Renewal of My Mind

Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…

Living with joy is not always an easy endeavor, and yet, as a Christian, I know that my life is supposed to be a letter to others:  2 Corinthians 3:3 “And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”

This joy that Paul discusses over and over, and the reason he is able to praise God in even dire circumstances is due to the transcendent purpose of Christ in His life, and in the lives of those whom he cares for. This allows for a person’s heart to be filled with gladness, and love, and hope, even when all earthly pleasures have been stripped away. But our daily thoughts can be consumed by things we want, things we lack, people we are envious of, false idols, people or powers that stand above our love of Christ in our minds. So how do we renew our minds, and focus on the only thing that truly matters? (For why it is the only thing that matters, check out this blog from last year.)

I would state first that this is something I have not mastered, and am presently working on. My goal is to eventually live with the joy of Christ fully, and for my life to be a letter, a testament to that hope I have in Him. But putting away all the messy darkness must start with prayer, and there are several verses I pray and meditate on daily as I work towards keeping Jesus Christ as the transcendent purpose of my life:

Romans 12:2 “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

In regards to putting the past behind me, old idols, old hopes, old sadness, old worries, I use this: Philippians 3:13 “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way…”

Him alone? Psalms 62:1 “For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation.
2 He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.”

All those things we attempt to gain by our flesh, do we someday realize that God intends to give us these freely, if we but humble ourselves:

“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”
1 Peter 5:10

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.” 1 Peter 5:6

This is so powerful. This is freedom from all anxiety, all regret, all pain. I’ve tried to establish my life on my own, my heart on my own. I failed. All was impasse, what love I could muster was selfish, half measures, and insufficient to establish anyone, least of all myself and those I loved. I died there, at the dead end of my decisions, my will. Luckily the mighty hand of God is expert at resurrection. I am thankful for my failures, for there is nothing more humbling than the death of all the best efforts of my heart.

So… the question is, are we humble enough to be truly care-free? I ponder this, and how to walk forward with a renewed mind, singularly focused on the only source of lasting joy. I am free then, to love others as He would have me love others, under His power, and because He first loved me. I hope this is a renewal of my mind, for I need the will of God to replace my own. My own is flawed, and only hurts. I trust His far more.

Advertisements

The Last Saint – An interview with author J.R. Cooper

BooksGoSocial

Today we are chatting with J.R. Cooper the author of The Last Saint.

 

Tell us something unexpected about yourself?

My artistic endeavors began with music. I was a front man for a rock band for 10 years. We tried to get signed, make a career of it, and were very good, but never quite made it far enough to reach a critical mass. As things do, that part of my life faded away, and took my artistic outlet with it. That loss of creativity left a vacuum, a need to create something. Instead of songs, I began writing stories, which of course led to my writing of The Last Saint.

 

What novels affected you the most growing up?

I was always a great fan of big adventure stories. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Hatchet, Treasure Island, The Count of Monte Cristo. These were epic tales to me, that spanned far off worlds and the gravest circumstances. There was courage, and tenacity, and within them I found the romance of living outside of safety, was taught the danger of freedom, but also what awaits those who face there fear. I dreamed of one day being as bold as the characters in those books.

 

Where did the idea for your current book come from?

After years of studying and teaching apologetics, and Creation vs Evolution, and after the aforementioned band break up, there was a perfect storm of knowledge and the need to create. In Christian Fiction, post-rapture stories were popular, but there wasn’t much about the events leading up to the end, and I had my own ideas about how that would look. Early on I wanted a strong female character, someone who was empowered, and yet challenged by the danger and chaos she was perceiving all around her. The events had to take me on a journey like those novels of old, but they had to also be true to Christian doctrines. Often we have seen Christians portrayed as horrible people in literature and in film. I wanted to paint a truer vision of what reasonable, loving Christianity was, rather than this skewed Hollywood version of faith.

 

Do you think there’s any way you could ever run out of ideas for books?

Sure, I suppose the well of ideas can dry up from time to time. It isn’t something to be scared of though. I think ideas come from experience, and love, and emotion. In the band, it was always harder writing songs when life was content. The three basic conflicts, right? Man vs Man, Man Vs Nature, and Man vs Self. If there isn’t a premise for conflict, something you can latch on to that is salty enough, intense enough, if a writer struggles with contentment, then it is possible he/she would have to wait for that conflict to arise organically so that there is passion behind the idea. Sure, and idea can be forced, but that isn’t art. That’s fulfilling a contract.

 

What is your routine for writing and has this method changed over the span of your career?

