Monday, October 31, 2016

Rounds (#PoetryMonday*)

The sun fails suddenly
Beyond the standard horizon
Springing dark upon us
Like a trap.
The moon comes out
And pokes around among the stars,
Glowering and full,
As haggard streaks of clouds race
Insanely across the foreboding apparition.
Quietly, we put on the masks,
Bringing our fears to the surface
In these horrific plastic expressions.
Bravely we clench our paper bags
And go out into this crazy
Halloween night.
Miniature spirits, imps, wildlings
Of questionable nature.
Friend or foe? Fearsome or funny?
Solemnly we collect
Our various booty with some risk,
Making the rounds of the neighborhood,
And tracing our small anger on the windows
Dark and empty against us
With crayons of pure soap.
Then race home through the whirling leaves
Scared silly and laughing, anxious to
Eat the treats and tell the tales
Of our treacherous tricks
And the stalking goblins
Sifting through the shadows, at our heels.







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* Its PoMo! To learn about PoMo (POetry MOnday), click here. This one is from my only collection of poetry, “The Godtouch. (Repost: Originally posted on October 21, 2013.)

This is a not so scary poem about Halloween in a more innocent, less bloody time, when scared silly was just that; more silly than scared. Frankly, I abhor the boundless horror that has attached itself to what once was a much more fun experience. There were no worries about razor blades in apples. Kids roamed the neighborhoods safely searching out treats. No one would have thought to try to scare any of us "to death" in the now much too literal sense. Wouldn't mind returning those kinds of Halloweens with more fun and far less terror.



You can get "The Godtouch" using these links:

• Kindle version.

Paperback.

Hardcover.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Have a happy hallowed holy Halloween! Boo!

(A different version of this article was posted
on October 27, 2014 and October 29, 2015)

As a kid I loved Halloween. So did my friends. We dressed up as friendly spooks, good wizards, silly pirates, and raggedy little beggars.

Our goal was candy.

The decorations on the doors we knocked on were of cute hunch-backed kittens, smiling little witches, toothy Jack-o-lanterns, and dancing cardboard skeletons.

Besides trick-or-treating, there were the Halloween parties -- many hosted by our churches -- with games, bobbing for apples, costume judging, apple cider, donuts, and more candy.

It was fun. Innocent fun. I agree that much of the innocence has been lost. Or, rather, ceded by believers.

But even back in the good ol’ days, there were those who were beginning to insist, because some were claiming Halloween had some dark roots, that the holiday was an anathema event for real believers.

There are always party poopers.

Halloween’s tainted muddled history

Yes, I know, there are the claims of our modern Halloween having origins in the Celtic fire festival called Samhain, a celebration related to the end of the harvest season. That it was picked up by the Druids, Wiccans, and other pagan groups and made one of their prime “religious” days. And that now there are those who make it a day of evil.

But Halloween is also tied to All Souls’ Day and All Saints’ Day.

In the day’s title is the clue to a better response from Christians. Halloween is merely a shortened version of All Hallow’s Evening. The definition of “hallow” is “to make or set apart as holy; to respect or honor greatly; revere” (American Heritage Dictionary).

Just as people can be made new and holy in Christ, so certainly can man-made holidays. We don’t need to hide from a calendar event.

Instead of ceding ground to the enemy and letting evil rule, we need to embrace what Paul was admonishing in Ephesians:
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Ephesians 6:10-13, NIV).
In other words, put on your costumes and let your light shine!

Fostering whimsy & joy over horror & fright

There are some churches who have grasped this truth and offer events such as “Holy Ghost Parties” or “Boo Bashes” or the semi-lame “Harvest Happenings.”

While these are moving in the right direction, they do so hesitantly by labeling these events as “alternatives” to Halloween.

It’s time to get over the skittishness and start having truly “Blessed Halloween” events.

The focus is to have fun and not promote fright. Keep things light and point to the “hallowed” aspect by dressing and decorating appropriately.

A simple rule of thumb here is to aim for whimsy and not horror. If anything depicts cruelty, it’s over the line and not appropriate. This eliminates blood, gore, and worse, including “Christian” haunted houses that depict horrible accidents and the like.

Taking back what  was lost

I miss the days of truly “Happy” Halloweens. I abhor what’s become mostly a giant horror-fest. This is due in large part to Christians ceding the culture to unbelievers. We need to reclaim the innocence.

