Are we living in the “End Times?” 

North Korea has a hydrogen bomb, the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic is poised to strike Miami, Harvey drowned Houston, an earthquake rocked Mexico, Oregon and California are burning, a total eclipse of the sun crossed the US, a powerful solar flare exploded, and Donald Trump is the leader of the free world. I don’t believe that we’re living in the book of Revelation, but is the universe trying to tell us something? Is prophecy being played out around us, or are humans careening toward our own extinction because we are fools?


Biblical Prophecy

The Bible is rich with prophecy, much of it vague and terrifying. The prophets, men like Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and John of Patmos had a direct connection to God, more visceral than others, and were often viewed with suspicion because they were erratic and strange. The visions God gave them may have fried their brains. Prophecy is open to interpretation, and even among fundamentalists, there are questions about the nature of scripture. Is the book of Revelation literal or figurative? There is a lot of wild stuff in that book, with creatures that sound like aliens, multi-headed beasts, plagues, famines, and an actual war between heaven and hell.

Revelation was written by John on the island of Patmos, where he recieved a series of visions from God. The book, the last in the Bible, predicts the end of the world in a series of cataclysmic events, laying out unthinkable losses throughout the world which intensify as they progress through the opening of seals, culminating in Christ’s triumphant return. Many Christians believe in the Rapture, an event where Christians are taken up to heaven prior to the tribulation, while the rest of the world is left behind to endure the coming wrath of God. Christians fall into two camps when debating this, the “pretribulative,” folks, who think they will be spared, and the “post-tribulative” believers who believe Christians will have to wait while the earth goes to hell.


The Antichrist

One constant, though, is the rise of the Antichrist. Throughout history, Christians have pointed to many leaders, believing that each one was the Antichrist. From Nero to Hitler and President Obama, there have always been candidates. Hitler certainly seemed to fit the bill, persecuting Jews and dragging the entire world into war. The Antichrist is said to be charismatic, a great deceiver who unifies the world, only to plunge it into darkness. He is a liar who professes Christianity, while serving Lucifer. President Donald Trump possesses something earlier leaders did not: nuclear weapons capable of ending the world. His hypocrisy, lies, and the way he dribbles scripture to pander to fundamentalists make Trump a pretty good candidate.

Global politics and war

Revelation states that there will be war and rumors of war as the earth hurtles toward the apocalypse. For the first time in human history, mankind has the ability to cause its own extinction in war. With instability in the Middle East, a resurgent and aggressive Russia, and someone with a questionable grasp on geopolitics in the White House, we are teetering on the abyss.

Opening the seven seals:

Revelation 6:12: I watched as he opened the Sixth Seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth…”. 

We just experienced a total eclipse, an earthquake, a blood-moon, and a meteor shower. Interesting.

Sounding the seven trumpets:

Rev 8:7: The first angel sounded his trumpet, and there came hail and fire mixed with blood and it was hurled down upon the earth. A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned down, and all the green grass was burned up.”

Sounds a whole lot like a nuclear war! With North Korea threatening to attack the US, the threat of nuclear war is at its most dangerous since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

Rev 8:10: A great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of the water. The name of the star is wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter and many people died from waters that turned bitter.

Radiation poisoning would do this to global water supply, and huge portions of the population would die. This is followed by locusts and plagues, all of which could happen due to the war.

Pain continues to rain down upon the earth as the book continues, with the seven bowls of God’s wrath. The waters turn to blood and the sun scorches people with fire, and plagues spread as the Beast rules a world plunged into darkness. Nuclear winter, perhaps? Babylon falls, and then comes the rider on the white horse, Christ himself leading an army of angels, throwing the beast into a fiery lake.

Conclusion

We may be in a tribulation of our own making if we do not collectively make better decisions. As the climate changes and the oceans warm, our children and grandchildren will face the consequences of our utter disregard for science and lack of stewardship of our planet. Displaced populations will be on the move, competing for dwindling resources, causing war and famine. Prayer is a powerful thing, and so is action. We must not blindly follow leaders who would lead us to our own destruction.

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Defeating Radical Islam

  The west is at war with radical Islam, whether our politicians acknowledge it or not. The United States does not want this war, nor does Europe; but hoping to avoid a fight is a sure way to loose when the fight has already begun. The enemy is among us, and they want to kill us. We must accept that truth, understand the reasons for it, and execute a plan designed to defeat the enemy.

I happen to have Muslim friends, kind and good people who want nothing of any soort of war. Unfortunately, they are in it too, and on the front lines, for they must lead the fight to reclaim thier religion and wrest it from the hands of the radicals. Of the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, based on PEW polls, roughly 10% are fundamentalist Islamists. That means worldwide, about 160 million people believe that killing those who leave the faith, stoning women, beheading people, and murdering in the name of religion are perfectly acceptable ideas. Ideas which originate in the Q’uran. 

If only 10% of those radicals are willing to become jihiadis, that leaves 16 million highly-motivated true believers willing to die tomorrow and take as many infadels with them as they can. This is a threat the west can no longer ignore or take lightly, because many of those jihadists already live here. 

In the wake of the worst terror attack in the U.S. since 9-11, coming on the heels of San Bernadino, Paris, and Brussels, the United States must accept the fact that radical, jihadist Islam is at war with us, whether we like it or not, and we must do whatever it takes to win. There is no single silver bullet, and the battleground is complex and evolving. 

Victory demands a multifaceted, nuanced approach. This war has been going on for over a thousand years, and it’s not going to end for decades. 

