The Unseen

“Ouch!” Brandon crumbled to the floor of his freshly minted apartment. His right shin throbbed as he laid in the fetal position rubbing it. Not even the second day of his new adventure and he was already on the injured list.

It was a new city for him. He barely even went outside yet. After his parents and some friends helped him move in, he thought he would be ready to handle life on his terms.

After laying there for a couple minutes, Brandon finally got the nerve to get up and continue. He cautiously approached the kitchen and found the sink. Reaching up to the right, he opened the cupboard and grabbed a glass. He felt for the faucet levers and sighed with relief as the cold water flowed into the glass.

Brandon longed for some familiarity. He couldn’t wait to get started in the morning on his new project. The newspaper was waiting for his newest proposal. If his research backed up his claims, heads would roll in Pittsburgh. It was the same story of political corruption with a new twist.

He set the empty glass in the sink and managed to find his bedroom again. Tomorrow would be a new day and another chance to adjust to life in the fast lane.

***

Pittsburgh was louder than Brandon remembered. He jerked awake with the sudden noise of police sirens outside his apartment. As he yawned, his body stretched in every direction. Then he lay there for a few more minutes.

It was time to begin. Still drowsy, he sauntered into the master bathroom for his morning routine. After showering and shaving, he walked into his bedroom and pushed the closet doors apart. He chose the third outfit from the left, green dress shirt with black dress pants. No tie for the home worker.

He settled into his slippers. The best part about working from home is that any video calls he made would never go below his shirt. His belly rumbled, reminding him that it was time for breakfast.

The apartment smelled clean, lemon and bleach invading his nostrils as he headed to the kitchen. He positioned himself in front of the Keurig and carefully filled it with water. He opened the main lid and slid his favorite French roast brew cup into the slot. Pushing his favorite coffee mug under the deliverer of happy mornings, he pressed the start button and listened to the glory of the sound of water pouring into the mixture and beginning to steam.

Then he turned to the fridge to get two eggs. He laid them on the counter and got two sausage links out of the freezer. He took them over to the counter beside the stove. Pushing his foot up under the bottom of the stove, his toes pulled the bottom drawer out. He bent down and chose his favorite egg pan.

He was relieved that the stove was electric. He set the pan down on the top and clicked the dial to medium. Opening the cupboard to his left, he grabbed a bowl and a plate. He cracked the egg shells on the lip of the bowl and filled it.  He cracked the second egg and did the same.

Brandon snapped his fingers. “Forgot milk!” He often talked himself through many processes throughout his day. He wandered over to the fridge, grabbed the milk, and poured a tiny amount in the bowl. He returned the milk to its home.

To the left of the oven was the silverware drawer and the drawer under that held the whisk. He was glad the bowl had higher walls because he could get pretty messy preparing food.

The sizzle was music to his ears as he poured the scrambled egg into the pan. It was easier to cheat on the sausages, so he put them in a glass plate in the microwave. He would wait to turn that on almost until the eggs were finished. He put one minute on the timer.

Brandon found that his food tasted a lot better when he concentrated on it, so he waited until the ding startled him. Then he flipped the scrambled eggs over and set a second one minute timer. The microwave dinged again, and he turned off the stove. He put the microwave on for 45 seconds for the sausage links. He used a spatula to cut up the eggs in the pan. Then he poured them out onto his plate. By the time he did that, the microwave beeped again. The sausages joined the eggs on the plate.

Now all that was left was to set the plate down on the dining room table in his kitchen and grab some orange juice. He finally sat down to enjoy his breakfast in peace. He expected the city to be louder than the suburbs, and he was not disappointed.

His keen ears listened to neighbors as they walked downstairs and out to the street to go to work. He listened to the cars in the street. Perhaps it would be quieter in his office after the hubbub of getting to work and school calmed down.

As he finished his breakfast, he took his plate and cup to the sink. Giving them a quick rinse, he suddenly remembered what he had wanted to do before he started work. He quickly pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and dialed the familiar number.

The phone rang twice and Jen’s chipper voice was the third ring, “Pittsburgh Vision Services! Jen speaking.”

“Hi Jen, it’s Brandon Peters. How are you today?”

“Oh, Brandon! You don’t have to use your last name. We know who you are. For goodness sake, you’ve been here for the last two years. What can I do for you?”

Brandon licked his dry lips. It was strange contacting the school. He had just graduated and this was his first attempt at putting what he learned into practice.

“Can you put Denise on the line for me?”

“Absolutely! Give me one second to transfer you… And Brandon, we’re so proud of you!”

Before he could say thanks, Denise was on the line. “Hello, Brandon?”

“Yes, it’s me!”

“What can I do for you?”

“You know how you said if I wanted to I could take you to dinner?”

The silence felt like it would never end. Finally, after about five seconds, Denise answered. “Yes, I remember.”

Brandon was really stepping out of his comfort zone, “How about tonight?”

Another long pause. “Of course! I would love that.”

The ball was in Brandon’s court, “How about seven.”

“That sounds wonderful. Would you like me to meet you there?”

Brandon hated that he couldn’t drive. He wasn’t used to the transportation system quite yet either. “Yes. We can meet at the restaurant. Are you up for the Olive Garden?”

The sudden joy in Denise’s voice was unmistakable to his trained ears, “I love that place! Can’t wait to see you again. But I’ve gotta run. I’ve got a class in five minutes.”

It was rote memory to Brandon by now, “Okay. Enjoy your mobility class and I’ll see you at seven.”

“Have a good day Brandon! Bye!” The phone beeped twice to signal the end of the call.

Brandon walked to his office. He didn’t even catch himself smiling and humming. This was the start he was hoping for.

***

The door clicked shut as Brandon entered his sanctuary. 10 short steps to his favorite chair, an ergonomic executive office chair. Life didn’t get any better than sitting at that desk doing his research.

He settled into the luxurious and comfy chair. Opening his laptop in front of him, he pressed the power button and waited. Sitting back, he sipped his coffee in absolute peace. He could hear the DVD drive click a few times as the laptop purred to life.

Finally the screen came up. It greeted him with the common options and he started his favorite browser and word processor. He had three interviews to do today. It would be a long day, but dinner with Denise tonight would be the perfect end.

The office was the perfect workspace. He knew where everything was without even thinking about it. It was the one room that never changed no matter where he lived. He set it up so that anyone who spent any time in it would be able to find anything even with their eyes closed.

While the programs started, he got up and went to his file cabinet. He pulled two manila folders out. The first was marked, “Witness Interviews” and the second, “Court Documents.” If anyone knew how he got access to the second folder, he probably wouldn’t be alive.

He settled back in his comfy chair and checked his email first. Nothing new there. He moved on to check his interview list. Three earth shattering names were listed for this Monday morning. Tom Stiltz, Amanda Frats, and Andrew Connors. These three alone would sink the governor’s ship.

The first interview was scheduled for 10 AM. He had half an hour. He decided to research Mr. Stiltz further before the interview. He started with the commonplaces to look up the lieutenant governor. Ninety percent of the information was not new to him. It was time to dig a little deeper.

He opened up the forbidden dark web portal. This was where research really happened on the web these days. After logging in, he typed in Tom Stiltz into the search box. After pressing enter, the freakish underworld of politics littered the screen. He clicked away for another 20 minutes, bookmarking page after page for further study.

