Christ's Glory, Not Mine

Devotions, advice, and book reviews from science fiction author Andrea J. Graham


Why settle for being normal, when you can be extraordinary

You are unique. So is everyone else. So being unique isn’t special.
If you are breathing, you are at least a little evil (flawed and imperfect.) So is everyone else. That makes you normal. Welcome to the club.
You are at least a little good. Some are so evil, they use even their good qualities for evil. So the more you grow up into the wisdom, purity, goodness, and righteousness Christ offers to us all for free, the more special you are.

So the most special people are gray-haired, physically failing, or otherwise at death’s door because they’re crossing the finish line of faith. They’ve traveled a hard, narrow road that few find, let alone finish.

That’s extraordinary.
Why settle for being normal, when you can be extraordinary?

Faith Identity: Free Flash

geralt / Pixabay

Adapted and abridged from the fourth chapter of Life After Mercury, the third book of the Is There Life After Mars series, my not-released, most recently completed project. The books are set on the Martian Frontier in 2080s and feature helpful AIs.

Perhaps he should stop putting off a conversation sure to get him in trouble with his sister-in-arms. Holter gulped and bounded up over to Fernanda. The attractive, olive-skinned, seventeen-year-old Latina wore a pixie cut, black jeans, and a periwinkle long-sleeved t-shirt.

He rubbed his wrist. “As of today, every eligible lieutenant’s son between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five has asked me for permission to marry you, including Walker.”

Que? Por qué pedirle tú?” Fernanda groaned, grimacing. “Of course they asked you.”

He cleared his throat, face warm. “It’s traditional for the senior officers to arrange their children’s marriages. The guys suggesting themselves as possible student husbands for you know your dad had a bad experience and feel his ‘neglected duty’ falls to me, as the eldest commander’s brat, even if I didn’t acquire that status by being a blood relation.”

Fernanda pulled the chest-bench seat across from the couch. She carried her vanity chair next to the first seat, snatched up a 3D printer slops bin by the vanity. She slammed the bin down as she propped the exterior door open with it before flouncing back into her chair. “Brother, is this leading up to, ‘are you sure God’s called you to life-long celibacy?’”

“Maybe,” he muttered.

“I am confident falling in love and marrying isn’t God’s will for me.”

He touched Fernanda’s shoulder. “Sis, you’re thinking like you’re still a civilian. We’re brats. Romancing our spouses is advised, but a brat’s marriage isn’t about romance. It’s about two officers sharing our inherited military titles, our governing responsibilities, and our duty to raise our replacement officers. You’re Commander Fowler’s heir. It’s tradition for you to have a co-heir and for you to marry him. Is a genetic fluke that’s left you sterile really worth bucking tradition?”

“Sometimes traditions aren’t worth keeping.”

So much for that. Holter sighed. “Sis, I promised Walker I’d put in a good word for him, and I do trust him with you. Give him a chance. He’ll understand.”

“Get behind me, Satan.” Fernanda’s dark eyes glinted hard, her fists clenched, her jaw tight. “Brother, you don’t know my private struggles with my gender and my sexual attractions. My present reality is uncertainty of what gender I’ll be in Heaven and thus of my true identity. I know only that I’ll be sinless like Christ and fully reconciled to God, others, and myself.”

He cleared his throat. “As I understand your medical issue, Fernanda, anyone who insists you’re a man might as well insist a green-eyed girl has dark brown eyes when we know she carries that gene and it is normally dominant.”

Fernanda glanced at the door she’d propped open. Her friend Annis stood there, holding it, and the blond cadet had brought along Warrant Officer Walker. Fernanda waved. “Please come in, but how long have you been standing there?”

“We heard what Holter said.” Annis swept in, carrying the 3D printer slops bin, as Walker held the door for her. They let it close and lock behind them.

Annis put the bin back by the vanity, right where it belonged and plopped on the edge of Fernanda’s bed, on her end, two arms’ lengths away.

Fernanda stared at Walker, a challenge in her eyes. “I’m a genetic male with Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome and struggling with my gender identity.”

Still in uniform, Walker settled on the bench beside Fernanda’s vanity chair. “My mom has briefed me on intersexed conditions. If I may ask, were you born with a prostate gland?”