I wrote my novel the same way I wrote lyrics to my songs. I would concentrate on an emotion or a setting, and then crank up the intensity. I would approach it manic, reveling in the emotions of a character in order to decide dialect and direction. After that, and the basic conflict was decided, I simply experiment forward, feel out how to get from one circumstance to the next. Most important thing for me is to take copious notes. I always have an alternate outline/notes page up, and if I get an idea, I bullet point it, so I can make sure it makes it into the story. A good plot is wonderful, but if you add in the details that render nice full characters, and have tied up loose ends that even your reader has forgotten about, it makes, in my opinion, for a much more satisfying journey.

How important is marketing and social media for you?

I have to say, I am embracing it. I understand why, in this day and age, it is so important. I have a lot to learn, and I, like most writers I’m sure, would rather gain kudos from the trade craft itself. But the truth is, it is simply another part of the writer’s journey, and not without its own reward. Relationships and dialogue with fans can be developed, and other opportunities to network with guilds, promoters, business people, and the like can be discovered, where as without social media, opportunities would have stayed unrealized. Plus, for me personally, I have a publishing company who has put there faith in me, and I owe it to them to market my book as well. It’s about doing honor to the blessings you’ve been given.

 

What advice would you have for other writers?

I don’t think at this point I am qualified to give advice to other writers. There is much I still have to refine. But I will say that there is a world full of joylessness out there. A world full of the anonymous negative, who hate that they have not risked, or that they have never tried, because they think if it doesn’t work out, if the world doesn’t make them ‘go viral’, it is tantamount to being nothing. Those people will attack, they will use the anonymity of the web, or the distance between your effort and theirs to berate and slander and cut down who you are. And I understand that not everyone has the self-confidence to face such a world. That doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you. But, as a man who has written songs I feared people would hate, and stepped on stage to sing when I knew that I wasn’t one of the vocally blessed, and written a novel half convinced I wasn’t qualified to write, I will say that following through is an awakening of self-discovery. Each show, or story, both the good and bad, has forced me to reflect upon my path, and honestly assess who I am and where my power lies to affect others for the better.

I would encourage you all to try and push the boundaries of those passions you love, those things you spend hours doing, perfecting, and to then put that love into the world. The world will never get better by taking from it, only by giving to it, and you all have something unique to give. Let it fly, and do your best to not just hear the negative joyless, but look beyond to the courage you have to love the world in a way only you could.

 

What are you reading now?

Right now my studies continue, and I am reading along with my Bible, Frank Turek’s “Stealing From God: Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case.” And Gary Bates. “Alien Intrusion.” And for pleasure, I am re-reading my childhood favorite, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, but the unabridged version this time, which is adding an element to it that I must say has me positively excited.

 

What’s your next step?

We have pulled the trigger on releasing my novel, The Last Saint, and I will divide my time between marketing it, and finishing the first draft of my second novel, which I hope to have out in 2017. I find the premise to be extremely exciting, but it is a much different tone than The Last Saint. So I am studying a great amount, to not only get the science and theology correct in it, but also to develop my craft enough to keep the reader engaged using more subtle elements than action, such as tension, inner turmoil, and suspense. I love the challenge my new idea has brought me, and I hope that it is as rich and fun to read as my first. I hope those who have read this interview will follow me in that journey, and I look forward to finding out what God has in store for me.

 

The Last Saint by J R Cooper is available here 

 

Die Love, E’er to Live

Today life, it doesn’t flow right
Today it passes o’er minutes stranger
Where purpose and light do not know right
And the morning brought depression’s danger
Rusted love beneath the ribs
Hard to breathe, and hard to rest
I ask to dance, the effort lies
Left barren the intent to try
Walk on and forward, ever trudge
Work the limbs though ne’er I want to
Smile weak, but just enough
Convince all eyes I am not through
Oh world, flow ’round, infuse these bones
Help me breathe and let me fly
Use art and song to wake this soul
Help me live or let me die
Take part in paths to show real beauty
Teach me joy amidst the grey
For living still my sacred duty
While dying daily to love’s decay – J.R.Cooper
Writing is such a crucial part of life; a creative force, a healing therapy, an expressive intent, it’s soul-searching, communicative. This medium holds such discovery, and should be taken advantage of daily. From songs, to poems, to books, the ocean of your soul is waiting to be explored, and there is romance there in those depths. It is like the creatures of the deep, that have always been mysterious and beautiful, though no eye ever knew, or ever cared.
I will never be a popular author, more than likely. It is a big world, and I play but a meager part. But for that part, I will feel with all of me, express with all of me, and burn with all of me until my days are gone. For how you feel, and who you were when such was written is your absolute truth about that moment in time. And never once in all of heaven or in all the world has such a precise thing occurred exactly that way. No one can take it out of the world now.
Job 19:24,
“That with an iron stylus and lead They were engraved in the rock forever!”
What language fills you today?

The Power of Simplicity (abstract)

I was shaving, using an old-fashioned boars hair brush, and homemade farmer’s market shaving soap that smells like sandalwood and lavender, listening to Sinatra, and slowing the haste of the world with my breathing.