***

Brandon sat back in his chair and mused. A busy, but productive day. If only his interview with Andrew Connors, known as Drew on the streets, would have worked out. Unfortunately for Brandon, he did receive an IOU for tomorrow. He had to meet Drew in a seedy part of town.

The baby grandfather clock struck 5 o’clock. His first full day of work for the Pittsburgh Gazette was complete. Brandon worked his way to his bedroom to change for dinner.

This time, to change it up, he picked from the right side of the closet, the black suit with the navy blue tie. If he was going to catch the bus in time, he needed to leave now. Brandon gathered his things and walked out the door.

The bus was on time, but it would take an hour to get to the restaurant. And he would have to walk a block to get there. Not to worry. He left early. He boarded the bus, used his new monthly pass, and sat down, imagining everyone staring through the back of his head.

Brandon didn’t care. All his life people treated him differently. He pulled a pair of earbuds out of his suit coat pocket and his phone from his breast pocket. He only used one earbud so he could hear the bus stops. His favorite tunes soothed his nerves. He was in his own world now.

He enjoyed his tunes until he arrived. He thanked the bus driver on the way out and began the block walk to the restaurant. Upon entering the Olive Garden, Denise called out to him, “Brandon, you made it!” He followed her voice but she had already jumped up and ran to see him.

She greeted him with a kiss on the cheek. He blushed and she replied, “Brandon, you graduated. You are no longer my student. Besides, it’s just an innocent peck on the cheek.”

Brandon loved Denise’s whimsical and witty banter. While he was in school, he wouldn’t have remotely considered anything more than a professional teacher-student relationship. But she did have a point. Still, he couldn’t let his mind go there even now.

They were seated about 15 minutes after waiting. They were catching up on old times. Brandon had only been out of the program for about a month. He moved to Pittsburgh as part of his first great experiment.

As they looked over the menu, Brandon wasn’t sure what he wanted. “Everything sounds so good! Every time I come here I can never decide.”

Denise agreed, “I usually have a mainstay at every restaurant that I pick, but I could eat anything on this menu.”

Brandon settled on Chicken Parmesan and Denise ordered Chicken Alfredo. Brandon couldn’t help but notice that they both chose a chicken dish. They continued with small talk until their meals arrived.

Denise couldn’t resist, “So, have you settled in well?”

Brandon cleared his mouth and throat as he wiped his mouth with his napkin before he responded, “For the most part. My parents were very helpful in making sure just about everything was in its place. I just wish they had stayed overnight so we could go shopping together. My fridge has only the bare essentials.”

Denise jumped on the chance, “I can help you with that.”

Brandon responded, “I didn’t ask you to dinner to get you to help me with groceries. I just enjoy your company.”

Denise smiled, “I know that. I enjoy your company also. Do you think I would’ve come to dinner with you if I thought you were just trying to get me to do something for you? I know how independent you are working to become.”

Brandon cherished and guarded his independence. Since he was a child, everyone treated him like an invalid. But he could honestly say that Denise always encouraged and pushed him toward independence.

“Denise, I know you wouldn’t treat me like a child. But it would be weird to have such a nice time together and end up in a grocery store.” The last few words came out like grocery was the plague.

Denise chuckled, “Let’s eat. Then, let’s do my next favorite thing. Shop!”

Brandon busted out in laughter and they continued their playful banter throughout the whole meal. At the end, Brandon called for the check.

After he paid it, Denise couldn’t help herself, “Wanna get out of here?”

Brandon shook his head and they left the restaurant together. Denise hailed a cab and they crowded the back seat. Brandon gave the cabbie his address and they were off.

Denise suddenly realized they weren’t headed to the grocery store. “Brandon, are we going to your place first?”

Brandon’s face broke out in terror, “No! I must have given you the wrong idea!” He immediately changed the address to the local supermarket in his area with the cabbie.

He could hear Denise giggling the entire time. She responded, “I didn’t think anything of it.”

***

Brandon paid the cabbie as they departed. They walked into the store and both took a shopping basket. As they traipsed around the store, Brandon was thankful he had helped to bring back all the food he needed. It would’ve taken him forever to do all of his food shopping.

They visited every part of the store, mapping out the new place. By the time they were finished, Brandon knew every corner of the market.

He checked out with the cashier. There were so many bags! There was no way he could carry them all by himself. Denise grabbed half of the bags and they walked out together.

They were close enough to Brandon’s new apartment, and Denise insisted on seeing his apartment anyway. It was a warm and breezy night, perfect for walking. Brandon never realized how much of a connection they shared. He knew he enjoyed learning from her in school. But hanging out with her was contagious.

They arrived at his apartment and he showed her the place. As always, Brandon couldn’t have been more organized. But in his case, organization was absolutely necessary. He was OCD by choice. The night waned on until they both realize they had work in the morning.

“I can’t believe we have so much in common,” Brandon said.

“Well, perhaps I can stop by again sometime.”

Brandon couldn’t have asked for a better friend in a new place. She had been such a blessing to him. He agreed to meet with her again.

“Oh no! I just remembered I have an interview on the streets tomorrow.”

Denise suddenly looked very serious, “That sounds mysterious and scary at the same time. Will you be okay?”

Brandon thought for a moment, “Yeah. I get the feeling this person has been waiting for someone to interview them. And I only have to be mysterious because investigative reporting can get people I know in trouble. If everything works out, you’ll see my work at the top of the news.”

Denise still sounded worried, “If it’s all the same, Brandon, can you give me your cell number and call me if you’re in danger tomorrow?”

“Sure.” They exchanged phone numbers.

Denise chuckled, “I guess research reporting on the front lines is your way to leave a legacy, isn’t it?”

Brandon smiled, “Is there any other way?”

***

The sun peeked through the horizon, calling the day to begin. Brandon got off the bus and walked a couple of blocks. He was supposed to meet Drew in an abandoned warehouse. It seemed shady, but then again, he was meeting the leader of the City Kings.

He entered the warehouse and waited. Hopefully, Drew would meet him and guide him to the interview. His ears perked up as he heard the smallest of noises. All of a sudden, a group of ruffians began laughing.

A voice on his left, “You’ve got to be kidding! This is the reporter? Some blind dude?”

Then a voice on his right, “No way. No freaking way! Drew, you can’t take this cat seriously.”

Then silence. Brandon couldn’t see Drew raise his hand. Then he spoke, “Brandon Peters, I presume?”

Nothing ever really scared Brandon in his life. If you can deal with being blind, you can deal with anything. But now he was rethinking the whole situation. Was the interview worth it? Yes, yes it was.

“Yes. I presume I’m speaking to Drew?”

“Yeah. I’m Drew. Didn’t know you were blind. This isn’t gonna work.”

“Why?” Brandon had dealt with people like this before. Everybody thinks you can’t do anything if you’re disabled or blind, but Brandon has proved he is capable all his life.

“Well, I don’t trust you. How do I know you’re actually a reporter?”

Brandon reached into his shirt and heard the gasps and clicks from loaded guns. “Relax! I’ve just got to show Drew something. He pulled a manila folder out of his jacket.

One of Drew’s goons ripped it out of his hands and gave it to Drew. He opened it and his eyes widened as his mouth opened. “Where did you get this?”

“I told you,” Brandon said, “I’m the reporter that contacted you. If I have that, you know I’m good at what I do.”

Absolute silence filled the room. Nobody moved as Drew looked over the documents inside. “Okay. Frankie, help the man to my office.” Brandon heard footsteps as Drew walked away and Frankie grabbed his shoulder.

