know of that boasts an inexplicably perfect balance of temperature, gravity, atmospheric pressure, galactic location, solar proximity, axis tilt, rotation speed, and countless other marvels of serendipity. In short, Earth is the only known habitat for humanity that can be confidently described as just right.

Cosmologists, despite their proclivity for abstruse nomenclature, refer to this unparalleled equilibrium rather quaintly as: “the Goldilocks Effect.”balancing galaxy

For scientists who don’t acknowledge God’s wisdom and power in creation, the Goldilocks Effect is merely a description of what is essentially a lucky break on a cosmic scale. But if I were an insouciant atheist physicist (say that three times!) there would be a more pressing question on my agenda than “How did things get just right?” And that is the question “What keeps it all just right?”

Yes, this primordial stew of life support ended up just right. But for how long?
What sustains this vital balance? The answer doesn’t require the brain of an Einstein or a Hawking. The answer is in black and white (and red?) in the New Testament.

Exhibit A…

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Truman ShowDirector Peter Weir’s modern masterpiece, The Truman Show (1998), is about a kid who is adopted by a broadcasting network. Unbeknown to the young Truman—but relished by anyone with a cable subscription—his every waking moment is being broadcast on live TV.

Truman’s whole life is spent in an island town (which is actually an elaborate movie set) and his entire family, friendship circle, and everyone he interacts with are all paid actors. Their lines are fed to them by improvising scriptwriters via earpieces.

This masquerade goes on for decades with flawless execution, except for a few comical glitches like stage lights falling from heaven and fame-seekers who crash the set.

The perpetual ruse effectively dupes the adult Truman, played by the inimitable Jim Carrey, into living a life in which he is literally the center of attention all day, every day. The sun rises and sets for him and the weather is altered to create the director’s desired ambience. Truman is the reason for the season…and for everything else that happens in his world.

It’s a poignant and thought-provoking story.

But sadly, there is real-life tragi-comedy being played out in society today. Many people pass their days as if they are a self-aware version of Truman. They function as if they are meant to be the center of the universe. They actually get upset when the backdrop, like the weather, doesn’t meet their expectations. They become disenchanted when personal plans and desires are not quickly championed by everyone else. They have a near existential crisis when the economy, the political scene, or the people in their lives don’t behave the way their self-directed script would prefer. It’s almost as if they are disappointed that they can’t fire the actors who refuse to collaborate with their script.

Some people behave exactly as if they were raised to believe everyone and everything exists for them.

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griping monkUpon Gino’s acceptance into a monastic order which emphasizes silence he is told that he will be allowed to speak only two words to the abbot every ten years. On his first night he finds that a rat has invaded his mattress and most of the stuffing is gone. He can barely sleep on the thin mattress. Being very dedicated, he endures the situation for a decade. When finally in front of the abbot, Gino cautiously offers, “Mattress thin.”

Presently workers arrive with a brand new mattress. However, upon their departure Gino discovers that they’ve accidentally broken his window. Icy winds blow all winter and torrential rains flow all summer.

Ten years later Gino despondently reports: “Window broken.” The window is immediately repaired to Gino’s delight, as he anticipates his first night of cozy sleep in two decades.

However, climbing into bed he realizes that the workmen have accidentally broken the leg of his bed. The bed is tilted at a crazy angle and all night he finds himself sliding down. Ten more years pass slowly. Finally, Gino finds himself before the abbot again and declares: “I quit!” The head monk snaps back, “Good riddance! Since you arrived you’ve done nothing but complain!”

After pondering my previous two posts in this mini-series (here and here) on complaining some of you are probably feeling a bit like Gino—that if you say two wrong words, you’ll be branded a complainer. I hope to offer some relief.

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It takes more thought than you’d think to figure out which years are leap. Years divisible by 4 are leap, except for the century, i.e. years ending in -00 are not leap years, unless the first 2 digits are also divisible by four. Got it?

So 1700 is not a leap year, but 1600 is. That’s why the year 1900 was not, but 2000 was. Don’t stress, you won’t have to worry about getting it wrong until 2100 (which is not leap).

When Pope Gregory XIII declared the first leap year to be 1588, the Protestants were ruling England and they rejected the law, saying it was too Catholic. The problem was that on the day after the 28th of February the rest of the world had calendars that acknowledged the 29th. So Protestant Brits just ignored the day, as if the law and custom didn’t apply to them. So a superstition arose that the other laws and customs didn’t apply either. Hence the name ‘leap year’ as it was the day that ‘leapt over the law.’ Sometimes non-conformity can be taken too far.

One such custom which was leapt over was that of marriage proposal etiquette. It was customary for a gentleman to propose by sending a glove to his true love. If she was seen wearing it at church the following Sunday, she had accepted the proposal.

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quarantine oopsThe US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has on its website an article on what to do to prepare for a zombie apocalypse. I’m not making this up.

In a blog post titled “Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse” the director of the CDC wrote: “Take a zombie apocalypse for example…..You may laugh now, but when it happens you’ll be happy you read this, and hey, maybe you’ll even learn a thing or two about how to prepare for a real emergency.”