“I was born missing all but my testes, and those are up inside my body. All they’ve ever done is pump out male hormones that my body can’t use. It converts them into female hormones. This was the results.” She waved at her most definitely female body.

Walker touched Fernanda’s forearm. “As medicine is practiced on Mars, if an intersexed patient has a prostate gland, the patient is male, and we measure his degree of feminization. In your case, you have a male genotype but a female phenotype. Per Holter’s example, his green-eyed girl has a ‘brown-eyed’ genotype but a ‘green-eyed’ phenotype. You are a woman, sterile, but a woman.”

“Thank you. But, for my conscience’s sake, taking up my cross and following the Lord does mean celibacy.”

“Is this about not wanting to use a surrogate? In New Plymouth, a doctor has performed a couple successful uterus transplants, and your mom is done using hers.”

“Gross!” Fernanda shuddered and ticked her fingers. “Aside from ‘ew,’ it’d be expensive, dangerous, and elective. No civilian would get approved. I won’t take measures not available to all people equally when it is elective, dangerous, and expensive.”

“If you married a girl . . . ” Annis clasped her hand over her mouth. “Forget I said that?”

Fernanda waved the apology off. “It makes my point. Genotype matters. If I married a man, we’d need a female donor, and our children would have three parents rather than the natural two. If I took a wife, and cloning techniques gave me artificial sperm, she could carry our child.”

The two friends were staring in each other’s eyes.

Fernanda glanced to the floor. “Phenotype matters, too. My disease stole my manhood. I can’t function as a husband, father, and brother-in-arms. My AI thinks God should ‘debug’ me by replacing my Y with an X chromosome. God may disagree. I don’t know if I’ll be a man or a woman in Heaven. I don’t know which of my attractions are same-sex. I know I am celibate.”

Oh. Holter cringed. He had cluelessly bumbled. “Sorry.”

“I forgive you, brother.” Fernanda cleared her throat. “To your valid concern, I will ask Mama to designate someone to succeed her. I will work with my co-heir and assist in preparing our successors for office. But I will not marry my co-heir or be a parent of my successors.”

Sometimes, a humble faith means saying, “My present reality is uncertainty of my true identity. I don’t know what I’ll be in Heaven. I know only that I’ll be sinless like Christ and fully reconciled to God, others, and myself.”

In Search of Deep Modern Christian Music

mccartyv / Pixabay

Modern Christian music sometimes gets criticized as mostly shallow, “Jesus is my boyfriend” love songs. And some are. Yet I turn on Pandora and set it to shuffle through my Christian stations and I easily find music that feeds the soul, lifts me up out of funks, calms fear and anxiety, and reminds me of eternal truth. For example:

While “Dreaming Jacob’s Dream” with Michael Card, he encourages me, “We all need dreams to seek Him.”

We adore the eternal holy one who sits on Heaven’s Mercy seat in “Revelation Song” with Philips, Craig and Dean.

“In Christ Alone” reminds me “Up from the grave he rose again” and that Christ’s victory has caused the curse to lose its grip on me, so I can stand in the power of Christ. The same track mingles in the classic, faith-affirming, “On Christ the solid rock I stand.”

Big Daddy Weave and I pray for peace as we sing Steven Curtis Chapman’s “Hold Me Jesus,” and we invite our king of Glory to once again be our Prince of Peace.

Brandon Heath’s “Your Love” at first blush sounds like it’s going to be everything “wrong” with Christian rock, boiling the mysteries of the faith down to “Your love is enough.” However, the core statement of his song is true and an important affirmation for many Christians struggling with that. The problem isn’t the song, it’s the Church increasingly falling prey to the surrounding culture’s poor grasp of what love truly is. And Heath asserts the power the world’s love denies. God’s love ‘lights up the darkness,’ gives us hope, sight to blind eyes, makes lame feet walk. Metaphorically, God’s love gives spiritual sight to spiritual blind eyes. And it’s our spiritually lame feet that stumble into the flesh’s sin that God strengthens to walk in the Spirit by faith.

“Lord I need you,” confesses Matt Maher, “every hour, I need you.” He affirms Christ as our “one defense” and our “righteousness.” He reminds us, in effect, that grace frees us from sin, that Christ is at work in us, making us holy, He advises us to sing in the face of temptation—I have done it, with another song, and it really does help.

