A Lack Of Forgiveness


Periodically I see some re-runs of my favorite TV cop drama, Blue Bloods, but I’ve begun to notice something. Even though the central characters are portrayed to be Catholics and abide by some of the traditions with which they were raised, there is a serious lack of forgiveness on display.

I don’t think this TV show is on an island when it comes to this issue. More and more our entertainment has bought into the revenge motif rather than that of forgiveness. In fact, instead of forgiveness, we simply are not to take offenses personally because it’s just business. Except when we ARE to be offended, at everything with which we disagree, and hurry off to our safe space where we don’t have to deal with people who cross boundaries we have created.

Of course some boundaries are good and necessary. Others, not so much.

But even more, we now root for the demise of those we find offensive.

I remember years ago when Iranian student terrorists stormed the US Embassy in Tehran, a film crew captured mobs of Iranian citizens in the streets cheering. I was horrified. Not only was there animosity with a nation that had been considered a friend, but people were cheering the capture and imprisonment of people who had lived among them. Then there was the loss of property.

I hadn’t realized how Iranians viewed their government or America for propping it up. But I couldn’t imagine the joy being expresses at the expense of others.

And yet, here in America, some thirty years later, people took to the streets in celebration when they heard that Osama bin Laden was dead.

In those few decades, the US went from a nation of grace and forgiveness—the kind that provided aid to a defeated Japan and Germany and Italy after World War II, such that those nations became our allies—to a nation that seems intent on revenge and pay back

I don’t think the shift is surprising. During this same period of time, we have shifted our moral compass in a fundamental way. Once we extended forgiveness to others because we understood that God first extended it to us. And that we needed it.

Today, as a nation, we couldn’t care less about extending forgiveness. We, like the other nations, advocate shock and awe in our treatment of enemies. Thankfully we still respected the laws set down by the Geneva Convention, so we did what we could in Iraq and in Afghanistan to avoid civilian causalities. But honoring international law is not the same thing as forgiveness.

Those of us US citizens who believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior have a decision to make. We won’t ever be able to turn the clock back, but we can certainly influence our culture, as our forefathers once did. They allowed their Christian principles, notably forgiveness, to be a part of how they responded to people from other nations.

Do we follow that same pattern or are we intent on protecting ourselves?

Forgiveness is risky. People who hate you might continue to do you harm. That’s true here at home or in foreign places. But if we trust God for our protection, it’s not as risky as it may see. “So he answered, ‘Do not fear for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’ ” (2 Kings 6:16)

Published in: on September 29, 2017 at 5:21 pm  Comments (3)  
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Sex And The Bible – A Reprise


Samson004I’m not sure where the idea has come from that Christians are prudish as opposed to moral. I don’t see the two meaning the same thing, and neither does the New Oxford American Dictionary. But what about the Bible? Is it prudish?

Not quite. No sooner does the writer of Genesis recount the creation of Adam and Eve but he reports, “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Gen. 2:25).

Some people unfamiliar with the Bible have the strange idea that the first sin had to do with sex. I think that myth is reflective of a sex-crazed society, because it has nothing to do with reality.

Sex was part of creation which God declared to be good. In addition, His first command, even before “From the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat,” was “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” Translated, that means, Have sex with your wife and have kids.

After Man sinned and God removed humans from the garden, sex remained as much a part of the historical record as any other human activity. In Genesis 4, for example, the Bible notes that Lamech took two wives—presumably the first to have bigamist relationships.

After the flood, when Noah and his family landed on dry land, the Bible notes that Ham, his youngest son, “saw the nakedness of his father” while Noah, drunk from wine, was passed out. Something happened, clearly, because when Ham’s brothers learned what he’d done, they “covered the nakedness of their father.” Noah awoke and “knew what his youngest son had done to him.”

Not a clear picture of what kinky thing happened in this family, but the event is not omitted either. Neither are the homosexual desires of the men in Sodom and Gomorrah who wanted to rape Lot and the two angels who had come to take him out of the city.

The Bible doesn’t shy away from revealing Sarah’s attempt to “help God out” with the son He’d promised Abraham by giving her husband Hagar, her servant, as a mistress, since she herself was beyond child-bearing years.

