Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Book Review: Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans

I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

I've enjoyed Rachel Held Evans' previous two books, Faith Unraveled (originally released as Evolving in Monkey Town) and A Year of Biblical Womanhood, so was excited to read the newest release, Searching for Sunday.

As always, I think Evans is a talented writer. She has a way of weaving words together that, quite frankly, I'm a little jealous of. In Searching for Sunday, there were parts that made me laugh, parts that made me teary, and parts that made me feel thoughtful. I loved how she structured the book around seven different sacraments.

What I appreciated most about the book, however, was that although it is a memoir of her journey of "loving, leaving and finding the church," there really is not a definitive destination. At the end of the book, I didn't find that it was "oh, here I've arrived, end of story." It was more like, "this is where I've come from, this is where I am now, and there's a lot of journey left in my future."

While there is much about the book I really can't relate to--I don't have the Evangelical background that she does--I certainly appreciate the journey she has been on and how she wants to be able to appreciate and love the background she came from even if she has many disagreements with it.

As someone who would love to see the different strands of Christianity be able to stop fighting all the time and start loving each other more, I enjoyed this paragraph:
But the gospel doesn't need a coalition devoted to keeping the wrong people out. It needs a family of sinners, saved by grace, committed to tearing down the walls, throwing open the doors, and shouting, "Welcome! There's bread and wine. Come eat with us and talk." This isn't a kingdom for the worthy; it's a kingdom for the hungry." (p. 149)
In a world where celebrity and power are highly valued (yes, even in Christianity), these are words that we all need to take to heart. We need to welcome each other and talk to each other and break down the walls between us instead of building them up.

Special Announcement about a free gift you get with Searching for Sunday.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Yay! It's Good Friday! Let's Celebrate!

For some reason, today, on the darkest of Christian holidays, we still post our pretty Bible graphics and show the world how happy we are. We talk about it being Good Friday, even though the origins of calling it that are murky.

Are we really happy? Do we really see this day as good

Acting as if life is always happy is something we Christians are very, very good at. We don't get a lot of instruction in the difficult passages of scripture, such as Lamentations, or the Psalms of Lament. We gloss over them, thinking, surely, nobody feels that way anymore.

But people do.

People who are in church every Sunday with their hands raised and singing the upbeat songs might be collapsing in despair and grief the moment they are alone. The weight of having to put on a good face so that their faith or commitment to Jesus won't be doubted is a lot for some people to bear. Because we do this, don't we? We judge people's devotion by what we see in an hour or so, once a week. We judge people's devotion by what political stands they take or if they forward or post trite stories and sayings so as to prove they aren't embarrassed by their faith. 

Sometimes, we are trying to prove to ourselves that our faith is secure.  

We don't acknowledge that having doubts and asking hard questions could be a measure of great faith.

We don't acknowledge that sometimes, belief is hard to come by, and that trusting despite having unanswered questions could be greater than never thinking through faith at all.

On this day, when Jesus was crucified, I'm going to guess that all of his followers doubted. After all, he was dead. A dead person couldn't be the Messiah after all. All of their hopes and dreams for a Messianic overthrow of Rome were killed at the same time that Jesus took his last breath. 

"It is finished," Jesus said.

And so everyone else believed it was finished too. The Messianic hope had come to an end. 

We forget--or don't even realize--that. We believe in the resurrection of Jesus and so we pay little regard to the cross and his death other than "he died for me."

We read that we are supposed to "weep with those who weep," yet, too often, we try to get people to stop weeping instead. To weep with others, or to bear their burdens, is to take on the pain that they are feeling, to enter into it and suffer with them. Why not use Good Friday to acknowledge this? Why not read from those Psalms or from Lamentations and let people who need to know they are not alone actually know they are not alone? 

People suffer in silence. They think that God has forsaken them

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? 
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?  
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest. 
 --Psalm 22:1-3

We think the words from Psalm 22 that Jesus quoted were only about him. But in reality, many of us experience this.

Rather than celebrating Good Friday, let's spend time reflecting. Let's spend time acknowledging the pain within us and entering into it and into the pain of others. 

Let's stop putting on our Sunday best, and instead, use today to put to acknowledge the fear we feel about admitting our doubts and questions and brokeness.

Because only when we put something to death can we have the possibility of new life. 

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

The Day I Met Jesus: Interview with Authors Mary DeMuth & Frank Viola

Why did you write this book?

