Friday Fiction – Eden

Beyond the Shadowlands Prologue Part 4 

Adam and Eve gasped at the panorama that sprawled out below them.

Eden may have been named a garden, but it was so much more – so much more vast than what we would think of as a garden being.

It was a tropical paradise.

Eden was a valley, bounded on all four sides by high hills.  Three of them, including the one upon which Adam and Eve stood, sloped gently down into the valley below.  Each of these three hills had a meandering path that led down into the heart of the valley.

The fourth hill, the one directly across the Garden from where Adam and Eve and the Three-in-One stood, was a sharp cliff-face with a towering waterfall rushing over it.  Behind it, a magnificent mountain range sprawled.  Clearly, that hill was part of the foothills that ranged out from the mountains.

The water that cascaded down the side of the cliff formed a large pool at the base of the waterfall.  From the pool, 4 streams extended out in different directions.  As Adam and Eve looked, they noticed that within the Garden, the streams eventually widened into rivers  that cut gaps into the hillsides where they flowed from the Garden.  Even from high above, the water was so clear that they could fish of all sizes and colors moving in the rivers below.

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The banks of the rivers were carpeted by rich green grass which extended into meadows filled with an amazing variety of plants and bushes, and wildflowers of every hue imaginable.  It was a lush paradise, teeming with beauty and life, and yet peaceful and beckoning.

Other parts of the valley were impossible to see because of soaring trees that clustered together – trees of every kind imaginable, providing a canopy of shade for the valley below.  Clusters of shorter fruit trees grew in small groves that dotted the valley.  Adam and Eve were speechless at first as they took it all in, and then they began to thank the Three-in-One excitedly for this incredible gift.

Logos smiled and invited them to descend the closest path into the valley.  “Come,” He said, “There is so much more to see inside the valley!  The deeper in you go, the bigger it becomes!”

Wondering what this could mean, Adam and Eve rushed to follow Him down the path.  Despite the height of the hills, it seemed like the descent into the valley took no time at all.  Once they were there, Logos pointed to the next closest hillside, off to the east.  “Come,” he said.  “Let me show you something wonderful!” 

They followed, walking effortlessly at a quick pace.  But after walking so long that the sun was almost ready to slip beneath the top of the hillside, they found that they had not gotten any closer!  Looking back, though, they could see clearly that they had travelled a very long distance from the path they had descended down into the valley.  Completely mystified, Adam asked how this was possible.

“The Garden is larger inside than outside!  And as I told you, the deeper you move into the Garden, the bigger it becomes!   You can travel forever and still be within the Garden.  But if you follow any one of the rivers, you can leave the Garden for the wilderness, and then come back the same way.  We created the Garden this way for you to enjoy, so you could explore it and enjoy and never tire of it, and yet be completely free to leave it, explore the outside wilderness, and return whenever you like!”  As He spoke, Elyon and Ruach joined Him, all Three-in-One smiling with pleasure at the wonder on Adam and Eve’s faces.

Eve finally turned to the Three-in-One.  “It’s perfect!” she exclaimed.

Friday Fiction – The Gift

Beyond the Shadowlands Prologue Part 3

All of Creation celebrated.  The Three-in-One stood back and watched with relish as Adam rejoiced in Their gift of love – Eve.

Adam and Eve took no notice of any of it.  They had eyes only for one another.  Adam, shy at first but excited to meet someone like him – his own kind, and yet different – couldn’t wait to share everything with Eve.  But first, he just talked to her.  He was filled with questions, most of which she had no answers for.  And for her part, she was filled with questions as well.  Who was he?  And who was she?  What was this place?  Where had all of this come from?

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Finally, she noticed everyone around them.  The Three-in-One standing there, waiting patiently.  Angels, watching the whole scenario with joy.  Animals, timid at first but overcome with curiosity, looking to see who this was that their friend Adam was now talking with.

Adam somehow knew just what to do.  Putting his arm around Eve, he began to introduce her to everyone, beginning with the Three-in-One.  Eve bowed humbly before Them, but They lovingly raised her up.  “Daughter, Mother of all who will live,” Logos said.  “Welcome!  We have a gift for you to celebrate your arrival!”

Eve wondered what a “gift” was.

Elyon, her Father, spoke up.  “My child,” he said, “a gift is something special that I have chosen to freely give you – something that will bring you great joy and pleasure.  Adam,” He continued, “this gift is for you to enjoy as well, but it is in celebration of Eve.  It is a special place for you both – a home.  All of this Creation is for you to enjoy together, but this home is a place of rest, of tranquility – a place to which you will always return.  It is a place in which every night you will find refreshment and restoration for your souls.”  He smiled at both of them, the excitement on His face evident as He told them about this special surprise.

