Christ's Glory, Not Mine

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

Seeking the Lost

A missing puzzle piece, found, and identified with the lost, rejected, abandoned, etc.

Christ died for all of these. (Photo byjohnhain / Pixabay)

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” — Luke 19:10 ESV

Christ says this while passing through Jericho, on his way to Jerusalem for the Triumphal Entry that launched a week that ended with our Lord’s death on the cross for our sins. A crowd gathered, and a wee little man climbed a tree to see him. Yes, Jesus said this at the end of his response to the Good Proper Christians, er Jews, who grumbled at Jesus for going to a sinner’s house.

Tax collectors like Zacchaeus were despised as the worst of sinners, collaborators with Israel’s enemies with a reputation for earning their living by overcharging people and keeping the extra “tax.” I.E. they defrauded the people. Knowing this, inspired by Christ’s gracious invitation, in verse 8, Zacchaeus announced (at a banquet held in his home in Christ’s honor is implied) “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.”

Next comes:
“And Jesus said to him, Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.’”

This man, identified with Israel’s enemies, despised as a sinner hardened beyond redemption, repented when graciously showed kindness. Not when beat over the head with “you shall not steal,” etc. Not when we went out of our way to make his life harder. When the Lord graciously reached out to him, gave him a new hope. The holy spirit moved him to the act of repentance he already well knew. Why hadn’t he before? Before Christ came into his life, he likely had no hope of any way out of the life path he had chosen.

Interestingly, Christ follows this up with the parable of the Minas, a rather meaty piece. Context suggests it is a different topic raised by different concerns, but it does reaffirm that, while Christ came to save the lost, judgment day will not go well for Christ’s enemies if they continue to refuse to repent and continue to reject Christ’s reign over their lives–to walk in self-idolatry, the desire to be our own god, as it has been ever since the garden of Eden.

The fate awaiting those who don’t repent ought to inspire us, but we don’t know others’ hearts. The overflow from the mouth can be revealing, but people’s behavior can be misleading. We may not know if a soul is hardened against God and bent on being a self-defining, self-exalting determiner of what is true and right and wrong for themselves, following a dark road out of a hopeless despair of ever being able to change, or if they are being led astray by the world’s lies while actively seeking the reconciliation and peace with God, others, and ourselves that we know is truly found only in Christ.

Let’s give the lost the benefit of the doubt and graciously reach out. Let’s at least pray and be open to being asked to extend a gracious invitation to the lost on the Lord’s behalf.

Lord, open our hearts to the possibility of being used to reach your enemies. Open our eyes to opportunities to show kindness and mercy to the lost, and through this bring them hope and to show them the way into your light of truth gently and lovingly. Give us courage, wisdom, and the words that person needs to hear at that moment. Thank you for the work you are doing in our lives. Thank you for your mercy and kindness, the hope you bring. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.


God Will Do It.

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Genesis 15:1-3 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” But Abram said, “Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless,” But Abram said, “Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” Then Abram said, “Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!”

Barren women actively trying to conceive often spend two weeks of every single menstrual cycle pregnant with only the hope of being with child. We love our Baby Hope and fight for that child with everything we’ve got within us. For many of us, month after month, for years on end, Aunt Flo then comes and “kills” the child we’d hoped we were carrying in our wombs. Our pain is one I hope you never know. We often have to take breaks, and some quietly throw in the towel, let our Baby Hope slowly die in our heart, too.

This is where I think Sarah/Sarai and her husband were when God came to him with such a bold, exceedingly great promise. More than a decade would pass after its giving before its fulfillment, and in that time they’d again struggle to keep the faith and to not give up on God doing it. While I’ve never sank to handling it on the Ishmael level of awful, like Sarah and her husband, I’ve tasted that sting of death, only for the Lord to come (in the spirit) and gently revive me, reminding me of his promises, and strengthening me to carry on.

God will bless us. I don’t know how, and I don’t know when, but he will do it. In the meantime, we will seek to keep walking by faith.

That said, please never say “all in God’s time,” and the like to an infertile couple in response to their grief for never-were children. That attempt to comfort can come across as akin to telling a parent grieving the death of a child that did get to be born not to grieve because God perfectly timed their child’s death and they need to trust it was God’s perfect will for their child to die. (For those unaware of this, that is cruel and can sour weak believers on God.) To worsen the pain of that slap in the face for grieving for never-were children, infertile couples are also being offered no hope of a Heavenly reunion with the never-were babies infertility’s stolen.