It’s time to push back the darkness and light a candle -- and put it inside a happy Jack-o-lantern. To come out from hiding, uncircle the wagons, take a stand, and put the “holy” into Halloween!

So, have a happy, holy, and blessed Halloween! Just go easy on the candy.



Additional resources:



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Agree? Disagree? Why or why not? Do you enjoy or hate Halloween? What's your favorite Halloween memory from childhood? What's your biggest complaint about Halloween now? Don't be afraid! Sound off in the comments

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Imitation of the Disciples

Most Christians who’ve been in the faith for awhile probably cringe just a tad when the term “discipleship” is uttered in a sermon or during a small group study. Or perhaps this idea of becoming fully Christian is characterized as the “imitation of Christ” or “being transformed.”

Regardless of the terms used, the concept evokes hardship, sacrifice, even death. And our pattern is supposed to be Jesus Himself.

Who can live up to such extreme expectations?

Clearly the Disciples themselves didn’t. At least not consistently. And definitely not early on.

While turning our eyes to Jesus is always good advice, we also need to keep an eye on His hand-picked few.

The best clues for how to be a disciple can be found by examining those imperfect Disciples.

Sure, they all experienced hardship, sacrifice, and death. But in between the noble hardship and sacrifice parts they were, well, very human. Just like you and me.

Just plain folk

A somewhat loutish bunch, they argued among themselves, competed for Jesus’ affections, tended to be a little dense at times, and, initially, failed to fully grasp what they had actually gotten themselves into. Sound familiar?

These guys came from a variety of backgrounds, were mixed personality styles, and brought with them a hodge-podge of life experiences. Perhaps like most churches?

Besides their Jewishness, that they all struggled to fully grasp who Jesus was and what He was about was their single common denominator. And it’s one we share with them.

What this boils down to is, discipleship, or following Christ, is not straightforward. Not cut and dried. Not a cookie cutter experience.

While the outcome is the same for all -- holiness before God -- we don’t all get there using a single formula. Frankly, I’m not sure there is a formula, even though many authors have proposed some.

The truth is, while rewarding, discipleship, which means moving toward being Christ-like, is hard. It takes decisive daily effort. It means trial and error.

Although there are those who insist that if we all just act like we’re “there” already, then all else will fall in place.

You know, fake it until you make it!

But faking is not the same as imitating. Imitating means to emulate another, follow their example. The goal of imitating in discipleship is to take to heart the substance of that which is being imitated.

No artificial ingredients

I once worked for a company whose CEO thought the path to greatness was to dream, think positively, and act like a much bigger company. He executed on this belief by spending beyond the means of the business.

For awhile, he put on a good front. Anyone walking into the lobby of the executive suites was impressed. But it didn’t last. There was a lot of flash and dazzle (including a real stuffed lion for a time), but slim substance in the CEO’s business acumen.

It didn’t work. He’s no longer a CEO and the company lingers as a sub-brand of another, larger, truly successful company that took them over.

To be successful Christ-followers (yes, disciples) we need the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. There lies our true power. It can’t be faked or bought or pretended into being.

The reality is, to paraphrase Paul, as we continue to work out our salvation (which entails discipleship) with fear and trembling, like the original Twelve, we may not always appear to be the perfect disciple.

That’s okay. The goal is to finish the journey well. As Eugene Peterson puts it, successful Christian living (aka discipleship) is a “long obedience in the same direction.” It’s not a once and done deal.

Hang in there. 


Additional resources: 

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How successful do you believe you are in your Christian walk? What motivates you to go on? Who do you model? Who are you mentoring? How have others inspired you? What advice do you have to share with others? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Provision


I was out of college, married for a few years, and a daddy to a little boy. The best jobs I could find where we lived had nothing to do with my degree. I worked construction, janitorial, and sales, but really wanted a job in publishing.

I checked the classifieds in the magazine “Christianity Today.” It happened that a Christian trade magazine in Illinois needed an editor. I had never heard of the magazine, but the job description intrigued me. I prayed, sent my resume, and they called me for an interview.

The magazine was well known in its market. I had no experience and little hope of getting the job. Still, the interview process went well. They sent me home with an assignment to write a feature for the magazine. A couple of weeks after mailing the completed article, they called me again. I was hired and began fulfilling God’s call on my life.

God will enable you to fulfill His purpose for your life.