This idea of transcendent purpose has affected me as of late, a clinging to a purpose I can serve, one that is larger than the vanities of our day. King Solomon told us that “All is vanity” (Ecc. 1:2). If not but for God, it would seem that Solomon ended up a nihilist. He felt what we all feel eventually, that the toil of life mixed with the purposelessness found in the perfunctory grind of our daily action is the legacy of dead men walking.

We work diligently in thought and deed for great swaths of time towards goals we find give us a sense of relevance. These are different for all. Maybe you are saving the manatees. Perhaps you follow the political battles of Washington D.C., working hard each day to know and understand your platform, so you can defend it, prepared to forgive the trespasses on your side, and militantly oppose the other. You may march with signs. You may work towards a financial goal, or strive to build a business. Perhaps you pursue love, and escape in the delirium of intense desire. You build a world around a hope, an earthly hope that has no choice but to crumble under the weight of your expectations. No matter your interest, as it pulls you from ecstasy to the depths, and back again, any achievement or reciprocation received is short lived, and leads only to bitter unrest at the knowledge that any joy it brings will not endure.

Does this foreknowledge of failure make you negative? A pessimist? Being able to see the collapse of hope in the distance, and unable to stop it often makes us even more dedicated to our dream. It could even be stated that doubt and uncertainty are part of a recipe necessary for coveting that which we cannot live without. It is shocking the violence that takes place in the mind when our desires and fears mix. Compulsive daydreams infect how we perceive reality, and despite the real understanding that all will burn, along with the knowledge that we are helpless to stop it, we choose to run headlong towards an ecstatic finale we know is not there.

So then, what purpose transcends this inevitable disappointment? Further, what transcends our lives? Fame? Sex? Power? Glory? We would need a purpose that exists beyond our time here. One that makes us part of something much grander than our accomplishments. Robert Lewis wrote: “A transcendent cause must be truly heroic, timeless, and supremely meaningful.”

Upon reflection, there is only one thing in the universe that qualifies. That is Jesus Christ. And lo and behold, He has offered to make us a part of His transcendent story.

So these items we cherish, wine, love, money, they as blessings cause enjoyment in one who’s focus is on Christ. They are merely things He has placed in your path as you live and grow in sanctification. But, as idols, they take, and they keep taking, and no permanent  satisfaction will ever be attained from them. The idols like those I have sought to validate me, instead have devoured me, and refusing to admit they were there, it was to the depths I went. “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.” (Psalm 32:3)

But to acknowledge this? How good I perceived myself as being versus how broken my actions had become? So twisted that God had to actually save loved ones from me? Deliver them from me, as I had become a catalyst for pain and lack of peace?  Who was this man I never meant to be? My heart desired what I dare not speak aloud, much less pray for. I coveted. I had false idols. I wished to steal (not just material things, but love, dignity, respect of others, time, freedom, for the most dire things stolen are not things at all). I am angry. I lust. This all means I bear false witness. A liar, especially to myself. One then who is blind to sins known since childhood, sins known to have been written by the very finger of God. What a pretty picture of a Christian.

And the result? Distance from God. Silence in prayer life. Anxiety. Inability to properly love others. Self-loathing. To be the clanging cymbal that has no love in his heart. Despair. And how much more, in these depths, did I rail against the world for my causes, or grasp harder for my purpose, my secular validation? Or, how much more did I escape, self-medicate, choose negligence, indifference. Has the man who militantly blames society for his pain examined his character?  Do the high ideals in the public square extend to his wife and kids? Does he bring the whole of himself home each night, as priest of it? Does he grab his wife’s hand and pray with her, or teach his son or daughter why the bible is true, or how to love? Does the daughter witness from him what she should expect out of a husband someday, or is this not a consideration the father should concern himself with? Can he put himself last and still hope for fulfillment when all the magic he desires is rationed to the fortunate unworthy standing in the wake of his life’s disintegration? Look in his eyes; he is simply not there.

Unfortunately, recognition of who we truly are must proceed change. When we all started this journey, we thought to ourselves, I will be this type of Christian, or this type of spouse, or this type of parent. My intentions are to be purposeful and knightly, and full of honor. But all is vanity; and distractions erode us; and idols fill us; and it isn’t long before we have forgotten how to love, because we have forgotten who loved us first.

The simplicity of life: “But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 11:3) The Alpha, the Omega, and your transcendent purpose. It need not be more complicated then this. All else, blessings to be enjoyed, or not.  In a world of distractions, and the great whirlwind of lives to compare and contrast yourself with, and the pressure of forcing idols to answer wishes for love and money, what if we take Christ at His word. What if it is enough? And in this power, as it allows you to love properly again, you live out the life you were meant to?