Since this is my Pandora Christian stations on shuffle, “Old Rugged Cross” came up next, but it is a prime example of the meaty, deep, timeless classics. I’d encourage you to give them a chance, if you’re strictly into modern worship.

“Forever Reign” (by One Sonic Society) has a repetition rhythm that can make it sound shallow at first blush. It isn’t at all. The repetition isn’t just musical, it aids memorization of its core theological concepts, which are too many to list, however down-to-earth rather than “high minded” they are compared to most of the hymns. Yes, there’s “running to your arms” going on, but prodigals have been running to their father’s arms for 2,000 years. Excellent message, good sound, and it definitely lifts you up from wherever you are into worshipful mood.

“Just to Know You,” pleads Mark Schultz, as he affirms the core gospel story in depth and finishes off with his longing to respond to Christ’s giving all for us by giving all for Christ, not out of a legalistic works righteousness, but out of a passionate love and a grateful heart.

“Hosanna” shouts Hillsong United with the people as the King of Glory comes, the earth shakes, and mercy washes away sin and raises up a generation with selfless faith, and stirs rival as we pray and seek on our knees. “Hosanna” also features the “dangerous prayer” that at least six other bloggers have commented on at length, “Break my heart for what breaks yours /Everything I am for Your kingdom’s cause.” And my longer excerpt doesn’t cover half of the full prayer. If we pray it with them and mean it, it’s potentially life-changing, beloved.

Mind you, this is only scratching the surface, only the first ten or so songs that came up at random. Well, unless you believe God controls Pandora’s “shuffle” feature. Don’t know about that, myself, I needed to feed the stations it’s shuffling through with good seed songs. However, just the song or songs I needed at that moment do come up frequently.

If you haven’t read any of the commentaries on “Break my heart for what breaks yours” and are curious, here is my (likely partial) list of those bloggers’ articles:

Marilynn Chadwick

In Other Words . . .

Go Beyond (Omar Garcia)

Sam at Recklessly Alive

For the record, I recommend the “most dangerous prayer,” along with praying for patience. However, they do require a courage faith, a bravery derived from a complete trust in our Lord. He knows what we need to grow, and he’s the source of our strength to endure the heartbreak and trials of life. They’re gonna come regardless of whether we’re praying to have a right heart in the face of them. God is a good father who gives us fish and bread, not snakes and stones. Nothing God directly sends us directly as a result of prayer will ever be to our harm.

Book Review: Heir of Hope

My husband accidentally bought me a happy Monday gift a while back when Morgan L. Busse’s Heir of Hope was on sale and he’d mistaken it for the first book of her new series rather than the last book of her prior series. So here you go, my first review in ages.

Heir of Hope is an enjoyable, satisfying conclusion to the Follower of the Word series. Despite this, I must confess I almost threw the book across the room at one moment that was too emotionally manipulative for my tastes and unnecessary in my view. The author turns it around, so hang in there with her if you pick it up and feel similarly.
More challenging is if you believe God’s power would never flow through one of God’s people in a way that is harmful to the person. For an Elderan Truthsayer, the gift of healing always harms the Truthsayer when their spiritual gift is benefiting someone else. In the Lands, the Word (i.e. Jesus) usually heals by taking a person’s sickness or injury off of the person and putting it on the Elderan Truthsayer. If that violates your beliefs and you are not willing to extend grace to a Fantasy novel, skip this series. In real life, God’s back is the only back God has stripped to heal us. And, in fairness, the author does a good job of showcasing the real back striped for our healing and will challenge us to re-consider how scarred we imagine our Lord is.

Likewise, she is following a good principle for fantasy magic (“give it consequences”) and there is a slim possibility God might work differently with a “magical” self-healing race than he does with an ordinary human. But skip this one if you’re a charismatic or a Pentecostal with firm ideas on how the real gift of healing works and not open to the possibility of God ever doing it another way . However, if you can suspend disbelief or otherwise overlook “speculative theology” in a fantasy world, you’re in for a treat.

On an unrelated note, if you have zero ability to handle violence that includes amputated body parts, skip this one, but let the rest of you note the author does a good job balancing realism and good taste.

Overall, Morgan Busse has again proved she is a master world-builder. She’ll take you to another time and another place and make it seem real. She’s so good at it, fans of Christian fantasy who believe God gives spiritual gifts to Christians today may forget this is a fantasy world and take issue with how the real gift of healing works for make-believe Elderans. Still, for the gracious, and for fans of Christian Fantasy of differing views, there’s plenty to enjoy and to think about here.