As God's promises, “He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cries for help and rescues them” (Psalm 145:19, NLT).


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How has God provided for you? How did He equip you just in the nick of time? Share your experiences  and thoughts in the comments!

NOTE: For the past and for the next several weeks, Tuesday’s post will be a brief two-minute devotional. Think, “Tuesday Two-Minute Devotional” or “Two-Minute Tuesdays or something  along those lines. ;-)

Thursday, October 20, 2016

An interview with Stephen R. Clark, author of the award-winning new religious thriller, "The Hungering Dark: Awakening"

Why did you write this novel?

At first I was just fooling around with an idea that hit me a few years back, trying to write a simple short story. The problem was, the idea just wouldn’t fit into a short story.

When I realized this idea was too big for a short story, I wanted to see if I could actually write something as long as a novel. So, I decided to just go for it. It became a challenge.

I’d written a much shorter Christmas-themed novella of around 25,00 words -- Christmas Believe: A Story -- but I wanted to go for a “full-length” novel. The Hungering Dark: Awakening  came in around 65,000 words.

Just as a comparison, this book is longer than The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S Lewis, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, or Lord of the Flies by William Golding.

I actually completed the book in 2013 as  part of that year’s National Novel Writing Month. Committing to get the book completed within the month was a good incentive.

I understand this is already an award-winning book. Can you tell us about that?

Sure! Once I’d completed the book, naturally I began looking to get it published. Typically this requires finding an agent who will take you on and then represent you to various publishing companies.

I reached out to one agent I’d met a few years back. While he seemed somewhat interested in the book, the experience was a little frustrating. I could never get a definitive response from him. As this was happening, I learned about the First Look contest sponsored by WestBow Press.

WestBow Press is a Christian self-publishing company and a division of Thomas Nelson and Zondervan, which are all owned by HarperCollins Publishers.

I actually submitted to the contest first in 2014 with no luck. I submitted it again to the 2015 contest and that did the trick. On December 17, 2015 I received notice that my book was one of 10 finalists. On January 5, 2016 I learned I was the Grand Prize winner. And by July 1, 2016 it was released.

Where did the ultimate story line for the book come from?

The story line developed, basically, as I was writing it. As I mentioned, I wrote the first chapter a couple of years before I sat down to write the rest. I guess all the mulling I’d done over the previous two years surfaced out of my subconscious onto the page. In a very real sense, the story wrote itself. I think that’s why I was able to keep my butt in a chair long enough to write the book, because I wanted to know what was going to happen!

How would you characterize the book?

I’ll be the first to admit this book is not what some would call a “great” piece of literature such as John Updike’s Rabbit Run, John Cheever’s Wapshot Chronicles, or similar books.

But it is a very good book. It’s well-written, clean, engaging, unique, and exciting. It’s been characterized as gripping, thrilling, scary -- but scary in a good way. And readers have said they want more.

It’s probably a little more comparable to Ted Dekker, Stephen Lawhead, Frank Peretti, or John Bunyan. Kinda sorta. More or less.

John Bunyan?

Yes! In the vein of Pilgrim’s Progress. In the sense that the story is somewhat of an allegory, of good versus evil.

Who is the book aimed at?

Okay, every expert will tell you that no book can be for all audiences, that a writer needs to aim more or less for a niche. But, this book will be attractive to adults -- men and women -- as well as young adults.

Probably not so much to toddlers or infants, so I guess that means it isn’t suitable for all audiences after all. And most likely it will appeal more to those who characterize themselves as conservative.

More specifically, it will be far more attractive to Christians than others as there is a strong biblical worldview evident throughout.

Still, for any who like thrillers, perhaps along the lines of a Sue Grafton story, my book would make a great airplane, weekend, or beach read.

In a nutshell, what’s the story line of the book?


Okay, this may require an extra large nutshell, but I’ll give it a try.

A mysterious and deadly threat—housed in a strange puzzle box—has found its way to the humble town of Timbuk, Pennsylvania. The object’s origins reach all the way back to Moses, the plagues, and Pharaoh’s wicked magicians.

For centuries, secret groups have been hunting the box and its contents. One group allegedly seeks to destroy it. The other—called the Descendants—seeks to use it to visit revenge on the Jewish people.

Now fate has placed the box in the hands of an unassuming Christian family, a small-town sheriff, a female state trooper, and a professor of biblical archaeology. Realizing the power the puzzle box holds, they must do everything they can to keep their community—and the world—safe from the deadly darkness.

