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The Empowered

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Trevor Black’s reputation for unusual gifts in identifying the dark side of the spiritual realm sets the stage for a request to investigate a mysterious voodoo death in Washington DC. The twists and turns of the investigation is the theme of Craig Parshall’s newest book, The Empowered.

 

Trevor’s life has been more than a little adventurous after he was disbarred as an attorney, but his faith in Christ and his gifts of discernment of the evil that lurks in the midst of the tangible world opens doors to be a light in the darkness.

 

The newest assignment happens in the midst of getting acquainted with his adult daughter, Heather. Trevor had hoped for a chance to explain his surprise to learn of her existence and hear more about her own story, but the urgent call he receives to help uncover the shadowy empire lurking in the midst of the death in Washington DC cannot be ignored.

 

Heather decides to accompany him when he leaves his North Carolina island home to begin the investigation. Trevor agrees somewhat reluctantly given her lack of faith. As the story unfolds, Heather becomes an assistant and uses her graduate school research skills to help while Trevor keeps a close eye out for her safety.

 

His concern is warranted when she comes up missing while they are in New Orleans and he is being interrogated for a staged murder in his hotel room.

 

Their investigation has confirmed the connection with voodoo to the death in Washington DC, but also uncovered a human trafficking ring that extends around the world.

 

Trevor becomes aware this is a higher level of evil activity than he has experienced previously and that he will need to rely on the Lord as never before if he is to uncover the truth and protect his daughter from being a target.

 

This latest fiction work reflects the real world truth of human trafficking around the globe that enslaves forty-six million people and also the “dark web” that feeds and sustains this industry. This “underbelly” of the Internet reportedly attracts 2.5 million visitors a day.

 

Most significant, however, is how Craig Parshall spotlights the truth of the two invisible kingdoms surrounding us, one of darkness and one of light, that we as believers can often forget.

 

As the world around us appears to become more dangerous and unpredictable each day, this spotlight is an important message for Christians to awaken to the real source of the division, chaos, and mayhem that is afoot. It is also time to awaken (as Trevor did) to our responsibility as “light bearers” in the midst of darkness.

 

To comply with new regulations introduced by the Federal Trade Commission, Tyndale House Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my review.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gift of Curiosity

 

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When I mention the word curiosity I wonder what comes to your mind. It is one of those words that can have many attached experiences and feelings connected to it. By definition it is in itself neither innately good nor bad, but can lead to either of those poles. Perhaps that is because I think it is a God-given gift. As such, it has incredible potential and the enemy knows it well and also seeks to use it to draw us to “the dark side.”

 

A dictionary defines curiosity this way: “a strong desire to know or learn something.”

 

 At the very beginning of life we see an infant and later a toddler as a great example of curiosity. Their curiosity is what propels them forward to learn the most basic things. In that quest they sometimes get into danger or trouble, but without curiosity they would never learn.

 

curiosity-is-one-of-the-great-secrets-of-happinessCuriosity spurs our imagination and wonder. Can you imagine what curiosity and wonder filled Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden? Can you get a glimpse of how God allowed them to use it as they named the animals? We also see how the enemy used it to draw them away from trusting Him.

 

Early in our lives the risks of curiosity often result in attempts to control or box it in for the stated reason of protecting us. Sometimes formal education has left little room for it. Clay P. Bedford addressed the value of curiosity in education in these words:

 

“You can teach a student a lesson for a day; but if you can teach him to learn by creating curiosity, he will continue the learning process as long as he lives.”

 

 We all know the expression that “curiosity killed the cat” and yet a closer evaluation should remind us that curiosity resulted in the discovery of penicillin that has saved hundreds of thousands of lives. (Just one example of so many)

 

Curiosity has provided the grist for every new discovery we know, every new place or peoples, each invention or medicine. It is spurred on by wonder.

 

“It would be very difficult to draw a line between holy wonder and real worship; for when the soul is overwhelmed with the majesty of God’s glory, though it may not express itself in song, or even utter its voice with bowed head in humble prayer, yet it silently adores.”  —  Charles Haddon Spurgeon

 

To lose our sense of wonder would be to lose some of the very essence of God’s listen-with-curiosity-speak-with-honesty-act-with-integrity (1)image imprinted on us.