Logos continued for the Three-in-One.  “Adam, We formed you from the dust of the ground, in the wilderness.  You were created for adventure, but without Eve, your heart was incomplete.  Eve was created from your side, close to your heart – and so, while you love adventure and love the wilderness, she also loves adventure, but she will always long for home.  Her need and desire for home will complement your desire to explore.  Together, you will complete one another.  And just as in one another you will find completion, so both of you will only find completion in and with Us.”

Ruach swirled around Adam and Eve, colors glistening in a beautiful array.  “We have planted a Garden for you to the east of here – a refuge that, in all the world, will be your own special place.  Animals may come and go; We will visit you there and walk with you there.  But it will be your home.  Everything you will ever need will be provided there for you.  When you wander and explore and find yourselves hungry, thirsty, tired – return to this place and you will be restored.”

The Three-in-One now spoke together, their voices in complete unison, somehow both distinct and yet also indistinguishable from one another.  “This Garden is named Eden.  Come now and walk with us, and we will lead you there.”

As they journeyed together, the Three-in-One spoke of the bounty that Adam and Eve would find there – trees and plants and bushes, fruits and vegetables of every kind.   Living, sparkling water.  Shade from the sunlight, a gentle breeze.  All they could imagine or desire, and more.

“I give to you every tree and plant of the Garden to eat for food – all except one,” said the Three-in-One.  “There are two trees at the center of the Garden – the Tree of Life, and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Do not eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, for if you do, in that day, your spirit will die.  Our relationship will suffer separation.”

At these words, both Adam and Eve shivered involuntarily.  Neither of them had experienced death nor separation, and yet, as Image-Bearers, they knew the meaning of the word.

“Come!  Come up and see!” Logos beckoned joyfully, running on ahead of them, climbing up a sloping grass-covered hillside.  As Elyon climbed with them, His face beaming, Ruach blew at their backs, speeding them along.

In a moment, they topped the rise of the hill and stopped, shocked at what stretched out before the eyes in the valley below them.

“Welcome to Eden!  Come and enjoy!” the Three-in-One invited.

Wednesday Book Review – Room of Marvels

One of the truths of life that we don’t like to admit or even talk about is that life is a journey of loss.

Over the years, as we grow up and then grow older, there are many things lost – lost innocence, lost friendships, lost loved ones, lost pets, lost prized possessions, lost opportunities, lost potential, lost seasons of life, lost vehicles, and so many more people, things, and experiences.

The realization that we can never return to a relationship or experience, that we will never again see a particular person, never again be able to drive that first car, and so on, can be devastating. As country artist Brad Paisley puts it, “there’s a last time for everything.”

Some losses are much more painful than others, obviously. James (Jim) Bryan Smith, an author and college professor, experienced three great personal losses in a very short period of time in his life.

First, his daughter Madeline. Before Madeline was even born, testing revealed severe birth defects and a rare chromosomal disorder. Jim and his wife were told to plan a funeral before their daughter was born. Miraculously, though, Madeline had a healthy delivery. She lived for about two and a half years, although she was constantly being medically monitored and treated. But following what was supposed to be a routine, simple surgery, Madeline coded and then died.

Six months after the loss of Madeline, Jim’s best friend, singer and songwriter Rich Mullins, was killed in an auto collision.

And then six months later, Jim’s mother, who was seventy but in excellent health, died of a sudden heart attack.

Room of Marvels is a fictional account of Jim’s struggle to reconcile what he taught and believed – that God is good, better than we understand – with the reality of the devastating losses he and his wife experienced in such a short period of time. It begins with a character who represents Jim taking a spiritual retreat at a monastery, searching for answers and feeling hopeless. He realizes that he feels like a complete hypocrite – while he writes and teaches that God is good, he no longer believes it because of his own pain and loss.

While on this retreat, Jim experiences an ongoing dream/vision in which he visits heaven and encounters a number of people. Some are friends, some are family. Some are people he knew, some are people he never met. Some were people whose lives he had impacted knowingly or unknowingly; some were people who had impacted his life, knowingly or unknowingly.

In the process of meeting these people, talking with them, discovering stories, playing checkers, remembering forgotten moments of his life, and discovering the beauty, grace, and love of heaven, Jim finds that his heart is being transformed. He discovers that he can be free to be his true self; that he no longer has to wear masks to try to impress God or others; and that God’s goodness and love for him are beyond what he ever even imagined.

2 Corinthians 4:17 (NJB) tells us that “The temporary, light burden of our hardships is earning us for ever an utterly incomparable, eternal weight of glory.” As James Bryan Smith puts it in the conclusion of this book, “heaven changes everything we suffer on this earth.”

If you have ever suffered a devastating loss, if you have ever wondered how God could be good and allow difficult things to come into our lives, if you have ever suffered and asked “why” then I highly recommend this book for you. Room of Marvels contains a message of hope and transformation that we all need to hear.

You can purchase the Kindle Edition here.