How’s that?

In what time and location does the story take place?

The time is now. The thematic elements are very relevant to what we see in the world today. As for as location, I placed the story in a fictional small town located in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Why there?

Honestly, because the story needed caves, tunnels, or abandoned coal mines, and I believe they have a few of those in southwestern Pennsylvania.

As a writer, what are your hopes and fears for the book?

A writer's biggest fear is to be answered with silence. By that I mean, you expend blood, sweat, and tears to birth a book, a poem, a blog post, an article, then you put it “out there” for your readers. Whether what you’ve written is intended as persuasion or entertainment or whatever, your hope is that what you’ve written has meaning and value. Your hope is that readers will respond in some way.

If it’s a blog post, you hope for “Likes” or comments. In the case of a book, you hope for sales and reviews on Amazon or other online outlets. You hope for something, some reaction or response. When these don’t come, or are so few as to be nearly inaudible, it’s disappointing.

As I’ve said before, writers write to be read. When it doesn’t appear that that’s happening, it’s discouraging.

Okay, enough of that! Let me address the positive side, I hope that the book is entertaining.

Ultimately, I wanted to offer a fun and entertaining book that Christians could read without being embarrassed or offended, something they could safely recommend to their friends or buy as a gift for the readers in their lives.

And if I let myself dream really big, I think the book would make a great movie. More than one reader has mentioned that it reads like a movie. So, Hollywood, if you’re listening, check it out and call me!

How can people learn more about you and the book?


They can visit my website at www.StephenRClark.com and my award-winning blog at www.FaithBraised.com. I’m posting information specifically about the book at www.HungeringDarkStory.com.

I can also be found on Facebook at www.facebook.com/StephenRClarkWriter and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/stephenrclark.

Where can people get a copy of the book?

The book is available online at Amazon.com, BarnesAndNoble.com, as well as from WestBowPress.com. Be sure to search for the full title. If it’s not available at your favorite bookstore, ask them to special order a copy for you and to stock a few more!

Click here for an extended list of links to online retailers selling the book.

One favor I’d like to ask of all who read the book is to write a review online at Amazon.com or BarnesAndNoble.com. Be honest and let people know what you think! If enough people like the book, perhaps there’ll be a sequel.



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Have you read the book? What did you think? If you have not read the book, do you think it sounds like something you would like to read? Why or why not? Please share your thoughts or ask your questions in the comments!


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Holy hygiene


Lather. Rinse. Repeat. These are simple steps to maintaining a healthy, clean head of hair. It’s the same with your body. Every day, you get into the shower, lather up, and rinse. Repeating is optional, as long as you come out clean.

Paul reminds us that “No one hates his own body but lovingly cares for it, just as Christ cares for his body, which is the church. And we are his body” Ephesians 5:29-30 (NLT).

Few would neglect daily hygiene. When circumstances occasionally keep you in the same clothes for days, finally getting to shower, shave, brush your teeth, put on clean clothes, you are wonderfully refreshed and even say, “I feel like myself again.”

The same is true with spiritual hygiene. Skipping time in the Word, avoiding praying, and generally ignoring God for a period of days can leave you feeling in desperate need of a spiritual shower. Just as prolonged neglect of your body will result in serious health problems, prolonged neglect of your spiritual well-being makes you a dysfunctional part of Christ’s body.

Keeping our lives clean helps keep His body functioning properly. Spiritual cleanliness is the only route to true godliness.


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Do you have a holy hygiene routine? How do you keep spiritually clean? Share your thoughts in the comments!

NOTE: For the past and for the next several weeks, Tuesday’s post will be a brief two-minute devotional. Think, “Tuesday Two-Minute Devotional” or “Two-Minute Tuesdays or something  along those lines. ;-)

Monday, October 17, 2016

A sense of change (#Poetry Monday*)

The sun gets tired,
decides not to stay up as long,
goes to bed early,
leaving behind a wide swath
of early and deep dark.

Soon the leaves will despair,
decide just to let go,
change color and drop,
carpeting the ground
with crunchy, colorful death.

All things being equal
the infernal season
falls, momentarily
begrudgingly,
to the cooler, chiller days
of Autumn.

The charring smells of
burning grills yields
to the gentler scents
of nature changing,
urging us indoors,
closer together,
huddled against
the changing weather.






