Prologue Part 10 – The Shadowlands

Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, months into years.

All around Adam and Eve, Creation continued to change. It was still good and still beautiful; still an expression of the Three-in-One’s creativity.

But it was broken.

The effects of Adam and Eve’s disobedience was spreading across the entire earth. Death had entered the world, and now it was a plague that was infecting everyone and everything. Plants; animals; fish; birds. Adam and Eve had seen animals that once loved one another fighting and killing and even eating one another. They themselves had found that they often disagreed and argued. Conflict seemed to be the state of the world now.

So much had changed. Not only did all the animals now fight and prey upon one another, they were also no longer friends to Adam and Eve. Some were threatening to Adam and Eve – they found that some of the animals could no longer be trusted, and some even attempted to prey upon them. The very animals that they had known intimately now feared, hated, or even desired to kill them.

Living in the wild was so different, too. They no longer enjoyed the protection and the blessings that Eden had provided for them. And where they had never had to work for their food – it simply grew, and fell into their hands when it was ripe – now Adam had to tend the land and work the ground, battling weeds and weather and even animals for the food that they needed to survive. Adam and Eve both missed Eden – it was a never-ending ache that nagged at both of them, a sense of loss that colored everything that they saw and did.

And the world looked different. Everything was different. The sun still shone, but even on the most glorious day, it wasn’t as bright or as colorful as it had been before…before the serpent and the Tree. The clouds seemed darker. The sky was blue, but somehow not as blue. It seemed as though some colors no longer existed. There was a vague memory of them…but Adam and Eve couldn’t quite bring them to mind or imagine what they had looked like.

The plants and trees…they died too. At times they would change – the plants would change colors or wither; the trees would shed their leaves and their bareness against the sky seemed to cry out for what once had been.

What Elyon had prophesied had come to pass. Creation had been corrupted, and as Adam and Eve watched, helpless to change it, the corruption grew.

Creation had been transformed. The Earth had become the Shadowlands. It now lay under the sway of the wicked serpent.

But Adam and Eve remembered. Elyon had promised that one day…one day, Logos would crush the serpent’s head. One day, they thought…perhaps all things would be restored.

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.

Friday Fiction – Judgment

Shadowlands Prologue Part 8

“Did you eat from the Tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

There was no accusation in the voice.  Only a deep sadness.

“It wasn’t me.” Adam spoke up.  “It was the woman.  The one YOU gave me.”

Elyon looked Eve.  “Is this true? What have you done, Eve?”

“It was the serpent YOU created,” she said.  Neither she nor Adam would look up at Elyon.

Elyon continued to stand in front of Adam and Eve.  But Logos turned towards the underbrush.  In a loud voice – a voice that Adam and Eve had never heard Him use – he commanded, “Serpent!  Come out!  Show yourself!”

They heard a rustling in the bushes, and then the serpent appeared, skipping out into the clearing.  He laughed and pranced with glee.  “Isn’t this something?” he asked.  “Now, whatever are you going to do?  Are you to kill these Image-Bearers like you promised?  I can’t wait to see!”

Elyon turned to the serpent and pronounced judgment.  “I will deal with my Children in a moment.  But first, you.  You were a liar and a deceiver from the beginning.  Your rebellion grows deeper.  And now – now, you are cursed above all livestock and and all wild animals.  You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.”  As he spoke, the serpent shriveled, his paws and arms receding into his side, his fur falling off, and his two legs and tail melding into one long, hairless tail.  He fell to the ground, now a long, thin creature that looked like a vine with no leaves.  As Adam and Eve watched in shock, scales grew over his pale skin, covering him.  He slithered now, backing away from Elyon.

But Logos stopped his progress, stepping in his path.  Elyon continued, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers.”  He looked up from the serpent at Logos, tears in His eyes.  “This serpent will strike at your heel, my Son.”  As Adam and Eve watched, it seemed as though Logos was transformed for an instant – He looked as though He had been badly beaten.  Blood was flowing from his forehead, and wounds appeared in His hands, His feet, and His side.  Adam and Eve both blinked – what was this?  But just as quickly, He appeared as He always had, whole and perfect.  Something must have been playing tricks with their eyes.

Elyon looked back at the serpent.  “Yes, you will strike at His heel.  But my Son will crush your head.  He will finish this.”

Logos stepped aside, and without a word, the serpent slithered off into the deep grass.

Then Elyon turned back to Adam and Eve.  He sighed deeply. 

“Eve,” he said, his voice filled with love.  “My dearly beloved daughter.  Because of your choice, pain has entered my Creation.  This means that your pain in child-bearing will be multiplied.  Giving birth to new Image-Bearers will involve painful labor.  You will desire to please your husband, and yet to control him.  But he will rule over you – not always in an honorable way.”