Frank: Back in 2007, I got an idea to create a new genre of Christian literature. I call that genre "biblical narrative."

The new genre would contain autobiographical fiction closely based on the Scriptural narratives and faithful to first-century history. It would also contain a nonfiction section that practically applies the narratives to our lives. Finally, it would include a discussion guide so that readers could better digest and apply the content.

God's Favorite Place on Earth (2013) was my first book in this genre. In it, Lazarus tells the story of when Jesus came to His hometown Bethany and all the amazing things that took place there.

The Day I Met Jesus (2015) is the second book in this genre. I wanted it to tell the story of five women whom Jesus encountered, allowing each woman tell their own story. I also wanted to draw out practical lessons and critical insights from each narrative.

Because I'm not a woman, I couldn't do justice to the stories on my own, so I asked the top female Christian fiction writer of our time -- Mary DeMuth -- to coauthor it with me.

Mary: I wrote it because I love stories, and I felt that some of these encounters with Jesus didn't get the air time they deserved. By doing careful research and weaving more of a story arc into the five women's encounter, I hope to show people that the "characters" of the New Testament are actual, breathing people with stress and dysfunction and hopes just like us. Frank pioneered the idea of this book, so all credit goes to him for imagining it. I'm grateful he asked me to be a part.

Tell us the story of how you two came to coauthor it.

Mary: Frank wrote God's Greatest Place on Earth and had long wanted to do something similar with five women of the New Testament. He approached me about writing the fiction side of The Day I Met Jesus after he found out I wrote fiction as well as nonfiction. 

Frank: When I began to think about a female coauthor for the project, I wanted it to be someone who (1) writes fiction (2) is a remarkable writer, and (3) believes in the classic tenets of the Christian faith (Jesus is divine and human, He rose again from the dead, Jesus is Lord and Savior of the world, etc.)

As I investigated authors who fit the bill, I quickly thought of folks like Francine Rivers and Karen Kingsbury. But then I discovered that Mary DeMuth wrote fiction. I had known that she was a non-fiction writer, but had no idea that she could "switch hit."

I also discovered that she was an outstanding writer of fiction as she was of nonfiction. (I regard Mary to be the Mickey Mantle of Christian literature -- she has enormous power from both sides!) So Mary ended up being the only name on my "short list."

You feature five women from the Gospels. Why pick women in particular as your subjects?

Frank: Some of the most gripping, instructive, inspiring stories in the Gospels involve women. The longest recorded conversation that Jesus ever had was with a woman. And some of the most amazing things He said and did related to women. So I thought that a book in which some of these women told their own stories about Jesus would not only bring the Gospels to life in our minds, but it would also bring Jesus alive in our hearts.
Mary: Women had significant, personal encounters with Jesus, a fact that we sometimes miss, particularly since so many stories revolve around the 12 disciples (who were men). I love that we're elevating these stories, helping people reimagine just how radical it was that Jesus so beautifully interacted with these women.
Which one is your favorite and why?

Mary: For me, it's hard to say. I love them all in different ways. This week, I'll say it's Mary of Bethany. She didn't have a blatant "need" for Jesus. She was just downright faithful and often misunderstood. I think a lot of people can relate to that.

Frank: Mary of Bethany is my all-time favorite disciple of Jesus. This came home to me when I wrote God's Favorite Place on Earth. (Mary was the sister of Lazarus, so she gets ample airtime in that book.)

I love Mary because she knew Jesus better than most, anticipating His reactions and even His impending death. She also paid the price for loving Him, for she was falsely accused by both her sister and the other disciples (on two different occasions), mostly out of jealousy. In both situations, Mary embraced the spirit of the Lamb, refusing to defending herself. But Jesus Himself rose to her defense on both occasions. He also gave her an enduring honor that He gave no one else.

Why would someone want to read the book?

Frank: If someone wants a good story to get tied up into . . . or if they want to see the Bible come to life in a compelling way . . . or if they want to experience Jesus Christ anew and afresh . . . or if they want to identify with people who were far worse off than they are, and see what Jesus did for them . . . or if they want to be given hope and encouragement in their situation . . . or if they are lacking love for the Lord and want that love to be rekindled . . . or if they want new motivation and fresh inspiration to follow Jesus more closely, they'll want to read The Day I Met Jesus.

