Throwback Thursday – New But Eternal

Throwback Thursday – New But Eternal

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23 (ESV)

Original post published 10/10/2019

One of the most amazing things about our God is that He’s eternal. He exists somehow outside of our understanding of time, beyond the line of it that we perceive. We can understand the “unchanging” aspect of His nature best when we realize that change requires time, and He is not subject to it. Now, our perception of Him can change. Our understanding. That can evolve and grow over time, as we experience more and contemplate more. But God Himself remains unhindered by time. Eternal.
Perhaps this is also how His love can be unceasing. How His mercies can be new every morning. They are new…and yet older than anyone. As is everything else about our Lord.
Several months ago I came across a discussion about a current movement among women in the church, women whose message seems bound up in the idea that they’ve discovered something their mothers and grandmothers didn’t know about God. Okay…understanding can certainly evolve over time, so maybe. Until you ask those mothers and grandmothers, who look at these young women like they’re crazy and say, “Well of course. We’ve always known that. Weren’t you listening?”
On the one hand, this sort of example makes me shake my head in dismay–why can’t we just learn from those who come before without thinking we’ve grown beyond them, that we’re better, more faithful, closer to Him than they could have been? It’s really kind of strange–we look to the first century church for so much wisdom and so many examples…but many people also just dismiss those early church fathers out of hand, unless their words were canonized in the Bible. Not named Paul, James, John, or Peter? Sorry, dude. Not interested.
And there’s still something relevant to this idea of “new knowledge.” It is new. New every morning, like His mercies. It’s new to us. We get to discover it every day, every year, every generation. More, we must discover it anew, for ourselves. We have to find that thing that makes us go “Aha!” and internalize it. That thing that makes the faith ours, not just theirs.
There’s truth there. But there’s opportunity for deception too. Because we need to understand what that possessive pronoun means. It’s ours, not just theirs…but NOT “ours, so not theirs.”
See the distinction?
Faith, Christianity, Truth itself is not like a shoe. One person owning it doesn’t mean another can’t. It’s more like…a planet. We can all live here. There’s room. We can occupy different parts, we can travel around, seeking to understand. One person can study one aspect, another a different one. It’s big enough, mysterious enough to accommodate all our curiosity.
But let’s not fall into the trap of saying, “Oh, no, you’re so wrong to describe it as mountains. Clearly it’s plains. God wouldn’t have done that.” Or, to go back to my original example, “Look at this waterfall I’ve discovered, that’s been completely unknown until now!” (And it turns out to be Niagara Falls.)
The faith is new every morning. Every generation. But it is also–MUST also be eternal. Otherwise, why would it have survived this long? The Truth we discover today is the same Truth Jesus preached. The same Truth that founded the Church. The same Truth that led Christians onward before there was even a Bible compiled. The same Truth people have been contemplating and writing about and preaching about all these centuries.
We need to learn anew each day what those before us have already learned. We can follow their examples, we can build on their work. We can discover new facets…but chances are, if you pick up a few ancient works, you’ll find those same facets already explored. Because He is new every morning–always relevant, always discoverable, so vast we’ll never comprehend all of Him–but He is also eternal. Unchanging. The same today as at the dawn of time.
He is new every day for us. But let’s remember He was new every day, in the same way, for them. For all who have come before, and for all who come after. Our faith is ours, but we don’t own it. If anything, it ought to own us.
Throwback Thursday – The Power of Words

Throwback Thursday – The Power of Words

Original post published January 30, 2020
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

 

Familiar words, right? We’ve all read those verses a million times. I was pretty sure I’d examined them from every possible perspective. But last time I read them, a new little seed of inspiration was planted that I’ve been keeping an eye on. 😉
 

I’m a writer (which you obviously know). I love words. I love philosophizing about them. I love making art with them. I love harnessing them to express Truth and Light. And I LOVE when God talks about them–and about their power. Power which John 1:3 states in a way that sheds new light on the nature of those words I so love.

 
In Genesis, God SPOKE the world into existence. “And God said, ‘Let there be…’” Here in John, Jesus IS that Word through which all things were made. Have those two pieces clicked in your mind before? I can’t believe it took this long for them to click for me, LOL. That our Savior is the thing by which and through which creation happens. And THAT is why John calls him the Word. (To which my husband said, “Well yeah…” proving that I’m definitely late to this epiphany, LOL. But I’m going to keep talking about it anyway.)
 
So what does that say about the true power of words?
 

Words are the creative force. It is through words that things happen. 