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* Its PoMo! To learn about PoMo (POetry MOnday), click here. What mood does the changing of the seasons evoke in you? Are you ready to move indoors? Are the leaves turning where you are? Please share your thoughts and insights in the comments!

This poem is included in this collection:

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Our every-four-years idolatry & white-knuckle election hysteria

“Our lives depend on this election.”

So says a woman quoted in a CNN report. It’s also the essence of the sentiment I’ve seen many express in various ways on social media. Especially by Christians, people who claim to believe and trust in God, the creator of the universe.

While I have my concerns and am sorely disappointed by the candidates regurgitated out of the primary process, I’m not desperately worried.

Why? Because I really do believe and trust in God. If He can manage to maintain the universe I’m sure whatever happens after November 8th will be a piece of cake. Things may get ugly here on earth, but the earth is not my ultimate home.

It’s the ugliness we see that tends to distract our eyes and hearts and minds away from the beauty of God and the future for which we should be longing.

We don’t see God, but we do see men and women who claim to be able to fix the ugliness. Especially the ugliness that most effects us. So we take our eyes off of Jesus, glue them to this or that candidate, and that’s how the idol worship starts.

God fades as the ugliness gets uglier and the promises get more inflated (mostly with truthiness).

Soon, character no longer matters. We want what we want and we’ll be damned if we’re going to get it and get it our way! Bring in the wrecking ball!

When God acts, stand back!

Remember Elijah and the prophets of Baal? If you spent any time in Sunday school, odds are you’ve heard the story. The people were divided in their loyalties, so each side set out to prove their god was the God and make their land great again by being better together.

The goal was to invoke fire from heaven to burn up a sacrifice. Winner takes all.

The Baal boys danced and pranced and whooped and hollered. For several hours 450 “prophets” carried on, cutting themselves, yelling, desperately pleading for Baal to send down fire. It was white-knuckled hysteria. Nothing happened.

Then Elijah steps up. He calmly takes charge and orders that the sacrifice, the altar, and the ground around it be drenched with gallons of water. It’s a lot tougher to get wet wood burning! But Elijah wasn’t worried. He prayed a simple prayer and POOF! everything -- the sacrifice, the wood, the stone altar, the dust -- was burnt to nothing. No white knuckles or hysteria needed.

The message was simply that God is the only god and He will defend Himself on His terms. He is in charge.

Hold that thought.

Doing damage to the Kingdom

On October 7th I Tweeted, “Christians supporting Trump are destroying their own credibility when it comes to professing Christ & laying claim to biblical faith.”

The next day I Tweeted, “The more ‘Christians’ defend Donald, the more obscene he becomes, the more stupid Christians appear & the more reasonable Hillary seems.”

Then, on October 9th, I wrote this on my Facebook Page:
IT’S TIME TO LET IT (the election) GO

If Christians believe that God is truly on the throne, that He really does hold all things in His hands, then fretting over this or that candidate to the point that character is ignored, that morality is dumbed down, that “opponents” are belittled, that fellow-believers are forsaken, that persistent wickedness is ignored, and more -- all this is sin. Plain and simple.

God doesn’t need our help to enact His will. He doesn’t ask for our help. Rather, He asks us to trust Him, to glorify Him, to live in a manner that is godly and attractive to those around us (in the sense that we point others to Him).

This means bearing with one another, loving one another, turning the other cheek, setting aside the trivial and finite to focus on the significant and eternal. And in God’s view, elections are trivial and finite.

It makes no difference who wins this election as far as God is concerned. It makes no difference to Him who is appointed to the Supreme Court. It *does* make a difference to Him how we represent Him as His believers to the world around us. It does make a difference how we treat those with whom we disagree.

After prayer and biblical consideration, vote or don’t vote as your Spirit-influenced conscience directs you.

But don’t compromise your values. Don’t live for the insulting zinger. Don’t belittle those who choose differently. Don’t insist that voting a certain way is an absolute requirement to saving our country (We’re in trouble no matter how the election goes!). Claiming or doing such things damages our credibility as a Christian, demeans the faith, does damage to the Kingdom, and denies the sovereignty of God

In the end, no matter what happens “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”

Let go of the election, drop the arguments, end the rants, stifle the reactionary-ism, resist the counterattacks, and “ do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

In the days following, others began to express similar sentiments. But still, the hysteria continues. Especially among those supporting Trump.