I was shaving, using an old-fashioned boars hair brush, and homemade farmer’s market shaving soap that smells like sandalwood and lavender, listening to Sinatra, and slowing the haste of the world with my breathing. Starting at the center of myself, and working out. The parts I could control. I could be thankful for the music, and the steam, and be blessed to feel the satisfaction of a proper shave, and the calm in which this romantic chore took place. Like an artist who paints a leaf, there was beauty in the smallness of the moment, and I was “allowed” to be part of it. From here, what man would I chose to be? I could step out and complain about money, or Washington D.C., or be anxious for investment returns, or escape into a fantasy of love never actualized. Would these actions help me love others the way they needed to be loved? The way they deserve to be loved by me?

Or can I step outside the walls of my bathroom and be a different man; a simpler man, and not concentrate on the periphery of the world, but on my walk down the hallway, the embrace of my child, the prayer that my loved ones deserve, the health and wellness my body deserves, the study of scripture that my God deserves. I could ask God to teach me to love others better, and then make efforts to do that. Imagine it! Edifying others without seeking gain!

But I wanted them all to think I was smart, and special, and attractive. I wanted to be worth something to everyone.

But would my worth, according to them, change at all how I could love them, if I was loving them properly? Can I change that? No. I can change only me.

This will change my home. Which will change my church. Which may change my town. Which may change the state. Which may change the country. Which may change the world. But I leave this to God. I won’t yell at you about who you are supposed to be. I will do better at what I should have been doing. Overtime, perhaps I can be forgiven for having loved so badly, and so selfishly. But, it was coming from my flesh, not Christ, so it was bound to an inherently faulty foundation. If I can truly make Christ first, then how I see the world, how I love the world, everything changes. And everything is simplified into one transcendent purpose. Suddenly, I feel blessed just to be allowed to enjoy any of this silly old world at all.

Micah 6:8 – He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Colossians 3:23 – Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,

Hebrews 12:1 – Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us

Isaiah 49:4 – But I said, “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my right is with the Lord, and my recompense with my God.”

And so, I was just shaving, using an old-fashioned boars hair brush, and homemade farmer’s market shaving soap that smells like sandalwood and lavender, listening to Sinatra, and slowing the haste of the world with my breathing. And I thanked God.

New Book Idea: Unlike my Norm; Chapter 1 – Mr. Malus.

1

I’m a grown man. I can’t be inducing these thoughts. These rifts of reality. I introduce them to my day, convinced that the fiber of realism can in fact be split and let in the light of the supernatural. Supernatural? Perhaps not. Perhaps this is the wrong word. Perhaps more the impossible. The surreal. Gosh, wouldn’t that make life more interesting.

I was driving through the cogs and sprawls of the city, making my way to either my next episode of escapism, or to my next work appointment. I can’t remember, but I’ll know when I get there. I will ascertain on the fly whether I must be a grounded, lucid, intellectual, conducting acquisitions for profit in the decaying streets, to which a disproportionately high value has been attributed. If focused eyes, and a winner’s grin, mixed with confidant manufactured happiness and well annunciated words is warranted, then I shall summon the energy to perform as always. If it is escapism, I am free. Free to not remember what my address is, what my mobile number is, which email I am diverting information to, and for what purpose. And why is my fax number still on my business card? Have I received an actual fax in the last two years?

The power lines along the highway have charred and burned the trees they hover over. Ever notice that? In a nice neat manicured line, the foliage – what is left of it in this city – starkly flips from a peaked green to a miserable rusty brown, which follows the power lines through the landscape perfectly. This energy we have plugged ourselves to, we answer to it, don’t we? It kills what’s below it, but that doesn’t stop us from blasting it throughout all discernable space, and running it through every living thing at high velocity. It is a wonder anything can legally be called organic.

When I arrive at my destination, I realize the nature of my visit. It is a mission to prepare for the coming dystopia. We must of course be ready. It is in fact my responsibility, is it not? What kind of a man would I be if I saw threats at the periphery, and did nothing. I’d be a coward, that’s what. Today I would speak again to Eugene, the leather shop owner. Oh the smell as you walk in, pure time travel. Yes, of course, certain modern accompaniments taint the experience. There is after all a Sky-Drive here, a constant influx of digital garbage the workers and patrons can barely take their eyes from. Roving holographic pictures projected amidst pale blue light. The lighting was modern, and the air conditioning robbed me of the sweat and grit that belongs in the 1800’s. But the bells on the door were real when I walked in. The smell is real. And the gun in my briefcase is real.

“Eugene, did you come up with a price yet?”

He adjusted his glasses, “Mr. Malus. Welcome back. I have been thinking about your proposition. Since you are putting me, technically, in the awkward position of knowing your intentions of carrying a firearm in the city limits, I have to work on this alone. It being illegal will make the price go up.”

