Journey Through the Shadowlands – Chapter 1

Allman finally decided he was going to leave home. He could no longer stand to live in this place; it was time to follow his dreams. For as long as he could remember, he had wanted to leave. He had always hungered for something more, always wanted to explore the world outside, and see for himself if any of the stories he heard while growing up were true.

Those stories had captured his imagination as a child, and as he grew into early manhood, their pull on him had grown. Stories of the wealth and beauty of the sprawling cities of Desire, Wealth, and Pride, and of the people who lived in those places. The kind of people who would never think of visiting a place like Average, let alone living there.

There were the occasional whispered rumors – rumors that few gave any credit, yet the few that did insisted they were true. More true, in fact, than anything else. These people believed and spoke of strange things – of a world beyond the Shadowlands, of a dragon who enslaved the people of the Shadowlands without their knowledge, of a far-off land where a great King ruled in the city of Peace – a King who would one day return to the Shadowlands and claim it all as His own. The people who believed these crazy things insisted that the Shadowlands had not always been the Shadowlands, and that when the King did return, there would be a great Restoring of the Shadowlands to what they had once been – a wondrous Garden.

None of it made any sense to Allman. But all of it captured his imagination.

His heart yearned for something more than Average.

He constantly day-dreamed of something different. He spent hours in his mind, fashioning elaborate fantasies of what his life would be like if he lived in Desire – the adulation and awards he would receive, the desires he would see fulfilled, the desires that he would stir in others. The love he would experience. All of his yearnings satisfied.

And Wealth – he could picture thousands of people following him, looking to him for guidance because of all that he possessed. He could see himself ruling a large portion of the city, if not the city itself, with all the things he had ever wanted and done without out. Vast vaults of gold and precious gems would be his. He would deny himself nothing – he could have it all. He imagined himself returning in triumph to Average, showing everyone what he had made of himself, and perhaps even rescuing his parents from what he saw as failed lives.

But then Pride captured his thoughts as well. Pride was a special place, a city of great rejoicing. Most of the inhabitants of Pride had spent years in either Desire or Wealth, and then moved to Pride where they could display their accomplishments and their accumulated possessions to the greatest advantage. Pride was a place where each mansion was its own neighborhood. Allman saw himself retiring one day to Pride, basking in all that his life had become, and showing the other inhabitants of the city how insignificant they were in comparison to him

Every once in a while, though, a tiny voice whispered to him of the city of Peace and the King. It often caught him unaware, as he looked up at the beauty of the night sky or the glow of a sunrise. In those moments, he wondered what it might be like to serve as a knight in the King’s service, battling the Dragon. But thoughts of Desire, Wealth, or Pride would come floating back, and his mind would go there instead.

Enough of wasting time in dreaming and thinking and wishing and yearning, though. It was time for action – time to get what he had always wanted.

Early on the morning of the day that marked his promotion to adulthood, Allman got up, dressed, packed his few meager possessions, and said good-bye to his parents and siblings. Then he set out on the road to Wealth.

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.

Book Review – The Story of With

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

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

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

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

51mYsiFaHJL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a brief summary of what Mia learns:

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

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

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

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.

md21236810181

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!