Interviewed by G D Talbot

I was recently interviewed by G. D. Talbot about my writing in the past, present, and future.

Have you or will you be willing to collaborate with other authors in the future?
Even though I never have before, I am very open to collaborating with other writers. However, writers who collaborate have warned me that the work has to be split evenly, with each author ready to contribute their full 80%. (And that’s no typo.)

You can read the whole thing here. If you’re interested in the SEVEN DEADLY TALES, you can buy it with my thanks!

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Posted in Behind the Story, Christian, Fiction | Tagged | 1 Comment

Conform Your Mind to the Image of Christ

Because we are fallen, we must transform our minds to the way God wants it to be.

I heard about an old Assemblies of God pastor who went golfing with an unsaved councilman one day. On the way to the fifth hole, the councilman tripped. When he hit his head, he swore.

After an apology to the minister, they continued walking. The minister’s foot slid out form under him, and he landed hard on his back. “Praise God!” he said.

The councilman looked at him. “When I fell, I swore. When you fell, you said ‘praise God.’ Why?”

The minister replied, “Whatever you fill a bucket with comes out when the bucket is kicked. Your mind is the same way. Whatever you put it in comes out.”

What are you putting in your mind?

Sometimes people tell me that they have no religion. Maybe they call themselves a skeptic, agnostic, or an atheist. Whatever. They may have no religion, but they do have a worldview. We’ll get to what that is in a moment.

Some people, sometimes the same as those above, say that all religions are the same. I guess that’s true. They only differ on a few minor matters.

  • Origin—How did I get here?
  • Meaning—What gives me purpose while I am here?
  • Morality—How do I tell between right and wrong?
  • Restoration—How do I make things right when I do wrong?
  • Destiny—What happens to me when I die?

At this point, the humor should be obvious. All religions are not the same. In fact, the things they differ on are the most important questions in the world. How you answer those questions forms your worldview. People from every religion will answer them differently. How they answer those questions can tell you what religion a person follows and what worldview they have.

How should a Christian approach life? The answer is in Scripture. We will examine several passages of Scripture today when speaking on how a Christian should approach life. Romans 12:1,2; Exodus 20:7; Luke 20:19-26.

Romans 12:1,2 “Therefore, I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

St. Paul wrote Romans to the church there. Christians had to be very careful in Rome at the time. Christianity was still considered a division of Judaism. This relationship between church and synagogue was rapidly deteriorating, but it still existed. Some of the Roman Christians were members of the imperial court and guard.

In the court, as in all administrations, intrigue and backstabbing ruled the day. In those dangerous situations, changing your attitude and actions would be a risk. However, that risk was commanded.

You see, living a Christian life is the least we can do for God. Our lives change because of what Christ did for us. Christian living is an act of worship to God.

The next verse speaks of being transformed. Transformed means a complete change. Like a butterfly coming out of a cocoon looks nothing like the caterpillar that went in. Salvation changes you. The Christian is no longer the same as the person prior to salvation. Everything changes. Or it should change.

Before we moved here to Iowa, I knew a southern Baptist minister who had come to the same conclusion I had about those who claim Christ but show no difference in their life. He and I had independently started describing them as “practical atheists.” Do you see the point of the term? Those who do not act as though they know God might as well not know Him. To claim Christ while acting unchristian is, in fact, blasphemous.

The Christian on his worst day should be better than the unbeliever on his best. Let that sink in. No matter how the day has gone, no matter how bad it is, the Christian should still be acting better than an unbeliever who has had the most amazing day possible.

In this verse, Paul tells us not to come out of the same mold as everyone else. A Christian is to be different in all ways. The difference comes from the inside out. When you take upon yourself a Christian worldview, these differences will be obvious. How you act. How you respond.

A Christian worldview is also shown in the Old Testament in the third commandment. Exodus 20:7 “Do not take the name of the LORD, your God, in vain.” We often read that as simply a command not to swear, and that is certainly a small part of it. But if you examine the commandment, when you break it down in pieces, you see God relayed through Moses a much heavier command. Let’s work through it.