And then He looked at Adam.  “My dearly beloved son,” He said, “You kept silent.  You did not protect Eve.  You listened to her, and You ate the fruit, disobeying My command.  Because of these actions, my Creation has been corrupted.  The ground is now cursed, and will not bear fruit without great toil and work.  You will labor hard to produce food, and yet weeds will grow and choke what you have planted.  Life will now be much more difficult, much different than you have known.”

He paused for a moment, then spoke again.  “Adam, I created you from the ground – from the dust of the earth.  Eve, you were created from Adam.  And so both of you came from the dust of the earth, and both of you shall return to the dust of the earth.”

Adam and Eve were stunned.  They didn’t understand exactly what this meant, but it sounded ominous.

And then the Three-in-One spoke together.  This time, Adam and Eve understood clearly.

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

Friday Fiction – The Fall

Shadowlands Prologue – Part 7

Eve plucked the fruit from the tree and pulled it close, inspecting it.  Fresh juice ran down her hand, some dripping off her wrist, some off her elbow.  The smell was intoxicating.  As she looked, the fruit seemed like no other piece of fruit she had ever seen before.  It was beautiful, the most appealing thing she could ever remember seeing.  It seemed that the air carried the taste before she even bit into it.  Desire welled up within her.

The serpent watched, expectantly.  Eve glanced at Adam, but he was as captivated by the fruit as she was.

Enough of this.  She raised the fruit to her mouth and bit into it.  Juice dribbled down her chin as taste, unlike anything she had ever before experienced, burst in her mouth.  “Adam!” she exclaimed.  “You have to try this!”

He reached for it, and she extended the fruit to his mouth.  He bit in also, and found the experience as delightful as had Eve.

The serpent began to laugh.  He turned and walked off into underbrush.

And then everything changed.

Both of them realized at the same instant that they were naked.  Despite the fact that no other human being was there, just the two of them – two who had shared intimacy since their creation – they were suddenly ashamed.  Blushing, clutching to cover themselves up, they turned away from one another, looking for something, anything they could find.

Eve was the first to speak. “We need to…we have to make something to cover ourselves with,” she stuttered.  “Over there – those leaves.  We can weave some of them together.”  For the first time ever, they were both ashamed to look at one another.

They had just finished fashioning simple clothes for themselves when they heard something.  It was the Three-In-One, walking through the Garden, calling their names.  “Adam!  Eve!  Where are you?”

“Quick!” Adam whispered.  “We have to hide!  They can’t see us like this!”  Scrambling, they crawled under some bushes – another first for them.

The Three-in-One came striding into the clearing and stopped.  Looking around, they called out.  “Adam.  Eve.  Where are you?  Why are you hiding?”

Trembling with shame and embarrassment, they stayed underneath the bushes.  Eve jabbed at Adam with her finger.  “Say something!” she hissed.  “They know we’re here!”

“We hid…because we heard you coming…and we were naked,”  Adam said in a quavering voice.

As Adam and Eve peered through the leaves, the Three-in-One lowered their head.  It seemed as though waves of sadness – something Adam and Eve had never experienced before – flowed from the Three-in-One.  “Come out,” the Three-in-One said quietly.  As Adam and Eve crawled out, the Three-in-One resolved into their three separate forms.  Elyon stood there, magnificent and glorious, and Adam and Eve couldn’t bear to look at Him.  At His right hand, Logos stood.  It seemed that water flowed from His eyes.  Above them both, Ruach hovered, His Presence peaceful and comforting and yet…and yet, it was also convicting.  Adam and Eve knew they had done something terrible.

Elyon looked at both of them, love radiating from His very being.  And yet, Adam and Eve still could not bear to look up at His face – that beautiful, loving face that they had looked at and talked with on so many occasions.

“Who told you that you were naked?” He asked.

No response.  Ashamed silence.

“Did you eat from the Tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

There was no accusation in the voice.  Only a deep sadness.

“It wasn’t me.” Adam spoke up.  “It was the woman.  The one YOU gave me.”

Still No “Lite and Fluffy”

I really really really really really wanted and planned on writing a “lite and fluffy” blog.  Sun is shining, flowers blooming, happy people, all is right with the worlds, unicorns and rainbows.  Really.

But life just doesn’t cooperate.

Life is hard right now.  Last week, in my sermon, I said that I felt like every day was like walking through chest-deep mud.  This week?  It feels like the mud’s 3 feet above my head and I’m using a snorkel just to breathe while I try to push through it.