 

Andy Stanley once said, “Everything in life conspires against our sense of wonder: age, experience, our jobs, and even our church.”

 

 It was curiosity that caused Moses to do a double take when he saw the burning bush that was not consumed. After he stopped to look, God called out his name in one of the most arresting moments of the Old Testament story of Moses.

 

How curious was Nebuchadnezzar when the flames of the fiery furnace he had sentenced them to did not consume Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego? How did that speak to Him of God when not even smoke attached to them and a fourth man “like a son of the gods” was visible in the furnace with the other three?

 

When I consider the title of Judith Kunst’s book, The Burning Word, regarding scripture and how we approach it, how can I miss that the “burning Word” is a metaphor for the burning bush? God invites us to discover Him there.

 

“In his actions and in his words God continually holds out revelation, holds out wisdom, but it is hidden, and we must seek it out. If you seek me, you will surely find me, says the Lord. I will be found by you.

 

Moses had the burning bush, we have the Bible…If I want to come close to the God of the Bible, to step onto the holy ground of his presence, then I must wake up my curiosity and look for God in the strange, hidden, and burning places of scripture.” Judith Kunst

 

I think He hopes we will be intrigued, ask questions, and pursue Him to the depths of all of who He is. Our questions will not knock Him off his throne. When I consider the breadth and scope of his work as Creator and how little of it any of us can fathom in a lifetime, I cannot help but think He delights in our discoveries for they consistently prove He is God and greater than our imagination can conceive.

 

I love how Dallas Willard writes about this:

 

 “We should, to begin with, think that God leads a very interesting life, and that He is full of joy. Undoubtedly He is the most joyous being in the universe. The abundance of His love and generosity is inseparable from His infinite joy. All of the good and beautiful things from which we occasionally drink tiny droplets of soul-exhilarating joy, God continuously experiences in all their breadth and depth and richness.”

 

 As you seek to grow in intimacy with the Lord in solitude, silence, and opening His Word, let Him stir up curiosity to explore and mine the hidden jewels He has left for us there.

 

We are not used to contemplating an all-knowing God as one who is curious. But it is God who imagines freedom for us all, God whose faithful curiosity about the future of the world has set the text of the Bible eternally on fire.” Judith Kunst

 

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Don’t Miss It!

 

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A few weeks ago my daughter-in-law texted me to alert me to be sure to see a movie she had just viewed. She knows my husband and I love movies and seek out the ones we believe are the “best of the best”, but this one was one she urged us to be sure to see on the big screen. “Don’t miss it!” she said.

 

I’m sure you have had more than a few times when someone urged you not to miss something. He or she believed we would enjoy it and wanted to share it with us. I know I have said the same thing to others as well.

 

Far too often we miss many things that can inspire, enlighten, or arrest our attention as we sail through most of our days. We don’t need to be in a movie theater, attend a concert or sporting event, or have seats in the arena at the Olympics to experience them. We do, however, need to be awake and fully present to such discoveries. The challenge is whether we will slow down long enough to catch the discoveries.

 

One of the numerous ways this can show up is when we are in our times with the Lord. If we have known Him for some time, we can almost disengage as we read passages in His Word that we know so well that we miss the nuggets we have yet to discover.

 

My senses have been heightened in that regard as a result of reading The Burning Word by Judith Kunst as she describes the Jewish Midrash way of reading and turning over the scripture.

 

Kunst makes a great comparison of how many of us read scripture versus the Jewish way of reading it:

 

“My religious tradition was more about movement. The primary task of our Bible reading was traveling, through the trusted medium of Holy Scripture, toward a perfection of knowing and doing that was somewhere out there, beyond words.

 

The Jewish way of reading, I am learning, is less about progressing than about digging in, holding on – not passing through words but dwelling in them, under and around them.”