Reflecting on America Today

For anyone who is on social media in any way or who watches the news, the past week has been more of what we experienced last weekend.  Pictures of people in Charlottesville marching, protesting, even fighting; pictures of KKK members and Nazi-flag wavers; calls to renounce racism, calls to unity, calls to repudiate or impeach our current President, and calls to even renounce and repudiate any historical figures who were involved in slavery and to tear down monuments to them, including the Jefferson Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and Mt. Rushmore.

Meanwhile, on Saturday morning, I woke up to the news that 6 police officers, including 2 Pennsylvania State Troopers, had been shot the night before.  2 of them, in Florida, had been killed.  While there were small mentions of these shootings in the news media, there was hardly anything in my Twitter or Facebook newsfeeds about these shootings – no denouncing the shootings, no calls for rallies to support the police and their families, no outcry against yet another example of violence against the men and women who risk their lives every time they show up at work.

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I’ve wrestled with these issues and related thoughts all weekend.  I wasn’t sure what to write today; I didn’t know how to even approach this.  How can I call out what needs to be called out, encourage people in such problematic situations, and squeeze all of it into a blog?

There are no simple answers, and I have nowhere close to the wisdom and education that many others who are writing and commenting on all of these items may have.  All I can do is offer some thoughts…and so, I will do that, at the risk of angering and offending some people.

  • Hatred and racism are evil.  This is not debatable.  To hate anyone and claim to be doing it in the name of God is to lie.  God is love.  As followers of Jesus, we must stand up for one another, love one another, protect one another, honor one another, and publicly stand together against racism and hatred.
  • We must stop judging one another.  In the current climate in America, we are judged by how vociferously we denounce racism.  Christians are calling other Christians names because they don’t condemn racism strongly enough, or because they condemn racism but don’t agree with tearing down Confederate monuments.  Anyone who tries to point out the communist influences on and violent tendencies of Antifa is shouted down by the left as a racist.  Anyone who wants Confederate monuments torn down is shouted down by the right as a historical revisionist.  There has to be a place for calm discussion about truth in these matters.
  • We must love one another, despite our differences.  Holding a differing opinion does not make you my enemy.  I cannot control how you think or act, but I can control my actions and attitudes.  If you are a follower of Jesus, you must love people who are different from you.  You must love people who consider themselves to be your enemies.  You must love people who think differently than you and who believe differently than you.  In fact, you must love everyone.  Jesus taught this and demonstrated this.  It is not an optional part of the Christian life.
  • Life matters.  Black lives matter.  Police lives matter.  UNBORN LIVES MATTER.  Let’s get this straight.  Let’s stop selectively protesting and start protecting life.  It makes sense that we protest what connects to us.  It makes sense that African-Americans who have suffered injustice would rally around Black Lives Matter.  It makes sense to me to notice when police officers are shot and no one says anything, because I am a Pennsylvania State Police chaplain.  (And I recognize that I need to repent of not noticing other injustices, other violent acts, other suffering.)  We naturally notice what is important to us, what matters to us.  But we are called to something much higher than that.  We are called to love one another, and to love our enemies.  We serve the Word, Who was in the beginning and Who created all things – the One to whom all lives, even unborn lives, matter.  Let’s fight FOR all lives, not fight one another over which lives matter.
  • Slavery is evil.  It was evil 150+ years ago in America and in the Confederacy; it is evil today.  Let’s be honest about that.  But maybe let’s focus on doing something about the plague of human trafficking today, rather than just arguing about the aftermath of the Civil War in 1865.  Slavery was abolished in America. It was a horrific, evil institution.  It’s effects lingered, and in some ways, still linger.  We cannot in any way honor or elevate or excuse it.  But we cannot focus on the past to the extent that we ignore the present, and the present reality is that human trafficking is a huge issue in America right now.  The US Justice Department estimates that up to 17500 people per year are trafficked into the US.  That doesn’t even include the number of US citizens who are trafficked into the sex trade.  That is something that should ignite our anger and wrath as followers of Jesus.  That is something that should move us to rise up and take action.
  • People are people.  The color of your skin doesn’t matter.  The real issues are issues of the heart.  If you are a follower of Jesus, your calling is to allow Him to transform your heart to be more and more like His.  And as that happens, it is also your calling to point others, who do not know, towards Him – to cooperate with Him to build His Kingdom.  That is my calling.  That is your calling.

Above all, we are created to love and called to love.  I fail so often and so epically at that, but God is gracious and forgiving.

As we ask God to help us love in a nation that feels like it is tearing itself apart, let’s remind ourselves of what Paul tells us love is:

Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.  (1 For. 13:4-8, NIV)

May it be said of us that in the midst of a trying time for our nation, we were known for our love, and that we loved well.

Before the Shadowlands – Part 2

Prologue Part 2 – The Image-Bearers

Together, Elyon, Logos, and Ruach shouted, voices thundering joyously, “Let Us make mankind!  And let us make them in Our image!”

Elyon spoke.  “Life!  Flesh!  Bone!  Tissue!  Corporeality!  Organs, vessels, and blood!”