Then there’s Jacob and the trickery of Laban which put Leah in the wedding tent the night Jacob thought he was having sex with Rachel. A week later, after completing his sexual obligation to his first wife, he then married the woman he loved. But throughout the years, Jacob’s sex life is about as open as . . . oh, say, David’s.

First, though he loved Rachel, he continued to sleep with Leah, as evidenced by the four sons she birthed. Rachel, on the other hand, was barren, and demanded Jacob give her sons. He responded by saying, Am I God who has closed your womb? Notice, he didn’t say, OK, I’ll move back in with you. Apparently, Rachel’s barrenness was not due to a lack of sex between her and her husband.

Rachel’s jealousy led her to give Jacob her servant as a mistress. He didn’t object and had two sons by that woman. Leah didn’t want Rachel to get ahead of her, so she gave Jacob her servant as mistress. In the course of time she delivered two sons as well.

But Jacob still loved Rachel and apparently was now living with her exclusively. Except one day Rachel asked Leah to share the mandrakes one of her sons had found in the field. Leah ended up agreeing . . . if she could sleep with Jacob that night.

And Leah once more got pregnant. And again. And again.

But at some point Jacob went back to Rachel because God opened her womb, and she gave birth to a son named Joseph.

Joseph—this would be the boy whose jealous brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt where he fended off the advances of his master’s wife and landed in jail because of it. Let me be clear. This was not some mild flirtation. The Bible says Potiphar’s wife approached Joseph day after day and said, Lie with me.

Then there’s Joseph’s brother Judah, whose daughter-in-law tricked him into sleeping with her (he thought she was a prostitute—so much more upright!)—and had twins by him.

Should I go on to the gang rape and murder Judges records or the mass kidnapping of women the Israelite leaders engineered so the men of Benjamin would have wives. Then there are Samson’s exploits with various women and David’s adultery.

I’m sorry. If someone thinks Christians are prudish it’s because a) they don’t know what’s in the Bible; or b) they’re talking about professing Christians who don’t read the Bible and are formulating their attitudes about sex from some other place.

Because, yes, many of the examples I mentioned above are not what we’d call ideal examples of a sexual relationship. But that’s part of the point. The Bible doesn’t pull any punches about sex or any other topic. Jesus Himself had some clear instruction about lust, and He didn’t shy away from telling the Samaritan woman precisely what her marital status was (You’ve had five husbands, and the man you’re living with now isn’t your husband).

He didn’t camp on her sexual failings, however. He didn’t tell her to marry the man she was living with and then come back to see Him. But He also didn’t hesitate to tell the woman caught in the act of adultery that she should sin no more.

Prudish? The Bible is not prudish. People who read the Bible will see the good, the beautiful, the disturbing, the vile within its pages. A Christian who pays attention to what God says about sex through the lives and decrees and admonitions in Scripture can hardly have a prudish attitude toward sex.

The Bible doesn’t shy away from the topic of sex, but it also never presents sex as mankind’s problem. But don’t take my word for it; read it yourself.

This post is an edited version of one that originally appeared here in May 2014.

Published in: on September 28, 2017 at 5:00 pm  Comments (4)  
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Loyalty To The King – Reprise


Some times a democracy can be harmful. I’m so happy the founders of the US established the kind of government they did, but the fact is, our right to vote has translated into a right to criticize. And criticism more often than not yields to grumbling and complaining, which in its turn can lead to slanderous invectives.

The US is in a unique period of our history. The nation is divided in a disturbing way—people on opposing sides have little respect for the individuals who hold a different view. The idea seems to be, only morons would not agree with my position, therefore you in the opposing camp are morons, and I don’t have to listen to you. If fact, I’d rather if you simply did not speak.

Nothing could be more detrimental to a country that depends on compromise between legislators, between the two legislative houses, and between the legislature and the executive branch of government.

Compare where we are with David, youngest son of Jesse, who found himself in the opposite camp from the king of the land. Though he did not harbor rebellion in his heart and only fulfilled the king’s every wish, David became King Saul’s enemy.