“Placing a leather compartment in a leather bag isn’t in and of itself, illegal. But yes, I understand. To do it right, I had to tell you its purpose. I assume the extra expense will assure me that you will not talk about the job once it’s done?”

“Agreed. I’ll do it for a thousand.”

“Deal.” I had so many uncashed checks laying at home, and in my safety deposit box, and in my briefcase. My money didn’t get spent on the vices and trappings society continually programmed me to purchase. It allowed me liberties beyond that of my fellow man. A client might beam with delight as he showed me his new Lexus, popping that switchblade key and activating that chirping ignition notification at the same time they popped that Hollywood grin. $600 per month to go from A to B in comfort, knowing full well that if someone presented the flip and threat of a true switchblade, they would pee down the pant leg of their khaki slacks. Meanwhile, I had my hand on a weapon, and could safely maintain my day, my night, my territorial bubble. I could even protect khaki–piss-britches who would be no worse for wear, other than the fowl ammonia smell on the seat of his new car as he went home to lie a different story to his wife. This, of course, after he curiously did his own laundry for the first time since they said ‘I do’. My money would increase my capabilities, prepare me for the events of the surreal. I would walk tall through the unknown, without the much too comfortable poly-fab seats caressing my uselessly large ass. I’ll walk among them all, ready, and no one will know.

“Please step in back here, Mr. Malus. I’ll have to measure the size and dimensions of the weapon.” I stepped beyond the counter, and past the curious and scraggly employee. Once in the office, he shut the door. I drew my weapon from the friction holster, a 9MM Walther, expertly cared for, and unchambered. The uneasy knowledge of vulnerability as I disarm washes over me as I eject the magazine, and rack the slide to present the barrel as empty to the shop owner. The 1800’s are a dangerous place after all. Eugene made his measurements, and we shook hands. I reloaded, and put the holster in my waistband, pulling my untucked Oxford dress shirt over it, as my rugged leather briefcase had to stay. When I got it back, I would have the compartment I wanted, sitting waist high, invisible to everyone. A gunslinger walking in plain sight.

An espresso was in order. As a socialite walking among the decadence of a Bohemian lifestyle, it was important to project a slim and dignified demeaner. My phone rang as I stepped in to the coffee shop. “Hello?”

“Is this Richard Johnson with Optimum Realty?”

Perhaps an opportunity to liaise the hostile takeover of a business. What lives would be affected by this one phone call. Would families starve? Would someone lose hope? Would someone get taken advantage of? “Yes, it is. How can I help you?”

“Yeah, man. I need you to look at my property. I need a certain amount out of it, and like uh, I just need help selling it, you know? I have tried selling it on my own, and stuff, but I just think it needs advertising. I was gonna fix it up, but I think its best if I just get what I can out of it.”

I took the address. What empire was this that crumbled? It sounded dire. I wish this particular business mogul spoke in a wiser manner. He came off as ignorant. We move mountains here, sir! We control the collapse of commerce, of civility. Should he not revere it as thus with how he speaks. So unsophisticated, it almost ruins the game.

I told this gentleman, this lead, that I would have admin set something up immediately, and that I looked forward to helping with his objectives. I then responded as K.C. Malus, and CC’d myself on the email. K.C. is of course my office administrator. We must project professionalism, yes even in these uncertain times. I would meditate a moment, before sending an email out as her. I know, it’s weird, but you have to write different. K.C. is a strong independent woman. She is as knowledgeable as me, pleasant and graceful in tone, but does not appreciate being talked down to for being a woman. She knows her worth, and might add an appropriate amount of sass in correspondence if her boss Richard can’t afford the risk of sounding haughty. K.C.’s profile pic on the emails is so attractive, you might be surprised at what she gets away with. She of course has access to my calendar, and the meeting with the distinguished lead was set for later that day.

 

It was tough to pretend. The building was falling down. “How much did you say you needed out of it?” I asked. The gentleman I spoke to on the phone was now next to me, staring at this blight. He was perfectly bald on the crown of his head, with black straggly hair falling from the back and sides of his skull to his mid-back. He spoke with a head bobbing motion, as if he was mentally attending a constant party with a steady beat. His own type of escapism apparently, dreadfully inferior. Who would aspire to be simply grooving, and to what end? To achieve nothing other than avoiding despair.

“I gotta get like $90,000 for it man. I went in with my buddy, and we poured money into it, but then he bailed, and I came over here and no work had been done. Just demo work, man.” He chuckled at his misfortune, and continued to bob his dull head to the beat of some unheard song. I palmed the heel of my gun, just to entertain myself, knowing if things were dystopian, he’d not likely survive our meeting.