It’s not just about me.  I’m doing all right, slogging along.  Further along than I was last week.  But my family is hurting.  I have friends that are hurting.  I learned things Saturday, yesterday, last night that tear at me.  There are people close to me, intimate friends, acquaintances, even people who aren’t as close but who are still very important to me who are just dealing with a lot of pain and loss in life right now.  And the more you know about the pain of others, the more you tend to carry.

I’m in this season in my life that is not fun but in which God is working.  In the midst of it all, I’m re-visiting and re-learning some important lessons.  I’ll just share a couple with you this morning as food for thought.

  • I can’t control anything and I can’t fix anything.  As Danny Silk says, on a good day, I can control myself.  But beyond that?  Nothing.  I can’t control how others respond, I can’t control what people do with sound, biblical advice, I can’t control the choices other make with their lives, I can’t control the circumstances or the suffering of other people, I can’t control the level of anyone’s pain, I can’t control the hard times that some people are facing, I can’t control debilitating illnesses that people are facing.  None of it.  I want to.  I want to take their pain away, remove their obstacles, fix things, heal illnesses.  But I can’t do any of that.  Only Jesus can.  All I can do is trust Him and pray for them.
  • “You will never rise above your level of self-awareness.  It is the lid on your life.”  Dr. Rob Reimer taught me this in one of the first Soul Care conferences I ever attended.  The older I get, the more I realize it is true.  There is stuff in my life with which I will never deal, address, or change until I am aware of it.  I am thankful for a loving family and close, intimate allies (as John Eldredge calls them) who are courageous enough to point out my blind spots.  I am thankful for the voice of the Father and for journaling as tools of self-discovery.  But this truth affects us in other ways.  You see, the people in my life will never rise above their level of self-awareness.  And when you’re in a situation where you’re dealing with someone and trying to help them but they either can’t or aren’t willing to see, you can’t help them.  They will never rise above their level of self-awareness, and they will never receive help or encouragement or strengthening because they won’t see their need for it.  (That was exactly what Jesus experienced with the Pharisees – they were blind to their own hypocrisy and sinfulness and couldn’t hear or receive what He tried to speak into them.)
  • This is a season.  It may not be the best season or the worst season.  It may be a season that I hate.  But it’s a season.  It won’t last forever.  And I can choose to let God refine me through, or I can fight Him.  I can recognize I can’t control anything and do everything I can to love and care for people in this season, or I can withdraw and hide.  But it’s only a season.
  • And finally, I will continue to rest on God’s promises, like Psalm 46:1 – 5 (NIV) God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.  There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.  God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. 

Friday Fiction – The Serpent

Shadowlands Prologue Part 6

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.  Without realizing it, she began to walk slowly towards the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  “The Three-in-One didn’t tell us we couldn’t eat from any tree in the Garden.  He warned us not to eat from that tree, not even to touch its fruit,” she said, pointing, “or if we did, our spirits would die.”

The serpent threw back his head and laughed.  “Your spirits will NOT die,” he said.  “You foolish woman!  How could you believe that?  Eating a piece of fruit would cause you to die?  Oh, my.  I can’t believe that you have been so deceived.  Elyon doesn’t want you to eat that fruit because…well, I probably shouldn’t tell you.”

They were now standing right under the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, a branch laden with fruit at eye-level, right in front of Eve.  It looked so ripe, so luscious – unlike any other fruit she had ever eaten.  It smelled delicious.  Her mouth began to water.  She responded to the serpent without taking her eyes off of the fruit: “What?  Tell me, serpent.  Why doesn’t Elyon want us to eat the fruit?”

“Yes, why?”  It was Adam.  He had returned, having discovered nothing but a couple of broken branches on a few small trees.  “Why would Elyon lie to us?  Why would he tell us not to eat this fruit?”

The serpent laughed again.  “Why?  Because he is afraid!  He doesn’t want you to eat this fruit because this fruit is special – it is magic.  The truth is that if you eat this fruit, you won’t die.  Instead, you will become just as wise and as powerful as him!  There are things you don’t know and don’t understand – and this fruit will make you wise.  Your eyes will be opened to things that are hidden from you!”

“Really?” Adam asked.  “Why would you say that?”

The serpent didn’t answer.  Instead, he tightened his grip on Eve’s shoulder, pushing her closer to the branch.  “Look at it,” he whispered.  “It’s so beautiful.  You can smell how wonderful it is…can you imagine how it must taste?  And think of it – one bite and you’ll become like Elyon.  You’ll be like the creator.  You could do anything you want!”

Adam stood there silently, unsure of what to do.