“Frankie, that’s not how you guide blind people. Give me your elbow.” Frankie adjusted and put Brandon’s hand on his elbow. “Now just walk to the room and I’ll follow.”

Frankie helped Brandon find a seat. He pulled his recorder out of his briefcase. “I’m ready when you are, Drew.” He heard the door slam as Frankie left them alone.

“Yeah. What you want to know?”

“First of all, when can I talk to the real Andrew Cooper?”

“What kind of game you playin'” He could hear the anger and confusion in Drew’s voice.

“Well, I have a recording of the original Andrew Cooper, and while your voice is close, it’s not the same.”

Brandon couldn’t see the look of surprise on Drew’s face. But it’s hard to fool the seasoned ears of a blind man. Drew confessed, “Blind people’s ears really are good. Nobody ever questioned my identity before.”

Brandon was finally getting somewhere, “The police know they’ve never caught the real Andrew Cooper. By my count, they have six of them in prison.”

Drew shook his head, “Yeah, and I’m the seventh. I’ve been running City Kings for the last 10 years. Most of the kids in the gang don’t even know what Drew looks or sounds like.”

Brandon leaned forward, “So is he dead or what?”

The true voice of Andrew Cooper rang out from behind him, “He’s alive and well. And no one has ever questioned my puppets before.”

Brandon shivered. He didn’t expect that.

“Fortune favors the bold, or the stupid. For 30 years no one has figured it out. I’ve always had a double, but you’re the first to meet me in that amount of time.”

Brandon turned around, “Mr. Cooper, you have the key to bringing down the most corrupt politician I’ve ever come across. Are you willing?”

The sultry voice almost sang, “Lock that fool up!” Then it got serious with gravitas, “You know what’s in that folder. Katie deserves to be heard from the grave.”

Drew’s double stood, walked up to Cooper, and placed the folder in his hands. “This belongs to you and I apologize for looking at it.”

“Jack, you’ve been my number one man for 10 years. If anyone could see it, you’ve earned a look.” Brandon heard Jack’s shoes clack on the floor as he left the room. Then he listened to the smooth stride of Cooper as he sat down at the desk. He turned around to face him.

“Now it’s time to answer any questions you have for Katie’s sake.”

Brandon felt like he needed to apologize, “Mr. Cooper, I’m sorry for bringing that. I know how close she was to your heart. But I needed to be taken seriously if we’re going to bring down the most powerful governor Pennsylvania’s ever endured.”

“True dat. That monster needs to die.”

“I know about the murders. But what I saw in that file, let’s just say if I think about it enough I’m gonna hurl again.” Brandon was visibly shaken and grew more pale by the second.

“Please don’t puke on my mahogany desk. At least you didn’t find her…” His voice began to trail off.

Brandon clicked the record button. “This is the interview with Andrew Cooper, leader of the City Kings gang. My first question is, what else do you know of that Governor Perry has done?”

“Murder is the tip of the iceberg. Nathan Perry is a worse criminal than me. Rape, extortion, arson, you name it, he’s done it. And I should know because I helped him do most of it. You’re looking at one of his first henchmen.”

Brandon tried not to look surprised, “So you were an eyewitness to many of his crimes?”

“We grew up together as best friends. Like anybody else in the ghetto, we went into crime. At first, it was just the small stuff, a robbery here, a mugging there. But he was cruel and sadistic. He was way more violent than me. Nathan was the kind of guy who got off on other people’s pain. It was like a drug to him.”

“I know this is a touchy subject, but when did Katie get involved?” Brandon expected Cooper to come across the desk and strangle him with his bare hands.

“Katie was innocent. He met my sister maybe a week after we met. She was the sweetest person you’ll ever know. And he couldn’t stand it. He couldn’t stand anyone that was kind or caring. We were doing a big robbery of a bank back in the day. He wanted me to kill the teller who pressed the silent alarm. I wouldn’t do it. He threatened that if I didn’t he would kill someone I love. I didn’t believe him at the time.” Brandon could hear his voice waiver, “Katie paid for my mistake.”

Brandon stopped the recorder, “Do you want to take a minute?”

Cooper’s voice was firmer, “No. It would take forever to do this interview if I went through every emotion I felt about that jerk.”

Brandon pressed record, “Mr. Cooper, why aren’t you in prison for what you did with him?”

“Early on I realized I needed a backup plan if I was going to keep working with that maniac. I found another close friend whose voice sounded like mine. He was tougher than me, if you can believe that. I paid him with the money we stole from the bank to become my double and take on my identity. I was always working in the background, but he was my right-hand man until he got arrested. They took him to jail and realized after a while that no matter how close we were he didn’t know everything about me. They realized he wasn’t me. Five other close friends have also been jailed. Jack is the newest.”

Brandon smiled, “I gotta hand it to you. That’s an ingenious plan.”

“I’m not sure how proud I am of it anymore. All of my closest friends are in jail for things I told them to do. Especially without Katie, I’m just a lonely old man now.”

Brandon could almost sympathize with him, although that’s not what a good reporter does. He continued the interview with Cooper. Based on his answers, Brandon knew this would be a slam dunk.

After the interview, Cooper called Jack back in. “Brandon, you know we can’t let you just walk out of here, right?”

Brandon scowled, “I was hoping it wouldn’t come to this, but I understand. What do you want me to do?”

“Well, we have to make it look real. Where do you want us to dump you off?”

“We actually have a mutual friend. I’m sure you know Pastor Robbie Robinson?”

Cooper chuckled, “You mean the only punk to ever leave City Kings and, of all things, become a man of the cloth?”

“The one and the same.”

“Yeah. Don’t tell anyone, but he is only the fourth person who knows my true identity.”

“After you rough me up, why not deliver me on the front steps of his church?”

“Yeah. That’ll work okay.” Brandon heard him rise from his chair, felt a sharp pain on the left side of his face, and passed out.

***

The black nondescript van slowed down just enough to open the door and push Brandon’s body onto the sidewalk. In this high crime neighborhood, no one stopped to check on him or ask for help.

Pastor Robinson burst out of the church not less than two minutes after Brandon was dumped off. He gathered him up in his arms and took him inside.

With the pastor’s help, Brandon finally came to. “Where am I? Pastor Robbie?” He was disoriented especially at first.

“I’m right here, son. Drew called me right after they loaded you in the van. Get your bearings and relax for a bit.”

Brandon realized after a few minutes he was safe and Cooper was a man of his word. He sat on the pastor’s couch in his office.

Pastor Robinson’s voice was full of anticipation. “So did he give you the lowdown?”

Brandon was still a bit groggy, “Yeah. I couldn’t believe some of the things he told me. I thought my records were damning but there’s no way when people hear this stuff that he’ll get away with it.”

“Unfortunately, criminals get away with things all the time on this earth. But they will stand before the Judge one day. They won’t be able to get away from him.”

Brandon agreed, “That day can’t come quick enough. But how have you and the church been doing?”

Pastor Robinson hung his head, “We’ve fallen on hard times. We might actually have to sell the church.”

Brandon was taken aback, “What happened?”

“People have stopped coming to church. I don’t know if it’s me or something else. I’ve been doing a lot of prayin’ but I don’t know what to do. I hate these dark nights of the soul.”

Brandon chirped up, “Pastor, if there’s anything I understand it’s being in the dark or being forced to step out in faith. When you can’t see the way ahead, all you can do is take the next step.”

Pastor Robinson thought for a moment, “There is a donor I haven’t talked to in a while.”