A Bit of History

The Islamic Caliphate captured  Jerusalem in 637; initially the Caliphate was tolerant of other religions, including Christians and Jews, but eventually became more conservative, expelling and executing those of other faiths. The current Islamic State models itself on the Caliphate. When the Godfrey and his knights took Jersualem in 1099 during the first Crusade, the fighting was bloody and both sides commited atrocities. The Crusades would go on for centuries, with Muslims and Christians battling for control of the Holy Land.

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The Ottomon Empire eventually took over from the Caliphate, and became a dominant world power. Constantinople was a center for global commerce for six hundred years. The empire, already in decline, sided with Germany during World War I, and following that defeat, the Allied Powers carved out a new nation… Turkey. There was a power vacuum in the Middle East left by the empire, as the British and French took the lead in influencing politcs in the region.  The French   controlled Syria and Lebanon, and the British held Palestine and Iraq.  Arabia and Yemen emerged. Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar were British Protectorates.

Following World War II,  with France and England reeling from the effects of the war, the mideast fought for independance from a long era of  European colonialism.  Israel was recognized as a nation in 1949 on lands that Palestine claimed, fomenting anger among the  Muslim populations throughout the region. More than once, Israel was attacked by its neigbors.

Demand for oil powered the economies of the entire Middle East, with Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran building powerful armies and growing wealthy. The Soviet Union and Untited states fought proxy wars, propped up dictators, and vied for influence in the region in order to keep the oil flowing.

The U.S. toppled Sadam, and pulled out without a clear plan, leaving the country vulnerable to corruption and invasion. ISIS swept through Syria and is now in Iraq.  They now sposor terror throughout the world, and claimed the last two mass shootings here in the United States.

 Boko Haram, ISIS, the Taliban, Al Queda, Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood and organiztions like them are growing more sophisticated and dangerous, recruiting via social media and communicating through encrypted emails, building sleeper cells and striking across thousands of miles. They prey upon the young, making attactive the idea of killing in the name of God. They have declared war on everyone who doesn’t agreee with them, longing for the apocalypse, and willing to die to obtain that goal.

So how do we stop the enemy?

Burst the Liberal Bubble

While liberals want peace and harmnony, (admirable goals), we tend to ignore the fact that evil exists, and the only way to defeat it is to fight. Not with mere words and calls for unity, but with bombs and blade and resolve. Religion is coming for us at the tip of a spear.

Liberals don’t want to offend, are reluctant to appear to hate, and will twist themselves into mental and emotional knots to avoid the truth because they don’t really understand it. The idea that humans are willing to die for religion seems a bit uneral to them, disconntected from their reality, and they cling to the belief that all religions are basically benign and created equal.  Radical Jihadist  Islam is inherently violent, and all the rainbows and unicorns in the world won’t change that. Wake up, people!

Cut off the money

The Saudis fund terror around the globe. Most of the 9-11 attackers were Saudi men, and ISIS gets  the bulk of its money from various back channels that end with the Kingdom. In the United States, and around the world, the Saudis fund many Mosques which subscribe to the brand of Sunni Wahhabism shared by ISIS. This is an austere interpetation of the Koran, a literal one.  According to their beliefs,  only those who folllow Whhabi are chosen. Others, including Muslims, are defiers of god. They are to be hated and persecuted. 

Poll  after poll shows that the citizens of Saudi Arabia hold deep hatred for the United States. They are not allies, not really. We buy oil from the Saudis because we must, and we fear thier power. OPEC controls oil prices, and if prices spike, our ecnomoy goes into free-fall.

The United States must become energy independant. This means renewable energy like solar, wind and geothermal. It means building more nuclear plants, and investing heavily in research for fusion, which is the holy grail of energy. Essentially limitless, safe, and inexpensive energy. 

This is going to take decades, but it is within our power. Only by becoming energy independant can we stop the Saudi influence on our economy and the way the Kingdom spreads its particular branch of Islam around the world. Without the money, it’s power will wane.

Increased domestic survailance

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It is a terrible truth that a free society is vulnerable to attacks, and that the only way to prevent more loss of life is by giving up some of our liberty. This is not to say that we need an authoritarian government, only that there is a balance between our civil liberties, constitutional rights, and national security. We need to be vigilant, and some of that is going to be invasive. The NSA will be monitioring our phones and internet activity as the war ramps up, more so than they already do. More street cameras, more drones over our soil. It is scary. Big Brother is watching, and he’s going to keep doing it. There is no other way.

Judges will need more lattitude to issue wire taps and search warrants. The FBI will have to step up its intellegence gathering abilities, utilizing moles and undercover operations in the way that the CIA did during the cold war. Mosques which preach radicalization must be monitored. Immigrants with leanings toward Jihad must be deported. Citizens who fund terror groups must be put in federal prison.

Rather than open our borders to an influx of refugees, the U.S. needs to find a solution within the Middle East, and do it quickly. The innocents fleeing ISIS deserve a place to live in peace. As terrible as it is, that doesn’t mean that place is the United States. Germany is reeling from the influx of refugees, as are most other European countries. 

Stopping ISIS

The immediate threat is ISIS. The United States must form an international coalition which includes Russia and Iran, along with the EU.  This would entail boots on the ground, and would only be a temporary solution, because eventually power would haave to revert back to Syria and Iraq. The swiftest solution, although not pretty, would be to essentially give Putin the ability to do what must be done in Syria, going in with tanks and infantry, then rebuilding in the aftermath but maintaning a presence and influence in country. The U.S. is going to have to do the same thing in Iraq. 

There will be collateral damage, and we’ ve got to be ready for it. We won’t be able to leave for decades. There will be a constant insurgency, and American lives will be lost. Eventually, Iraq should be divided into separate autonomous states, with the Sunnis, Kurds, and Shia each with thier own nations. This would drastically cut down on the sectarian fighting.