“Sir. The reality is, the land it sits on is the only attributable and quantifiable value it possesses. The appraised value of said land equals between $15,000 and $20,000. It is a small third acre, and this precludes its use from a national tenant perspective.” I wanted his head to explode. “Furthermore, it sits back from the main commercial corridor, approximately 200 feet. Not to mention we have this building on it, which is all but a shell, and most of which is hardly salvageable. The reality is, I could sell it for $15,000 minus the cost to demo the building, if you don’t do so yourself. After commissions are paid, you may walk with $7500, and I am guessing by that look on your face, that this scenario puts you far short of your break-even point.” Please throw up, please throw up. What a story to tell the networking group.

“Guys, you won’t believe what happened this week. I was summoned uptown to do an opinion of value on this whale of a client who was upside down and looking to liquidate some of his assets. I had to shoot him straight (make gun signs with fingers) and laid out the financial realities of his position. I can’t tell you who it is, but safe to say you know him. Anyway, he started getting really wobbly, and I kid you not, he turned and threw up all over his office. I jumped back, and he absolutely hosed down his desk and floor to ceiling windows.

“What did you say?!”

“What could I say? I tossed him the hanky from my breast pocket, and told him that wasn’t the trash can.” I’d grab my six pack abs and chortle. “Hey, that’s life in the big city.”

“Oh, man, you said that?! I don’t know what I would’ve done.”

The distinguished gentleman who needed $90,000 for his 3 and a half brick walls on a third acre shook my hand, and said thanks anyways. He would just have to let it die. “Hell with it, man,” he said. “’preciate you comin’ all the way out here though, man.” And just like that, he be-bopped his merry way up the road, and I never saw him again. He won’t survive the coming world. Luckily this one was made for him. Despite the glaring lack of street smarts, and pathetic attempts towards life management, this person would not miss a meal. He will sleep under a roof tonight, and most likely has someone that he can have sex with whenever he wants, guy, or girl. He will be coddled, and caressed, and cared for, and regardless of the self-destructive activities he performs on a body and a life that is forever treated as a rental, he will be guaranteed the world’s best healthcare, the world’s dankest weed, an endless supply of Natural Lite, innumerable opportunities to succeed, and no risk whatsoever to his life or lifestyle. He will survive, and he will vote. He will convince a pretty, and tragically wounded single woman who is way too good for him and doesn’t know it, that he is mysterious and artistic, and that if it wasn’t for bad luck, he would already have been a millionaire many times over. And she will invest herself in him, physically at first, then psychologically, until her potential degrades into dependence on him. And so it goes with millions. All but me. This society is unsustainable.

Fundamentals, Heroes, and Rabbit Trails

As an author, sometimes, I get caught up in apologetics, and science. It can be a mentally stimulating distraction. But the truth is, though my writing and research may help fortify the faith of others, or raise good questions, or even give people confidence that there is someone out there who “actually” believes that the bible is still real, and relevant, in a world where the power of mankind is idolized, I don’t expect to change many hearts, if any. I dare say, that is not my job, and furthermore, I continue to work on my own as well, learning through study and regurgitating facts, bolstering my faith, wading through the perceived relative truth of the day. But as much as I enjoy learning and teaching, my heart remains… we will say… a work in progress.

One thing I noticed upon meeting some of the apologetic greats of our time, and that is, they had the fundamentals down. They seemed stoic and stable. These were not houses of cards ready to tumble at the first sign of strife. They were prayed up, and forged, soldiers bought by the blood of Christ. It wasn’t just knowledge, and facts, and answers. They loved what they did, and they love the Lord.

Each of us must prepare our hearts, in our own way for what’s to come, what is here, what we walk through. And I would go out on a limb and guess that each of us, despite the constant motion of our trudging actions towards goals, we internally and continually fight off doubt, search for meaning and purpose, and attempt to validate our existences in some form or another. For some it is sexual conquest. For others it is money, others power. But John Eldridge illustrates in his book, Wild at Heart, this common theme of validating ourselves through God, a theme I relate to in my mind, but struggle with in my heart. The bible supports this theme, through Solomon’s Ecclesiastical outlook on the vanity of all things not God, among other places.

But with so many barometers for success held in high esteem all around us, and so many desires in the human heart to chase what makes us happy, despite all morality or consequence, how hard is it to simply be satisfied with who you are in Christ. To present yourself to the world, damaged, and unafraid. Vulnerable. At home in Him. The truth is, the world would eat you up, and spit you out if you did this. Furthermore, I don’t have the strength to do it.

I’ve been in constant prayer as of late, not under the illusion that I will change God’s mind to conform to mine, but instead to search for His will in my life, and to ask for His will to be done in the lives of those I love. I realize I am not the solution, but He is. That I can’t heal myself or others, but He can. I can’t forgive myself, but He did forgive me.

I wanted so badly to be the hero of the love story. To be the one who changed hearts, and gave loved ones sanctuary, and to quell their fears. I wanted my book, my advice, my words, my caring, to be powerful forces in their journeys. I wanted credit in the form of affection for my effectiveness. I wanted the love that was “owed” to me because of all I had accomplished. I wanted to be enough. I am not.