The rest of the article explains how the American people should prepare for hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, fires, outbreaks of infectious diseases, and yes, the spread of flesh-eating walking dead monsters.

This creative campaign to raise awareness about the need to prepare for any natural disaster was a huge success; it went viral, as it were. The zombie post caused the site’s traffic to spike from an unremarkable flatline of 3,000 views per week to a seismic 30,000 hits a day. The ingenuity of the campaign was lost on some curmudgeons who carped in the comments section about tax dollars being wasted on zombie preparedness. *Sigh*

Pastors are always on the alert to another viral threat, just as pernicious as any infectious outbreak. It lurks in the pews and lobbies of churches the world over. This disease spreads from person to person, draining churches of joy, unity, and holiness. An outbreak is hard to contain and the disease itself is difficult to cure.

I’m referring of course to the seditious sin of grumbling and complaining.

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complaining chalkboardEarly in 2007 Pastor Will Bowden of Kansas City realized his church had a chronic problem with complaining. (Welcome to the pastorate Will). He felt that the congregation was carping mainly about trivial issues—choice of hymns, informal dress code, and the like. So Bowden challenged his bleating sheep to a pledge: to stop for 21 consecutive days all griping, gossiping, and gainsaying. Those who accepted were issued little purple bracelets so that if they violated the pledge, they’d switch the bracelet to the opposite wrist and reset the count to zero. After months of self-muzzling effort, some folks were victorious and were rewarded with certificates of happiness conferred in church.

Two problems with Bowden’s idea I’d like to voice (irony aside)—are: first, that I didn’t think of it myself. Recognizing the insidious habit is half the battle won. And the second problem with a 21-day challenge is that it’s only 21 days. As insurmountable as three whine-free weeks sound, the challenge falls short of the Apostle Paul’s injunction to stop complaining… forever.

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sound slidersOn 27 August 1883, the earth let out a noise louder than any it has made since. It was 10:02 AM on the island of Krakatoa. The erupting volcano was heard nearly 3,500 miles away in Mauritius. That’s like someone in New York hearing a noise coming from London, taking about four hours to cover that distance. A barometer in Batavia, 100 miles away, registered a spike in air pressure from which they calculated the sound at 188 decibels, an unimaginably loud noise, which ruptured the eardrums of sailors 40 miles away. The air pressure spike caused by the eruption was detected in weather stations of 50 cities, every 34 hours, for five days. This means that the sound waves circled the earth four times.

But there is something that generates an impact that reverberates through this world, the spiritual realm, and the Universe: a joyful church.

FROM PSALM 100: THREE WAYS EVERY CHURCH MUST WORSHIP

  1. God’s people are called to worship him… JOYFULLY

Ps 100:1 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!

Every year my wife asks me what I want for my birthday. I’m a sucker for a good pair of athletic, foot-hugging socks. But for some reason socks seem beneath her standard of what a birthday gift should attain. So, inevitably, the day after my birthday I go out and buy myself the coveted accoutrement of good socks.

When God tells us what he desires us to offer him, we might be tempted to improve on the idea. Historically well-intentioned church leaders have concocted ideas of what God should have asked for in church worship services: flowing robes, stiff collars, pointy hats, golden staffs, elaborate rituals, holy water, Jedi-like gestures, tinkling bells, stations of the cross, confessional booths, etc., etc., etc.

But it doesn’t have to be that complicated. God tells us what he wants. He likes noise. Not just a cacophony of decibels for the sake of it, he wants our noise to be an expression of what is in our heart—a joyful noise, marinated in truth and generated by our spirits (John 4:24) directed toward worshipping him alone for who he is and what he’s done. And he likes it loud.

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February 1, 2016

Prepare to Die

by Clint Archer

inigo montoy name tagWe all need to take to heart the well-rehearsed injunction of the iconic swordsman, Iñigo Montoya, to the six-fingered man: “Prepare to die!” One way to apply this sage advice is to craft a nifty epitaph for your tombstone. This prevents eccentric relatives with a penchant for rhyming from composing one of these actual examples:

  • Shakespeare: ‘Blessed be he who leaves these stones and cursed be he who moves my bones.’ It is a travesty that the late Bard lies under any prose other than iambic pentameter.
  • In Silver City cemetery, Nevada: ‘Here lies Butch. We planted him raw. He was quick on the trigger but slow on the draw.’
  • 1880 Nantucket Massachusetts. ‘Under the sod and under the trees lies the body of Jonathan Pease. He is not here, there’s only the pod, Pease shelled out and went to God.’
  • Boothill Cemetery Tombstone Arizona, ‘Here lies Les Moore, 4 slugs from a 44. No less, no more.’

Another way to prepare to die is to ponder the wisdom of Psalm 49.

  1. THE UNIVERSAL NEED TO PREPARE TO DIE

According to the CIA World Factbook 28 of the 29 countries with life expectancies of 60 or less are in Sub-Saharan Africa, where I live. Yikes. There are 40 countries boasting octogenarians as their average (Monaco tops the list at 90!). Life expectancy in the USA is 80 (or by reason of pills and procedures 85). But, sadly, there is no nation on earth known for its immortality. The death rate worldwide still holds steady at 100% (Elijah and Enoch notwithstanding).

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