We’re not talking about Saul hurling insults at David. He hurled spears. More than once. He ordered his men to pull him out of his house and kill him. He murdered seventy priests because one, thinking David, the King’s son-in-law, to still be a loyal member of his court and on the King’s business, gave him food and a weapon.

Saul took an army of 3000 to hunt him down; he bribed and pleaded and cajoled and threatened to get people to disclose where David was hiding.

Sometimes his schemes seemed to work, and he closed in on David. Once when he was pursuing David in the desert, he took a break in a cave—a siesta, of sorts, in the middle of the day to get out of the heat. As it happened, David was hiding in the recesses of that same cave, but Saul never knew it.

David’s men urged him to put an end to the persecution once and for all by killing Saul. But David refused for one reason and one reason alone—Saul was God’s anointed. In other words, God had put Saul in authority, and David was not about to supersede God’s decision.

Later he had a second opportunity to finish Saul when he made a foray into his camp at night. As it happens, God put a deep sleep upon everyone, and David slipped in, grabbed a couple things belonging to Saul to use as proof that he did not plan evil against the man who sought to kill him, then slipped out. Even though his men urged him to do Saul in.

But David said to Abishai, “Do not destroy him, for who can stretch out his hand against the LORD’S anointed and be without guilt?” David also said, “As the LORD lives, surely the LORD will strike him, or his day will come that he dies, or he will go down into battle and perish. The LORD forbid that I should stretch out my hand against the LORD’S anointed; but now please take the spear that is at his head and the jug of water, and let us go.” (1 Sam. 26:9-11)

In all this David did not rail against Saul or paint him as a monster. He didn’t brag that he himself was anointed by God, and he didn’t use his choice by God, carried out by the prophet Samuel, as a special reason for no longer honoring the King.

David lived out his loyalty to God by remaining loyal to His chosen King. He was willing to let God deal with Saul. This position is precisely the one the Apostle Paul and the Apostle Peter preached, inspired by the Holy Spirit, to Christians in the first century.

They happened to fall under great persecution because of their faith in Jesus Christ, but Peter wrote this in his first letter:

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. (1 Peter 2:13-17)

By doing right we may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Not by calling them names. Not by signing petitions or starting impeachment campaigns or painting Hitler mustaches on the government leaders we don’t like.

David was right to let God deal with Saul. He had to wait, and he got tired of waiting which led him into a bad situation, but he remained firm about not taking matters into his own hands. He would not move against Saul. He would let God take care of him.

His wait paid off.

When I see Christians treat our President—whether now or four years ago—with disrespect and accuse him unjustly, I am confused. God’s command in His word is clear: we are to honor our leaders:

Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men (Titus 3:1)

Even more clearly, Paul said to the Romans, who would have had a front row seat to all the abuses of the Caesars and their minions:

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. (Romans 13:1-6)

Notice Paul does not qualify his statements. He’s not saying be subject to authorities with whom you agree or to ones who aren’t corrupt.

David’s example shows, however, that being subject to the King didn’t mean to stand still so he could skewer him with his spear. David ran and hid and ran some more so that Saul wouldn’t kill him. But he didn’t assassinate his character or take the man’s life.

Would that Christians today had as much confidence in God’s sovereignty and His omniscient plans as David did all those years before. He didn’t have Scripture to direct him in his decisions. We do, and still we speak with such disrespect about our rulers.

Even though our democracy allows us the freedom to speak against our leadership and those with whom we disagree, I think our commitment to Christ should lead us to a different position.

This post is an edited version of one that originally appeared here in October, 2014.

Published in: on September 27, 2017 at 5:10 pm  Comments (9)  
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The Difference Jesus Makes


Moses010When God chose Abraham, He entered into a unilateral agreement, promising to give him land, make him a father of nations, and yes, the father of His chosen people.

Later this agreement expanded into a conditional one–if Israel did certain things, then God would bless them and make them fruitful, but if Israel did the opposite, then God would bring their actions down on their heads.

In part the conditional agreement was based on Israel keeping the Ten Commandments and participating in the sacrificial system God launched when Moses finally led the people across the Red Sea, ready to be on their way to the land God had promised.