Reformation and Enlightenment

Since the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful and do not  subscribe to the violent beliefs of the Jihadists, they must take their religion back and propel it from the dark ages into the 21st century. Christianity went through its own evil period with the Inquisition, but eventually this gave way to the enlightenment.

The only way this can happen with Islam is for Muslims to act; the west needs to empower them. This means funding alternate mosques and schools. It means pouring money into regions where the only schools are Maderas for boys who are taught to hate before they are taught to read.

Within the United States, we must not condemn all Muslims. This is exactly what the terrorists want, an over reaction which only breeds more hate. However, while our next President must make it clear that we are not at war with Islam, he or she must acknowlege that we are at war with Radical Jihadist Islam, and find a way to unify the country, including Muslims rather than excluding them. We need them to be in this fight, with us, rather than against us, for they are us.

  


America needs a Reformation

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Religion and politics have been wrapped around one another for thousands of years. From a purely political standpoint, religion was frequently used as a means to control the populace and consolidate power.This was true of the Egyptians, the Aztecs, the Romans and Jews. As Christianity spread throughout the world, first through the travels of the early Apostles, and later by the growing Catholic Church, the teachings of Christ were often subverted and forgotten. The masses did not understand the simplest tenets of their own beliefs, for services were held in a language they did not understand and read from Bibles they could not read.

When Martin Luther published his famous The Ninety-five theses in 1519, he sparked a reformation, and shook the world to its foundation. With the invention of the printing press, believers had access to translations of the Bible for the first time, and the Catholic Church lost its monopoly on the faithful. In many ways, the reformation was about returning to the past, rediscovering something  true and old, rather than finding something new.

The core of the reformation was the primacy of the cross,  placing faith above works, and Justification by grace, which is not earned, but rather comes from God himself. The reformation focused on the teachings of Jesus rather than the laws of men. This, too was later twisted for political ends, with the rise of nationalism throughout Europe.

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Christianity in America needs a reformation

As the 2016 election looms, the Christian vote becomes crucial in determining who the next President of the United States will be. Once again, politics and religion are interwoven, and with consequences which will reverberate around the globe. Christians in the United States are not as homogeneous as the Catholic Church was, but over the last forty years the evangelical movement has morphed into a political beast which equates belief and faith with a clear political agenda. It’s an agenda that is often blatantly contradictory to what Jesus taught.

As the younger generation leave churches across the country in droves and membership dwindles,  prominent church leaders scratch their heads and bemoan the intrusion of humanism and secularism, point fingers at liberals, and grow more conservative. Rather than turning to the cross, they instead turn to politics.

Here are a few important ideas that seem to have vanished from the collective Christian mind in America:

Judge not

You, therefore have no excuse, you who pass judgement upon someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgement do the same things.” (Romans 2:1)

With the absurd debate over transgender bathrooms and gay-rights all over the news, Christians seem oddly focused upon codifying their judgements, and howling insults and hate from the pulpit and the rooftop. This is not only contradictory to what the New Testament teaches, but it also serves to drive a wedge between believers. It is a terrible stumbling block for many. Hypocrisy and judgment will kill belief as surely as the plague, and the church in the U.S. is ravished by these things.

Humility

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11)

Jesus taught much about humility. Not the kind of humility that we should take pride in and use as a weapon, but actual humility. Somehow, Christians still line up behind leaders, both religious and political, who exalt themselves every day. From the T.V. preachers with fleets of jets to Donald Trump, Christians get behind these clowns in spite of the obvious contradictions between what they profess, what they do, and what they actually believe.

“Woe unto you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all the other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone. Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.” (Luke 11:42-43)

By focusing on law, men turn from the truth. Laws are of man, while God is God. Yet here in America, we have reverted back to the same sort of legalistic thinking which led Jesus to revile the Pharisees. Law becomes subversive to faith, eroding it, undermining it, ultimately destroying it.

Jesus preached charity

“One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)

“What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? (Matthew 16:26)

In the United States, where success is conflated with goodness, this idea of charity has been engulfed by the religion of capitalism. Prominent church leaders and politicians have made the claim that God invented capitalism, which has nothing to do with Christ. Worse, the poor are paid lip-service on Sunday morning, then demonized throughout the week, called lazy, freeloaders, and nastier things by talking heads on the news. Folks ought to re-read the Sermon on the Mount, and then the rest of the Gospels.

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While there is nothing wrong with wanting a limited government, this demonization of the poor has taken on tones that would make Jesus weep, and many Christians speak this sort of hate with their own mouths.

Jesus taught love

At the heart of Christian belief is love. Love is the greatest commandment.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. ” (Matthew 22:37)

We have forgotten this, it seems, in America. We routinely see hateful speech coming from those who sit in pews every Sunday, from those who preach at the pulpit, and from leaders who sway voters because they make the claim that they are Christian.

While Jesus spent most of his time with outcasts, criminals, and prostitutes, in churches all across this country there is the spirit of judgement, exclusion and hate, rather than that of acceptance and love.

Conclusion

Since the rise of the “Moral Majority” in 1979, the Christian Right has become a potent political force in the United States, with the majority of Christians identifying with the Republican Party.

Now that Donald Trump is the presumptive GOP nominee, it’s time for Christians to re-examine their faith as it pertains to politics. Because Trump’s entire existence on this planet has been defined by greed, hate, infidelity, arrogance, and lies.

Regardless of the outcome of this Presidential election, the church across America needs to solve the problem at its core. The only way to do that is to turn back to the words of Christ.

 

 

Where Was God?

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A twisted gunman burst into a church and murdered Christians in an act of hate and cowardice. My heart aches for the fallen, and weeps for my country which seems broken. Where was God when the bullets tore through believers in His house? How is it that darkness appears to be defeating light?

