Book Review – The Celtic Book of Days

Book Review – The Celtic Book of Days

Two of my best friends recently had an incredible opportunity – to travel to Ireland for a doctoral level class on St. Patrick and the history of the Irish church. As I talked with one of them about the trip before they left, he recommended several books that were required reading for the course. As I looked at some of them, it stirred my desire to learn more about Celtic Christianity and its practices, which led me to a LOT of time browsing on Amazon, and eventually, to The Celtic Book of Days.

The timing was perfect for me. I had felt “stuck” for a couple of months in my quiet times – just sort of going through the motions, not sure where to read in the Bible, not motivated to journal – stuck.

I bought and downloaded The Celtic Book of Days and immediately benefited from it.

In some ways, it’s very similar to most devotionals. There are daily themes, daily Scripture readings, a verse to ponder, a short devotional meditation, and then a closing reading of some kind – often a prayer or a quote from ancient Celtic Christian writings.

The daily Scripture readings are broken down very simply – a Psalm, a reading from another Old Testament passage, and a reading from a New Testament passage. Usually after the list, there is a verse to read and consider.

But the actual devotional material is what sets this book apart. Some are writings from various Celtic theologians and spiritual leaders. But many are stories from the lives of great Celtic saints. Here are a few examples:

• Drithelm, a man who died and then shocked his family by coming back to life the next day. While dead, he had an unusual vision and experience that led him to give away his entire estate and join a monastery.

• Columba, a bishop who had a vision of angels coming to take him home to heaven. Many of his monks prayed that God would spare his life. Much to Columba’s disappointment, God gave him four more years of life on this earth before taking him home.

• Ciaran, a young man who was used mightily by God to plant many churches. He was struck down by the plague. Knowing he was dying, he asked to be shut up in a little church until his friend Kevin could see him one last time. Ciaran died, but was left in the church by his fellow monks. When Kevin arrived, Ciaran’s spirit re-entered his body and he was granted one day of fellowship with his friend Kevin. At the end of the day, he blessed his friend and then passed on.

These kinds of stories fill the book. They are faith-building and inspiring. I have found myself encouraged and challenged as I have read and journaled my way through the Book of Days over the past few months.

I would highly recommend this devotional to anyone who is looking for something different, something unique, or something to help “jumpstart” them out of a difficult time and place spiritually. You can purchase the Kindle edition here.

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.

Expendable Relationships?

I recently finished reading the latest book by Erwin Raphael McManus, The Last Arrow. (I wrote a book review on it last week.) The following quote from the book was one of the most thought-provoking for me:

“In fact, if the Scriptures are to be taken seriously, there is no journey toward God that does not bring us to each other. You might begin the journey alone, but the place where God is taking you is a land called Together…It’s odd how we prioritize the things that matter to us. We choose a career or job; we choose a city or place to live. We make so many things important to us, but in all the things we factor in as we craft our futures, we make the people in our lives a commodity of, at best, secondary importance. We would take a job and give up our people rather than choose a tribe and give up the job. We don’t say it like this, but many of us have been mentored by a culture that makes money more important than relationships. You can always meet new people; you can always make new friends; you can always find a new church. In our way of thinking, these are expendable, replaceable aspects of our lives. When it comes to relationships, many of us have chosen to be mercenaries.” [McManus, Erwin Raphael. The Last Arrow: Save Nothing for the Next Life (p. 148). Kindle Edition.]

Wow. My thinking was stimulated and challenged on this. It was a perspective I had never heard expressed, nor considered – choosing a tribe, choosing people, and staying with them rather than going wherever a career or job or favorable climate lead us to live.

The truth is that many of us live as though people and our relationships are expendable. As a pastor, I see people change churches often. They don’t like the music, or they don’t like the pastor, or they get offended in one way or another, someone lets them down or disappoints them, or they just get bored and want something new. Sometimes the issues run much deeper than that and are much more complex, but that is often not the case.

And it’s not just an issue of churches and lay people. I’ve done the same thing as a pastor, and I know a lot of pastors who do the same thing. Yes, God sometimes calls us to a new ministry in a new town. Sometimes He brings us into a new season and a new location. But sometimes, to be honest, we run from our problems and seek a new ministry location rather than face the hard issues or work through our problems and problematic relationships and issues. Sometimes it’s easier to uproot ourselves and our families than it is to face conflict, try to deal with it, and grow through it.