If you’re interested in checking out this series, I do strongly recommend you start with book 1, Daughter of Light.


The Forgotten Post

Forgot to tell you, Christ Glory Books released a $0.99 digital short last week, my short story clear back from my college days, “The Forgotten.” It was my one attempt at Historical Fiction (that turned into Romantic Historical in the process). It was also an experiment in writing from the viewpoint of a blind person. It is set in first-century Jerusalem in late winter, during the time of Christ’s earthly ministry.

Check it out. And please write a review. Thanks!

Change - High Resolution (1)Blurb: Blinded while defending his flock from a lion, Yoshiyah Bar-Natan has lost everything but his shepherd’s staff. Only his wealthy great uncle’s mercy spares him from a life of begging on the streets of Jerusalem. Unable to accept his fate, Yoshiyah means to fast until either God heals him or he starves to death. Uncle Binyamin has secret plans for Yoshiyah and commands his maidservant, Rachel, to help Yoshiyah adjust to a life of wealth but without his sight, his honor, and meaningful work. Meanwhile, his uncle’s two sons will stop at nothing to get Yoshiyah and Rachel cast out.

Trapped in an eternal night, Yoshiyah bar-Natan sulked as his father lifted him from the cart. He ought to be out leading his helpless flock. Instead, he was now himself a helpless sheep being led up the steps of Uncle Binyamin’s home in Jerusalem.

That accursed lion. When would he stop seeing the visions of it killing two lambs, himself slaying it, and the dying beast stealing his sight in one final swipe? A bitter taste in his mouth, he tightened his grip around his staff. Once he had used this stick to protect his sheep. Now, Uncle Binyamin was all that stood in between him and a life of begging in the streets.

The city’s open sewers stank. The balmy winter air was slightly crisp, but Passover was only six or seven more Sabbaths away.

“One more step. We’re almost there,” his father whispered before calling, “Hail, Uncle.”

His uncle’s voice called back, “Hail, Natan. Shalom, Yoshiyah.”

Yoshiyah stumbled over the last invisible step. Soft, wrinkled hands clasped his rough ones, hardened in his nineteen years by many nights spent with his sheep in the hills of Galilee.

His uncle released his hands, seized him by the shoulders, and pecked his cheek right below the blindfold. “My, how handsome you’ve grown. I don’t believe I’ve seen you since the Passover the year of your bar mitzvah, Yoshiyah.”

Had his uncle somehow missed the blindfold? Who treated a blind man so?
His father started, “Well, as you can see . . .”

“Yes, yes, your messenger told me. Don’t worry, he’s safe here.”

“Thank you, Binyamin. Shalom.” His father’s footsteps echoed down the stone staircase.

His uncle called, “Boys, come greet your cousin!”

A youthful man’s voice sneered, “Surely you jest, Father. He’s unclean.”

A second, shrill voice said, “Really, Father, a blind beggar? This is too much.”

His uncle barked, “Enough! He’s family, and I have given Natan my word. He stays.”

Last time Yoshiyah had been forced to stay here, temporarily then, the snobs said, “Ew, Father, that shepherd boy belongs in the stable!” His face smoldered. “I’m tired, may I rest?”

“Yes.” His uncle’s hand grabbed his again. “Here, I’ll show you to your room.”

As his uncle led him, his cousins muttered with contempt in their voices.

Blind beggar indeed. Snarling, he shook his head in the constant darkness. He may be a blinded shepherd, but a blind beggar? Never. He’d pray and fast until HaShem returned his sight. If the miracle never came, then may HaShem hold him innocent of his blood.

His uncle left him on the luxurious wooden bed. Surely this private room was for a guest of honor. Who treated a blind man so? At home, he’d had a mattress on the upper room’s floor, and he’d shared it with his parents, his brother, his sister-in-law, his nephews, and his unmarried sisters.

Well, it was time to begin his fast and his prayers. Standing didn’t seem fitting today. He flung himself down on the bed prostrate.

Visions intruded of the lion’s fierce swipe and his terrified, scattering sheep.

Buy “The Forgotten” on Amazon for $0.99 to finish reading it on your kindle or on any device with the free kindle app.