Mary: Someone would want to read it because it's truly unique. It's biblical narrative, but in short story form, but it doesn't end there. After you've been absorbed into a page-turning story, Frank exegetes the wisdom from each encounter and helps you apply it to your life. 

Tell us about the course that supplements the book.

Frank: The Day I Met Jesus Master Course is designed for those who wish to delve deeper into the themes set forth in the book. It includes a workbook and 20 audio messages delivered by Mary and I. In addition, it includes 8 bonus eBooks from Mary and I. It also includes a closed forum where people can access us both directly for Q&A and dialogue. People can check it out at http://www.thedayimetjesus.com/course
Tell us what readers get if they purchase it from March 3rd to March 17th from Parable.com.

Frank: They'll get these 7 exclusive bonuses.
1. An exclusive audio interview where Mary and I give a behind-the-scenes look at all the facets of the book. The interview covers where the idea of the book came from, why we wrote the book, what it was like collaborating, the hardest part about writing it, and much more. 
2. Mary's Book Beautiful Battle in Kindle & Nook. 
3. My Book, Rethinking Spiritual Growth in PDF, Kindle, and Nook. 
4. A never-before-released audio conference message entitled "A Woman Inside of a Man."  
5. Mary's Book What To Do After People Poop on You in PDF. 
6. A never-before-released audio conference message entitled "He's Not Ashamed to Call Them Brothers and Sisters." 
7. A 15% discount off The Day I Met Jesus Master Course. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

A New Year and a Fresh Start

It's January. Time for a new year and a fresh start in life. Once again, we are scrambling to decide what resolutions we will make, how we will change our lives, and how to have the best year yet. We mean it this time; we will stick to those resolutions and complete them. This time we won't fail.

I haven't made any resolutions in a long time precisely because I never stick to them and I don't enjoy failing. The last two years, I participated in choosing one word for the year, and that's worked out fairly well. I may do that again, but I'm also setting some goals. This is a big challenge for me, because I have never been a goal-setter--likely due to my fear of failure. But because of an experience I had towards the end of 2014 with writing down my passions and gifts, I'm writing down five different goals that I'd like to reach this year:

To read the rest of this article, hop on over to The Laundry Moms, where I'm guest-posting today.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Recap of ComeAliveSeries

 Throughout 2014, my word for the year was "Alive" and I wrote on-and-off about it.  I wrote about a variety of different ways to think about being "alive" as well as experiences I had that made me feel alive. That theme is following me into 2015, and I am excited about what the year will bring for me personally and professionally. I have a few goals for the year (which I haven't made before) and for the most part, I feel great about the way my life is heading right now. I'm probably the most excited about being a contributor to the upcoming Zondervan NIV Devotional Bible For Women because it is my very first time being published. 

I haven't come up with a word for this year yet, though. I've thought about it a little, but nothing has yet stood out to me. Maybe I don't even need one this year.

So, that said, I'm retiring the #ComeAliveSeries. It served its purpose in 2014, but isn't going to be a focus in 2015. 

What are your plans for the upcoming year? Do you do one word, or set goals? 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Waiting on God's Surprises

A few weeks ago, I finished an eight-week Life Keys class at church. I'd taken the class because I love personality and gift questionnaires--as evidenced by my very thick file folder full of that type of information that I'd collected over the years. This class was different than others I had taken because it encompassed more topics and also because it distinguished between "life gifts" and "spiritual gifts". 

I didn't expect to learn anything new about myself and even thought it would annoy me or get me down because for so long I haven't been using skills and gifts in ways that I would like. I've been patient...but almost three years seems like a long time to wait on God (yes, yes, I know, many people in the Bible have waited much longer). For my summary during the last class, I easily and quickly picked the information you see in the photo. And then I went home, stuck it up on my wall above my desk for some kind of inspiration, put the folder away, and went to bed.

The next morning I woke up to this message on Facebook:

"I am actually wondering about your speaking experiences and if you would ever be interested in filling my pulpits some time? I also would be interested in having you be a speaker for the United Methodist Women. I think the ladies would be delighted to hear you speak about Christianity from a perspective that is outside their "normal" realm. I guess I'm thinking along the lines of what is coming in the future for Christianity, small-town churches and the best ways to maybe prepare for changes?"

And then this past Saturday, I woke up to another out-of-the-blue message on Facebook inviting me to be a contributor to Zondervan's newest women's devotional Bible: NIV Devotional Bible for Women: Fresh Insights for Thriving in Today's World.