In fact, it’s getting so absurd, the Clinton supporters just need to sit back and watch the meltdown.

By the way, I won’t vote for either of them.

This is just a metaphor but there’s a message

Let’s go back to the Elijah vs. Baal story and use it as a metaphorical model to drive home a point.

Imagine that on the Baal side of the story are the Trump supporters. Then that means the Elijah side are the Clinton followers. The Trump horde is making more and more racket, becoming more and more frenzied, trying to force a result in their favor.

Meanwhile, the Clinton side smiles and chuckles and goes about their business.

God’s not pleased with either of these camps, but I’ve got a feeling the votes are going to reign fire in favor of Clinton. Just saying.

Many Trump supporters insists they’re only supporting Trump’s policies, not the man. They declare, “I vote on policy. I won't be to blame if she's elected.” Their posts consistently express outrage toward Clinton as well toward those who are saying they will vote third party or not at all. They see that as giving a sure win to Clinton. It infuriates them.

Of course, on the other side, Clinton supporters say the same thing about non- and third-party voters, that it’s giving Trump a sure win.

Such is the insanity our blind irrationality has created.

If you’re a Christian, act like it

As Christians, our allegiance is never to a party, a candidate, or even a country. All of these are temporal and will vanish like haze on a sunny day. Our allegiance and loyalty must be aimed at God and God alone. Anything else is idolatry.

When we keep this straight in our heads and hearts, panic doesn’t set it when the ugliness around us rises up. The uglier this world gets, the more beautiful He should appear and the less we should fear.

Trump won’t save us. Clinton won’t save us. The American flag, guns, democracy, a wall, or the military won’t save us. But all of these can destroy us if we lose perspective and forget Who is really in charge. If we put any one of these above or even alongside God -- as in believing and crying, “God, guns, USA, and freedom!”  -- it is heresy and idolatry.

Not only do we damage ourselves but we set a very poor example for those unbelievers around us. If we claim to serve God yet don’t really appear to trust Him to take care of things regardless of how elections go, or when we defame those fellow Christians who disagree with our politics, why should our unbelieving neighbors pay any attention to the Gospel we seek to share? What’s better about it? What’s different?

If you are a Christian and you really believe Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump or someone else is “God’s choice” say that and only that and then shut up. God will defend Himself, regardless of who ends up on the Supreme Court.

Start living the faith you claim to hold.


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How tired are you of the campaigning? What can we as Christians do going forward to raise up better candidates? Are you planning to vote or stay home? Write in someone? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

BTW: If you’re wondering where I stand regarding the elections, Russell Moore says it best: “Should Christians Vote for the Lesser of Two Evils? Even at the ballot box, morality is not relative.”

Image: Lucas Cranach the Younger (1515-1586), "Elijah and the Priests of Baal", 1545, Oil on wood.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Change


“Wherever you go, there you are” is kind of a dumb but very true saying.

I once lived in a tiny, but cozy, attic apartment. From time to time, for a change of perspective and attempting to open up more space, I’d rearrange the furniture.

Moving the couch to the other side of the room did offer a fresh perspective, but, as far as space was concerned, only incremental improvement could be achieved. Why? No matter how much I rearranged the furniture, it was still the same furniture.

If the stuff of your life is holding you back from living a holy life, then it’s time to get new stuff, spiritually speaking.  Incessant rearranging of your inner furniture won’t bring peace or healing.

In Christ everything is new (2 Corinthians 5:17) not just rearranged. To truly be changed, get rid of old thought patterns and habits, and furnish your life with new behaviors and attitudes.

The Bible says, “You must display a new nature because you are a new person, created in God’s likeness—righteous, holy, and true” (Ephesians 4:24, NLT).

You can’t continue to live the same way and expect new results. When we are in Christ, real transformation occurs.


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Have you experienced real change? Transformation? Or, at least, believe it is happening? Why or why not? Share your thoughts in the comments.

NOTE: For the past few and for the next several weeks, Tuesday’s post will be a brief two-minute devotional. Think, “Tuesday Two-Minute Devotional” or “Two-Minute Tuesdays or something  along those lines. ;-)

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Everyone deserves a second chance. Yes, that means you! (Brief review)

The subject line of the email inviting me to review the book declared, “Hope for Prodigals and Outcasts from ‘This Generation’s Brennan Manning’.”