After escaping a confrontation with the Egyptians and surviving the crises of no water and not any food, Israel spend at least a year on hold, waiting as Moses received instructions from God and then as they carried them out. Through Moses, God transmitted the plans for a worship center and laws about their relationship with Him, with each other, with their stuff.

Over and over in all those laws, His call for them was to be holy because He is holy. But the problem was, they weren’t. He knew it and they knew it. When Moses was getting ready to meet with God to receive His instructions, the people were warned not to come near the mountain where God’s presence would be. The place was cordoned off, but God had Moses retrace his steps and warn the people again that if they tried to break through and come up to God, they would die.

Yes, die.

Later, God spoke to the people, and He so terrified them, that they begged Moses to act as their intermediary from then on rather than dealing directly with God.

I have to admit, I find all this stunning. I understand how great God is, how awesome His power, how far above any human He is in might and majesty. I even understand Peter’s command for believers who call God, Father, to “conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth” (1 Peter 1:17b).

But understanding all this is purely head knowledge.

I know God to be a just Judge who will one day separate those who follow Him from those who reject Him and will mete out appropriate rewards for both. But my experience with Him is far removed from these things I know.

I shake my head and think, how can I be relating to God as one of the living stones who is being “built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices” when the people of Israel couldn’t even stand in His presence?

They wanted God to go with them, but in order for that to happen they had to abide by that elaborate system of sacrifices and purification. In contrast, I offer no sacrifices, undergo no purification rites, and have the Holy Spirit of God make His dwelling in me. Not with me. In me.

I know Him as a child knows her father, as a sheep knows its shepherd, as a friend knows his best friend. How can this be???

It’s Christ.

He makes all the difference. God is still awesome in power, but I never have to fear that He will turn His vengeance on me because He turned it on Christ. I never have to fear God’s just judgment for my failures to obey Him because He already judged Jesus.

As a result, I can enjoy God’s presence–not as one trembling on the outside of a boundary line staring up at the top of a mountain in the hope of catching a glimpse of His glory. Rather, I have the Holy Spirit with me, guiding me in all truth, comforting me in sorrow and grief, producing His fruit when I feel inadequate and fruitless.

It’s such a dramatic difference, I can hardly comprehend what life must have been like for those who lived without the Holy Spirit in their lives day after day. Even during those times when I quench the Spirit or grieve Him, it’s not the same as not having Him in my life. It’s more like a fight with someone I love who I know I still love and who will still love me. It’s ugly and painful and sometimes costly, but it’s not permanent and it’s never complete separation.

What a difference Jesus makes!

This post originally appeared here in September, 2013.

Published in: on September 26, 2017 at 6:02 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Racial Divide In America


If you aren’t an American or a sports fan you might not be aware that President Trump made a comment recently about the National Football League players who chose to kneel during the national anthem. A small number of players have done what then San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick started doing last year as a way to protest current racial treatment of minorities.

I don’t know what prompted Mr. Trump to bring up in subject in a speech, but he doesn’t seem hesitant to say what he wants when he has a crowd he believes will agree with him.

Sadly our President used inappropriate language when talking about people with whom he disagrees. Even more egregious is his advocacy of punishment for people who exercise their Constitutional right of free speech.

In part, here’s what Mr. Trump said that stirred the pot.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m still frustrated that the Supreme Court ruled that actions, such as burning the American flag are protected “speech.” An action and speech are two different things, and they carry two different impacts on the people around them. But that bridge has already been crossed.

The question the President raised is, should that small number of NFL players who chose to kneel during the national anthem be fired?

Such a response is not Constitutional.

It’s odd that President Trump should say such a thing because here in California, at least, maybe nationally, a child can refuse to say the pledge of allegiance. But grown men can’t take a knee during the anthem?

The real problem is this. We no longer care more for what unites us than for what divides us.

That’s not true in my church.

It’s not true in sports stadiums, either. The color jersey you have on is far more important than the color of your skin. Why? Because regardless of your race or ethnicity, you share a love for, a rooting interest in, the same team. You have a bond, at least for those hours that you are in the stands, yelling and screaming for Your Team.