Infertility is a disease, an effect of the fall, and no more God’s fault than it is God’s fault someone else is battling cancer. He does have the sovereign power to supernaturally override such effects of the fall in our lives. Sometimes God chooses instead to walk us through the brokenness of this world. Sometimes that is only for a season, a new season comes, and we do get our miracle.

Nonetheless, we need to grieve our losses; I learned that in another difficult season that had me on the verge of becoming an atheist. I prayed angry, heartbroken, etc. and gave God the broken pieces. He doesn’t always work things out the way we want, but he does always restore us and make something beautiful out of the broken pieces.

“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” — 1 Corinthians 15:55-57


The Bread of Life Never Expires

sh4 the bread of life

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. (Isaiah 55:2)

The Bread of Life never expires, never goes stale. Preachers who come offering us some other gospel that is “newer” and “fresher” are handing out junk food at best, deadly poison at worst. Only the Bread of Life they falsely accuse of being stale and expired nourishes our souls.

Watch out for cotton candy, feel good, fuzzy preaching and teaching that appeals to our appetites but lacks substance. The true gospel challenges us to change, to grow–by the power of the Holy Spirit, in grace, through faith, not by our own fleshy strength, granted. It doesn’t have to be a stone, and watch out for bones, but a good study of the Bible takes some thought, challenges us to prayerfully evaluate ourselves and our lives and calls us to a closer walk with God while nourishing our souls.

And let’s not forget Christ proclaimed of himself, “I am the Bread of Life.” We need the Word Made Flesh as well as the written word. As Isaiah 55:1 said, “And you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” It doesn’t matter how spiritually impoverished you are due to sin. Come, naked and poor, wretched and blind, come. Christ has paid the cost. Lay it down, whether for the first time or the thousandth, receive the Lord. He is knocking. Sup with him today.

Thank you, Lord, for being the Bread of Life. Thank you for nourishing our souls. Lead us in your way. Show us anything we’ve been holding back from you, any area you want to work on in us next.Turn us from self-idolatry to serve you first, not our own flesh’s appetites and desires. Warn us when we’re being offered spiritual junk food and give us ears attentive to your voice. Transform us by the renewing of our minds. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.


A New Easter Tradition–Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

Someone else’s attempt at this classic, which is usually round.

 

This year, I’m recovering from second degree burns and have been rather ill from them all week. Pretty much everything suffered, with my poor, sweet husband having to pick up some of the slack for me. God used a friend I hadn’t seen in forever to get me the meds I needed, and today I have energy for a change, so I took my house down from near total disaster area to only “a little a mess.”

I finished the Easter centerpiece I’d been working on in bits and pieces (flowers made from green straws and #2 cone coffee filters soaked in leftover Easter egg dye and left to dry. Carefully tear it open, fold accordion style 1/2 way, then wrap the other half around, tucking in the short corner. Twist bottom into a point, stick on straw, arrange in a vase or suitable substitute) I stuck saved cracked egg shells in the dye, too, and arranged them in the vase and on a plate (paper) around the vase, crumpled up a few extra dyed coffee filters to go with them. Cute and inexpensive. Not bad at all for a first try, while I’ve been ill, really.

You know, this reads exactly like every recipe online where I get annoyed by the blather and skim to the actual recipe, lol.

A few years back, I decided to start a new family tradition of serving pineapple upside down cake on Easter. This new tradition is based upon my short story “Pineapple Upside Down Cake,” loosely based on actual events from my childhood. Namely, shortly before she died of Parkinson’s disease, my paternal grandmother promised to bake my dad said concoction when she got better. In the story, the local church sends a care package full of food to the family (as mine did) and among the items is a pineapple upside down cake. Not sure how much of this is fiction, but to the children in the story, the cake is a reminder of, and assurance of, the funeral preacher’s assurances Grandma was now in Heaven and was well again there. Thus the spiritual meaning it has for me makes it perfect for Easter.

That treat isn’t exactly kosher on my current diet (for health reasons). So I made a few modifications that seem to have worked. Note I used home-made nut milk in mine.