After much prayer, the Lord has seen fit to grant me some perspective, some empathy, and to look at things from outside of the narrow, self-serving lens through which I view them. It is with this perspective that I sense the deep well of pain within others that I do not remove, and cannot touch, and upon which I have no affect. Who did I think I was? Simply the offering of a broken vessel when someone asks you to hold their water.

Furthermore, all the wise words I have collected, and studied, and regurgitated has not healed my own heart. Because my love is insufficient. You know the verse, made popular as a wedding day staple:

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.”

It rolls out of us automatic, and we hear it and feel comforted as if those qualities are imbued to us because of our worth. But it is a command, and we fall short. It is a warning, and we fail. What’s more, the warning before it states plainly that my endeavors are simply a clanging instrument, fit for nothing but to annoy, if I do not first have this type of love. I do not.

I have not been patient. I am not kind. I am rude. I am envious and resentful. I struggle to endure, and I struggle to keep hope. How then, can I be anyone’s hero. I cannot save anybody.

I wanted so desperately to be the paladin. The knight that edified those I love. In trying, I engage, and re-engage, jealously coveting accolades and kudos meant for my thoughtfulness, and resenting achieved value obtained by vehicles other than myself. I beg for compliments to sustain my self-worth, and when they fade, I crave reassurance, like an addict. I force answers and demand change, because in my heart I think that I really ought to be enough. I am not.

Let us then let the truth shine.

I am the clanging cymbal. So, to all those to whom I have spoken with insufficient, imperfect love, I am sorry.

I am not light. Christ is.

I am not a sanctuary for anyone in my brokenness. Christ is.

My love is not sufficient to save anyone. Christ’s is.

I am no lion. Christ is. 

I am no one’s king. Christ is.

 

 

Introduction- The Last Saint

the-last-saint      The off-duty soldier finished the note, quickly shoving it
between the pages of a diary. A true paper journal, not
the holographic Sky-pad that left nothing sacred. Walking from the coffee shop, he noticed the pursuers for the second time
that day. When coupled with the recurring presence of the drone,
just a shimmer in the sky, it was obvious that this was not
random. Though he exemplified a casual stroll, his heart raced
nonetheless. Gaining distance without being conspicuous wasn’t
easy. They looked so strange, he thought. They were singularly
focused on him. They chose not to break cover in the crowd,
showing some semblance of logic and restraint, however
anything longer than a glance would prove that the twisted
creatures following Lincoln were not mere commuters. The
sporadic, twitchy movements and dead eyes challenged the
camouflage of normalcy. These two were off.
He slipped into the local post office. Waiting in line was a
toe-tapping, knuckle-cracking nightmare; each second felt like
days, but at least there was cover. He kept checking the
windows—glancing, watching for their status to change. Yet the
two followers were content to mill around outside and not draw
attention as they surveilled the building. Lincoln wondered what
type of confrontation they had in mind. If this was base he’d have
a 10 mm XM17 on his hip, and if running an op, full tactical gear,
Armor Survivability Kit, and Rail Rifle. But protocol in Jerusalem
during peacetime dictated foreign soldiers be unarmed within
the city. All that was left, then, was a mind no longer trustworthy.
The world had come loose from its moorings. Was the beginning
of the end imminent? The book had conjecture, yes. Supposition,
even. But it couldn’t possibly be the upstart this attention
suggested, could it? Unless he was onto something, and the diary
was striking too close to the truth for the powers that be to
ignore. The sluggish line finally ended at a counter where he
forced the diary into an envelope. Addressed to his wife, Olivia, it
T he off-duty soldier finished the note, quickly shoving it
between the pages of a diary. A true paper journal, not
the holographic Sky-pad that left nothing sacred. Walking
would ship out to their small condo in the states. She would not
understand it.

Olivia never believed as Lincoln did. He would come home
from church or from a class and start pouring out facts and bits
of trivia, only to see his wife’s eyes glaze over as if to say, “Here
he goes again.” She would almost roll them, but after many years
of eye rolls and witnessing the disappointment that followed, a
practiced gaze of empathy had been perfected. They found this
city, and uncovered that temple, and it all fits with the Bible… he
would explain, with Olivia counting down the seconds until
Lincoln jacked into the home’s office-hub to pour it all into his
book—his diary. The end of these enthusiastic monologues were
always met with a great sigh. Now, after seven years of marriage
broken up by three military tours, there was palpable spiritual
distance between the two. To feel emotional oneness and
physical compatibility only to be denied the spiritual closeness
he yearned for was frustrating. But he did love her. They kept
putting off the possibility of kids. She didn’t want to force God on
a child. Instead, did a child not deserve to grow up without the
mindset of the parents? To be free to think as he or she pleases?
Lincoln, conversely, passed all of his views and opinions through
a biblical filter, and there was no separating them. As time went
on, they had found it tougher to joke and be playful; tougher to
make financial decisions; tougher to agree on the social issues of
the day. Olivia always considered the Bible just a bunch of
stories, and it was baffling to her how an intelligent man like
Lincoln could buy into such ludicrous tales. But he was in love
with a fantasy, so she chose to navigate around it as if it were
merely an obsessive hobby. But it was changing him. Changing
them. There was enmity now, an invisible chasm that neither
could stitch together.