The struggle that I’ve been through the last few years, the problems that I’ve faced, pale in comparison to those of others. I’m not looking at imminent death. Still, it’s been a brutal road for me and my family, with poverty looming, the loss of a job, and emotional battles raging. I have found myself asking, more than I’d care to admit, where was God?

In my novels, this is a central theme, the ongoing erosion of faith in the face of evil and despair. For the Fox family, there are epic battles and catastrophic losses, and still William and Crystal are never truly destroyed. Their faith is stronger than my own has been, the sort of belief I long for and which I see in some of the strong Christians I know. I’m praying, learning, trying to guild myself with the Armor of God.

Often, the hardships we face make us question the beliefs we hold most dear. I believe that God uses times of tragedy, loss, and inexplicable pain to draw us closer to Him, to bring us to a better understanding of His nature. Jesus says in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

It’s easy to blame God when terrible things happen. I know, because I’m guilty of this arrogant, human act. The truth is, evil in this world is committed by man. God did not cause that crazed, racist nutcase to enter a church and kill people. That was a decision that kid came to all on his own, one of free will. Our actions have consequences, for good or for bad.

God is alive and at work, and I’ve seen miracles with my own eyes. I’ve witnessed it in my life, and the lives of those that I love. Too often, I forget, for my faith is not as strong as it should be. In a world of seven billion people, there are tragedies every day, and the news will focus on the ten worst things and beat it into our brains, giving the impression that the world itself is bleeding and slipping into madness, that evil and peril lurk around every corner. We hear the bad but not the good, and this creates a pervasive, ongoing illusion, a destructive one, a lens through which we view the world shaded by darkness, one that filters out truth and light.

For the ten stories of accidents, shootings, disasters, and fires (the media is obsessed with fire of all sorts, from bombs to brush fires) there are a hundred stories we never get to hear. Lives saved, random acts of kindness, hope restored, faith found, and illness cured.

Where was God? He never left. He didn’t move, I did. Sometimes I forget.

“For you were once in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.” Ephesians: 5:8

Sneek Peek… FATE OF THE FALLEN

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Chapter Twenty-Two

When faith is the bedrock upon which a life is built, the loss of it, when belief crumbles to dust, reduces a man to bitter, abject desolation. Malak died in the sand, and in the sand he was reborn.

Waves crashing, the sun blinding, and the ocean a pale welcome blue, he plucked a crab from his chest and pulled yellow seaweed from matted hair, pushing himself into a seated position. Coconut palms stretched toward the sea along a pristine white beach. At his back a steep mountain lush with green jungle rose toward the cloudless sky. He’d never been anyplace like this before.

“Is this heaven? My reward? It looks a little lonely,” he muttered.

A seagull landed a few feet away and twittered at him. The crab scuttled along the surf line with one oversized claw, and one tiny, ridiculous one. The big claw raised like a shield.

“What do you want from me?”

The breeze,balmy and sweet, ruffled his long hair.

“Remember our last talk? I quit. I’m not doing this anymore.”

The palms rustled and the waves broke upon the reef line and lapped the shore, a steady rhythm of foam and clear water, more than a whisper, less than a conversation. Peaceful, serene.

Malak was not in the mood. He thought about the family he’d lost, the screams of children still echoing in his heart. The demon he’d faced, a thing which he never known walked the earth until he’d felt its unholy power. To him it was days ago, though he had no idea how much time had elapsed between Baghdad and wherever this was. Whenever he was.
His existence was unfair, he decided. Every life he’d lived felt futile, as did life itself. The friends he’d seen die, the blood he’d spilled with a blade… there seemed to be no sense to any of it, within the context of a loving, living God. Especially given that reality.

While he had experienced great peace, the times of turmoil and war overshadowed this, and he saw that both he and mankind were no closer to figuring things out than they were centuries ago.

The crab skittered toward a hole in the sand, and the bird hopped over to the crab and skewered it.
The crab does not pity itself, even as it dies, any more than the bird gloats over the killing and the meal. Men are different. Perhaps emotions only make living harder. For the crab does not expect to live any more than the bird believes it will eat, and the fact that these desires conflict keeps neither awake at night. If the crab assumed he’d be protected, living the crab-life, surrounded by hungry birds, yet confident in his continued prosperity, he would get angry when that beak pierced his shell.

“What’s the point? Clearly, there isn’t one. When I believe, you destroy. You are God. I can’t deny that you exist. Not after the things I’ve seen. But you are not what you should be. You’re a cheat in the marketplace, full of sunshine promises and whitewashed smiles, who then vanishes when it turns out you sold a lie, a cracked jar. You have no integrity. That you exist does not make me love you.”

He knew that these words were the worst sort of blasphemy, and it his lips burned a bit with the speaking of them and his guts tightened up, his body rebelling against his mind.

He walked along the beach, letting the water slide over bare feet, feeling the sand between his toes and the warm sun on his neck. He walked for perhaps an hour or two, and wound up where he started, circling back to his first footprints. The bird cocked its head at him and laughed in the way that birds sometimes do.

He was on an island.

Malak plopped down in the sand and watched the sun slide below the ocean, streaks of pink and yellow and purple painted upon the vast sky, and the face of the waters shimmering orange against the dancing white of the breakers and the deepening blue of the sea. The day dying, the night born.

He did not move, watching the first stars appear, punching through both light and darkness, becoming a wondrous myriad of diamonds strung melting into the sea. All the while, the waves hushed and frothed, luminescent and soothing.
He decided he would explore the interior in the morning, and that if he wanted to quit living and dying for both God and man, this would be the perfect place to do it.

That is exactly what he did.