And so, in a very short period of time, I'm scheduled to speak and will be a published writer this fall. Those passions and gifts I wrote down (and one I didn't--writing) are all coming together.

I've gone back and forth between being excited and being in disbelief and wondering how on earth this all happened. I'm not one to really have experiences where I can say without a doubt that God's pulling something together, but in this case, I feel confident saying that. 

And I'm so thankful. 

At the beginning of Advent, I also wrote about waiting (it really is a great theme to write about--there are many, many verses in the Bible about waiting) and ended with the question: "Are we willing to wait for God's surprises?"

I think I am--and I'm excited to see what comes next. 

Trust in the LORD, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.  Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.  Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act.  He will make your vindication shine like the light, and the justice of your cause like the noonday.  Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way, over those who carry out evil devices. --Psalm 37:3-7

Sunday, November 30, 2014

What Are We Waiting For? Advent: A Year of Renewal

Image Credit: https://www.flickr.com/people/bryonlippincott/
It's an incongruent time of year--but then again, maybe all parts of the year are like that. For now, for me, football season and its accompanying Friday night team pasta dinners are over, and Advent (and recruiting season!) is beginning. Ending and beginning. It happens every year and it happens throughout the year, but we often just rush through or focus on our day to day life that we pay little attention to the multiple beginnings and endings. Qoheleth, the writer of Ecclesiastes, knew this well. Time passes and the same things happen again and again and again. 
 5 The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hurries to the place where it rises.  6 The wind blows to the south, and goes around to the north; round and round goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns.  7 All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they continue to flow.  8 All things are wearisome; more than one can express; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, or the ear filled with hearing.  9 What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun. --Ecclesiastes 1:5-9
And now we find ourselves in Advent, again. We may light candles, hear sermons and write blog posts about preparation and waiting, sing Christmas songs, and talk about how Jesus is the reason for the season as we finish our shopping lists and put up our decorations and insist that we're not falling prey to commercialism because we know it's about Jesus. 

And yet we still won't feel fulfilled. People will still be missing families they can't be with during the holiday. People will still have health or financial or relationship or school or work problems. Not everyone will receive the gifts they want or be able to give the gifts they would like to give. 

We still want something more.

We find ourselves in a perpetual state of waiting. Advent is just a short, four week representation of waiting. And we're familiar with the major theme: people were waiting for the Messiah, and today Christians are waiting for Jesus' return. Then and now, the time of it happening was unknown. 

Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.

We don't like to wait for anything. We don't have patience or appreciate how long it takes to accomplish something. We can send a message to someone instantly, but have lost the art of a well-thought-out letter. 

I think Advent, and life, is more like a letter than an instant message, even though we want it to be the opposite.

Waiting takes patience, silence, surrender, and not knowing. We don't really want to wait for Jesus to return--we want it now (probably one reason why Left Behind is so popular). We don't really want to wait to listen to God--we want God to speak to us on our time line. 

But sometimes, God doesn't speak.

It was believed that prophecy had ceased with the words of Malachi (probably why it's the last book in the Christian Old Testament) and then nothing happened until the incarnation, 400+ years later. 

Four hundred years of not hearing from God.

And we go nuts when people don't respond to our text messages in what we think is a timely manner. 

Again, Qoheleth speaks to this idea that we have of time:
11 He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. --Ecclesiastes 3:11  
As Qoheleth said earlier, there is nothing new under the sun. We're still waiting. We're still celebrating. We're still wondering what God is up to in this world. And when Advent ends, we'll still be doing that. We'll have times in our life where we will need to wait on something, when God is distant, and we won't know when it will end. And it's ok to acknowledge we don't always hear God or know what God wants from us.

Some of our lectionary readings for today acknowledge God hiding and not acting (Isaiah 64:4-5; Psalm 80) even if we don't often want to admit that happens. But our readings also include a lesson that tells us even when we wait, God is still faithful.
7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.  8 He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  9 God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. --1 Corinthians 1:7-9.
We usually consider Advent a time of preparation, because we know the story we hear every year on Christmas. But what if we instead considered Advent a time of silence and not knowing; a time of uncertainty when we wonder if and when God will act. If we looked at it that way, what questions would we have? Would our faith be challenged? Would it strengthen or weaken? 

Are we willing to wait for God's surprises?