I’m a fan of the late Brennan Manning, so I bit.

The book is People of the Second Chance: A Guide to Bringing Life-Saving Love to the World (Waterbrook) which is a very Manning-ish title, to be sure.  And the author, Mike Foster, tackles the general topic of shame, just as Manning did. But, for me, that’s where the comparison ends. But wait! That’s not to say the book is not without merit.

In a friendly, breezy style, Foster shares some of his own hard life stories and how he has coped. These, and the stories of others, are linked by quips, quotes, and some instruction.

If you’ve screwed up or been hurt by someone or, basically, have live your life, then this book may be helpful healing the wounds and guilt that have resulted. The crux of the book’s message is summed up by Foster, who states:
“It’s important to remember that you aren’t a machine, or a project, or a problem. And neither are other people. You don’t need to become someone you are not, and you don’t need to be perfect in order to grow. Our imperfections are what make us human, and they help us to relate to each other. Or as songwriter Leonard Cohen says, ‘That’s how the light gets in.’ It’s also the cracks that let the light out. So let’s ditch the shame and start to shine. Show off your flaws. Share all that you are.”
The reality is that to some degree we’re all broken. We’ve all failed and made mistakes. We all have those bruised places that are hard to share with others. Those emotional wounds that need tending.

The book seeks to dispel the common false self-narratives that result from our failings, those lies we tell ourselves over and over:
  1.  I don’t deserve a second chance.
  2.  I am my shame. I am my secrets.
  3.  I will always feel and be this way.
  4.  I am defined by my worst moment.
  5.  My life my, my dreams, my hopes no longer matter.
Foster counters, declaring, “You are not made to live under the weight of religion or guilt or chronic not-enough-ness. You are made to enjoy the love of God.”

Throughout the book Foster shares how to both find healing as well as share healing with others. One of those sharing methods involves what he calls a “prodigal party.”

In other words, just as the father feted his returned prodigal son, so should we celebrate the lives of the least around us. Says Foster, “The Creator celebrates broken things as a way to love us. And this, my friend, is the same thing that he invites us to do.” I have to admit, it’s an intriguing idea.

Despite the book’s value and strengths, a more structured presentation of the “how to” with better visual cues would have been a good idea. The “how to” is in there, but not always easily discernible. 

Additionally, given the chatty breeziness of the book it can be a little disconcerting when a very serious and sobering life-example is shared. This is especially true when Foster presents an especially personal experience.

Also, if you like a lot of scripture references in your Christian self-help books, you won’t find them here, which does not mean the ideas presented are not biblical. But then there are times when being hit with a lot of Bible verses isn’t helpful.

In a place of pain, it’s sometimes more useful to be able to learn that others have been where we are, that we’re not alone in being a faulty human being, that there’s hope despite the pain. This is what Foster offers.



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NOTE: To comply with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: I selected this book to review and received it free from the publisher -- in this instance it was an uncorrected proof. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.


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Have you overcome guilt and shame in your life? Have you been able to share these experiences with others? Use them to help others overcome their issues? What other books have you found helpful? Please share your thoughts in the comments!






Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Spit & pick


Cherries are delicious, but their pits aren’t. In fact, eating the pits can be deadly.

I knew a young woman who was bright, attractive, and who was repeatedly blessed by her family and friends. Yet, despite the “cherries” she was given in her life, she chose to chew on the “pits.”

How did she view her life? “It sucks!” said she.

Instead of being thankful for having had a car given to her, an apartment provided for her, money given to her, and scholarships that have paid the major part of her college education, she complained endlessly about her life, her “parental units,” her jobs, her friends, and more.

She was blessed with a bowlful of cherries, yet chose to chew on the pits.

Even the most blessed of lives has occasional downsides. Bad things happen along with the good. Our perspective is our choice. We can choose to spit out the pits and pick another cherry, or chew on the bitter negatives.

I’d rather spit and pick.

God’s word says, “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!” (Psalm 50:23, ESV).

Honor God through thankfulness for the good things in your life. Spit the pits. Savor the fruit.


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How has God provided for you? Did you enjoy the blessing that your received or complain about what you felt was left out? Share your experiences in the comments!

NOTE: For the past few and for the next several weeks, Tuesday’s post will be a brief two-minute devotional. Think, “Tuesday Two-Minute Devotional” or “Two-Minute Tuesdays or something  along those lines. ;-)