Brandon smiled, “There is your next step.”

Pastor Robinson chuckled, “I’m the one supposed to be giving you spiritual advice.”

“I may be blind, but spiritually, I find it helps me to see easier. I hate to leave, but I have a few interviews and a whale of a tale to share with the world.”

Pastor Robinson helped Brandon to the nearest bus stop so he could get back to work on his story.

***

Brandon’s cell phone rang incessantly. He picked it up by the second, “Hello?”

The voice on the line was familiar, but rushed, “Brandon, it’s Denise. Are you okay? I heard someone got delivered to Pastor Robinson’s church and they looked pretty beat up. I figured it was you.”

Brandon laughed, which made his cheeks hurt, “That was me! They couldn’t let me leave without looking like I didn’t belong. It’d look bad if I interviewed the City Kings and walked away without a scratch.”

“The City Kings? Brandon, you could’ve been murdered!” He could hear her genuine wary through the phone speaker.

Brandon assured her, “I said they just had to make it look good. I didn’t say they actually wanted to beat me up, quite the opposite, in fact.”

“You really need to let some people in, Brandon. What would we all do if you turned up dead?” She was still worried and confused. Why would anyone choose to become an investigative reporter?

“Don’t worry about me. I’m a tough guy.” He laughed and Denise finally let loose and laughed with him.

“Still, I want to know where you are when you have dangerous assignments like that. On a separate note, are you free for dinner?” Brandon couldn’t be happier.

Over the next two months, Brandon wrote and interviewed key people in the governor’s underground operations.

***

Brandon had the TV on in the living room. Today was the day. He heard the news alert in the kitchen and hurried to the couch. He was just in time.

“This is Newsbreak. I’m your host, Larry Stone.” Video of Governor Perry being arrested in public flashed on the screen. A police man was pushing his head down as they pushed him into the backseat of a police car.

“This morning in a surprise raid on Gov. Perry’s mansion, police discovered a plethora of illegal drugs, a prostitution ring in his basement, and several other illegal operations. He was immediately arrested and is waiting arraignment. Chief of police, Capt. Ron Ranger, told us much more would be released to the public tomorrow.

“Lieut. Gov. Tom Stiltz has assumed acting governor status.”

Video shifted to Acting Gov. Tom Stiltz standing at a podium in front of six microphones. “I’m saddened to hear the news of Governor Perry. But I will do everything in my power to make sure that Pennsylvania doesn’t miss a beat. I’m on the job for you and will get to the bottom of what’s been going on around here.” Reporters burst with questions and he began to answer them.

Brandon smiled to himself, “You did it. You, a blind investigative reporter that no one thought could do anything. But with the amount of money you made with this newspaper, you could take a nice vacation with that lovely Denise.”

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Control Freak

Kings, shires, knights, even the Crusades! What do you think of when you hear “sovereign” or “kingdom”? For me, it’s the medieval ages with castles, peasants, and kings jockeying for power. What does a kingdom look like now? Countries and nations with presidents, prime ministers, and other forms of political government.

The Bible uses these terms to describe God’s rule over his creation. When we discuss God’s sovereignty, Kingdom, and creation, these ideas scare us deep down inside. Why do we have such explosive debates and arguments about God’s sovereignty? In truth, we’re not arguing over whether God is sovereign or not.

The most robust theological debates about God’s sovereignty and human free will come from Calvinists and Armenians. Calvinists trace their theological heritage to John Calvin while Armenians point to Jacobus Arminius.

Calvinists staunchly believe that God is completely sovereign, that nothing can bend or break his will. Their approach is often programmed and mechanistic. They don’t like free will and think that it places his sovereignty in jeopardy. Armenians come from the other side of the tracks. They hold so dearly the idea of free will that they believe God takes every human opinion into account and human choice can change God’s will. I state up front that most likely neither of these views are perfectly represented. I wanted to get a general sketch for our discussion.

I’m the black sheep of the argument. I agree and disagree with both sides of these extremes. I think you can hold some of each of these extremes. I believe that the true nature of the sovereignty/free will debate lies somewhere in the middle. Let me introduce the TULIP Calvinist system and the Arminian system. But these theological arguments only go so far and then leave us hanging in a philosophical stalemate.

John Calvin didn’t create the TULIP system. His followers eventually created and defended it. It became a popular way to express Calvinistic leanings. Let me list and define the TULIP points for you:

  • Total Depravity – All humans are completely depraved and love sin so much that they could not be saved on their own or find God. God must reach them in some way.
  • Unconditional Election – God chooses certain individuals before the creation of the world to be saved. Only these will come to Christ. Everyone else is eternally condemned. Some crassly suggest that God chooses the rest to go to Hell.
  • Limited Atonement – Because only a certain number of people are chosen by God for salvation, Jesus’ atoning work on the cross was only done for the elect.
  • Irresistible Grace – God’s grace is irresistible to the elect. They cannot not follow Jesus. They are forced to be obedient to God.
  • Perseverance of the Saints – The elect will always persevere despite the trials they face. They can’t do anything to lose their salvation. Some have popularized, “Once saved, always saved.”

In all my years of studying this subject, this is the best I can do to explain it in such a short space. You should read more on both of these camps, and everything in between. This is essential because we’re talking about salvation! This is no minor doctrine or opinion. We’re talking about how people come to know and follow Jesus.

  • Works Dont Save – Every person must be given God’s grace as a gift.
  • Human Free Will – more robust than in Calvinism, a person must choose or decide to follow Christ. They must have faith in Jesus’ sacrifice.
  • Jesus Died for All – His sacrifice is not limited to the elect, but is offered to every person, whether they accept or reject it.
  • Falling Away from Grace – a believer can become an apostate, or fall away from the faith. This is not easy, but it is possible.

God’s sovereignty and human free will are not opposed to one another. Scripture is full of examples of both. It gives examples of humans choosing their own path against God’s will. We see times where human free will plays into God’s already preferred will. We can look at all of the different ways God’s will is fulfilled, but he is always sovereign. That’s not really the issue. The issue is how much we trust God!

Whatever God wills happens. His sovereignty is based on his place as Creator of the Universe. If I design a website, it is subject to my creative whim. I can change all kinds of things about it. It can’t complain or resist. God has allowed humans to resist his will. That is part of free will. The Bible allows for both of these. Since God made creation, he is completely sovereign over it.

When we debate God’s sovereignty versus human free will, we debate from a human perspective. I imagine God sits in heaven on his throne and chuckles as we try to figure this out. Our understanding of God’s sovereignty and our place in it has to do with our perception of how he rules time and space. We think we are entitled to a say in the matter because we contain his image, marred as it is.

Throughout the Bible God puts us in our place when we try to Monday morning quarterback his decisions. God responds to Job in the midst of his suffering (Job 39 and following). In Jeremiah’s Potter and clay image, the clay has no right to challenge the Potter (Jeremiah 18:1-4). Abraham and Sarah conspire to fulfill God’s promise with Ishmael instead of waiting for Isaac to be born (Genesis 16). I believe we are concerned about sovereignty and free will because we have control issues.

Our history keeps us from believing one Person can have complete control over everything. Whether it is political, social, or any other type of authority control, it’s never worked out. One person with all the power is a very bad thing. Sir Francis Bacon coined the often quoted, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

He’s right concerning human beings. Images of kings, presidents, and other authority figures conjure violence, injustice, and force. That’s what happens when fallen, sinful humans seek absolute power. But power belongs to God, not us. Power is entrusted to us to steward.

