Archives For Clint Archer

pinataI was 23 when I first saw one. It was a hollow, colorful, papier-mâché creature stuffed with candy, chocolates, and assorted sugary delights. They strung it up and told me to hit it. They called it a piñata.

As entertaining as this experience was for me, I suspect the real entertainment for the college students in my Bible study was witnessing a grown man attempt to rupture his first piñata. But the joke would soon be on them.

I flailed aimlessly with all the force I could muster, missing the elusive treasure trove and inadvertently losing my grip on the stick. It shot like a spear at the crowd of gawkers, and smashed into the cheekbone of a girl who was caught off-guard by the missile.

It was also the last time I ever attempted to hit a piñata. In fact, it was the last time I would wield a weapon while blindfolded.

However, if Paul had to comment on some of my early prayers, he might draw a comparison. Many Christians pray like God is a piñata, which they blindly poke with aimless prayers. Let’s allow Paul to take off our blindfolds for us with this model prayer…

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uturnEvery man feels like he’s a good driver. But there is one maneuver that is challenging to perform, even for the most skilled driver: the U-turn. Most men will avoid this humiliating admission of fallibility at all costs, leading to some lengthy and circuitous routes as we choose providence over cartography to guide us to the elusive destination.

The help-meet God gave male drivers is the GPS navigation system. It’s a cool gadget which tricks our egos into believing it’s manly to listen to a British woman tell us when and where we need to turn.

I was once driving from Napa to the San Fernando Valley, which is a straight shot on a major freeway. But I dutifully activated my GPS, just to be safe. The lady’s voice confirmed that I was getting on the correct freeway; then she kept quiet for six hours, lulling me into a false sense of security. Suddenly she piped up that it was time to take the next exit. But what GPS lady did not realize was that by now I was in a part of the city which I recognized, so her services were no longer necessary. I turned the volume off and kept driving, as captain of my car.

After about 15 minutes I no longer knew where I was. I sheepishly turned the volume back up. The lady was calmly telling me to make a U-turn. I detected a twinge of smugness in her serene imperative. I figured she was still trying to get me back to that exit, but that was way behind me now, so she obviously didn’t know what she was talking about. I ignored her and looked for the next exit, which never came. Eventually I looked carefully at the digital map and realized that the only way back was the humiliating U-turn. I obeyed every following instruction right until I heard her self-satisfied words “Arriving at destination.”

In the third chapter of Jonah 600,000 gentiles do what I should have done: the moment they are told to, they make an instant U-turn.

We can tweeze out of this narrative four examples on which we can model our repentance.

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April 25, 2016

Prizing Peace

by Clint Archer

Nobel PrizeSwedish industrialist, Alfred Nobel, rocketed to fame and fortune by inventing dynamite. He envisioned its use as a boon for mining and construction, not as a gruesome weapon of war. Nevertheless, it was his military clientele that made him incredibly rich, a serendipity which he serenely accepted.

But in 1888 Alfred Nobel had an experience that would change his life. Thumbing through a French newspaper he came across his own obituary.

It was the day after his brother had died, and the journalist had evidently been a sloppy fact-checker. The obituary declared: ‘Le marchand de la mort est mort’ (The merchant of death is dead).

It went on to state coldly: ‘Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.’

You can imagine the mix of emotion Nobel must have felt—distress that the world viewed him this way, but relief that he was still alive to change how his real obituary would read.

That very day he decided to start a trust that would reward and honor those who strove to end war and promote peace, and for those who would ameliorate life on earth by striving for excellence in science, chemistry, economics, and literature. His misreported death was the birth of the iconic Nobel prize.

Of these prizes, awarded annually in Oslo, the most controversial and incendiary is the peace prize.

It differs from the other prizes in that it is never awarded posthumously, has no objective criteria, and can be awarded to those who haven’t yet attained what they are striving for. For example, Henry Kissinger, Yasser Arafat, and Yitzhak Rabin all received the prize without achieving their goal of peace in the Middle East.

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April 18, 2016

Holy Genes

by Clint Archer

Cheaper by the Dozen is the charming biographical story of the efficiency expert and father of twelve, Frank Gilbreth, who lived in the early 1900s. His contribution to modern life includes fungible scaffolding, the touch typing system, and improving efficiency in countless procedures such as extracting tonsils, laying bricks, and language learning.dna

But he’s most famous for his energetic brood of six boys and six girls, who from an early age were all tonsil-free prodigious polyglots, who could touch type, communicate in Morse code, and lay bricks with alacrity.

Many people wondered how he kept control of such a lively litter. The answer lay in the remarkable obedience of his children. The kids loved, trusted, and respected their parents, and never wanted to let them down. Being disobedient to their father was considered unthinkable. If you asked any of them why they were so efficient in their use of resources, so dedicated to self-improvement, and why they enjoyed being part of a large family, their answer would be simple: Because I’m my father’s child.

Efficiency was in their genes. They were born into a family culture in which waste was deplored, economy was prized, and synergy was expected. These were the mores embodied and modeled by Mr Gilbreth himself. The children imbibed their dad’s nature, his methods, and his values, much the way we do when we become children of God.

Christians long for holiness and strive for sanctification. And we do it because we are offspring of a holy Father. The longing for holiness is due to our new nature and our new Father.

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24-7One effective incentive to keep prisoners compliant is the rewarding of good behavior with extended visiting hours for family. One correctional facility in Spain, the Aranjuez Prison, boasts some of the most docile and well behaved prisoners in the world. As long as inmates remain submissive and appear punctually for roll call, they are permitted to have their entire family stay with them in prison indefinitely.

Of course, the spouse and children are permitted to come and go as they please, as long as they don’t smuggle contraband items to the jailbirds. This is a perk that could very easily be abused, and yet it is exceptionally rare that anyone violates the rules, for fear of losing the great privilege of unlimited access to loved ones.

I wonder how seriously you would take your sanctification and your own holiness if you knew you could lose your uninhibited access to visit with God?

Moses was one who truly grasped what a goldmine it was to meet with God. He never got bored, in fact he got greedy for more of God’s glory. Consider what led to this jaw-dropping honor…

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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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