 

IMG_0128 I can own the truth that I have sometimes read through passages to accomplish a goal or find some information or help. Other times I have known the richness of taking time to value the story I hold in my hands in the Bible and to look deeper into the meanings, the context, the key words, and more.

 

To consider the choice of a single word and why it may have been chosen is where Kunst’s writing has taken me. A recent example was when I was preparing for a women’s Bible study on the Gospel of John.

 

While reading John 14:6 (ESV) where Jesus tells his disciples I am the way, the truth, and the life”, my attention fixed on that little word, the. It’s such a common word that it rarely gets much attention from any of us in our daily life, let alone in our reading of scripture. Yet, it was such a moment of discovery to recognize the significance of this little article used as an adjective before those key descriptors of Jesus (way, truth, life).

 

 Many today believe there are many ways to God, many ways to heaven.

 

If that were true, then perhaps Jesus would have rightly said, “I am a way, a truth, and a life”. Using “a” points to something that is indefinite and can imply it is one of many choices. But Jesus chose the definite article “the”. Choice of that word means it is a specific object, thing, or person that both the person speaking and the listener know. That little word makes all the difference in understanding what Jesus meant as He was teaching.

 

It may sound like a small thing, but it was an “aha” moment for me to slow me even further in my consideration of the rich texts that I read during my time in the Word with the Lord.

 

Accomplishing goals in reading scripture are good things, but I wonder if we miss more than we realize when we make that the focus.

 

Perhaps we also miss that what we are reading is not only truth but also real.

 

When David wrote the Psalms that were so descriptive of the world around him and his own experience, have we considered the language he used was describing real things, places, and people? The trees, the streams, the rocks, and all that David and every other writer of the Word named were real.

 

Archaeological discoveries find more and more proof of the truth and the realness of the story we read from Genesis to Revelation. It is far from fiction and fantasy.

 

Consider that God wanted to convey to his created human beings that He was and is real. It was not lost on Him that our finite understanding made it impossible to grasp the eternal and infinite.

 

So, He chose to show us who He was and is and Jesus came to the earth. He was and is real in every way, but He was and is also God.

 

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Chew Slowly

 

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Many of us grew up with our mothers admonishing us to chew slowly. Not many of us knew why and what benefit we would gain if we did. I sometimes wonder if we ever really grasped the benefit as we race through our meals, often eating “on the go.”

 

Chewing slowly not only allows for better digestion, but it has the added bonus of better hydration, easier weight loss or management, and of course we can actually taste and savor the food we are eating.

 

It does mean we must shift down into first gear to do so.PICT0415

 

As I consider the sweet times of fellowship with the Lord during solitude and silence, I am keenly aware it only occurs when I deliberately slow myself down to rest in His presence. Those times with Him are immeasurably richer when my time in the Word and dialoguing with Him around it are a foundation for the level of intimacy solitude and silence bring.

 

I wonder how often we fail to chew slowly as we read in His Word. Quiet times must sometimes be compressed into shortened periods and we sometimes listen to the Word over iPods on our way to work or school. These and other times around the Word all help us focus on the Lord and nourish our spirits. They are good, but there is quite a difference between the enjoyments of dining at a table versus grabbing something at a drive through window.

 

I love what Judith Kunst reminds us about the Talmud in The Burning Word:

 

“Turn it and turn it again,” the Talmud says of the scriptures, “for everything is contained therein.”

 

 Her words suggest to me the value of savoring the words that I read in the Word. She, in fact, points out that the Jewish tradition of reading the scripture called Midrash encourages that slow chewing on the Word.

 

Listen to Judith’s description:

 

“The Holy Scriptures abound with gaps, abrupt shifts, and odd syntax that puzzles, even confounds, any reader of scripture. Jewish Midrash views these troubling irregularities not as accidents or errors, or cultural disparities to be passed over, but rather as deliberate invitations to grapple with God’s revealed word – and by extension – to grapple with God himself…

 

Midrash views the Bible as one side of a conversation, started by God, containing an implicit invitation, even command, to keep the conversation – argument, story, poem, prayer – going.”