Please don’t read this as me saying none of us should ever leave, none of us should ever end a relationship, none of us should ever move, change jobs, or make transitions in our lives. God absolutely leads us to different places and relationships at different seasons in our lives. I am simply pointing out that sometimes in our transitions, we look more at personal gain rather than listen to God – or consider the cost in relationships. How different our lives – and our society – might be if relationships became a primary consideration in our life choices.

We are all part of the same Body. We are called to represent the Body, to live as the Body, and to love as the Body.

How fortunate for us that God never considers a single one of us as expendable. May we continue to learn to love and honor one another as He loves and honors us!

Friday Fiction – Eviction

Shadowlands Prologue Part 9

“You must leave Eden.  You cannot be here, and you cannot come here ever again.”

Adam and Eve gasped.  But Elyon was not finished.

“First, you must be covered.  And without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin.”

Logos stepped forward and turned towards the meadow.  As Adam and Eve watched, He walked off.  Several moments passed, and then He returned, shepherding along several lambs.  Adam and Eve called out to them, as they always had.  But this time, the lambs did not speak.  They opened their mouths, but no words came – only bleating.  Unsure of what this meant, Adam and Eve looked at one another, then looked at Elyon. 

“It began the moment you sinned,” he said.  “Creation is beginning to experience the effects of your choice.  The animals have lost their voices.  But this is the least of all that will follow.”

Logos approached with the lambs, and then knelt.  He looked up at Adam and Eve, tears streaming down His face.  “The blood price must be paid,” He said.  “You will be spared, but these lambs will shed their blood and give their hides to cover your nakedness and shame.  This will be the way of atonement for sins…”  At this, He paused and looked up at Elyon.  A shadow crossed Elyon’s face, and Ruach shimmered a dark, crimson color.  Elyon finished Logos’ sentence:  “Until the day that the prophecy is fulfilled.  Until Eve’s seed crushes the serpent’s head.”

Adam and Eve watched, broken-hearted, as the lambs were slaughtered and then coverings were fashioned for them out of the lifeless bodies.

And then it was time to leave Eden.

*                                   *                                    *

The Three-in-One walked with Adam and Eve as they followed the course of one of the rivers through the Garden and to the hills that rose up, separating the Garden from the outside world.  When they reached the hillside, the Three-in-One hugged Eve and then Adam, reminding them that they were His beloved.  A few more instructions, and a promise:  “I will not leave you, nor forsake you.  Look for me.”

Adam took Eve’s hand and they walked along the river’s edge, out through the entrance to the Garden.  When they reached the other side of the hill, they looked back.  As they watched, a Seraph – a Fiery One, an ancient warrior – stepped into the gap and drew its sword.  The Seraph towered above the top of the hill, standing guard at the entrance to the Garden. Behind it, the sides of the hill began to close in, and the ground beneath swelled up, until a solid wall of earth was behind the Seraph.  Adam and Eve could no longer see the Garden.

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They stopped to survey the wilderness around them.  They had been here many times before, but it looked much different now.  Some of the trees had begun to die.  Others had dropped fruit, which was now rotting on the ground.  New plants appeared – but they looked strange, uninviting.  Some were covered with spikes or other kinds of growths which were completely unfamiliar to Adam and Eve.

As they stood there, trying to understand the changes that were taking place, a zebra trotted into the clearing.  Adam called out to it, but as soon as it heard the sound of his voice, it looked towards him, and then ran off, terrified.  What was this?  The animals, who had been such close friends of Adam and Eve, now no longer spoke and were frightened of Adam and Eve.

Adam recalled something that the Three-in-One had told them as they had walked along on their way out of the Garden.  “Darkness will descend and reign over Creation.  A new age has begun.  This good and beautiful Earth will become more corrupt – will become the Shadowlands.  And it will remain the Shadowlands until the day of Kingdom Come.”

The Shadowlands.  Adam and Eve’s new home.

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.

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.

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!

Fear or Faith?

Everyone who has walked with Jesus for any length of time knows that we’re not supposed to fear anything or anyone.

After all, the Bible is filled with “fear not’s.”

And it seems like every time the disciples were afraid, Jesus asked them why they had so little faith.

The truth is that when the sun is shining and life is going well, it’s easy to “fear not.”  It’s also easy to tell others who are dealing with fear to just straighten up and stop fearing.

But the sun doesn’t always shine in our lives.  And the older you get, the more you realize that life doesn’t always go well.  In fact, the older you get, the more you realize that so many things that you thought had control over are really outside of your grasp.

Life can change in an instant.