As He spoke, Logos knelt in the clay of the Earth they had created.  As He touched the clay, it began to spin and grow.  He shaped the clay, the First Potter, forming physically what Elyon proclaimed.  In moments, what had begun as a lump of rich red clay stood, tall and majestic, mirroring Logos’ form.  All Creation held its breath, marveling at the intricate details of this new being.

Then Elyon spoke again.  “Life!  Breath!  BREATHE!”  As He spoke, Ruach swirled upon the form standing there.  Ruach-wind blew into his nostrils and his mouth.  The creation gasped, drew its own breath – and then opened its eyes.

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“IT IS GOOD!” the Three-in-One agreed, His joy obvious to all.

Elyon, Logos, and Ruach met in a flash of light and energy, appearing suddenly as one Being, yet each of their faces somehow distinct in one visage.  Together, they spoke to their creation.  “You are Adam, first of the Image-Bearers.  Welcome!”  Gesturing broadly at all that Adam could see, the Three-in-One said, “All of this is yours!  Enter into the joy of all that has been created for you to enjoy!  Subdue this Earth and have dominion over it!  Come, let us show you all that is yours!”

It was a good day, the sixth day of Creation.

And on the seventh day, the Three-in-One and all of their Creation rested.

Life on Earth was filled with wonder.  Every day, Adam would walk the land, conversing with the Three-in-One.  Sometimes, the Three-in-One would appear to Adam in one form, as He had on the day Adam had been created.  Other times, Elyon or Logos would walk with Adam, talking with him as Ruach would gently waft along with them.  After a while, Adam would run, dive into the water and swim, enjoying the beauty all around him.

Often, as they would walk together, animals and birds would approach.  The Three-in-One would stop and wait, allowing Adam to take the lead, for this world had been created for him and his kind.  He began to take the first steps in walking in dominion over this creation.  He would speak to the animals, listen, converse.  And he would name them, in so doing blessing them as the Three-in-One blessed him.  In this way he began to work out what it meant to be an Image-Bearer, to walk in loving dominion.

Every seventh day, all would rest.

Time passed. 

One evening, after a long walk with Adam, who had bedded down for the night, the Three-in-One began to talk about the next step.  Adam was ready, it was decided.  It was not good for him to continue to be alone, the only one in all of creation of his kind.  It was time to create his ezer-kenegdo – his mate.  His life-saver.

It was time for the Image-Bearers to begin to multiply and to have dominion over the entire Earth.

The next morning, Logos woke Adam.  Together, they walked and talked.  Logos explained that it was not good for Adam to be alone.  Adam didn’t understand – he had Elyon, Logos, and Ruach.  He had the animals, the birds, the fish.  Occasionally, an Immortal like Michael or Gabriel would come visit on their way to do the business of the Eternal Kingdom.  Adam was content.

“You must trust Me,” Logos told him.  “There is a need in your soul that you do not even realize.  You are created in Our image – you have much love to share.  Your capacity for love will grow as Our creation expands.”

Adam believed Logos, believed the Three-in-One.  As they gathered to him, he felt a deep tiredness wash over him.  He sat down, and then laid down in the clay – the same clay from which he had been formed.

And the Three-in-One danced and created again.

Elyon spoke words of life once again.  As He spoke, Logos drew a rib from Adam’s side and began fashioning another Image-Bearer – similar, and yet different from Adam.  And Ruach once again breathed life into this Image-Bearer – this new creation.

Eve.

Woman.

Stepping back, the Three-in-One watched, waiting for Adam to revive, and for Eve to wake up for the first time. 

Book Review – The Story of With

The Story of With:  A Better Way to Live, Love, and Create

Have you ever had a dream for your life but been told it was impractical, that you “can’t make a living that way” and that you need to stop dreaming and just go to work and deal with the fact that life is never what you dream it will be?

That’s the story of Allen Arnold, author of this modern-day parable.  Allen has always loved a good story. The one he’s living is his favorite. He cut his teeth in the advertising world (think the HBO series Mad Men on steroids) and then spent twenty years in the publishing industry. As the founding Publisher for Thomas Nelson Fiction, he led in the development of more than five hundred novels. He now oversees content for Ransomed Heart ministries (founded by John Eldredge).

And it’s the story of Mia, his protagonist.  She dreams of being a chef, of creating masterful dishes and unique blends of tastes.  But instead, she finds herself waitressing, struggling to make ends meet, and out of desperation, tries to land a job with large food corporation.  In the interview process, she quickly discovers that there’s no room for creativity or her own uniqueness in that setting.

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The Story of With:  A Better Way to Live, Love, and Create is an entertaining tale of Mia’s journey to discover herself, to re-discover her passion for life, and to ultimately pursue her dreams.  It’s an allegory for what your journey and my journey could be…if we are willing to take the necessary risks.