Healthier (Gluten-Free, Dairy Free) Pineapple Upside Down Cake

1 hour and 10 minutes to make 9 servings

Ingredients:

Topping:
¼ cup coconut oil
2/3c coconut sugar
9 slices pineapple in, drained (reserve juice)
9 maraschino cherries, destemmed.
Cake:
11/3c Gluten-Free flour mix (I used Krusteauz, from Albertsons)
¾ c Splenda + ¼ cup coconut sugar OR 1 c white sugar
1 1/2tsps baking powder
1/2teaspoon salt
½c almond milk or coconut milk
1/4 c pineapple juice (increase non-dairy milk if omitting)
2-3 eggs

Directions:
1) Heat oven to350 degrees F. In 9 in square pan (or baking dish) melt the coconut oil in the oven as needed. (Trust me, do this FIRST). After it is melted, remove pan from oven. Shake dish good to ensure the oil greases all surfaces well or the cake will stick. Sprinkle in the coconut sugar then arrange the pineapple over the coconut sugar. Place cherries in the center of each pineapple ring. If you use a brownie pan, you’ll have to do some squeezing to get them to fit. Note these cakes are usually round so if you want to use a round pan, go for it. If it’s a larger pan you may need to double the recipe to fill it.
2) In a bowl, stir together the flour mix, the baking powder, and salt. Cut in the remaining 1/3 c coconut oil, the nondairy milk, the pineapple juice (if using) and 2-3 eggs. Beat lumps out of the batter with an electric mixer on high, about 3 minutes, scraping bowl 2-3 times. Pour batter over the topping mix that’s on the bottom of the pan.
3) Bake 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Immediately place a heatproof serving plate (I used my pizza pan) upside down over the cake’s pan. Quickly flip over the plate and the pan. May need to gently bang on the pan to get the cake to fall off it onto the plate upside down. Leave the pan on over the plate to let the caramelized sugar-oil mix drizzle down; you may need to scrape some off. It’s suggested to serve cake warm but it is delicious cold, too..

Adapted from the classic Betty Crocker recipe.


7 Tunes Complementing Web Surfer

Tunes of Web Surfer

While listening to music while I write is often too distracting for me, musical references have often found their way into my works (either just titles, songs out of copyright, or allusions that don’t directly quote copyrighted materials.) Likewise, music has been known to influence or partially inspire me as I write, and I’ve also been known, while listening to music, to go, “hey, that’s the same theme as my story, that song harmonizes!” And one thing I’ve been known to do for fun is to up with lists of songs for mock soundtracks to mock movie versions of my books. Here is a selection of seven of such songs that complement Web Surfer in these ways, with brief notes on why it was chosen, in the order I came up with them.

1) You Won’t Relent
Manna’s relationship with Sander brings this one to my mind sometimes. Incidentally, Manna can represent both the Bride of Christ and the Holy Spirit in relation to her bridegroom. She prays the scripture text the song is based on over their relationship, as she is still jealous over his lovers, though she knows he hates his sin and is actively fighting to break free of that bondage. Read the serial’s third volume and all four novels to see how their love turns out.
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2) It is Well With My Soul by Horatio G. Spafford
A more subtle influence that unlocks part of the imagery with the key, “sorrows like sea billows roll.” One reason Sander surfs is to cope with grief and stay on his “surfboard of faith.” That metaphor is from the Life After Mars Series, but he’d have learned it from his foster family. He also has a real struggle to believe “it is well with my soul” is true of him despite his brokenness.
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3) Hold Me Together (Hello Mercy) by Royal Tailor
The second Web Surfer novel is about a search for Sander’s foster daughter, Mercy, and it has themes and symbolism that are comparable to this song.
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4) Wings of a Dove by Hal Ketchum
Inspired imagery in the forth and final Web Surfer book.
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5) Wind Beneath My Wings
Sander feels this way about his supercomputer, AKA his throne, AKA his metal head. Like his organic body parts, it has a mind of its own, but it normally only speaks to Sander, within the privacy of their own metal head. The rest of us only hear from the it apart from the him during times of major crisis. Note the Lord and his foster parents are at the top of his “heroes I want to be just like” list.
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6) How Can It Be – Lauren Daigle
Speaks to Sander’s battle with the sin in his life and his faith journey. Yes, he’d know all of the songs on this list. He knows everything that’s ever been posted on the internet. He’d have picks on his own list that we’ve never heard of, though, (Note: the worship leader at my church who sings this is male.)
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7) Our God is Greater by Chris Tomlin
This song is principally about magnifying the Lord. That is one of Sander’s supreme goals. At every opportunity presented to him, he testifies truthfully, “I’m nothing like God, not even close.” That’s a huge claim when his earthly power is so great, once he’s out of his chains, only his own character can hold him back from nightmare scenarios, and that he has developed a conscience is another problem for the people he’s saying “no” to. But as powerful as Sander is, his power is nothing beside God.
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