He would come to call the island “The Rock,” and although he couldn’t know it then, it would become a place of solitude and wonder and joy. It would be a refuge, the only place he was born again more than once; often as he was dying, he prayed he would wake up there. It didn’t happen often enough for his liking, but when it did, he’d feel the sun on his face and the thirst in his soul and hear the music of the ocean and he would smile.

It took time to figure this out. Malak was hard-headed, and immortality proved no solution to being stubborn.
Water was a problem, and it was only through dumb luck that he figured out that coconuts held life-giving water within their hard shells. During a storm, a green one fell next to him, and he heard the liquid inside. After wasting the precious liquid on the first few attempts, he learned how to remove the outer husk and pierce the shell within, drinking heartily. He also learned to drink from plants after a hard rain, and started collecting his coconut shells to gather water during the rainy season. Despite being stubborn, Malak was smart and tough and adaptable

He ate fish every day, because the flesh contained water. At first he speared them, and as time went on, he learned to dig alcoves reinforced by coral and lava rock, letting the tide bring the fish in, where they would be stranded after it receded. He added nets formed with vines from the jungle to make this more effective. There were abundant fruit trees on the island, as well, and when it did not rain enough, these saved his life more than once. The island provided.

He was gifted and cursed with what would later be known as a didactic memory. He forgot nothing. He could recall the taste of food he’d eaten in the Ludus or Lisdenfrane on any given day at a specific meal, along with the ribald or Godly conversations which ensued. The more alone Malak was, the more he retreated into the past, finding comfort and solace with friends long dead. Hearing their cries, at the end. That was the thing.

As good as his memory was, these conversations were all one-sided, more akin to eavesdropping. He could not speak to his comrades any more than they could talk to him on this deserted island. The moments were what they were, unaltered and done, and even though Malak wished to speak into the past, he could not. What was done was done.
He exhausted these memories, and that soul-shrinking loneliness came back. It was a poverty of the soul.

He needed to get off the island because he was going insane. Also, he was bored. He’d been there for more rainy seasons than he could count. At least twenty years. He had every cause to believe that the easiest way off the island was to die.
At dawn, after a long night of dead conversation, he set out into the ocean.

He swam beyond the breakers, the waves smashing into the coral below, his blood blooming in the clear water, warm in the way that Lisdenfrane was not, wild and teeming with life and death.

The first time, he made it beyond the reef. He swam until he was exhausted, swept by the current out into the open ocean. He choked on salt water and sputtered and stroked. Things stung and nibbled at his extremities. The moon rose high and bright and he was far from land and man. He rolled onto his back while a thunderstorm crashed a few miles away, lightning arcing from horizon to horizon, white and ragged, waves building, his body carried up and down, as alone as any man can ever be.

“Here I am! Kill me! You don’t care, so let’s get it over with!” He gulped a cresting wave, the water stinging his eyes.
The first shark took his right leg above the knee with one bite. It felt like a hard shove, followed by tingling and pain and ironic, gulping laughter. The next shark chomped him in the torso and took him down for a while, a plunge into the dark, where his ears hurt and his lungs burned and his guts were on fire below the sea, and Malak decided that there were better ways to die.

He felt the same sun, heard familiar lazy waves, and saw the same damn bird making angry tracks in the sand when he opened his eyes again.

“Really?”

He experimented with ways to kill himself for a season. Drowning, starvation, fire, and the ever faithful sharks. None of it worked. He wound up back on the beach.

And so began the conversation that mattered. The one he was meant to have.

A Christian Writer’s Journey

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I’ve always been a dreamer, something that my father instilled in me from a very young age because he would say things like, “son if you work hard, you can be anything you want to be. Follow your dreams.”  I saw my old man write books, toil as a carpenter, and then go to law school. He practiced what he preached, rising from abject poverty to success through discipline and years of burning the candle at both ends. When I left the University of Florida to pursue a songwriting career, my dreams were vast and my ability limited. I had no idea how hard my road would be.

It occurs to me that I’ve had a lifelong problem managing my expectations, and this character trait has tarnished my relationships, my career, and my soul. When you shoot for the stars, mostly you don’t wind up where you thought you were going. The heart of the matter is pride. Leaning much upon my own understanding rather than upon God. So here’s my story, and perhaps some other folks can avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made, and perhaps with the telling of it, maybe I’ll finally wrap my head around the truth.

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I moved to Nashville way back in 1992 with a heart full of dreams and a cheap guitar. Those first years were heady, back when I knew I would  “make it,” and I figured that within a few years, I’d be living the dream. I played the Bluebird, penned hundreds of songs with fellow songwriters,  and wrote every single day. I saw, quickly, that I had much to learn. I’d been in town for about a month when I saw a writers round with Bob DePiro and Mike Reid… they slayed me with their talent. Every song was perfection, their vocals were mind-blowing, and their musical ability was so far beyond me that I saw there was an entire mountain yet to climb. I embraced it, and I learned, worked on my craft, mentored by some great writers. I had songs on hold for major artists, went to number one parties, and rubbed elbows with the movers and shakers of Music Row. Then I started doing a dangerous thing.

I began spending too much time gazing at where I wanted to be rather than what I needed to do to get there, and worse, whether that was where I should go. Enter the bitterness, the, sense of betrayal and the resentment. The great Harlan Howard, whom I had the great pleasure of spending time with, once said to a disgruntled songwriter, “well, nobody called and asked you to move to Nashville.” Right.He didn’t say that to me, but it would have bee spot on. Nobody told me to decide to become a writer..that was my choice. But the desire to succeed was eating my soul, clouding my vision and ultimately hurting my music. Some of my fellow writers nicknamed me “Doctor Doom.”