Church goes deeper. Being a follower of Jesus Christ is greater than being a fan of the Dodgers or any other team. Why? Because we don’t simply admire Jesus or take pride in His accomplishments. His life changes us. And every believer has had the same essential experience. Sure, the details vary, but we all know we are family. And unlike the NFL players who will often say their teammates are their brothers, the family of God is eternal.

I got a wrong number phone call a few weeks ago. The woman started to leave a message to “Mary” about praying for her daughter who was in Florida. I picked up the phone and told her I wasn’t “Mary” though I was happy to hear she was praying for the daughter. Her next question was, are you a Christian?

We talked for at least ten more minutes, and she prayed for me before we hung up, happy to know that one day we will be in God’s presence together. I never thought to ask her what color her skin is. She didn’t ask me if I was of a particular ethnicity. We shared a bond simply because we both love our Lord and Savior.

That’s a unity that is unshakable, that no organization or President can bully into existence. No need for any coercion. True Christians are family because something far more important unites us than anything this world says should divide us.

The apostle Paul spelled it out to the church in Colossae:

Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. (Col. 3:9-11, ESV)

OK, so there’s a little more to Christian unity than simply having a shared belief. We also have a shared new nature. That’s the part that’s hard to explain to people who haven’t experienced the cleansing power of God’s forgiveness.

Of course we aren’t finished products, so Christian brothers or sisters can still sin against one another. But anger and resentment and revenge are sins, too, and we know that answering a wrong with another wrong helps no one.

In that regard, I think the NFL players handled their response to President Trump fairly well. But I think Christians have a chance to show the nation and the world what true unity is all about.

Published in: on September 25, 2017 at 5:56 pm  Comments (1)  
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A Lesson In Persistence


A guest Post by Kristen Stieffel, author of Alara’s Call. This article, part of a blog tour for the new novel, includes Kristen’s remarkable publishing journey. Well worth the read.

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I once made the mistake of telling an agent just how long I’d been working on Alara’s Call. She said, “If you’ve been trying that long without success, you should probably give up and try something else.”

It’s the only time an agent made me cry.

There were times—many times—I tried to walk away from this book. When I wrote the first draft—longer ago than I’m going to admit—I did not know what I was doing. I had only written short stories before, never a novel.

I wrote this book eight times before I learned how to write a novel. And if you check out the stop I made at Steve Rzasa’s website on September 17, you’ll see that even then it had a lot of room for improvement.

I got feedback from a book doctor, implemented his recommendations, and started pitching. At first I got rejections like the opening was confusing or the worldbuilding was insufficient. I got feedback from another editor who helped me fix the opening. I kept revising. I kept submitting. I kept getting rejections.

Some of the rejections were just angry-making, like, “Many Christian denominations don’t have female clergy, so this book won’t appeal to those readers.” Others were just wrong, like, “There’s no market for that.” It took me a long time to figure out that what agents mean when they say this is, “That market is too small to be worth my time.”

In addition to agents, I started pitching to small-press editors who were willing to work with unagented authors. Finally, finally, early in 2013, I got a contract. Not just any contract—a four-book contract on the series. I was over the moon. This was the fulfillment of an over-the-top, big hairy audacious dream. New novelists don’t often get four-book contracts.

I never got editorial notes from the publisher. All I got was a cover mock-up that still had the stock photo site’s watermark on the image.

Then I heard nothing. Months. Years.

Fortunately, my contract specified that if the publisher didn’t release the book within two years of my turning it in, the rights automatically reverted to me.

So by 2015, I started looking for a new publisher. Collected a bunch more rejections. A few were silly, like, “We already have a fantasy novel with a female lead.” A lot were the dreaded, “Does not meet our needs at this time.”

In the summer of 2016, at the Realm Makers conference, I pitched to Michele Israel Harper of Love2ReadLove2Write Publishing. She loved the story and offered me a contract—only on the first book. A reasonable offer.

Meanwhile, I had finished Book Two. And as Book Three took shape, Tyana, a character who’d barely been mentioned in Book One, came to the forefront as one of the major players.