When we think we can converse with the Almighty, we feel a sense of immortality. The question of God’s absolute control never comes into play on our deathbeds. We are painfully aware that we can’t choose to live or die.

We try to take control of everything we can get our hands on. We have no idea what God’s doing until we look back, and then we want to tell him what he should’ve done. We all have problems with someone else driving the bus. It’s not about who’s will is greater but about trusting God with our entire being.

We are the control freaks. If we can’t control the world around us, we hold onto the illusion we are in control of ourselves. We seek to create a mirage of our own ability and power. Our weakness is in finding out that we don’t trust God with absolutely everything in our lives. We would rather be in the driver’s seat, not be driven by him.

Does our will matter within the larger bounds of God’s will? Some say yes and others say no. We must get over the fact that we are not on God’s speed dial. What would the world be like if the person with all the power was all good and wanted the very best for us?

All we can see at present are the pains we’ve suffered while God has been at the wheel. Funny how we only remember the bad times. And they were meant for our growth. How else would we grow but through hardship? It’s an excellent tool to strengthen our faith muscles. If we really believed God is sovereign and good, we wouldn’t question him even through trials. But the moment trials strike, we suggest an alternate route to the Driver.

Our greater need isn’t mapping out the sovereignty/free will issue. It’s learning to fully trust without abandon the Lord who is all good. In the midst of suffering and trial, is our heart dead set on God’s goodness? When we see evil, we ask why he doesn’t eradicate it and create the new heavens and new earth right now.

Sovereignty opens up the closet and exposes our skeletons. We don’t solve these questions in one sitting. With each new trial, we once again go round and round in our heart, despite what our heads proclaim. We all question God and his ways from time to time. We are human. We only know evil power. God is the only one who wears power the perfect way. He truly is just and good. When trial comes, we must hold on to these truths. Turning to God and trusting him in the midst of trial is the best path ahead. Only by leaning on Jesus will we pass the test of faith. May we find in our suffering that God is indeed good and trust him more, lean on him more, and put our hope in his goodness rather than the mirage of our control. May we trust God with our everything always.

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Leading Seekers to Christ

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After all the questions and the process of searching to find Jesus, you’ve reached the final stage. This is where your friend wants to follow Jesus. It’s the most exciting part of the entire process! It’s not that all the questions have been answered. It’s that the seeker is getting closer to understanding God better.

But this is also the point of contention for many Christians. You’ve heard it a thousand times from the pastor at church. At the end of every service the pastor asks for people who want to commit their lives to Christ. If anybody response, he prays the “salvation prayer.”

All you can think of in your mind is, “This is a prayer for professionals. How would I ever be able to lead someone on my own? What if I mess up the words or miss something important?” The salvation prayer must be genuine and customized to each person. It is a profession of faith, not a grocery list.

If you mess this up, is the person really saved? These are the kinds of matters that run through the minds of Christians who want to lead others to Christ but are afraid of getting it wrong on the goal line.

No worries! You’re right in thinking that the salvation prayer should be customized to your seeker and it must contain certain confirmations of faith. But you’re wrong in thinking only a professional pastor can lead someone to Christ in this prayer. Any Christian can and should know how to lead someone in the prayer salvation.

It’s not as complicated as your thinking. In fact, if you overthink it, it will never be genuine. Like all prayer, it must be from the heart and your own words. Using the template is not wrong, but it’s not as authentic. God wants to hear from the seeker, not someone else’s prayer.

Remember, formulas don’t work well in Christianity when we are trying to speak to God. Templates help us start the conversation with him, but we must also mean what we say.

To lead the seeker in prayer, tell them to repeat after you. Include the fact that they must believe in their heart what they are saying with that mouth. So what should be included in the salvation prayer? Here are my thoughts on the essentials:

  • An introduction – you want to introduce your seeker to Jesus for the first time. You can address him as Jesus. The name Jesus means “The Lord saves.” Just introducing him or her to Jesus is the introduction to salvation itself.
  • A confession – the confession can be of sin but it is also a confession of faith. The seeker isn’t only confessing that he or she is a sinner but also that Jesus is the only one who can save them from sin. It could be anything simple like, “I know that I am a sinner and have done things against you in my past. But I want to know and serve you from now on.”
  • A proclamation – this is the transition from death to life in your seeker. This is where Jesus changes all things. This is the formative “But God” in Scripture. It shows the transition from the old self to the new self. I usually declare, “You are my Lord and Savior. You are the Boss of my life. I will follow you from now on. You are the King on the throne of my heart.” Anything along these lines is just fine.
  • A declaration of gratitude – lead the seeker in thanking the Lord for what he is doing in their life. Thank God for salvation and the opportunity to live for him. Thank him for leaving the seeker to the Lord.
  • The first request – the seeker is no longer seeker. They have been found by Jesus. As a new member of the community of faith, the first request is the beginning of many. I usually have the first request to be for the Holy Spirit’s guidance. “Lord, lead me by your Holy Spirit and open my ears to hear and obey him. Help me to grow in your Word.”

End the prayer as you would yourself. I usually say, “In the name of Jesus, Amen.” As you can see, these guideposts not only help you lead the seeker and a genuine and custom prayer, but they also show the new Christian how to pray.

After the prayer, greet this new brother or sister in Christ. Let them know that they have a community and a family in Jesus. You have prepped them for the next step, the beginning of the rest of their life in Jesus.

In our next post, we will talk about the next steps for this new believer to enter God’s family and grow in the faith. Leave a comment and let me know what you include when you lead someone to Christ.

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Divine Word Smorgasbord

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All around you brothers and sisters in the midst of the morning sunrise gently whisper to one another, “He is risen!” while their counterparts respond, “He is risen indeed!” The common Church greeting part of a beautifully woven orchestra of worship, prayer, and teaching from the apostles. You stand for the whole service, knowing also that you will be on your feet in the fields on this first day of the Roman work week, Sunday. So you and your fellow believers in Christ have gathered earlier than ever to worship Christ before your work.

You settle in to some beautiful hymns, some old from the Psalter and some new because of the change that Christ has wrought in the world, but that’s not the best part. The time of prayer is well-felt by all, but that is not the best part. No, the most exciting part of this very special service today is that one of the apostle Paul’s letters has finally arrived in the church! You have been waiting to hear from his letter to another church which is being passed around because it is the only new news you get to hear for a while until another letter makes its way to your church.

Throughout the years, the Bible has been kept between the priests, cardinals and popes. And why not? You cannot read it. You only know your native tongue. What would you do with a Latin Bible? Beyond that, the priest has made it well aware the Scriptures are much too weighty for you to interpret. The Bible is something you learn about at church, but don’t take home with you.

All of these are examples, the first of the early church in the second and even third generations, and the second up to the 1500s right before the Reformation. In fact, the invention of Guttenberg’s printing press catapulted not only the Bible, but other literary works as well into the limelight of copydom.

Along with this technological jump came the theological jump that Luther blasted into full explosion when he stated that the Bible should be written in the common language so that the normal person and the layman could understand it. This was not an original thought, for the English had already started moving in this direction, but unlike England, Germany was in the Roman Catholic Church’s backyard.

But there was one more innovation this overachieving little monk demanded, that the theological arguments also be made available through the common language of the people. No longer would a theological argument shut out the common person by being argued only in Latin, a dead language.