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I moved back to Florida following a divorce and the feeling of being let down in my songwriting career (or lack thereof,) thinking that I could leave writing in my rear-view mirror. I was wrong, and I started writing fiction, which didn’t require the same sort of schmoozing and glad-handing that songwriting seems to. When I got my first publishing deal, I was ecstatic. I’d signed a contract for a trilogy, and I hadn’t even written two of the books yet. I decided I would be a wildly successful author within perhaps a year or two. I’m hard headed, obviously, though my wife uses more colorful words to describe my frequent and woeful lack of understanding.

It takes years of hard work, multiple books, and networking, and talent to make it as an author. Like any other artistic endeavor, it’s a subjective thing, and people will buy what people buy. I find the writing in Fifty Shades of Grey to be awful, but tens of millions of people strongly disagree; E.L. James reached the stars by connecting with her readers, and more power to her. I could undoubtedly learn a thing or two from her. So, I’m writing, working, knowing it takes time, and trying not to chafe against that knowledge. Trying to enjoy the journey, and not focus on the destination.

During these decades of writing, I burned down one marriage and almost destroyed another. One of the central reasons this happened is because I expect things to go my way, and when they don’t, I get rankled. My essential impatience, my propensity to reach beyond my means to grasp. Marriage is hard work, and when things go south, which they will in any marriage at some point, I’ve had the feeling that things should be right again quickly. Wounds should heal, others should change, I should change…if not overnight, then within a time frame that I deem acceptable. Utter nonsense. It’s destructive. Because, once again, that resentment sets in and things only get worse. You end up feeling like you’re wasting your time, and when a sense of futility becomes pervasive, it’s already almost too late. It takes discipline and hard work to make it back from that.

Against this backdrop, I’ve experienced the same sort of impatience with God. It sounds as dumb as it is, yet when I’m in the midst of it, I can’t see it, missing the forest for the trees. I cry out to God, asking for help with more selfishness than humility: Help me make it as a writer, help my marriage, please send a briefcase full of money from the sky!  When I don’t get the quick results I desire, I feel betrayed. Like no one is really listening. Like the songs on the radio are full of false promises, and that the Word itself has misled me. But I have misled myself by choosing to focus on the wrong things, by hearing what I want to hear instead of the truth.

The truth is, life can be terrible, hard, and mean. And there is no assurance of a good outcome for any of us on this earth simply because we choose to follow God. The whole idea of abundance theory preached in many mega-churches is dangerous drivel.  It’s connected to Calvinism and the idea that success is predestined, a concept which helped to form the Protestant Work Ethic and build a nation, but which in many ways undermines the deeper message of the gospel. This Calvinistic attitude spawns the belief that poor are poor because God has decided it, and conversely that the wealthy are wealthy because they have earned favor in the eyes of the Lord. This belief system is insidious. Ask the Paul, Peter and Timothy about that.

Because the assurance and peace Jesus and the Apostles talk about is the eternal kind, not the earthly kind, and the our peace on this rock is found in knowing this and feeling fulfilled and joyous despite our circumstances. Salvation, peace, and joy are not things we have earned, but which come, ultimately, through the grace of God. Apart from God, I can do nothing. I am worth nothing. And this, perhaps, is the central truth I’ve missed over and over again.

The story isn’t mine. It never was. Paul extolls us in Hebrews 12:2 “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our fate…”  I’m an author, yet I’m not THE author. I focus on the things which I want, the tangible trappings of success, and I fix my gaze upon that which I cannot obtain alone. I cling to my pride like a talisman and wonder why I become disillusioned. I truly want to reach people, to touch lives and be a force of light, but I’ve been going about it all wrong, putting my own story ahead of the most important story.

It will take hard work and discipline, and faith, but when I look back twenty years from now, I pray I will be able to say that I was living and writing for the right reasons, not the wrong ones, and that I released my foolish pride, my selfish expectations, and human arrogance. By emptying myself, I pray that God will fill me with His spirit and that the kind of peace which matters is the peace I will have found.

I still have a mountain to climb, and my way is unclear. I have much to learn, and am certain I will falter. I am not alone, and in this knowledge I will rest assured, striving to fix my eyes on Jesus, my sole destination.

http://www.amazon.com/Wrath-Redemption-Sean-T-Smith-ebook/dp/B00SXOLOEQ/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

God and Post-Apocalyptic Fiction

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When the world is smashed and burning, I believe people will question why God abandoned us, while many who are not religious will turn to religion as a way of coping with the pain and destruction around us. Two of my favorite Post-Apocalyptic novels deal directly with faith: The Stand, by Stephen King, and A Canticle For Leibowitz, written by Walter M. Miller.  These novels both had a direct influence on my writing.

I’ve had a few reviewers attack the religious elements of my work, although the overwhelming majority of readers, both religious and agnostic, are not troubled by the way .the characters respond to the end of the world as we know it. While I wrote these novels from a Christian perspective, the books are by no means intended to be an extended sermon. Man has an innate need to connect to our creator, to find a way to explain our existence. Indeed, the idea of the apocalypse itself appears in Roman and Greek myths. The stories of the Biblical Flood and Armageddon go back thousands of years, and are a part of our collective human psyche.

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There is a reluctance now, it seems, for post-apocalyptic fiction to address religion. I wonder why that is? Are authors fearful of alienating readers? (This was certainly very much on my mind when I wrote Objects of Wrath.) Whether it’s zombies, a virus, an asteroid, or a war, the majority of PA novels delve into the questions of faith in a cursory manner. I’m not implying there is anything wrong with this approach, and certainly many survivors would not ask larger questions, being more concerned with finding food or fleeing the approaching hoarde.