First, you see that what God says is stated in the strongest negative command possible in Hebrew. An absolute prohibition, it means ‘never.’ In fact, all the negative commandments are set up the same way. These are absolutely nots.

Secondly, you see the verb translated “take” doesn’t just mean to hold it in your hand but to put it on your shoulder like a yoke on an ox or carry a pack on your back. It means “burden yourself.”

Thirdly, “the name” means not only what they call themselves and what others call them, but also their reputation. We have that in English when we say, “You smear my good name, sir.” At the altar, we see it happen when a man and woman marry. She takes his last name to show she is joined to his family now and forever. At least that’s how it should be. We see it when a child is adopted and takes the last name of the new parents. The child is part of the family and that is proclaimed to all by the family name being the same throughout the family. Being part of a family indicates who you are. You read in the paper that so-and-so got arrested. No surprise, look at his last name.

Fourthly, “the LORD, your God.” Who is God? He is the creator, sustainer, and redeemer of the universe. He is the one who brought them out of Egypt, out of slavery. He had done many marvelous things for their family, and now He would do more.

The LORD refers to His personal name. Why do we call him LORD and not use the name? Because the Hebrew personal name of God is very special and not to be spoken lightly. The name means “He is, He was, and He will be” all rolled up together. That name He first made known to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the three patriarchs of the Hebrews. It is the covenant name of God. Being made privy to the name is special. He signs the covenant with it. This is what He is putting on the line.

Finally, “in vain” doesn’t have anything to do with our thinking of vanity, but it means emptiness or falsehood. Flippantly, would also work when discussing this verse. You do this because you have weighed out the costs.

We put it back together this way: “Never flippantly burden yourself with the reputation of the one who makes this covenant with you.”

In other words, Moses told the people, “God has carved on this tablet a command: Never call yourself His unless you are going to act like it!”

You see, to the Hebrew which Jesus was and which Paul, Peter, James, John, and all the other Apostles were, there was no difference in sacred and secular. How you acted at festivals and temple worship was just as important as how you acted in your day-to-day business activities. And that was just as important as how you acted when alone.

I believe it was CS Lewis who said, “Character is who I am in the dark.” What do you do when no one is looking? HG Wells wrote a novel exploring this thought in The Invisible Man. The man who uses the invisibility serum doesn’t use it to help others. When no one can see him, he commits crimes. That shows his character. When he thought he wouldn’t get caught, he became a thief. There have been many other movies and books about people who become invisible and go criminal. I don’t know if it tells more about the writers themselves or how they see human nature that they assume a man who can’t be seen will do something wicked.

Of course, the religious person knows that he is never alone. God sees all. But we think we can reconcile with God easily. Say a quick prayer, and it is done. That might lead one to think they can sin with impunity and get quick forgiveness. Why? The transformed does not want to sin that way.

On several occasions, I have been asked, “what would you do differently if you knew God did not exist?” Do you see the unbeliever’s trap here? If I say I would do nothing different, then obviously I don’t need God to be good. If I say something–anything at all–then I admit that I serve God not out of love but out of fear.

Friends, neither side of this trap makes sense. First, I have never said one can’t be good without believing in God. What I say is that the worldview of an atheist will, by definition, differ from a Christian’s. And without believing in God one cannot believe in an objective morality. It is impossible to claim that any act, no matter how vile, might not be good under some situation. Because there is no standard that cuts across all time and cultures.

But we know that isn’t the case! We know there are acts that are always wrong! But, believe it or not, some will argue the fact. Theologian William Lane Craig was at a conference on ethics a few years ago. In one of the panels he attended, the statement was made that no act was always wrong. He decided to throw the panel a softball question. “Surely you would agree that child rape is always wrong?”

