Shadowlands – What If…

What if things had happened differently in Eden?


Eve stood in clearing, waiting for Adam.  She was mesmerized by the two Trees in front of her.  Why had they waited so long to come here – to just look at these two majestic Trees?  She told herself again that there was no harm in looking, in enjoying the beauty.

“They ARE majestic, aren’t they?”

Eve jumped at the silky voice.  She turned to see a beautiful creature, a serpent, standing there beside her, gazing up at the Trees.  How had he come up beside her so suddenly without her hearing him?  She was distracted from the Trees for a moment by his beauty.  Variegated fur ruffled in the wind, patterns swirling across his body.

“Yes, they are,” she answered.  “What is your name?  I don’t think we’ve met, and I thought I knew all the serpents that lived in the Garden.”

“My name?” he asked.  “My name isn’t really important.  But you!  You and Adam are the crowning achievements of Creation!  And here you are, admiring these majestic fruit trees in your Garden.  Tell me,” and he put a paw on her shoulder, “how does the fruit from that Tree taste?”

“I don’t know,” she replied.

“You don’t know?  You don’t know how the fruit of one of your own trees tastes?  How can that be?” he asked.

Eve suddenly felt very foolish.  It WAS her Tree, after all…hers and Adam’s.  She looked up at it again, taking in the lush fruit that hung, ripe and ready to be plucked.

The serpent spoke again.  “Let me guess,” he said.  “Did Elyon tell you not to eat that fruit?  Did he really place you in this beautiful Garden, tell you it was a gift for you, and then tell you that couldn’t eat any fruit from any of these beautiful trees?  What a shame.”  He shook in his head at the thought.

“No, that’s not right,” Eve said, glancing at him for an instant.  But her eyes were drawn back to that fruit.  It hung so low to the ground.  She took a step towards the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, then stopped.  “No, that’s not right at all.  The Three-in-One didn’t tell us we couldn’t eat from any tree in the Garden.  He gave us all of this, but He warned us not to eat from that tree because if we did, our spirits would die.”

The serpent laughed.  “You will NOT die.  That is ridiculous!  Your Three-in-One is holding out on you.  He knows that if you eat that fruit, you will become just like Him.  And He doesn’t want that.”

Eve considered this for a moment, then responded, “I don’t think that’s true.”

“What’s not true?” Adam asked, startling her as he walked up behind her.  “And who are you?” he asked the serpent.

“Who I am doesn’t matter.  Your Three-in-One isn’t who you think he is.  He’s deceiving you,” the serpent hissed.

“Well, let’s talk to Him about that right now,” Adam said.  He looked at Eve and she nodded back at him.  Together, they called out, “Elyon!  Logos!  Ruach!  Please help us!”  In an instant, the Three-in-One were with them, standing around them.

“How can we help you?” He asked.

“This serpent…he told me you were lying to us about the Tree,” Eve said.  “But You have provided so much for us, given us such a beautiful Garden in which to live.  We don’t believe You are deceiving us.”

“What should we do?” Adam asked.  “Help us know what to do.”

“You must choose,” Logos responded for the Three-in-One.  “Do you trust Me?  Or will you listen to the serpent?”

Adam and Eve looked at one another.  The Three-in-One had always cared for them, always provided for them.  The serpent…they didn’t even know who the serpent was.”

Adam spoke for them.  “We trust You.  Always.”

“Then tell the serpent to be gone, and he must leave,” Logos replied.

Adam looked at the serpent.  “You are not wanted here,” he said.  “Be gone.”

The serpent snarled in protest, started to speak.  But Logos raised a hand, pointing at him, and in a flash of light, the serpent was gone.

Now Elyon spoke.  “He has been banished from the Garden, by your choice.  He will never return unless you invite him.  But beware – never invite him.  His true name is Accuser and Deceiver, the Father of Lies.  He crouches like a predator, seeking to steal all that you have, to kill, to destroy all that you enjoy.  However – the choice will always lie before you.” 

And then the Three-in-One looked at one another and smiled.  Then spoke.  “Come, let us take our customary walk together in the cool of the evening.”

Wednesday Book Review – Noah Primeval

Chronicles of the Nephilim Series

Noah Primeval is the first book in an 8-book fiction series called “Chronicles of the Nephilim.”  The series spans several millennia, from the days of Noah through the time of Christ.