When Michele sent her editorial notes, I told her I was going to make other changes as well, to beef up Tyana’s role. She gave me the go-ahead. So when I turned in my edited copy of Book One, I had laid the groundwork for Tyana’s appearance in Book Three. This would have been impossible if Book One had been published two years earlier.

Isn’t it awesome that God knows what he’s doing, even when we have no clue?

When my first contract fell through, it seemed like a disaster. In hindsight, I see the four-book contract as God’s way of granting my big hairy audacious dream while reserving his right to bring the work into fruition on his schedule rather than mine. During the year between getting my rights back and finding my new publisher, I pitched to several editors who rejected me, and queried many agents who ignored me. Knowing my story was worthy of a four-book contract kept me going.

Paul tells us, “. . . suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4 NIV). There were days I thought I had quite enough character building, thank you very much. But God is no more finished with me than I am with my characters.

Persevere, my friends. Jesus, who is the author and perfecter of faith (Hebrews 12:2) will ensure that your troubles are not in vain.

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Michele Israel Harper with Tim Akers and Kristen Stieffel, both Love2ReadLove2Write authors
Photo Credit: Fen Wilson

Kristen Stieffel is a freelance editor and writer who specializes in speculative fiction. Although she edits projects in varied genres for both the general market and the Christian submarket, she is a novelist at heart. Member of the Editorial Freelancers Association and Christian Editor Connection, mentor with Word Weavers International, and on the planning committee for Realm Makers, Kristen stays busy doing what she loves most. She is also the associate editor of Havok, a flash-fiction magazine focused on science fiction and fantasy. Visit http://www.KristenStieffel.com to learn more about this many-faceted author.

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Book Summary

Alara sees visions of other’s futures, but never her own.

A young clergywoman with a fiery passion for her Telshan faith, she has been assigned to a mission abroad but longs to lead a congregation in her homeland. Her father, the prime minister, jeopardizes her dream and her safety when he coerces her into what he calls a diplomatic mission.

But it’s a ruse.

The trip is meant to end with her marriage to the crown prince of a foreign nation, where members of Alara’s faith are persecuted and women oppressed. All for a trade agreement her father is desperate to enact.

But her mentor intervenes and takes Alara to Dorrel, the suitor she left behind. They believe they are safe, but foreign soldiers are under orders to bring Alara to the king’s palace . . . by any means necessary.

Published in: on September 22, 2017 at 5:36 pm  Comments (7)  
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For Me . . . What’s My Focus?



We live in such a “me” era, which started with the “Me Generation” back in the 1970s and has only escalated with the Generation Me of the following decade. So I hesitated to feature the words “For Me” in the title of this post. On one hand the phrase seems quite contemporary, but does it fit with what God’s word has to say?

Actually “For me” is the beginning of one of the Apostle Paul’s most well-known statements recorded in the Bible: “For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil 1:21 – Most translations say, “For to me . . .” but the difference doesn’t seem to affect the meaning). In other words, the concept of focusing on the individual has a place in Scripture. Essentially Paul was making a declaration about his life—what he valued, what was of utmost importance to him, and the short version that encapsulated the focus and direction of who he was, could be summarized in one word: Christ.

Recently I heard a sermon that turned that question back onto the hearer, or onto those reading Paul’s statement. If I were writing the line, when I came to, “For me, to live is ___,” how would I fill in the blank?

Would a truthful answer be something like, For me, to live is being a writer? Or since I’m such a sports fan and am so excited for the beginning of the new NFL season, would the truthful statement be, For me, to live is football. There are lots of options. For me, to live is my family. For me, to live is fiction. For me, to live is reading.

Obviously there are many good things that can fit into the blank, but none more significant than Paul’s original statement. Nothing is better than Christ. Not good story telling. Not art. Not speculative fiction. Not any of the things we so often make our focus, the things we write about and value.

Paul’s statement, instead of encouraging us to fit Christ in with our passion (I can fit Christ into my passion for football by praying for the players, for example), challenges us to live in such a way that Christ becomes our main focus.