He practically flung the diary at the open mouth of the
mail-bot when departing the post office. The two unusual men
wasted no time reestablishing the tail, following Lincoln north
into the marketplace. They did a decent job blending with the
crowd, but their intensity escalated proportionately with
Lincoln’s speed. And adrenaline will certainly quicken the feet.

“I need my pistol.” As he spoke the words aloud, the gravity
of the situation bubbled over into fear. Deciding it was time to
take the chance, he blasted into a run like a bolt from a crossbow,
ducking through the shopkeepers’ alleyways and corridors. The
tail followed suit, and between breaths he heard their snarling.
Those wet, grotesque mouths. And did they file their teeth? Why
are they so pale? Another joined the chase, forcing the footrace
into a sprint that slipped past clothes racks and knocked over the
local street vendors’ food pyramids. The pretense was fully shed.
They were coming.

The army reserves had inspired an athleticism in Lincoln
that never left. So many miles logged—both running and
marching—so many iron plates lifted. He and Olivia excelled in
physical fitness and agility. On the spiritual battlefield things
weren’t always eye to eye, but their training had always been
magical. Olivia ran and kick boxed; Lincoln preferred climbing
and cycling. When they’d lift weights together, the healthy
competition was fierce. So, why were these pursuers gaining? He
was fit, strong, and able to perform at a moment’s notice. How
were these pale, wheezing figures closing ground? Digging for
every iota of physical prowess created no extra space. All speed
and screaming, like rabid animals, the creatures hurdled the
same carts and threaded the same lines of bystanders. Their
body types were not fit, but after blocks of running, none tired,
save Lincoln. And through it all, they howled the whole way.

Tight corridors in this sprawling mess of an ancient city
were almost impossible to navigate, even if one wasn’t in a
panicked dead run. For Lincoln, the decision to cut left down an
alley proved the last one he would ever make and brought a swift
end to his growing ministry. The old stone wall demised the alley
halfway down, preventing any chance of escape. The frothing
men that plowed beyond physical capability were immediately at
his back, celebrating the hopeless dead-end with fury through
burning lungs. Scanning the grounds for a weapon proved
fruitless, as the rooftops began to fill with more manic, pale
bodies. What had he uncovered? Lincoln turned to face the first
three, sweating and breathing through his mouth. Swimming
through his mind were hundreds of things he would never get to
do. Kiss Olivia again. Drive that Ford Scythe that he had his eye
on. Be a dad.

The possessed men got close, throwing their arms open
and spreading across the width of the alley while intermittently
rifling off shrill, piercing screams. It was like the sound of a train
grinding on its rails to stop. He could see their eyes now. Grayed
out. Dull, but focused. On him. Cracked lips pursed in savagery,
revealing teeth that were certainly formed for scaring, or tearing,
or both. A shriek descended almost on top of him, followed by
another, preventing focus in any one direction. They threw
themselves down from the roofs. The first body landed to his
right with a thud. The flat smack against the stone jarred and
severely winded it. It clawed the ground with great gasps, too
damaged to rise up. The second hit behind Lincoln with the
snapping sound of a large branch. That was its leg, no doubt.
Another jumped from a roof, landing behind the three in the
alley. The ones that had fallen were frenzied and bleeding. The
closest was a convulsing, writhing mess attempting to close the
gap by standing on its shattered leg. Lincoln smelled its rage and
frustration. The other wheezed and clawed along on its belly,
desperate despite how badly its body had been impacted. Lincoln
looked up as the rooftops filled. The drone had called in his
position. So many converging. Some were women. Some barely
more than children.

Lincoln harbored no delusions as the mob circled. This was
where his story ended. He fought the good fight, but was
overpowered in that lonely alley by sheer numbers and surreal
strength. Teeth sank in, elbows and fists rained down, damage
hailed from every direction. A torrent of strikes landed with
maddening force, taking his consciousness and filling his every
sense with thick destruction. His last thought before all went
black was of Olivia. But not in fondness. In worry. He muttered
his last words, “Please God, count her among your sheep.”

To order your copy, printed, or on e-book (limited time only $4.99) please go to amazon.com and order today! Please share intro with friends if you feel they would enjoy a fast paced Christian Fiction! Thank you and God Bless.