 

 This interaction with the Word makes sense to me as a living document, a letter written from God to His children. As I read passages now that I know well and have read many times before, it is not unusual when I chew slowly to discover something new or fresh I somehow did not see at other times.

 

PICT0420Chewing slowly allows me to notice the texture and subtle flavors of any food. The same is true with the Word.

 

It also reminds me of a few years ago on a trip to California. We visited some of the vineyards for which California is famous. If the vintner was present in the tasting room, we were taught to approach a glass of wine more slowly to discover all its nuances. It meant holding the glass up to allow the light to filter through the wine and notice the subtle or bold colors produced by the winemaker’s skills. It meant holding the glass of wine to the nose to discover its fragrance.

 

The vintner would slow us down even then to notice not just one fragrance, but a variety of complex notes. Swirling the wine in the glass before sipping it added another dimension by the addition of oxygen to the wine that had been bottled (closed off from air) just moments before. Then, and only then, were we advised to sip and taste the wine and enjoy all it contained.

 

In the first portion of Psalm 34:8 (ESV), the psalmist invites us:

 

“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!”

 

I think the vintner’s lesson about wine serves me well in reading scripture or considering the Midrash manner of reading the Word.

 

Only then can I discover the richness of the dialogue meant to guide my relationship with the Lord. It is also from that rich interaction I sense His nudge to come aside to be alone with Him and allow His whispers to draw me into intimacy with Him.

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What Are You Leaking?

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This might sound like a strange question to ask, but consider this: whatever we are full of will be what leaks from the deepest recesses of our being whether we intend that or not.

 

One obvious way we see this is when we are overly tired or stressed. No matter what our faith or desire may be to emulate, most of us will leak lots of evidences of that exhaustion. Our words will be sharper and our tone will often reflect frustration. We will listen less well even if we don’t want that to happen. We will be eager to get away from everyone and everything to find some level of relief even if that simply means falling into bed.

 

It happens to all of us.

 

But there are other things that seep out of us that may be harder to recognize unless we determine to observe ourselves objectively. If we are full of bitterness, envy, jealousy, lust, selfishness, greed, anger, or resentment, those will leak in our responses to life and those in it. We may very well try to hide such things in the recesses of our hearts, but we are never as skilled as we think in doing so.

 

Those less nice things, those sins, that we have left unattended within our hearts lead to a feeling of emptiness and we go to great lengths to try to fill that emptiness. We may use any number of things including but not limited to alcohol, cigarettes, food, spending (also known as retail therapy), sleeping, TV, movies, music, gambling, or even excessive exercise. We want to evade and avoid what seems to be devouring us. But we won’t stop there.

 

We also will try to use others to try to fill us up. Ruth Haley Barton puts it this way:

 

“When we are not finding ourselves loved by God in solitude, in the company of others we are always on the prowl for ways they can fill our emptiness. We enter life in community trying to grab and grasp from others what only God can give.”

 

What we most need is for those persons we seek out to lovingly point us to the only Source that can deal with both the ugly things in our unattended heart and the emptiness that comes when our hearts have chilled from bitterness, disappointment, hurt, rejection, and more.

 

“At times the strength of spiritual community lies in the love of people who refrain from getting caught in the trap of trying to fix everything for us, who pray for us and allow us the pain of our wilderness, our wants, so that we may be more deeply grounded in God.” Rosemary Dougherty

 

Those people will need a tenacious grace-filled faith to both nudge us and leave us alone with God even when we protest that we don’t hear Him or He doesn’t care.

 

“Solitude, at its most basic and profound level, is simply an opportunity to be ourselves with God.” Ruth Haley Barton

 

The simple truth is this: when we sit in the presence of the Lord, we are changed. His love overshadows us and washes away the debris within and floods us with Himself. It is then when we have been drenched like dew on grass in the early morning that we are satisfied. And when we leave that place to re-enter our world, we leak His love, His fragrance.

 

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 2:15 (AMP):

 

“For we are the sweet fragrance of Christ [which ascends] to God, [discernible both] among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing;”

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