When we meet Mia, she is finishing up a grueling interview process at Strava Food Group’s headquarters, hoping to find a position that will allow her to pursue her culinary dreams.  But it quickly becomes apparent that Strava is not interested in her creativity, and as she begins to realize this won’t be a solution for her, she also receives a phone call and ends up losing her job as a waitress.

Discouraged and feeling hopeless, she heads back to her apartment, only to find herself trapped in a huge traffic jam.  A decision to leave the interstate while almost of gas results in her being stranded out in the middle of nowhere.

It also presents her an opportunity to face her nightmares and to decide if it is worth the risk to move forward and pursue larger dreams rather than retreating into fear.

Each chapter of the allegory is followed by a short summary of the challenge Mia has faced, along with the author’s insights into how we, like Mia, can begin a journey to reclaiming our dreams and our identity.

As Mia journeys through this story, she learns some valuable lessons that equip her to pursue her dreams – lessons that author summarizes for us at the end of the story.  These truths can help each one of us to live above mediocrity, to dream big and pursue all that God has for us, and in the process, to help others rediscover their dreams!

Here’s a brief summary of what Mia learns:

  • When we discover and acknowledge that we cannot control life, it releases us to live in the freedom that Jesus offers us.
  • When we learn to be expectant, we begin to watch for opportunities that God brings across our paths.
  • When we allow God’s Spirit to awaken our hearts to our true identity, we can pursue our dreams out of the simple joy of the journey, rather than the need to please someone else or to earn affirmation.
  • When we discover that God can redeem our sins, mistakes, and failures, we begin to see our wounds as beautiful pictures of God’s healing grace in our lives.
  • And finally, when we hear our Father’s voice of affirmation, we realize that we are not taking this journey alone.  We are on this journey together with Him!

At the end of the story, the author summarizes the above and gives some practical suggestions for ways to live out these truths in the reader’s life.  The bottom line, he concludes, is this:  “God didn’t primarily create us so we would do things for Him.  Or even to learn about Him.  His primary reason for creating us is so we can be with Him.”

This book is a great read – entertaining, but also serious, challenging, and life-giving.  If you want to fill your “hope” tank, I highly recommend this book.  You can purchase the Kindle edition here.

It’s Time to Stand Together

Over the past few days, our nation – and the world – have watched as Charlottesville, VA has become the center of a storm of controversy and racist hatred.

It all began back in May when the city decided to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, and to rename parks within the city that had been named after Confederate leaders.

That is a huge issue.  It’s an issue of heritage to many Southern followers of Jesus; it’s an issue of racism and hatred from the perspective of many African-American followers of Jesus.  I’ve seen impassioned posts by people who love Jesus, explaining why it’s so important to keep those monuments in place and why it’s so important to not re-write or hide that part of our history.

I’ve also seen impassioned posts by people who love Jesus who are grieved over the racism and subjugation of people that those symbols represent.

I cannot speak for African-American followers of Jesus.  I haven’t walked in their shoes, experienced their lives, had to deal with the issues that are part of their lives.

But I can speak as a Caucasian follower of Jesus.

I am a political conservative.  I believe in personal responsibility, the free-market system, limited government, lower taxes, and so on.

But I love my African-American brothers and sisters.  And it is my responsibility to not just love them by mouthing platitudes or offering excuses or ignoring their pain, but to speak out on their behalf, to stand with them, to fight against injustice.

It is time for us stand up as followers of Jesus.

When we have let our arguments against political positions, our excuses against accusations of white privilege, and our concern for our own rights trump our willingness to stand alongside our brothers and sisters, we have become blind to our own self-interest and lack of love.

When it takes seeing KKK members and Nazis to actually get our attention and cause us to wonder if maybe things have gone a little too far, there is a huge problem.

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We don’t have to agree on everything politically.  We can disagree agreeably, with love and honor.  We can be conservatives and liberals, and espouse different paths to different political goals.

But we cannot stand idly by and say nothing when white racists march in the streets, wearing hoods and waving swastikas.

We DO have to love one another.  It’s not an option for those of us who follow Jesus.  In fact, Jesus specifically said that others would know we belong to Him because of the way we love one another.  It’s time for us to actually do that.  It’s time for Caucasian followers of Jesus to stand up and be vocal about the fact that racism is not ok.  It’s time to sit down with our African-American brothers and sisters and actually listen to them without making excuses, without arguing, and without trying to force them to hear us.  It’s time for them to know that regardless of our political preferences or policy preferences, we prefer them as our brothers and sisters.  It’s time for them to know we have their backs as fellow followers of Jesus.

How will we ever love our enemies if we cannot even love our own brothers and sisters in Christ?

I am part of a denomination (the C&MA) that exists to reach those who have never heard the name of Jesus.

How sinful would it be to spend our lives, our time, our money, and our resources to cross the seas to minister to people in other cultures if we are not willing to reach across racial and culture lines in our own nation to love our own brothers and sisters in Christ?  How wrong is it to stand silently by and say nothing while white hatred groups parade in the streets, claiming to do so in the name of God?