Eve looked at the fruit – smelled it.  She caressed it with her eyes.  It looked so lovely – more than any fruit she had ever eaten.  And it would taste so good.  And…it would make her as wise as Elyon?  She felt so foolish that she had never eaten it.

The serpent pointed with his other paw.  “Go ahead and touch it,” he said.  “You’ll see.  Nothing will happen.  Then you’ll know it’s okay to eat it.”

She reached out and touched it.  Nothing happened.

So she wrapped her hand around it and plucked it from the Tree.

Book Review – Mansions of the Heart

A few years ago, one of my closest friends gave me a hardback copy of the book Mansions of the Heart by R. Thomas Ashbrook.  He told me it was a life-changing book.  I looked at it, began it, and set it aside because I had so many other books stacked up to read.  A few months later, I was dealing with some life issues that led me to pick it back up again and to read it through.  My friend had been right – it was a life-changer that helped me understand my own life’s journey, my spiritual growth, and where I needed to head on my journey.  Just a few weeks ago, I finished reading through the book for the second time after deciding late this summer that I needed a refresher.

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R. Thomas Ashbrook, the author, who also wrote the novel Presence – What if Jesus Were Really Here?, is the Director of Spiritual Formation for Church Resource Ministries, and he leads Imago Dei, which is CRM’s international spiritual formation ministry.  A Lutheran pastor with twenty-six years of experience in ministry, Tom has degrees in aeronautical engineering, management systems, pastoral ministry, and spiritual formation.  He lives in Centennial, Colorado with his wife Charlotte.

Mansions of the Heart is patterned after St. Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle, a picture of spiritual formation that has helped many followers of Jesus in the five plus centuries since she wrote it.  It’s a picture that helps us understand the journey that we are taking and the process that God uses to transform us throughout our lives.

The book begins by dealing with four of the dead-ends that believers have tried time and time again, to no avail – pursuing personal holiness; service to God; spiritual wholeness; and enlightened study and understanding.  Ashbrook points out that while all of these are good and important, they rely upon our effort rather than abiding in Christ, which is the only real way to experience personal transformation.  Ashbrook uses the seven interior rooms that Teresa described as a road map to help us understand our pasts, our journey with Christ, and how He takes us deeper in our walk with Him along our life’s journey.

Here is a brief summary of each mansion (or room) – each stage of our process:

  • The First Mansion – a new beginning.  This is salvation – the place where we recognize our need for salvation, believe on Jesus, and place our trust in Him and in His work on the cross for our eternal life.
  • The Second Mansion – between a rock and hard place.  This is a place where our faith is deepening, and yet we struggle with temptation and are still engaged somewhat in earthly pursuits.  There is tension between what we want and what the Holy Spirit is revealing to us as we grow.
  • The Third Mansion – following Jesus.  It may take us years to get to this place, but this is the place where we are living consistent lives as disciples.  Scripture, prayer, church attendance, fellowship, a desire to please God – these are all consistent parts of our life at this place.
  • The Fourth Mansion – discovering the love of Jesus – a place of new depth in our walk with Jesus, where we experience a growing intimacy with Him.
  • The Fifth Mansion – longing for oneness with God.  Ashbrook describes it this way:  “The fifth mansion is a time of transition where our focus moves even further from doing to being, from serving to loving. God is calling us to begin to live according to the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus in John 17, the call to union with God. Our one desire is for God, Himself.”
  • The Sixth Mansion – the passion of God’s love.  This is where we have fully “fallen in love” with God, and are experiencing deep times in God’s Presence.  When it seems that God is absent, it is deeply painful.  This is where we are learning what it means to truly and fully live “in Christ.”
  • The Seventh Mansion – a life of love in the Trinity.  Ashbrook writes, “The seventh mansion represents the ultimate degree of intimacy with God that one can experience in this life: spiritual union with the Trinity. As is true with each of the prior mansions, this is still a season of our journey, not a milestone or destination. But in this season, we come to experience a complete integration of mind, body, and spirit in the life of Christ. At its fullest, it is the realization of the apostle Paul’s statement, ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me’ (cf. Gal. 2:20).”

Ashbrook also devotes a chapter to the experience that John of the Cross called “The Dark Night of the Soul” – a season of loss, of dryness, of feeling that God is absent and that His voice cannot be heard.  That chapter alone is powerful and helpful.

For each mansion/season, the author walks through several important issues for that season, including our heart’s desire, key activities, what ministry will look like to us, how our prayer lives will change, how the enemy will most often attack us, and finally, keys for growth in that time.

You can purchase the Kindle edition here.  If you are serious about spiritual formation and about your journey with Jesus, this book is a great addition to your library.