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?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Everything is Meaningless (Or Is It?)

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/people/photo-knight/
Sukkot began last Wednesday evening and will end this coming Friday evening . While it is a holiday that my Jewish friends celebrate, it's not one that many Christians know or care about, even though it is the one holiday that the Bible mentions that both Jews and Gentiles will celebrate. 
"If any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, there will be no rain upon them.  And if the family of Egypt do not go up and present themselves, then on them shall come the plague that the LORD inflicts on the nations that do not go up to keep the festival of booths.  Such shall be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of all the nations that do not go up to keep the festival of booths."  --Zechariah 14:17-19
The emphasis during Sukkot is about temporary dwellings, to remember the time of Israel wandering in the desert. 

On the Sabbath during Sukkot, the book of Ecclesiastes is read. Overall, Ecclesiastes is a fairly depressing book.  Qoheleth, the author, is fairly uncertain about God and life.  He is sure there is a God and that God knows what He's doing, but humans really have no clue as to what this is. He writes that God "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)

He thinks God has made life confusing:
"Consider the work of God; who can make straight what he has made crooked?  In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider; God has made the one as well as the other, so that mortals may not find out anything that will come after them." (Ecclesiastes 7:13-14)
"Just as you do not know how the breath comes to the bones in the mother's womb, so you do not know the work of God, who makes everything." (Ecclesiastes 11:5)
And then there are Qoheleth's thoughts on death:
  • 1:4, 11  people are forgotten when they die
  • 2:12-17  all his wisdom will get him nothing, just like the fool
  • 2:18-21  hated toil, hated to leave it to his heirs
  • 3:19-21  humans and animals both die
  • 5:13-16  we come in to world with nothing and leave it with nothing 
  • 8:8  you can't control when you die no more than when you can control the wind
  • 9:4 But whoever is joined with all the living has hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion.   
If God makes no sense and life has little meaning what might people do to find meaning in life?  Qoheleth explores some of what might make life meaningful:
  • Pleasure (2:1 ff), but his conclusion is that it is vanity
  • Work (2:18-23; 4:4;11:6), but his  conclusion is that it is vanity
  • Wealth/Possessions (5:10-12; 6:1-2), but his conclusion is that it is vanity 
  • Learning (1:12-18; 2:12-17; 9:13-16), but his conclusion is that it is vanity
  • Religion/Piety (5:1-7) but his conclusion is don't get involved; it's dangerous, relationship with God is based on fear. 
Vanity does not mean vanity in the sense that it is all about me as an individual (although it definitely can be that way for many of us).  When Qoheleth uses the word vanity, it is the Hebrew word hebel, which means vapor or breath.  It is something that dissipates, something that cannot be grasped.  It is something that is meaningless.  This is Qoheleth's view of life.  

Qoheleth seems to be desperately trying to find meaning in life before it ends.  

In the book When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough: The Search for a Life that Matters, Harold Kusher writes that "Ecclesiates wrote his book many hundreds of years ago to share with us his disappointments and frustrations, to warn us that we should not waste our limited time as he did, in the illusion that wealth, wisdom, pleasure, or piety will make our lives matter. He tells us his story with mounting desperation, as one road after another leads to a a dead end and he begins to see himself running out of years and running out of options. But he has not written his book only to express his frustration or to depress us. In the end, he has an answer. But it is an answer that makes sense only to someone who has shared his earlier dead ends and disappointments. That is why he offers it to us at the end of his story rather than at the beginning." (42)

Qoheleth tells us all the things he’s done to give life meaning that haven’t worked throughout his life journey.  He is afraid of dying before learning how to live.  He doesn't really wonder "what does life mean" but "what does my life mean?"

What does my life mean?

I think we all wonder that at some point in our lives, and maybe at multiple times.  I've been wondering that myself for the last couple of years as I've been searching for my current and next purpose(s) in life; that is one reason I began my "Come Alive" series and my "Year of Renewal" project.  

I have wondered off and on, if my writing really is worth it, if it really has any meaning. I read all the advice out there about frequency of blogging and length of posts and platform building and networking and going to conferences and time management and don't make these 5 mistakes or do these 10 things and so on--and it often all just seems like it is too much to take in and too much to implement. 

In addition, in such a fast-paced world, if a blogger doesn't write her thoughts out in reaction to whatever the biggest current event of the day is, then it ends up becoming irrelevant and old news.  Or, sometimes, I read something that another blogger writes and I think "I wrote a similar post three years ago" or "I had a draft started about this very point; why bother now?"  Sometimes I just don't understand the popularity of some posts.  Maybe sometimes, what I write, has also been written by someone else; I am just unaware of it.  And so, I wonder, where exactly do I fit in this world?