While the other panel members nodded in agreement with him, the one who made the original statement said, “I cannot say there would not be a culture and situation where that act was always wrong.”

The other panel members were aghast! They begged her to grant the exception. She refused.

When your worldview is naturalism–that there is no God and everything must come about by random chance–you have no magnetic north for your moral compass. In that case, staying alive often becomes the magnetic north. But it can’t be objective. What if your neighbor decides his life depends on you dying? Why is it wrong for him to act on that? Are you going to make exceptions now? Add on things that weren’t on the statement out of a sense of self-preservation?

With no moral lawgiver, there can be no moral law.

With no moral law, there can be no objective good.

You can be a good person without believing in God. However, God’s existence is the only reason we can agree on what is good.

The second side of the trap is that by changing my actions, I would agree that I serve not out of love but fear. Where did that follow from? Certain actions are made or not made in a relationship not from fear but because they follow from the relationship. There are lines in a committed relationship that cannot be crossed without breaking the relationship. If the relationship does not exist, the act cannot transgress it. It is that relationship with God—not fear—that dictates my actions. Let me give you an example. If Pastor Mike were not married to Libbie, he would be free to date other women. But the relationship he has with her is exclusive. He is not true to her out of fear but out of love.

When God created us, He put his mark. Genesis 1 calls it the image of God. Genesis 2 refers to it as the breath of life whereby man became a living soul.

Jesus speaks of that image on a very specific occasion, our third passage. Seeking to trap him, some of his enemies asked him if it was right to pay taxes to Caesar. Let us read it together:

Luke 20:19-26

This was a trap. The Romans saw Jesus as just another Jewish preacher. The scribes and chief priests needed Rome to change their opinion on Jesus. So they set a trap. Jesus, wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove, slipped out of the trap. They asked, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?”

Jesus has them show a Roman coin. It has Caesar’s image on it.

When Jesus answered the question, He leaves another question dangling in the air. He can do this because they are all Hebrews here, and their minds have all been taught to look at the world through a Jewish worldview.

He tells them: “Render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s. Render to God that which is God’s.”

Had the questioner been honest, he would have asked a follow-up question. “What, then do I render to God?” It’s a question he didn’t ask because he already knew the answer. Using that word “image” or “likeness” as Jesus did would immediately bring to mind Genesis 1, “in the image of God, in his likeness.”

How do you know what is God’s? The same way you know the coin is Caesar’s—what has God’s image? “In the image of God, He created them.” Whose image is on you? God’s image is on you. Whether you are a Christian or not, God’s image is on you.

When you know this, how do you act on it? How has God’s touch transformed you? How do you act to show the change from God that is in your life?

What difference has Jesus made in your life and in your worldview?

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Fight for Rislandia is released!

I enjoyed the first two books in this trilogy, and so am pleased to announce book 3, FIGHT FOR RISLANDIA, has been released!

Deceived once before, the Baronetta will fight to free her embattled people. How much of the Iron Emperor’s story was a lie? We’ll see in book 3!

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The Fall of Man

FCF – Though we were created morally perfect, we have chosen to sin and have fallen.

Sermon Introduction: How the mighty have fallen. CS Lewis said that each and every one of us should remember we are children of Lord Adam and Lady Eve. That heritage, he said, is grand enough to raise the head of the poorest beggar yet humbling enough to bow the head of the mightiest king on earth. How did we, human beings, end up where we are? What does it mean that we are the top dog on earth, but why can’t we treat one another better? The fourth Fundamental Truth of the Assemblies of God states this clearly and succinctly.

Man was created good and upright; for God said, “Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness.” However, man by voluntary transgression fell and thereby incurred not only physical death but also spiritual death, which is separation from God. (Gen 1:26,27; 2:17; 3:6; Rom 5:12-19)

There’s an old story about Adam walking outside Eden with Abel one day. Because of the angels guarding the entrance, they can’t go in. Abel asks what this place is. Adam answers, “Son, that’s where your mother ate us out of house and home.”