We live in a world that does not even come close to understanding the precious commodity of God’s Word. We have ready access to the Bible. There is no hindrance to having a full copy in book form of God’s love letter to each of us. So I often receive the question by many, “What is the best translation of the Bible?” Such a question takes discernment, for some people wish to start an argument about the KJV Only while others are genuinely searching for a helpful version to read and study the Bible.

I start with,  “It depends on your needs.” they usually look at me quizzically and wonder why the pastor didn’t give them a straight answer. But as you can imagine, this question of the “best” version of the Bible takes on several facets, mainly translation methodology, translation philosophy, the needs of the individual, and the purpose of the Bible version you choose. Let’s look at these so I can help you choose the “best” Bible for you.

Translation Methodology

First of all, consider translation methodology. By this I mean the way a Bible is translated, the original language manuscripts that are used, the amount of translators, the way they interact, and how much interpretation comes with the translation. Each version is either produced by an individual translating the whole Bible (e.g. Wycliffe, Young’s Literal), or it is done by a committee in which a group of scholars gathers and assigns different books and sections, and then deliberates the individual work as a group until a consensus is reached.

You must also take into account the basic theological leanings of each person or committee. Some translations are meant for a certain denomination, like the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) for the Baptists, or maybe the comments and notes are aimed at a certain group, such as the Fire Bible for Pentecostals.  A certain leaning will weigh into the interpretation of passages where decisions must be made not just in translation but in meaning and interpretation to make sense to the English reader.

Another important point, and one of the reasons we continue to see new versions of the Bible, is the growing amount of Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic manuscripts, the contributions of other ancient writings and Scriptural works such as the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament), the Vulgate (Latin Version) and the Dead Sea Scrolls. So much of these help us to gain an even more accurate translation and closer to the original text and intent of the authors.

Translation Philosophy

Next, we move on to the second element of comparing Bible versions, the translation philosophy. There are two polar opposites with balances in between. You can translate extremely literal on one side, word-for-word comparisons (KJV, NKJV, NASB, ESV, YLT), or on the other side of the extreme, a completely concept-for-concept based translation (NIV, NLT, CEV).

My opinion is that believers should grow word-for-word versions for deeper Bible study. Concept for concept versions help new believers understand the main points of Scripture, the forest instead of the trees, the general instead of the specific. Both have their place.

There is a third type called a paraphrase. A translation attempts to stick with the thought patterns and concepts of a text, and go down to word-for-word. But a paraphrase will be even less specific than a concept-based translation; a paraphrase is designed for very basic use. The paraphrase may attempt to neglect the culture of the day and replace our own cultural norms to help us understand more easily.

A Translation That Fits You

The needs of the individual seeking a good Bible version are also important. For instance, if you are a new Christian, a good study Bible with notes that explain what’s happening can be indispensible. If you are an older Christian, word study Bibles can be of great help in cutting down study time. If you just want to read the text, there’s no need for chain references or study Bibles. But if you like chasing themes and types around as they develop from Old to New Testament, you want to have a chain reference Bible.

Your Bible should also fit your reading ability. There are special Bibles written at certain grade levels for children through teenagers and even a couple from beyond college level reading grades. You must pick a translation you are comfortable reading and that you understand. Don’t get a Bible with thee’s and thou’s if you don’t get those. Since English is a living language, you need to keep an updated English Bible. For those who are partial to older Bible versions, like the KJV, the NKJV is a good update. A Bible is no good to you if you cannot read or understand what is said to you by the Lord!

Purpose for the Bible

Finally, what is the purpose for getting a Bible? Is it just for devotional reading and for toting to church? Is it for study and in-depth analysis of God’s Word to grow deeper in your relationship with Him? Why do you want a Bible?

If it is for word study, a more literal translation is better, because when you look up a word, it is almost certain that word will be in the original and you can study it. However, in a concept based Bible, like the NIV or the CEV, you may want to study a word that is added to help with context and concept that may not be in the original. I will never forget looking up the word “guaranteed” in Ephesians 1 where the Spirit is a seal “guaranteeing” our salvation in the NIV and finding that this word did not exist in the original! It was added by the translators to give the concept of the text. So find out what the purpose of your Bible is. If it is for devotional reading, make it so that it flows well and is easy to read, and at a good reading level that suits you.

You can find out about some of these elements in the introductions to most Bibles shortly after the Table of Contents. Most Bibles tell you who contributed, their backgrounds, whether it was a group or person, whether it is a word for word (formal) translation or concept for concept (equivalent) translation. It never hurts to ask your pastor or a knowledgeable person who won’t just push their favorite on you. Seek advice before making your choice. Much more important than the version of the Bible you choose is that you get into God’s Word with an unmatched fervor. Don’t let discussion for comparing Bible versions be greater than your desire to love God and His Word all the days of your life! Happy hunting

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A Host of Questions

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When you share your faith with a seeker, they will no doubt have questions. You don’t have two fear questions. They are only natural when a person is unfamiliar with religion and God. They are probably more afraid to ask their questions of you, a believer, then you are to answer them.

In my recently released guide, “A Short Guide to Sharing Your Faith,” I took a survey online of social media groups and the kinds of questions seekers ask them. Based on that and a helpful list in one of Kenneth Boa’s books, I came up with 18 questions seekers may ask you. You can find the book on Amazon and other platforms, as well as paperback on Amazon.

We need to make ourselves available for inquiries of any kind. How will people learn about our faith or be interested in it if we don’t? Your best option is to be open and honest, genuine, with every answer. There are some great resources out there for gaining proficiency in answering the tough questions about Christianity.

One very extensive book is “Evidence Demands a Verdict” by Josh McDowell. There are many other great books that will help you with question answering. The key is to never stop learning yourself.

Maybe you have questions about your faith that have never got answered. Chances are, asking yourself your own questions will help you to understand what kinds of questions you may get from seekers.

This is probably the most feared part of the process of sharing your faith with someone. But it doesn’t have to be. Christians have been answering questions for centuries from people who want to understand.

Always approach it from the perspective that people want to know more about what you believe. They generally come from a kind and curious heart. They’re not out to get you or to see you fail in expressing your faith.

So if answering questions is your hard part about sharing your faith, step out there and give it a try. If you think you need more resources, check out some of the ones I mentioned for starters. You can do it! Leave a comment and tell me some of your favorite resources for answering questions about the faith.

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A Vast Kingdom

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Deep in the sand and muddy waters half a man reflects off the surface of the Jordan River. With fists in the air and a loud voice announcing repentance for all, this prophet reminding everyone of Elijah and his friends way back in history took people under the water, proclaiming at the same time, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” This strange creature who lived in the desert, eating the delicacies of the wilderness, locusts and honey, like a madman in the darkest night called for repentance because the Messiah had arrived.

Isaiah prophesied about this very event! He proclaimed that the way should be made straight for the Lord’s coming, for the Messiah. The straight way calls people to righteousness through repentance and humility. John the Baptist did not fit the mold of the temple priest like his father. He blazed his own trail without institutional affiliations. He was not a fixed star, but a chaotic explosion. This in itself characterizes the Kingdom of God.

Another man, cut from the same cloth as John the Baptist was not as strange, but still uniquely discharged His ministry. One day as the wacky John the Baptist continued to shout about repentance and God’s Kingdom, this man came, and he immediately sensed the purpose of his life coming to its zenith. John understood this man was inaugurating God’s Kingdom. In a solemn wilderness pool Jesus was baptized by His forerunner, and the Kingdom of God began its move.