Or where do I fit in church?  I've often found that there seems to be a "right" way to do church, to teach people:  keep it very simple.  It's ok that I love the Bible and love to learn it in depth, but most people aren't like that, and it scares them off from the Bible.  I can just study it on your own, as always.  There's no community in that (But I am slowly finding real-life people who do have this interest, and am hoping it is the start of something wonderful).

I'm not crazy about Qoheleth's view of life. I think I dislike it, though, not so much because of its negativity, but because it is often something that I feel.  Why bother cleaning up after the kids when they just mess it all up again?  Why bother trying to be organized when it doesn't last?  Why bother trying to write and study and enjoy it when I have so many other responsibilities that must take priority?  Why bother with anything?

There is something positive about Ecclesiastes, though.  If we read through it carefully and ask the questions "What is good? and "Who gives enjoyment?", we will find some answers.
  • 2:24-26; 3:12-13; 3:22 5:18-20; 8:15 Eating & drinking & finding enjoyment in work 
  • 4:9-12  friendship
  • 9:7-10  enjoy life before you die 
These are activities in which we participate every single day in a variety of ways.  Every day, we eat and drink and do some type of work.  Every day, we have the opportunity to participate in friendships and to enjoy life.  

So many of us are looking for the One Big Thing in our lives that will define us and give us meaning.  For some, it's finding the perfect marriage partner.  For others, it's climbing to the top of the career ladder.  It could be fame, or money that we desire.  We often feel as if we are wandering in the desert of life--and perhaps because that is something all experience, it is the reason the Bible mentions that all will celebrate this holiday. But life is not about the One Big Thing. It's about everything, the good and the bad, together. All of life matters. 

I'm not sure that after writing this, I'll really remember my own words.   Every day brings frustrations and feelings of inadequacy.  Even they will be hebel and dissipate.  But for now, at this moment in time, Ecclesiastes means to me that yes, life is a mist, but yes, life--my life--and yours--matters. You are not a finished product. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Rosh Hashana: A Year of Renewal

Rosh Hashanah begins tonight (remember, Biblically, days begin in the evening because Genesis tells us "and there was evening and there was morning..."). 

We see references to it in Leviticus, Numbers, and Nehemiah:
  • Leviticus 23:24   24 Speak to the people of Israel, saying: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a day of complete rest, a holy convocation commemorated with trumpet blasts.
  • Numbers 29:1 On the first day of the seventh month you shall have a holy convocation; you shall not work at your occupations. It is a day for you to blow the trumpets
  • Nehemiah 7:73 - 8:3  73 So the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, some of the people, the temple servants,and all Israel settled in their towns. When the seventh month came-- the people of Israel being settled in their towns--  8:1 all the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had given to Israel.  2 Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month.  3 He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.
So why is the Jewish New Year when it is obviously the seventh month?  This is because there are 2 traditions as to when the world was created, one is Tishrei (the seventh month) and one is Nisan (the first month).  So, it's the head of the year in the sense of when the world was created therefore years, that count age of the world, are counted from then, but months, such as when holidays are, are counted from Nisan because Hashem told Moshe "this month is for you as the first month for the months of the year" [you can thank my friend Yaakov for all that info].

There are many meanings and symbols for Rosh Hashanah. It is a time in the Jewish calendar for being introspective about the past and upcoming year.  There's a theme of judgment (based on the word mishpat in Ps 81:4) of all people (both Jews and Gentiles) connected with their successes and failures of the upcoming year.  Traditionally, apples and honey are eaten as a symbol of wishing for a sweet upcoming year, and challah is shaped into a crown to signify that God is King. The greeting on Rosh Hashanah is l'shanah tovah which means have a good year. The readings on the first day of Rosh Hashanah are Genesis 21:1-34 and 1 Samuel 1:1-2:10  (because the Gemara says these events occurred on Rosh Hashana). The day is also called Yom Zikaron (Day of Remembering) because it is the time when God "remembers", or rather, chooses to pay attention to His promises. 

As Christians in the U.S., we typically utilize the secular New Year's holiday to make resolutions; it's not something that we think of doing in the fall, the time of year when the leaves change color and die, when the weather starts to cool, birds migrate south, and the landscape starts to become brown and barren (many of us even pay little attention to when our Christian year begins with Advent, unless we attend a very liturgically-oriented church). Fall is not really a time we associate with new life--even as new experiences begin (i.e. new school year).  But new life happens every day, even when we aren't expecting it (as happened recently when my nephew was born 8 weeks early!). 

It can be beneficial to us to remember and improve upon our past year, or simply be introspective about one or more areas of life. We are often too busy and caught up with all of our day-to-day activities to really do this well. I've recently taken a "Christian Life Profile Assessment" and while there is a lot about it I didn't care for, it has prompted me to think about some of the various categories it covers, and so I will be starting a new blog series soon based on that Assessment.

Do you practice being introspective on a regular basis?  When do you do it and what do you do?

Other posts in this "Year of Renewal" Series can be read beginning here.