“Love must be sincere.  Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in love.  Honor one another above yourselves.”  (Romans 12:9-10, NIV).

Here are some questions I’m struggling with right now.  Maybe they are questions we should all struggle with right now.  Maybe they are questions we should ask Jesus to help us answer:

  • How do I sincerely love my African-American brothers and sisters in Christ, not just pay lip-service to them?
  • How do I hate what is evil in our culture right now?
  • How do I cling to what is good in our culture right now?
  • How do I actively devote myself to my African-American brothers and sisters in Christ?
  • How do I honor my African-American brothers and sisters in Christ above myself?
  • When I stand before Jesus one day, will I be proud or ashamed of how I loved those who are different from me but are part of the same Body as me?

May God move us to stand with all who are part of the same Body, baptized by the same Spirit, saved by faith in the same Lord.

Before the Shadowlands

Prologue Part 1 – Before the Shadowlands

The Three-in-One – Elyon, the Most High; Logos, the Son; and Ruach the Wind – were as their name.  They existed at Three, and lived as One.  They were the same entity, but three distinct persons.  They lived in eternity, outside the confines of time and space, complete and sufficient in Himself and Themselves.  Without beginning or end, their existence depended upon no one.  They are.

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They were self-existent, with no need for anyone else.  Although timeless, it could be said that their days were filled with love, joy, peace, and adventure.

Love so great, love without limit, by its very nature grows and creates.  Not from need – need to love or to be loved – but from desire.  Desire to share such amazing love, to pour it out upon others.

And so, the Three-in-One created.  First, time.  And then space.  Then, other sentient beings.  Immortals.  Angelic beings – warriors, musicians, guardians, messengers, craftsmen, scribes, and many others.  Each one an agent of Light; each one a beloved servant of the Eternal Kingdom.

Other fantastic creatures were fashioned.  Cherubim and seraphim.  Living creatures with four faces.  Messengers whose bodies were covered in eyes.  Beings whose voices could thunder and shake the Eternal Kingdom.

And still, the Three-in-One loved.  Their capacity for love was infinite.  They discussed, amongst Himself, a broader creation.

But in the midst of all of this love, in the midst of unrestrained opportunity, infinite joy and peace, complete satisfaction and absolute provision, a seed of rebellion was planted in the heart of Light-Bearer.  He was the chief worshiper; but he grew to desire that worship for himself.

He began to whisper, gathering others to his cause. 

And then in an instant, Light-Bearer acted.  He fought, challenging Elyon, the Most High.  He rose up in pride, and a third of his fellow angelic immortals gathered to his side, supporting his rebellion.

It was not even a struggle.  Their defeat was immediate and complete, and they were cast from the Eternal Kingdom into the outer nothingness.  Darkness and flames.  Condemned by their actions, they wandered, hearts full of rebellion and hatred, having traded everything for nothing in their coup attempt.

Shortly after this occurred, as the Eternal Kingdom mourned the loss of those who had fallen, the Three-in-One acted on their loving plans.

*                    *                    *

In the beginning, the Three-in-One created a physical, temporal universe.

Creation was a spectacle – an amazing dance of creativity between the Three-in-One.  Elyon spoke.  Logos brought life from nothing.  Ruach hovered over all of it, swirling in colors and movements of wind.

Darkness and light separated in an explosion of matter.  Elyon thundered, and day and night became.  Earth and air, fire and water, swirling from nothing into sea, land, heaven.  Life exploded forth – brilliant hues of green and red and purple and yellow, a swirl of vegetation and trees and plants, fruits and vegetables.

The dance continued, the creativity flowing and growing.  Elyon spoke, loudly and lovingly.  Logos moved in response.  Ruach flew, faster and faster, racing through all of it.  Lights flashed in the heavens, day and night growing more and more pronounced.  Life again burst forth on the earth – this time, animals and birds and fish, all of them colorful, leaping and swimming and flying in gratitude for their creation.  Animals that would someday become domesticated, animals that would always run wild, animals that would one day pass on into legend.  Lions and bears and cows and horses and dogs and giraffes and behemoths and leviathans and yetis and unicorns and dragons and basilisks and dinosaurs.

A cacophony of voices and sounds rose, newly living voices expressing the joy of all they were experiencing, seeing, and hearing.  The sound was a roar, but not a chaotic one.  Rather, it was a beautiful symphony of diverse voices and sounds, all directed in wonder and awe at the Three-in-One – Creator.

And the dance continued.  The love intensified – the more it was poured out into this creation, the more love there was to give.  More colors, greater contrast between darkness and light, more sounds, more beauty, more wildness, untamed by anyone or anything but the Creator.

Then came the pinnacle of creation.  A moment of silence, stillness in all that was happening.  The Three-in-One paused.  There was a collective gasp, all creation wondering what was next.  What climax could outdo what had already been done?  How could the Three-in-One do more than this?