Taking this phrase as it stands, one might think that it is quite archaic. But a closer analysis of kingdom’s meaning brings clarity. Kingdom is a place of rule, where a sovereign king has jurisdiction and authority. This can be by force, as in the Medieval Ages, or by a kind King. A kingdom is a designated governance by someone over a group of people. It can become political, social, economic, spiritual, or whatever category humans enjoy making. But we must also be careful not to limit the Kingdom of God to these. For sure, God is the Sovereign King of His Kingdom, His domain. So where is God’s domain? Where does He rule?

God’s kingdom is wrapped up in one Founder, but also in his vision and work in each of His disciples. The Kingdom of God was inaugurated by Jesus. Jesus is the Kingdom, which is why He could proclaim that the Kingdom of God has arrived (Matt 4:17, Mark 1:15, where the verb for “coming at hand” is the perfect tense, meaning its action continues to this day). But what’s it like to be in his Kingdom?

Is the Kingdom a place, a physical location? Is it an idea or a dream? Scholars and theologians around the world discuss these points. Different Christian groups tend to put their own identity and nature on God’s Kingdom. This is why I say God’s kingdom is not tied to any institution, but rather to a Person.

Jesus inaugurated the Kingdom, characterizing it as something that would have surprised the religious leaders in His time. The Kingdom of God viewed by them was synonymous with the Day of Judgment, the Day of the Lord. But this is not what Jesus preached in total. The Day of the Lord will finalize the Kingdom, but it was not the Kingdom. Jesus read out of the Isaiah scroll, letting Isaiah proclaim the characteristics of the Kingdom. Jesus was the fulfillment of the Kingdom because through Him literally His sacrifice on the cross and the ministry released God’s kingdom on earth.

But what’s God’s kingdom look like according to Isaiah? He says the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord controls the Kingdom. He will come upon people, anointing (setting apart for the Lord’s service). The Kingdom comes through spoken and active proclamation of God’s good news. God’s Kingdom influences the poor, captives, and people on the fringe. His kingdom is for the humble who bow to God’s reign in them.

God’s kingdom rests not only in the Person of Jesus. He demonstrated the kingdom throughout his ministry. His kingdom is the opposite of the world’s label for kingdoms. The Beatitudes marked the character of the kingdom’s citizens. Its power lies in human meekness and obedience. It’s about humble surrender to God’s will. It’s not about outward righteousness only, but inward holiness. We need to please God and follow the Spirit. His kingdom starts in the human soul and is enacted around us. It spreads from the inside to the outside one person at a time.

The Beatitudes mark the character of Kingdom citizens. Further in the message, Jesus challenges the people who understand the subversive nature of this Kingdom that its power lays in human weakness and obedience. This is the time where God can fully reign in His people, when they humbly surrender to His will.

When people practice not just outward holiness, but inward righteousness, to not follow the letter of the Law but the Spirit inside their hearts who glorifies and pleases God, then they are in God’s Kingdom. The Kingdom of God starts on the inside of the human soul and is enacted in our surroundings. The Kingdom is first internal, and then external through service out of love for our King.

God’s kingdom dwells in the human heart. God influences each of us. It spreads through influence, service, word, and deed. The kingdom violently takes back the darkness with its light. It opposes wickedness of all kinds. It concerns attitudes and intentions, motives and thoughts. These leak out into our hands and lips. God’s kingdom is an invisible army of his righteous people.

Since Jesus arrived on the scene, God’s kingdom has been taking back those lost to the enemy. We subvert the world’s systems through ignoring pride in choosing humility, love, and service.. We pass God’s message and good news. God’s kingdom comes in a cup of cold water given to a parched soul in Jesus’ name. It comes through deliverance and the reversal of the curse, and breaking down barriers. It operates in the midst of the devil’s playground. It brings a message of freedom, site for the blind, and God’s gifts.

When the Day of the Lord comes, the kingdom will have its physical home. In his second coming, the Anointed One will touch down upon this earth and administer the kingdom. He will rule with goodness, righteousness, and holiness. Although humanity will reject his role in large numbers, he will fulfill every prophecy and the kingdom will be everywhere. To you secret agents of the explosive kingdom of light, I leave this challenge, this call to arms against the forces of wickedness around us. You are not alone. God has a great army. The enemy’s propaganda is weak compared to God’s kingdom message. God calls us to rise up and service kingdom. We teach our neighbors about God’s grace, mercy, and power. His life-changing message is for them. The kingdom has come!

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Questions Not Worth Answering?

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Many of us are not ready to answer people’s questions about Christ. It’s not that we don’t understand our faith. But some of the questions people ask are not things we would have thought of. When a question comes unexpectedly, it can do one of two things. It can challenge us to research and find the answer, or it can paralyze us in the moment.

No one likes to look like the person who never thought of asking that question. It’s an uncomfortable feeling. One of the best ways to approach it is to be honest. Tell them, “I never really thought of that before. How interesting!”

Almost every question you will face about your faith is worth answering. But it may surprise you that there are certain questions that are not worth your time or effort. That sounds very harsh, but the truth is that if you are facing a New Atheist (Hard Atheist), they are not interested in hearing your answers.

They will ask you questions that don’t matter at all. The last questions about angels dancing on pins, God creating rocks so big you can’t lift them, and deeply philosophical questions that are contradictory. They will rail against the Bible and say is full of contradictions or lacks any proof in history or archaeology. They will try to sound more academic than you.

The problem is that most of their red herring questions are based on false premises. A red herring question is one that is meant to take you off guard, put you off your game, and create a paradox that will leave you in the lurch.

They will take what you give and try to turn it on its head. They work hard to be confusing and condescending. They will make fun of you for believing in a book written 2,000 years ago. They will call you an infant or childish. And they will enjoy every minute of it.

You don’t have to take that. You have to answer their questions. But you don’t have to be angry or return the favor either. You can say something like, “I realize you’re not really interested in what I have to say. Since you insist on disrespecting me, I prefer to talk with someone less rude.”

Standing up for yourself will make them think twice. And if it doesn’t, there’s no love lost anyway. What experiences have you had when you’ve come against a person like this? Leave a comment and let me know how you dealt with it.

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ANNOUNCING A SHORT GUIDE TO SHARING YOUR FAITH!

My latest book will be available on Amazon and other stores Monday, July 29! I am running a preorder for the Kindle book and discounting the price for the first two weeks of the launch. There will also be a paperback version!

Do you have hurdles or struggles sharing your Christian faith? The short guide will encourage and challenge you to take a step of faith. It guides you through the process of gaining confidence and answering common questions people ask.

You can get the paperback version right now! The Kindle version can be preordered and for the first two weeks, it’s only $0.99. Its regular price will be $3.99. Grab it fast before the price goes up!

Here’s what people are saying

“A Short Guide to Sharing Your Faith” by Jonathan Srock is a book for Christian believers who seek guidance in fulfilling their duty to share their faith in Jesus Christ with non-believers. It challenges the Christian believer to take action, equips him with a step-by-step approach to overcome misgivings and feelings of inadequacy, and to share his faith in Jesus. In the end, the reader will come away with a useful and personal approach to this essential mission.

Cathy Ryan, Author
www.cathyryanwrites.com

“In his book, Srock examines the facets of sharing the faith.  His intellectual approach will leave the reader equipped in the face of any potential response to the presentation of the Gospel.  The brevity of the book will allow for regular review and evaluation of one’s own witnessing experiences.”