Narrowing our focus in that way can be hard. We love our family. We love our pet. We love our job. We love our community of people who think as we do and have a passion similar to our own. In short we love our speculative world.

I love storytelling. I love competition. I love to discuss and debate. I love pizza. I love fantasy. I love the Dodgers. I love the Denver Broncos. I love my friends and family.

The question is, do any of the things I love become the thing I live for? For me, to live is ___. Where does my love for my favorite things fit into the eternal scheme of things? Would I rather have Christ than football? Than fantasy?

I don’t believe for one minute that imagination is evil or that speculative stories, by nature of their inventiveness, are evil. Otherwise, we’d have to believe that Adam and Eve, who were part of the world that God called “very good” had no imagination, and there’s nothing in Scripture to tie the fall of humankind to acquiring an imagination. So I have to conclude that our imagination is God-given.

On the other hand, we know from any number of passages, that sin changed the color of our life. We don’t simply have a dirty spot that needs to be erased. Instead we are scarlet, and it colors our will and our intentions and our preferences and, yes, our imagination. But ditching our imagination does not deal with the problem. Only Christ’s blood shed on the cross can wash us so that what was scarlet becomes white as snow (Is 1:18).

He didn’t wash only our will. Or only our preferences. He washed even our imagination. But just as our will must be brought under subjection to Him, so our imagination must be brought under subjection to Him.

In fact, if we can say with Paul, For me, to live is Christ, than there’s nothing that we ought not bring under His rule and sway. In other words, for me, I’d rather obey Christ than read fantasy, than watch football, than spend time with friends. Or at least that’s where I should be.

This article is a revised version of my post this week at Speculative Faith.

Published in: on September 21, 2017 at 5:08 pm  Comments (1)  
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Jesus – From God And To God


My (relatively) new pastor, Darin McWatters, has started a series in the book of Hebrews. What I love the most is that he is bringing out the focus on Jesus.

Sunday, in a message from chapter 3, he pointed out that the anonymous author of the book used two names for Jesus that aren’t used anywhere else in Scripture: Apostle and High Priest.

Apostle, he reminded us, means “sent one.” Jesus was sent from God. Interestingly, He not only carried the message, He is the message.

I’ve started a list of all the apparent contradictions related to Jesus, also known as antimonies:

Definition of antimony

1 :a contradiction between two apparently equally valid principles or between inferences correctly drawn from such principles
2 :a fundamental and apparently unresolvable conflict or contradiction (Merriam-Webster online)

For instance, Jesus is God, all God, but He is also man, completely man. How can both be true? They appear to be contradictory, but with God all things are possible.

Anyway, another to add to the list is that Jesus is God’s Messenger, but He is also the Message. “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given” (Isaiah 9:6a KJV).

The other name the Hebrews writer uses is High Priest. In Judaism the high priest acted as the intermediary between God and His people. The high priest stood in the gap for them so that they could offer sacrifices for their sins.

Of course he also had to make sacrifice regularly for his own sins.

Jesus came as the perfect High Priest who could intercede for us without a sin issue of His own. As a result His sacrifice was perfect and complete. It’s not a sacrifice that needs to be repeated, and it’s so perfect it accomplishes forgiveness for all who believe. All. Down through time, all who believe.

That’s also amazing. Because of Jesus, God has fashioned a new nation: “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession” (1 Peter 2:9a). The Church does not consist exclusively of Jews. Or Americans, for that matter. We are brothers and sisters with believers in nations all over the world.

We are part of God’s family, whether we live in the 21st century or whether we came before.

We are one with Christ, whether we are men or women, whether we are rich or poor, whether we are young or old.

There is a unity among Christians that is unparalleled. We have a common Lord, the same Savior. We have one purpose, one destiny

Only God could do something so radical. Only His Son demonstrates how He reaches us, lost and in need, as the Sent One from God in order to bring us to God—something we could not do for ourselves.

What an amazing God we have.