Brian Godawa, the author, has written a number of books and is also a screenwriter whose credits include Frank Peretti’s The Visitation and To End All Wars, which starred Kiefer Sutherland.  He has won numerous awards for his screenwriting and is active in the arts as well as in teaching the importance of Christians being involved in the arts.  He is also a member of the Studio Task Force at Biola University.

The Chronicles of the Nephilim is historical Christian fiction with a Frank Peretti This Present Darkness feel to it.  Drawing heavily from the extra-biblical Book of Enoch, Godawa posits that a group of fallen angels, The Watchers, are actively involved in human affairs, posing as pagan gods and working to corrupt humanity and thus disrupt God’s prophetic plan to redeem mankind through the Chosen Seed, Noah’s descendant – Jesus Christ, who will one day be born.

Godawa’s series is, in his own words, probably a PG-13 read, not intended for young children.  There are at times graphic violence and other material that some may find objectionable, but which is in many ways an accurate portrayal of the horrific results of the enemy and his allies at work in our world.

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For those who enjoy history and fiction, I would recommend the series.  It’s an interesting and entertaining creative take on the history of redemption.  But be warned – this is no Christian Bookseller’s Association Christian romance type of book.  It’s a gritty, sometimes disturbing but epic story of God’s enemies at work in this world, God’s people responding to God’s call, and the angels of God working to help God’s people fulfill their destiny against the twisted plans of the enemy.

If you’re curious, you can read the first book, Noah Primeval, for free as an ebook by clicking through here.  If you enjoy speculative fiction, historical and Biblical fiction, and light horror, you may find this series is an excellent read.  However, be warned that if you don’t like any of those, you would hate this series and you really should probably look elsewhere for a good fiction read.  (Jan Karon’s Mitford series is a great series for those who love more positive, less earthy fiction.  I’ll do a review on that series soon.)

Rather than try to summarize the whole series, here is Godawa’s own book-by-book summary from his website:

Chronicles of the Nephilim is a saga that charts the rise and fall of the Nephilim and just what their place is in the evil plans of the fallen Sons of God called, “The Watchers.” These rogue members of God’s divine council will stop at nothing to win their war as the Seed of the Serpent against the Seed of Eve.

  • Book 1, Noah Primeval, reveals the hero’s journey of Noah that leads to God’s second act of judgment against this diabolical plan of the Watchers: The Deluge.
  • The Lost Book 2, Enoch Primordial, is a prequel to Noah Primeval that tells the forgotten story of the original descent of the Watchers on Mount Hermon and their introduction of the Nephilim into the created order. Enoch, is God’s man to call down judgment on the Watchers and their giant progeny, the Nephilim.
  • Book 3, Gilgamesh Immortal, is about the giant king Gilgamesh of Uruk in Mesopotamia after the Flood. Two thirds god and one third man, this mighty warrior embarks on an epic journey to find immortality with his friend and Right Hand, Enkidu, the “wild-born” of the steppe. His quest leads him to Noah in a faraway land, but what he discovers will change history forever.
  • Book 4, Abraham Allegiant, tells the story of the Watchers inheriting the nations and the rebirth of the Nephilim and their next battle in the war of the seed of the Serpent against the seed of Eve. Be on the lookout for Nimrod, the builder of the Tower of Babel and his diabolical minions. Sodom and Gomorrah will burn.
  • Books 5 & 6, Joshua Valiant, and Caleb Vigiliant are the tales of Joshua’s campaign to eradicate the Nephilim from their infestation of ancient Canaan. Can the mighty Og of Bashan, the last of the giant Rephaim, be defeated? What about the Anakim giants who fill the land, and their goal to destroy the Seedline of Abraham?
  • Book 7, David Ascendant, tells the story of how David and his Mighty Men overcame the last of the Rephaim giants left in Gaza, Ashdod, and Gath, home of the monstrous Goliath and the elite squad of giant assassins, the Sons of Rapha, who are now hunting David.
  • Book 8, Jesus Triumphant is about Christ’s victory over the principalities and powers of darkness that rule the earth. But he has to go into the bowels of hell and kick some demon butt. Suffice it to say, when it comes to spiritual warfare, Jesus was no pacifist.