When I read a novel or watch a movie, one of the things that keeps me interested are the questions, “what would I do? How would I react? How would that feel?” Whether it’s watching an epic battle from Braveheart and putting myself into the shoes of the men waiting for a thundering charge from heavy cavalry or reading the heart-wrenching scenes in The Road, where the father tells his son how to shoot himself. I contemplate the emotional impact, try to see and feel what the characters would be going through. In Saving Private Ryan, when the soldiers are coming toward the beach, rounds zipping through the water, bombs falling, what would that feel like, to have been one of those men? What would I do?

I’m certain that I’d pray. I’d question my faith, but I’d be simultaneously clinging to it. I think that’s how most people would behave. There are atheists in foxholes, but not many.

One of the  things about post-apocalyptic fiction which appeals to me is that it offers an unflinching examination of the human condition, a window into our essential being. When laws have disappeared and civilization is absent, what sort of people are we? Philosophers like Locke, Rousseau and Hobbs talk about our “state of nature” before the social contract. I love books that take a look at this question. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy The Walking Dead. While some novels offer a very dark outlook on humanity, in which most men are truly evil by nature, others are more hopeful. I think most people are decent and good, although evil is hungry and seductive. Can good defeat evil, even when it looks as though darkness has already won?

Religion can be a force for good or great evil. In my second novel, Children of Wrath, this is the central theme. Faith in and of itself is not always a good thing. There are atrocities being committed around the world even as I write, killing carried out in the name of religion. Whether or not one believes in any sort of God, there is no denying the way that religion has shaped our world. After the world as we know it ceases to be, people will still turn to the heavens, sometimes shaking their fists, other times begging for help.

http://www.amazon.com/Objects-Wrath-Series-Book-ebook/dp/B00IK7MH9M/ref=pd_sim_kstore_2?ie=UTF8&refRID=1YV4CPQ289B2D240RAD9

War on the Poor: Death of the American Dream

With Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio throwing their hats into the ring for the Presidency, the battle for the Oval office is beginning in earnest, and Americans can brace themselves for exhausting months of harsh rhetoric, attack ads, and promises that will be broken. The poor of this country will continue to suffer.

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Steinbeck’s brilliant novel The Grapes of Wrath depicts the hopeless, terrifying poverty of the Great Depression in an era before “safety nets.”  Since the recession which began in 2008, the middle class has been hit hard, with the number of people receiving some kind of public assistance soaring, many good jobs vanishing, earnings remaining stagnant, and the cost of living steadily increasing. We keep hearing about a recovery, and indeed Wall Street is enjoying record highs. Main Street has yet to reap similar rewards.

Against this backdrop, the hard-core conservative talking heads have embarked on a systematic strategy of demonizing the poor, portraying them as lazy, dependent, entitled, and faintly evil. This campaign has worked. People like Reince Preibus, the chairman of the RNC, have framed the issue in such a way that the shrinking and embattled middle-class, one paycheck away from needing help themselves, buy into the distorted caricature. Democrats have fueled the fire in some ways, and have fired back by seeming to couch the debate in ways that make it seem as though class-warfare is actually happening. Both sides are wrong.

The country is losing

If there is any sort of class war it is so one-sided that labeling it a war is like calling the United States invasion of Grenada a war. The elites, the upper 1% are crushing the rest of us. The irony is that they’ve managed to convince the nation to fight for them. It’s a shell game on a global scale. People like the Koch Brothers are buying and will continue to purchase elections for their own economic gain.While the average American saw savings shrink, retirement accounts vanish, jobs go to China, those at the top of the food chain got richer. And many of them did it with corporate welfare which dwarfs any sort of public assistance programs. The hypocrisy is astounding.

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Banks bailed out by the Federal government held on to that money, earning billions from interest, while still not making loans and injecting more capital into the economy.  Here’s a link to ten corporations with billions in earnings that didn’t pay taxes. It includes Bank of America and Facebook. http://www.marketwatch.com/story/10-us-companies-paying-no-taxes-2013-03-26

Average CEO compensation is up %50 over the last year, with top CEOs earning upwards of Fifty Million bucks. Meanwhile, the multi-national corporations are staunchly opposed to increasing the minimum wage for workers and continue to shift jobs overseas. To distract us from this fact, the media blitz focuses on the poor. Politicians buy into it, left and right, taking the money doled out by lobbyists for entities which don’t give a damn whether the average person lives or dies. Despite the absurd Citizen’s United decision by the Supreme Court, corporations are not people. We all know that.

I have absolutely nothing against wealth, but I do take issue with unadulterated greed which leads to great evil.Rather than pulling together as a great nation, we are increasingly divided, pointing fingers and accusing rather than trying to solve the problems we face. We are being manipulated.

Poverty is not an issue which should be owned by either the left or the right, for it is an American issue. Conservative Christians might take notes from the life and words of Jesus, who spent his time with the poor and the outcast, the disenfranchised and the hurting. Liberals should take a hard look at the Democratic party and the candidates they are continually presented with, who are just as much in bed with corporate money as the Republicans are.Politicians speak out of both sides of their mouths, held on short leashes constructed with money. Movements like Occupy Wall Street end up being polarizing and accomplishing nothing, as the protesters are marginalized and look foolish, the rest of the nation turning up their noses as the cliches of poverty and lassitude are displayed on national television.

“Since the market is right, poor people get what they deserve.”

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Poverty must be a choice, then. Rather than try to improve their lives, the poor enjoy wonderful lives of lavish vacations, new cars, and mansions gilded with gold. Some of them even have phones. Damn them!

The fact is, no one wants to be poor. Furthermore, they don’t want to remain so. I’ve been reasonably well off, and I’ve been poor. At the moment, I routinely work fifty hour weeks, plus spend another twenty or thirty hours writing. I don’t want to remain poor. Since the market crashed, the company I worked for went out of business, my customers have less money, and I work harder to earn less. I struggle every month just to keep a roof over my children’s heads and keep the lights on. I know personally other people in the same predicament.