Published in: on September 20, 2017 at 7:16 pm  Comments Off on Jesus – From God And To God  
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Guest Post: Chris Morris – I am Afraid of Waterslides


I am a forty-year-old, seventy-nine inch tall man. And I am afraid of waterslides. But not for the reason you might imagine. Maybe I do have a (ironic) fear of heights, but my fear runs deeper than that.

If I wanted to be cruel, I could say it’s my daughter’s fault that I am afraid of waterslides. But that is unfair and not entirely accurate. It is the memory of a seizure that makes me fear waterslides.

We purchased season tickets to the local waterslide park two summers ago, and it was so worth it. We could spend a Saturday or just an afternoon having loads of fun. Nothing is quite as refreshing in the middle of a Phoenix summer as hours of fun water.

Except for the Water Bowl slide. More specifically, the stairs going up to the Water Bowl slide.

As Cynthia leaned back into my chest, I was having a typical summer conversation with her.

    Are you having fun Cynthia?

    [Grinning] This is amazing Daddy! I can’t wait for this slide!

    Do you think it’s your favorite slide, sweetie?

    Oh I don’t know. They are all so fun, Da…

Mid-sentence, she just stopped talked and slumped back against me. Before I could do anything else, she fell to the ground and started seizing. Thankfully, her head was pressed against my legs, so she wasn’t injured.

I stooped down and held her through her seizure. Then I scooped her up in my arms and sprinted down the two stories of stairs. I couldn’t get the idea of her falling down the concrete stairs out of my head. We sat in the grass and waited for her to recover. Then we headed home, because nobody much felt like water fun anymore.

Ever since then, I have this gut-twisting paranoia almost overwhelm me whenever I see a waterslide. I know the waterslide didn’t cause Cynthia’s seizure, but I still feel the paranoia.

After I beat down the irrational fear, I am lambasted with the second round of attacks on my psyche.

Why are you afraid of a waterslide? What’s wrong with you?

It’s that second question that trips me up every time. What IS wrong with me? What rational person is afraid of every waterslide in existence because his epileptic daughter once had a seizure on one? I should be afraid of bedrooms and bathrooms and stairs and Chick-Fil-A’s and Tahoes and hospitals and living rooms and couches by this logic.

I eventually pull myself through this volley against my sanity as well. But not before I come face to face with this stark reality – I cannot protect my daughter from her epilepsy. I do my best, but it’s never enough.

Everyone with a loved one who suffers from a chronic condition is familiar with this helplessness. This feeling that we cannot do anything to help.

But that is not the truth.

We can do something to help. It’s not an exaggeration to say that we can save the day. Every single day. What would have happened if I wasn’t right there with my daughter so she could lean back into me and seize? She might have fallen on the stairs, sustained a concussion. Maybe even fallen down the stairs or over the edge. Who knows?

The point is – I saved the day by being there. By loving her enough to take precautions. It was no accident she was leaning against me. I was taking precautions just in case she went into a seizure. And those precautions saved the day.

Every day won’t be as dramatic when we care for someone with a chronic illness. It sure isn’t for me. But I keep in mind that I save the day, every day, by being there. By paying attention. By taking precautions.

What I do matters. What you do matters too.

But we need help. We need support. We cannot do this on our own. Sadly, not many resources are devoted to the emotional aspect of chronic illnesses.

Believe me, I have looked. Resources to coach on protocol are prevalent. Foundations to raise money for research can be found. But very little for the social and emotional components can be

So I created one. Perfectly Abnormal: Uncovering the Image of God in Chronic Illness walks through eight myths about chronic illnesses that can paralyze us, if we aren’t careful. My book dissects eight of these myths, counteracts them with truth, and offers pointed questions to get us moving again.

If you or a loved one suffer from a chronic illness, I hope you will you will pick up this book. Because not only you are enough, you are NOT alone.

– – – – – –

Chris Morris is the author of the new book Perfectly Abnormal: Uncovering the Image of God in Chronic Illness. He writes to give encouragement and strategies to people who are dealing with circumstances that feel overwhelming. He believes in redefining normal and rebuilding hope.

He writes at at his web site. You can also follow him on Twitter and find him on Facebook.

Published in: on September 19, 2017 at 5:00 pm  Comments (10)  
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