If you’re looking for a Ted Dekker-like epic series, this is the one for you.  If Ted Dekker’s kind of fiction isn’t your thing…best to skip this series.

Wednesday Book Review – The Last Arrow

So far, I’ve posted only positive books reviews.  That’s partly because if a book doesn’t quickly capture my attention, I drop it.  There are just too many books to read, so why waste my time on something that doesn’t hold my interest, and why tell you about a book in which I’m not interested????

Once in a very great while, though, among all the great books I read, I come across a book that stands head and shoulders above the rest – a book that is just life-changing.  The Last Arrow by Erwin Raphael McManus is one of those books.

Erwin Raphael McManus describes himself as an author, futurist, filmmaker, and designer.  His author profile says that he is known as “an iconoclast, artist, and cultural thought leader who is recognized for his integration of creativity and spirituality.  He is the founder and Lead Pastor of Mosaic, a Los Angeles based church of faith recognized as one of America’s most influential and innovative churches.”

And he is an amazing inspirational author.

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The Last Arrow begins with a scene that unfolded in McManus’ life in December 2016 – sitting in a doctor’s office and hearing the dreaded words, “You have cancer.”  From there, the book touches on McManus’s journey, different events that are part of his life’s journey, and the testimonies of friends and acquaintances who have encountered Jesus and gone “all in” for the Kingdom of God.

The concept for the book comes from a story about Elisha near the end of his life.  King Jehoash of Israel wants Elisha’s blessing and direction.  He visits Elisha, who is on his deathbed.  Elisha orders him to shoot an arrow out of the window of the room, and then prophesies victory over the Arameans.  Next, Elisha commands him to strike the ground with the remaining arrows.  Jehoash complies, striking the ground three times, but Elisha becomes angry and tells him that he should have struck the ground five or six times – because then he would have completely defeated his enemies.  Instead, Elisha tells him, because he only struck the ground three times, he would only defeat his enemies three times.

What a bizarre story!  The king apparently didn’t know any better; but something in his actions showed a lack of faith and perseverance that were necessary to complete victory.

McManus uses this story, and others from the life of Elisha, to demonstrate the power of living our lives full-out for God – of spending every arrow we have in this life, leaving nothing for the next life.  Because, after all, we will not need arrows in heaven.  The victory will be won.

McManus focuses on some important themes in living our lives in such a way that we hold nothing back – his chapter titles demonstrate this.  They include:  Save Nothing for the Next Life; Choose the Future; Set Your Past on Fire; Act Like Your Life Depends on It; Stand Your Ground; Find Your People; and Know What You Want, among others.

The book is chock full of stories, testimonies, and challenges to get out of our comfort zones and to fully engage with both Jesus and our culture so that we can leave a legacy with our lives.  You’ll read, for example:

  • Erwin’s spur-of-the-moment trip to Brazil for the World Cup Final that resulted in him having an opportunity to share his faith with a Brazilian family;
  • How God was able to us 9/11 to increase Erwin’s opportunities to serve Him because Erwin chose to live in faith rather than in fear;
  • How God used Erwin’s wife and daughter to minister to a family who is helping free women from human trafficking; and
  • How God used a trip to Beirut to challenge Erwin out of his comfort zone.

But of everything he writes in the book, perhaps the dedication challenged me the most:

“Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. – Psalm 127:4

To my arrows: Aaron Christopher McManus, who has never backed down from a fight, and to Mariah McManus Goss, who is as fearless as she is fierce.

Long after I rest my bow and have struck my last arrow, there will still be arrows flying true: their names are Aaron and Mariah. The trajectories of their lives will take them far beyond the ground I have taken. If they were once my arrows, they are now my archers. I dedicate this book to them and the future they represent.

Aaron and Mariah: You are the tip of the spear. You are the future. This is your fight. I pulled the bow back as far as I could and gave you all the strength I had to send you into flight. Fly far and true. Cross enemy lines. Hit the mark. Set captives free. Keep striking until the battle’s won. —Dad”

I want to live my life like that.  I want to be a Dad like that.  If that stirs your passion, stop reading whatever you are reading now and pick up a copy of The Last Arrow by Erwin Raphael McManus.

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.

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!