Scripture Introduction: Most of the passages this morning come from Genesis. Genesis, whose Hebrew name means “beginning” and Greek name likewise means “origins.” The first book in the Bible sets the stage for what follows. Within its pages, we read the following beginnings: 1) heaven and earth, 2) plant life, 3) the sun, moon, and stars, 4) animal life including birds and fish, 5) people, 6) sin, 7) the chosen family, and 8) the twelve tribes. These are just a few of the firsts within Genesis.

Not only do we read about the origins of these things, those who came before us did also. Paul, like any good Jewish teacher, was very familiar with Genesis. He made links from Genesis to Christ and tied them together very tightly.

Genesis 1:26-27 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

Genesis 2:17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”

Genesis 3:6 When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.

Romans 5:12-19 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned– 13 for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. 15 ¶ But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. 16 The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. 17 For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. 18 ¶ So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. 19 For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.

Point 1: We were created morally perfect

Genesis 1:26-27 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

Imagine perfection. Not just spiritual perfection but moral, intellectual, and physical perfection. The person you imagine would look better than anyone else. The reigning Mr. Universe and Miss Universe would pale in comparison. He would act better, always helping those who needed help. Any time there was a choice to make, he would make the right one. He could solve any problem.

It’s very difficult to imagine. We are so marred by sin that thinking of a perfect person is almost beyond our capabilities. We can think of Jesus, but even imagining how He would act righteously in all situations almost goes beyond us. To think that every choice is made correctly. Every right decision known as soon as the choices are laid out. It boggles my mind.

And yet, this is how Adam and Eve started. They were perfect physically, morally, and intellectually. The time they spent in the garden together before taking of the tree was like that. Adam always lifted vines out of Eve’s way. She always had a salad ready for him when the day was done. He was able to name every kind of animal near the garden.

They had to work the garden, but it was not toil. They worked to keep from being idle.

Do you ever wonder if the serpent tried to tempt them at other times? Maybe he had tempted Adam before and been run off. Maybe he had waited, biding his time for when one of the two might be weakened.

One the other hand, maybe this was the first time he had attempted to talk to either of them. That would explain why neither ran away from him or chased him away. Surely, if he was a known problem, the first couple would have sent him away.

Why is it that all humans are affected by Adam’s sin? What is the Bible teaching? Remember that we all come from these two. They are the first parents. No one on earth has been born or will be born that is not descended from them. Paul’s speech in Acts 17:26 repeats that all on earth share their blood, we are “of one blood.” When Luke traces the genealogy of Jesus, he goes all the way back to Adam because Jesus is the savior of all mankind.

Something else we learn from this verse is that we are all created in the image of God, after his likeness. Image means that in some way we reflect God. Likeness refers to us being like what we portray. The Bible teaches us that we are like God in moral and spiritual ways. We are not like him in physical ways. God has no physical form by nature. The Israelites were forbidden from making graven images because nothing could look like God.

In the image of God’s moral nature means that we all have the ability to make decisions and exercise self-determination. We are capable of love and responding to love. It gives us responsibility. It is this image and likeness that give us the awesome potential for good and evil.

Point 2: We chose to separate from God

Genesis 2:17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”

Genesis 3:6 When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.

That day, near the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the first couple fell into sin. Eve was deceived, but Adam ate knowingly. Eve had not yet been created when God gave the command to not eat of this tree. Adam relayed the command to her. We notice that Eve’s version of the command has added words to it. If she added them right then or if Adam added them when he first told her, we do not know.

Judaism has an old tradition called fence building. This is an excellent example of fence building. When fence building, the speaker adds further restrictions to a command from God. By obeying the fence, you are guaranteed to never break the command. Did Adam build the fence around Torah or did Eve? We’ll never know. What we do know is that Eve listened to the Serpent, chose to break God’s instructions, and brought sin into the world.