FearOrFaith

On Tuesday, I had to make a trip with one of my best friends.  On our way into Altoona, we found traffic slowed to a crawl on I-99.  It looked like a car had rear-ended a trailer being towed by a pickup truck, knocking the ATV, a generator, gas cans, and other items off of the trailer.  The car was sitting in the median strip, its hood knocked back over the windshield of the car, the front bumper of the car smashed in.  Beside the car, a woman was on a stretcher.  EMT’s were leaning over her, working on her and getting ready to move her to an ambulance.

I don’t know who the woman was or what her story was.  We never saw who the driver of the pickup truck was.  But I’m sure neither of them were planning on being in that accident when they got up that morning.

My friend and I had been talking about how I’m dealing with facing surgery and some other stressors that have been going on in life.  Then we saw the accident.

It was a reminder that life can change in an instant.  And there is so much over which we have no control.

As we talked, he reminded me, however, that we CAN control how we respond.  We CAN control how we face whatever comes our way.  We CAN control where we focus our attention.

We can focus our attention on uncertainty, on the darkness that is at work in this world, on the situations that are beyond our control, on the people that seek to control us, on fear and on all that causes fear.

Or, we can focus our attention on the One Who is unchanging, the One who holds all things in His hands, the One whose hands were pierced on our behalf, the One who is Light in this dark world and who shines in the darkness, the One who works to bring good out of every situation that is beyond our control, the One to whom every knee will one day bow – the One who has conquered death and the grave and fear.  The One who loves us perfectly – the One whose love can drive away all fear, if we will walk in the revelation of that perfect love.

We can choose fear.

It’s easy to choose fear.  All you have to do is look at the news, look at the economy, look at the uncertainty, look at our own frailty, look at the divisiveness around us, look at the dangers that surround us.

Or we can choose faith in the One who walks with us through the deepest valleys, into the darkest shadows – the One who casts all fear away.

It’s easy to choose Jesus.  All you have to do is look to Him.  Look to Him in silence, in solitude, in His Word, in listening to and participating in worship, in obedience, in submission.  Just begin to look – He will give you the strength to look up.

What will you choose today?


If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.  The paperback version is NOW AVAILABLE for $6.99 plus postage!  For ordering information, contact me at don@donwhunter.com

Little Things

Last week was a stressful week.

I found out that I definitely had to have my the first real surgery of my life.  Jewel had some major breathing issues that we thought were clearing up but that intensified some over the weekend.  I had to deal with a few difficult phone calls and issues that were stressful for me.  I had to deal with some questions for which I had no answers.  There were other things None of them were earth-shattering, and for some people, it all may seem like no big deal.  In some ways, it wasn’t.  But it felt like junk was accumulating, and it was stressful.

I got up this morning, excited to preach, but feeling the effects of the ongoing energy drain I’ve been experiencing.  I knew today would be full, and it would be a good but tiring start to another stressful and very busy week.

Right after the service, an older gentleman whom I’ve know for several years – a visitor from another state – came up to me and asked about my surgery.  We know one another, but we’re not close.  But he took the time to ask about me, to encourage me, to ask what time my surgery would be so he could pray for me.  Another out-of-town friend, someone I knew much better and had spent more time with, had a similar conversation with me.

I walked away from those conversations thinking about how their taking just a few moments to talk with me left me feeling so encouraged and cared-for.

And it got me thinking:  neither one of those conversations was necessarily a “big thing” – but they meant a lot.  I started to think about other “little things” that had happened recently that I had to be thankful for:

  • A simple conversation on Saturday night with a good friend about the Penguins that helped take my mind off of surgery and related concerns.
  • Another close friend who offered to spend part of a day with me this week to just have some fun together.
  • A couple of friends who texted me with encouraging scripture last week on the day I met with the surgeon.
  • An elder who prayed for me this morning.
  • A couple of friends who want to kayak this week before surgery.

I could list a lot more.  And as I think about it, these are my friends…I haven’t even mentioned how blessed I am by my family.

(I know, I’ve talked a lot about “surgery” in this post.  But have you heard the saying “when it’s you, it’s minor surgery; when it’s me, it’s major surgery”???? I understand that a lot better now!)

So all that to say I am thankful.  I have so much for which to be thankful.  So much more to give thanks for than to be stressed about.

Little things can really be big things.  They can help make a huge difference to someone without you realizing it at the time.  A little thing that you do can make a huge difference to someone else’s attitude – can bless them in ways you don’t realize.

What “little thing” might God ask you to do today for someone else?


If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.  The paperback version is NOW AVAILABLE for $6.99 plus postage!  For ordering information, contact me at don@donwhunter.com