Matthew Niebauer

“I really enjoyed reading A Short Guide To Sharing Your Faith.  It contains a great deal of very meaningful information. The parts of the book that clearly spoke to me was hurdles to sharing your faith. Hurdles are very real and the ways to overcome them were helpful. Creating your own approach and sharing your own story verses a canned high pressure approach is very important. The portion on apologetics is very informative. That information is typically not included in evangelism books. Thank you Jonathan is encouraging short story.”

Pastor Joe Hollen
Hollentown Assembly of God, Hollentown, PA

“Sharing the good news of Jesus Christ is at the heart of the call on every believer’s life. Jon Srock has written a fantastic tool to help guide the newest Christians and the most seasoned saint in sharing the hope that they have in Jesus. This is an easy read with very practical steps to sharing your faith as well as straight-forward advice on how to give answers to the genuine questions people have. I highly recommend both this book and the ministry of Jon Srock. This will encourage, equip and inspire you!”

Pastor Marvin Nemitz
Harvest Community at Church, Jupiter, FL

“I highly recommend Rev. Jonathan Srock’s short guide to sharing your faith. This practical resource gives you the tools needed along with the confidence to be able to articulate your faith to others without fear. The 18 common questions that seekers ask and Jonathan’s response to those enables the reader to be thoroughly equipped in sharing their faith.”

Pastor Zac McDonald
State College Access Church, State College, PA

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Sin, An Alien Among Us

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Have you ever noticed all the personification in the Bible? Personification is a literary device authors use to give human traits to inhuman things. Sin is an interesting example. It’s viewed in several passages almost like a force or a master. Especially Paul treats it like a human being that can act and react. But sin is an action, a thought, and attitude.

Throughout the Bible, one interesting personification is that of sin. Sin is viewed in several passages almost like a force or a master. It is spoken of as if it were a human being that could act and react. But sin is not a person or even a spirit. It is an action, a thought, an attitude that does not glorify God or obey His divinely ordained principles.

Genesis begins using personification with sin. Cain is unhappy with God’s rejection of his sacrifices while Abel enjoys God’s favor. Cain lets sin grasp him and boss him around. In Genesis 4:6-7, Cain’s countenance falls when God rejects his sacrifice. God says that sin is crouching at the door.

Sin can’t crouch. It certainly can’t rule a person, as God says it will rule over him, with the same phrase used earlier when Eve wants to rule over Adam (Genesis 3:16).

Sin is crouching like a tiger, waiting to strike. It waits for its opportunity to catch Cain off guard. It’s hunting its prey. These are only things living creatures can do.

Scripture also personifies death. It’s almost as if God’s adversaries include Satan, his minions, sin, and death. Jesus defeats all of these enemies through his death and resurrection. Paul writes that God has won the victory through Christ (1 Corinthians 15:54-57).

Paul will say in Romans 6 that sin and death can reign in our mortal bodies. They are masters that rule over the human race because of Adam’s disobedience. Sin and death work together (Romans 6:9). Sin reigns in people’s hearts under the influence of spiritual death. These two abstract ideas are given personal attributes.

We would expect personification to be used by the poets of the Bible. But we find it used in deep theological discussion by Paul and Genesis. It’s a favorite device in wisdom literature. Proverbs describes Lady Wisdom as desirable and beautiful. Lady Folly is described as a prostitute and vulgar woman. These are abstract principles, not people.

Many people seek folly, more accustomed to her whiles. Lady wisdom comes at a premium. Wisdom is hard to find and more precious than riches or anything else because it produces those things. Poetic and wisdom literature often take it of personification.

Even the prophets are full of vivid imagery and personification. The art of personification to show nature and functions can impress and student of literature.

In the New Testament, James, the wisdom teacher, also uses personification. He outlines the way sin creeps into our lives (James 1:13-15). It tempts, entices, and lures us. Enticing and boring are hunting terms for entrapping and snaring us. Temptation and desire work against us.

Personification is ineffective literary toll in the hands of master storytellers and poets throughout Scripture. And master theologians like Paul and James use it also. They cause us to think more deeply about these abstract forces. Is sin a power or force? Is death a person or a force? Please Wisdom a woman or perfectly represented in Christ? They teach us about Christ, Enjoy the literary devices of Scripture without neglecting the lessons they teach us. They bring richness to our thoughts and studies in the Scriptures. Let us thank Jesus that he has dealt with all of them for us. He has been victorious and we have victory over them through obedience to him.

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Atheism in America

Atheism has become quite the movement in America and the Western world. It’s always been around, since before the Bible was written. The Bible refers to those who don’t believe in God in some of the Psalms and other books.

But it seems to be making quite the comeback especially in America. Fueled by naturalism, science, and secularism, atheism has been emboldened. Like no other time in history, religions of all kinds have had to explain themselves and fight for the right for existence.

A new wave of atheism is now taking root, called New Atheism. Rather than simply be the choice to not believe in God, New Atheists have become a form of activism against all religion. Rather than proclaim the philosophical view that religion is not for them, they have become evangelists for atheism.

They have actually stated that religion is a cancer in society, the crotch for the week, and detrimental to human existence. They seem to ignore the fact that every culture has ever existed has had some form of spirituality and religion.

People like Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris are big proponents of this new atheism. They have done everything but become flat-out violent against anyone that is religious. They fight against religion in general, but are specially hostile toward Christianity.

I would call this “hard atheism.” Their goal is to campaign against your religion, to challenge every facet, and to personally attack you as being stupid for believing in God. They will take everything you say and twisted around so many times that it will look nothing like what you said. It is their goal to get you off your guard and make you doubt every belief you ever held. They want to tour the world upside down and watch it burn.

Another form of atheism is “soft atheism.” These are people who have by default chosen atheism as their worldview. They are very closely related to agnostics, people who did not take a stance on the issue of God or theism. “Atheist” is best defined as stating for certain that there is no God. The problem with hard atheism is that they would have to be all-knowing to make such a statement. It’s impossible to know for certain that God doesn’t exist unless you know all things, which happens to be one of God’s attributes! Atheism in its purest form is self-defeating.

A softer form of atheism is agnosticism. Agnostics are slightly more humble in giving their opinion that as far as they know God probably doesn’t exist. A soft atheist is a person who is open to the possibility that they are wrong. They are open to evidence we can give that God does exist. They are willing to listen to what we have to say and seriously consider it.

Hard atheists are very hard to share our faith with. If they were completely honest, they would tell us that they don’t evilly hear our story or anything about our religious views. They see anyone who is religious in any way as unintelligent, uninformed, and behind the times. They see religion as something to cover up the truth of science and make us feel better about meaningless living.

Although it’s never impossible to get through to anyone about Jesus, and Jesus can save even those who are the farthest from him, you will find your efforts to witness to hard atheists almost always unfruitful. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stop trying!

Soft atheists and agnostics, however, are a bit more down to earth. It will allow you to provide evidence and tell your story. They will listen with interest, seeking to understand the truth if it is out there. You will find more success speaking to these types of people.

No matter who you speak to, know that the Holy Spirit is beginning to soften them to the gospel. Whether the soil is hard as a rock or more like sand, you should never be afraid to share your faith with anyone. If the Holy Spirit directs you to that person, you have a mission and they have a need to hear your story.

What have you come up against as you’ve shared your faith? Leave a comment below and tell me what you think about these different groups in our society today.

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