The Three-in-One looked at one another.  Smiled broadly, their pleasure at what had come and what was to come evident to all.  “This is the moment!” they exclaimed in unison.

As the created Immortals looked on, the mystery was too great.  Michael cried out, “Lord!  What is it?  What can it be?” 

Together, Elyon, Logos, and Ruach shouted, voices thundering joyously, “Let Us make mankind!  And let us make them in Our image!”

Play The Man

Play The Man

In 2006, I read In A Pit With A Lion on A Snowy Day by Mark Batterson and I was hooked on his writing.

Mark Batterson serves as lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, D.C.  He holds a Doctor of Ministry degree from Regent University and is the New York Times bestselling author of 11 books, including Chase the Lion.

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Several weeks ago, I was surprised and delighted to discover that he had a new book out called Play The Man.  I instantly purchased it (I’m telling you, that Kindle app and One-Click Purchasing is a book lover’s dream and a budgeter’s nightmare!)  This is my first book review, so I’m doing on-the-job-training and would appreciate your patience!

Play the Man is a call to something greater for men, and for discipling the next generation of men.

In the first part of the book, Batterson helps us understand what it means to be a man of God by working through what he calls the “seven virtues of manhood:

  1. Tough Love – Using the examples of Charles Lindbergh, Jesus, and others, Batterson walks us through the idea that playing the man means “loving others when they least expect it and least deserve it” – a difficult task indeed, but one for which a man is created.
  2. Childlike Wonder – Teddy Roosevelt, who lived an incredible life, is Batterson’s example for this chapter.  I love the quoted description from Edmund Morris of Roosevelt’s nightly bedtime ritual – “The president would brush his teeth, jump into bed, put his revolver beside his pillow, and read a minimum of one book per night.  Then, there being nothing further to do…Theodore Roosevelt will energetically fall asleep.”  Roosevelt was a man’s man who squeezed everything he could out of every moment of life – and we can do the same.
  3. Will Power – Louie Zamperini, the subject of the book and movie Unbroken, serves as an example here.  A former US Olympian, Zamperini survived a World War II plane crash into the Pacific Ocean, 47 days adrift at sea, and then over 2 years of torture and debasement in a Japanese POW camp.  Batterson uses the examples of Zamperini and others to show how manhood means learning to say “no” to yourself in the short run so you can say “yes” to more important choices in the future.
  4. Raw Passion – Batterson describes this as “a lust for life that doesn’t settle for status or status quo. It’s an insatiable energy that motivates you to live each day like it’s the first day and the last day of your life.”  He points out that the Holy Spirit enables this passion within us.
  5. True Grit – Men need danger in their lives.  Men need adventure.  Men need to put ourselves into positions that will push us past our previous limits and we need to do hard things.  Batterson’s story of hiking the Grand Canyon rim to rim gives an exciting taste of what this can look like, and how it can empower you!
  6. Clear Vision – General and President Andrew Jackson said that he “was born for the storm.”  So were all men – we were created to handle adversity and push through, standing on God’s Promises to achieve greatness for the Kingdom of God!
  7. Moral Courage – We were created to make difficult but right choices.  Batterson quotes something God gave him for his own journal that struck me as powerful – “Don’t wash your hands like Pilate.  Wash feet like Jesus.”  One thing that will make a sorely-needed difference in our world is godly men standing up for what is right, loving as Jesus loved, and doing hard things in the service of our King.

The second part of the book is much shorter – just three chapters.  In this section, Batterson outlines how to call out a boy into manhood.  He details how he, with the help of family and friends, created a rite of passage for each one of his children.  I thought the examples of how he did this with his sons were practical and inspiring.  I wish he had spent more time talking about how he and his wife called their daughter in womanhood, but granted, it’s a book about men.

I found Play The Man to be challenging, practical, and thought-provoking.  It helped me to examine my life and consider prayerfully areas where I still need to grow and to be transformed.  I highly recommend it for all men, and for all parents of boys.  Here’s a link to the Kindle version.

The Power of Story

Warning – this is a longer-than-usual blog post, and it is no way at all devotional.

I have always loved to read, and specifically, to read stories.

Don’t get me wrong.  As an adult, I serve as a pastor, and so I read a lot of non-fiction:  the Bible; books on leadership, communication, history, attitude, planning, different aspects of theology, sociology, the Church’s role in our society, living as follower of Jesus in a post-Christian, post-modern era, soul care and spiritual formation, sermons by other pastors, politics, Western civilization, philosophy – I am a voracious reader.  I believe it is important for me as a leader to be a life-long learner.  My Dad, who has been a pastor for well over fifty years, taught me early in my ministry that for a pastor, a wide variety of books and knowledge were tools as vital to ministry as a well-stocked, even overflowing Husky Tool Chest and Rolling Tool Cabinet Set were to an auto mechanic.