Solutions

Education is the best way to combat poverty in the long run. Rather than cutting funding for schools and teachers, the Federal and State governments need to focus on this issue.  Job training and trade programs should be much more accessible, and should begin in High School. Our education system does not prepare the majority of high school graduates for the real world. The fact is that most grads do attend college, yet school programs focus on this carreer path almost exclusively. As manufacturing jobs have fled the country to go to China, there is a great vacuum left for jobs which pay a living wage. Upward mobility, a crucial aspect of our culture is becoming a thing of the past.

Recognizing our similarities and common humanity, rather than focusing on our differences would go a long way toward restoring a hurting nation. It’s always easier to point a finger at some one else, rather than looking in the mirror, though, so America’s war on the poor will continue while the rich get richer and the American Dream dies a slow death. I pray every day for my beloved, broken country.

http://www.amazon.com/The-Perseid-Collapse-Series-Sunshine-ebook/dp/B00T41JBYM

The War on Christianity: The Enemy is Also Us

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Christians face many dire threats around the world, from the decapitations in the Middle East to genocides in Africa, to the persecution carried out by China and Russia. Here in the United States, we hear much about the war against Christians, but it seems to me that the greatest threat comes from within.

The word “Christian” is first used in the book of Acts, and it means one who follows Christ. In America, this definition has been lost, ursurped by other things. Politics, and economics have nothing to do with following The Lord, and yet it seems that many Christians identify themselves by how they vote and where they shop. There is a shrill meanness to the way many Christians go about it, and it gives the rest of us a bad rap.

Jesus gave Christians a great commission, to spread the gospel to the corners of the earth. In the United States, generations are turning from God, and well meaning Christians with microphones and political signs and spirits full of judgement are a big part of the problem.

What Would Jesus Do?

Remember this catch phrase? It was effective because it asked an excellent question. So what would Jesus do now, in this world of sinners like me? Let’s look at what he actually did.

He offered forgiveness. We celebrated Easter last week. Jesus was nailed to a cross so that our sins would be covered. We know that none of us are perfect, that the wages of sin are death. Christ died so that we would not be condemned, giving us grace we did not deserve.

It seems many Christians have forgotten this.

Jesus spent his time among the outcasts. The prostitutes, the tax-collectors,  criminals and sinners. He admonished men to leave behind their worldly belongings and follow Him. He was welcoming, not shunning, leading by example and truth, offering healing in a hurting world.

Judgement is reserved for God, not man. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone..

Love Transcends Law…”The Greatest of These is Love”

The Old Testament Levitical laws no longer bind us. Entry into Heaven is given, not earned, and it is through faith not deed that we come to the Father. In James we read that “Faith without deeds is dead,”  but again, it is not for us to decide who has faith and who does not.

Christians seem to be focused on the wrong things. If we should, as Paul says in Hebrews “Fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith,” we have lost sight of the things that matter, missing the forest for the trees. When I see the new pope washing the feet of a Muslim woman, I think, that’s what Jesus would do!

One of my favorite verses in the New Testament is Ephesians 2:3:

“Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy, made us alive in Christ been when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved.”

A God-Shaped Hole

America is indeed hurting, and there is a God-shaped hole in each of us individually, and the nation entire. What we need is more Jesus, less hate. Greater love, less judgement. Faith which manifests itself by doing what Jesus actually did, bearing fruit that sustains a hurting world. Giving to the poor, helping the sick, spreading the gospel not with a sword but with the Truth.

http://www.amazon.com/Objects-Wrath-Volume-Sean-Smith/dp/1618682245

Don’t Hold Your Breath

Don’t hold your breath unless you’re under water, because while you’re waiting for the next thing, life is drowning you and all you end up doing is choking for air.

It’s the quiet that defines a man, not moments of fleeting wonder and raucous triumph, for the real glory lives in the little things we overlook and forget, the mundane and true. It’s in the Sunday sigh of a woman in love while the rain comes down outside and the moan of the wind and the lazy smiles and wrinkled sheets. Walks in the woods when the world is still and the air is sharp and right and the leaves are turning with bittersweet autumn, death and renewal and the promise of spring, possessed of a magnificence all its own.

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The glory in life is found in the simple things. Changing diapers at two in the morning, dancing around the living room with your baby to sooth him back to sleep, walks to the bus stop at dawn, tying shoes and bed-time songs. The laughter over silly things and inside jokes, late-night trips to the hospital.There is glory there, There was. We often miss it along the way, for our eyes are on the wrong things, and then we ache for it when we remember to remember.

We’re constantly bombarded by images of success, and what it means to be happy. It’s the bigger house, the newer car, the promotion, the vacation, the next thing. We live in a world of instant gratification which seems largely bereft of true happiness and contentment. Our technology is miraculous and gives us the ability to talk to friends around the world with a few clicks, yet we are lonely, for the cell phones and ipads, video games and social media which provide this so called “connectivity” lead to a disconnect with our souls. It’s a hollow feeling.

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It’s hard for Christians, who are exhorted to be “in” this world but not “of” it, for the lessons Jesus taught go completely against what the world continues to tell us. Christians are supposed to surrender to be victorious, lose in order to win, give to receive joy. It’s hard to keep our eyes fixed upon Jesus when the world comes crashing in, howling and loud, tempting and insidious.

The lasting, true glory is there, though, in a relationship with the Creator, and in those mundane moments, if we listen, he is whispering to us. I admit I’ve been holding my breath my whole life. It’s time to breathe.

http://www.amazon.com/Objects-Wrath-Book-1-ebook/dp/B00IK7MH9M/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1425568247&sr=1-1&keywords=objects+of+wrath