Notice with heartbreak how Adam is with Eve right then. She didn’t have to go get him and bring him to the tree. He was there with her when she was tempted, and he did nothing. They chose to disobey God, and every one of us has done the same thing.

Whether big or small, we have all sinned. We know from the New Testament that all except Jesus have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We know that only Jesus can bring us back to the glory of God.

The day we live in hates to hear this. They believe half a truth, and thus a whole lie. I have been told many times that Jesus loves us (true), therefore, we can do anything we want (false). That’s absurd, and they know it! To demonstrate, think of the most evil act a person can commit. Would you really think that Jesus would let that go? No! Every sin can be forgiven, but only if we repent and ask for it.

Jesus wants what is best for us, therefore, He wants us to live rightly and holy. We are to hunger for holiness and pursue it. King David reminds us that goodness and mercy pursue him all the days of his life. That happens to the believer who follows God with everything and pursues holiness from the shepherd.

The opposite of sinful behavior is holiness. We do choose to sin; we can choose to pursue holiness. Imagine getting to the point where temptations no longer tempt. Not just that one temptation replaces another but that no temptation ever tempts again. I think all of us would love to be in that situation. One day, in God’s eternal Kingdom, we will be there.

In the meantime, remember God’s absolute hatred of sin. Sin comes from an abuse of the freedom we have being in the image of God. Evil is a matter of relationship, not a thing. It disregards the glory of God; it breaks away from a relationship of faith and obedience to God.

Having a relationship with God requires that we be able to break that relationship. Risk require the possibility of failure. For us to truly succeed we have to be able to truly fail.

Point 3: The separation has both physical and spiritual consequences

Romans 5:12-19 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned– 13 for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. 15 ¶ But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. 16 The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. 17 For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. 18 ¶ So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. 19 For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.

In economics, they refer to “opportunity cost.” When you make one choice, others are closed to you. What you give up from those closed doors is the opportunity cost. The goal in economics is to make sure the profit from the choice you make is greater than the opportunity cost.

When we make choices in life, we accept the consequences of each one, and the consequences from those untaken choices are the opportunity cost. Now not every consequence is foreseen. You can’t predict them all. You choose to help your elderly neighbor by trimming her tree. She brings over an apple pie that night to say thank you. Awesome unforeseen consequence!

When Adam and Eve took from the tree, they knew it meant they would one day die. They did not know it would bring on pain in childbirth or laboring to eat.

After the expulsion from Eden, one of the first consequences of sin is seen in the relationship between Cain and Able. Nature itself was cursed. Moral evil also brought natural evil. “The wages of sin is death.” No sin is too small. Every sin leads to death and separation from God. The final consequence of sin is the second death where those whose names are not in the Lamb’s Book of Life will be banished to the Lake of Fire.

To be tempted to sin is not sin itself. Dwelling on that temptation and acting on it is. The way to overcome this is to obey the Bible. “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8). When the fleeting thought comes, call upon the Holy Spirit to reject the sin and win the victory.

Conclusion:

They say you can never get back to where you started. The sin of Adam and Eve set us back, and only by the grace of God can we overcome it. But by that faith in Him and His Son, we can be redeemed. Taken to new heights of spirit. God can restore what we let slip away from us. Don’t think that every consequence is because of Adam and Eve’s sin. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Consequences also come on us because of those sins of our own.

If that faith isn’t yours, this is the day to take hold of it and make it yours. God gives faith to those who want it. You can be made righteous through the obedience of One.

If that faith is already yours, take time today to thank God for giving it to you. Praise Him and then look at the things you have done. Odds are you’ve done something recently that would be a letdown to Him. This is the time to confess and seek forgiveness for that sin.

For both those who renew their commitment and those who are newly committed, resolve to live righteously. Make a plan for it and put it in action. Live right by daily calling on Christ to lead and guide you. The Father does not want you to sin and will strengthen you. The Holy Spirit will bring to mind all things that you need in the fight against sin.

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