But I’ve always loved to read stories.

I can remember finding an old, red-covered hardback mystery novel in my Grandpa Hunter’s den called The Ghoul.  It was a gothic mystery about a haunted house and a frightened heir and a crazed twin brother who imitated his deceased wealthy brother, trying to scare off the heir and killing several servants in the process.

I remember hearing Mr. Young, my fifth grade teacher, reading a large portion of The Bridge of Khazad-dûm – a key chapter in The Fellowship of the Ring, book 1 of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  I went home from school that day determined to  learn about the rest of the story, and saved every penny I could until I could purchase a paperback set of the trilogy. I fell in love with the rich fantasy world that Tolkien created – a world of elves and dwarves and orcs and ents and hobbits, a world with both deeply flawed men and women and heroic men and women.  That amazing fantasy world led me next to Narnia, C.S. Lewis’ incredible fantasy world.  Both of these series taught me much about life, about the power of story, and about being a follower of Jesus in dark and difficult times.  I began to realize that story wasn’t just entertainment; it was also a powerful way of communicating truth.

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I remember checking out Bram Stoker’s Dracula from the school library as a high-school student.  I had to sneak that one home, because my parents didn’t want us reading sci-fi or horror or anything like that.  But I read Dracula in two nights, staying up after everyone else had gone to sleep.  And I discovered that I loved to be scared, which eventually led me to Stephen King.

You know that a lot of people would consider you to be a pretty unusual person when two of your favorite books are The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer and It by Stephen King.

But I found in some horror stories a pronounced world view of good versus evil, in which good eventually triumphs over evil.  And again, I recognized that story is a powerful tool for communicating truth.  (By the way, if it bothers you that I’ve admitted to reading horror at times in my life, you might want to check out my friend Mike Duran’s book, Christian Horror: On the Compatibility of a Biblical Worldview and the Horror Genre.  It’s an in-depth theological look at the genre in light of Biblical teaching on the importance of our thought life and Paul’s call to live with a renewed mind.)

Early in my ministry, I finally figured out just how important stories were in the Bible as a whole, and in the teaching ministry of Jesus.  At times, it seemed like Jesus went out of His way to tell a story instead of directly answering a question or addressing an issue.  For example, there’s this classic:  Peter:  “How often should I forgive my neighbor?”  Jesus:  “There was a guy who owed his king a couple of lifetimes’ worth of gold…”  And of course, there’s this one:  Religious leader:  “Who is my neighbor?”  Jesus:  “A man was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho and he was robbed…”

About a decade ago, I read John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart and discovered his amazing insight that part of the power of story is that we actually live in a story – the story of our lives.  Not only that, but we live in our Father’s larger Story.  And because God has writing eternity on our hearts, you can actually discover a representation of the gospel in many of the popular movies and stories in our culture, even though unintended by the authors or movie directors.  Gladiator, Braveheart, The Hunger Games, even Harry Potter – you can find a summary or a demonstration of gospel truths in these.  (That’s not the point of this post, but if you’d like to engage with me about that idea, I’d be happy to do so.)

So where am I going with all of this?

As I have begun to seriously pursue writing, I have recognized that I enjoy writing both non-fiction and fiction.  I set a goal this year for myself of completing both a non-fiction and a fiction book each year from now until when I retire.

But as I write non-fiction, I know that I am not a serious theologian like Tim Keller or John Piper.  Nor am I as creative or deep a communicator as Andy Stanley, Mark Batterson, or Bill Johnson.  I’m not a controversial pot-stirrer like Mark Driscoll or Brandon Hatmaker.  I am an encourager; I am a writer who tries to lift people up.  I’m not as funny as John Ortberg or as much of a wordsmith of Max Lucado, but I AM learning my own voice.

And as I learn, I am learning that while I love writing both non-fiction and fiction, fiction is my preferred niche.

And that’s the reason for this post.

I am going to be changing the format of my blog.

It seems like a natural time to do this, after having over a month-long hiatus due to surgery.

Over time, I will be transitioning more and more to fiction, perhaps even creating a separate blog for just that.

But in the meantime, this blog will change to a varied schedule.  My plan is that it will look like this:

    • Mondays:  A devotional or commentary on current events.
    • Wednesdays:  A book review or recommendation, mostly non-fiction spiritual growth books.
    • Fridays:  A short story or part of an ongoing serial story.

I’m letting you know about these changes because some of you will be excited and want more.  And some of you will decided “this isn’t what I signed up for” and will want to unsubscribe.  I will hate to see you go.  But it’s okay.  There’s no point in your reading these posts if you don’t feel they’re going to benefit you.  (However, I would ask you to consider waiting until Friday and reading the first fiction post before unsubscribing.  You might find yourself pleasantly surprised or intrigued by what you read!)

I just wanted to give you a heads-up as to what’s coming so you understand why and can decide for yourself.  I hope you decide to continue on the journey with me.

Thanks for reading!