I need to think about that for a minute. I use words for a living–I create a lot with them. Whole worlds, one might argue…but imaginary ones. When it comes to actual building, I guess I always thought that the ACTIONS were the more important thing. The other day my husband and son were building a desk together from some scrap wood (a.k.a. an old bookshelf that had collapsed, LOL), and if you ask me what effected the creation, I’d say “screws, wood, and a screwdriver.”

 
But do you know what else I noticed while they were building? The words exchanged. This is the first real building project they’ve done together, and I loved hearing the instructions float out to me in the kitchen. “Now this is how you do this…” my husband would say. And, “How do you want this part?”
 

Then would come my son’s answer. “Yeah, that looks good. Let’s put this piece here…”

A simple exchange between a very earthly father and son who were repurposing something already made. The desk could have been built without those, right?

 
Maybe…because they are a very earthly, physical, corporeal father and son. The Father and Son, on the other hand, at the brink of our creation…they’re something different. They are, the Bible tells us, Spirit. That’s why it was such a miracle that Jesus wrapped himself in flesh and became one of us.
 
Pure Spirit doesn’t have hands like we do, or like we’d recognize. Pure Spirit certainly doesn’t have (or need) an electric screwdriver or cheap particle board. Pure Spirit does not interact with this physical world as we physical beings do. How does it?
 
Through words.
 

Let that sink in–I know I am. How did God create? With words. How did God interact with man from the dawn of time through each of the prophets? With words. What did God-Made-Man do when he began his ministry? Teaching and preaching–WORDS. Yes, he healed too. I know he did. And how did he often choose to heal? With words. Sometimes he touched, yes. But did he have to? I’m reminded of what that faithful centurion said in Luke 7:7. “But say the word, and my servant will be healed.

 

The fact that God shared these with us–gifted them to us and then exchanged them with us…that’s pretty amazing. More, it’s not only a gift, it’s a responsibility.

 
He gave us the very tools of creation. And what are we doing with them? How often do we use them to tear each other down instead of build each other up? To complain instead of praise? How often are our words careless, thoughtless, unbridled?
 
What might change in our lives if we could see what each of our words did, like we can see what God’s words do? We’d see the harm that thoughtless verbal jab really did to our coworker or spouse or child. We’d see what worlds were built in them instead when we instruct or praise or encourage. And I have a feeling what we chose to say would be very different.
 
Well, my friends, our physical eyes may not be able to see it–but it’s no less real for that. So perhaps our new prayer ought to be, “Lord, open our spiritual eyes, so that we might see the true power of our words…and use them for You.”

 

Throwback Thursday – The Revealer of Secrets

Throwback Thursday – The Revealer of Secrets

Original post published 9/12/2019

“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
For wisdom and might are His.
21 And He changes the times and the seasons;
He removes kings and raises up kings;
He gives wisdom to the wise
And knowledge to those who have understanding.
22 He reveals deep and secret things;
He knows what is in the darkness,
And light dwells with Him.

~Daniel 2:20-22

 

Daniel–one of the wisest men we ever read about in the Bible. Daniel, who rose from captive slave to ruler of provinces. Daniel, who remained ever faithful to God. Daniel, who served king after king with his knowledge and wisdom and always remembered to point to the Giver of said knowledge and wisdom.

I’ve always loved this second chapter of Daniel, where Nebuchadnezzar calls all the wise men in to tell him what his dream was and then the interpretation. No one else could do it (duh), but Daniel, upon hearing that the king had ordered all his wise men killed in a fit of rage over their failure, begs for just a little time. He closes himself in his room with his friends and fellow God-followers. And he prays. He prays, and God reveals the secrets. God brings light to the darkness.

It was a literal life-or-death situation–one that affected not only Daniel and company, but hundreds if not thousands of other learned men who had been asked to do the humanly-impossible. It’s no surprise, then, that God provided. God saved not only Daniel, Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael–God saved all the wise men of Babylon through them. God made His might and power known to the king. God proved Himself not only faithful but omniscient and omnipotent in a land known for its value of things of learning.

We’re never surprised when God shows up on the grand scale. But if you’re like me, sometimes you forget that He shows up just as spectacularly when the secrets that need revealed are small.

Daniel needed God to move in a big, noticeable way that day–just as his friends needed Him to do when they were tossed into the fiery furnace. As Daniel needs later when he’s thrown into a den of hungry lions. But let’s not forget chapter one, shall we? From the moment they were brought to the palace, these four young men were determined to remain faithful to their God–and from that first moment, God answered by revealing His small secrets to them…which is to say, by filling them with wisdom and knowledge. They could out-think the Babylonian sages. They could out-perform the wise men in their own realm.

Because God gave this to them. God filled them. Their lives weren’t yet in danger…and if He hadn’t filled them with all knowledge and learning and wisdom, one could argue that they wouldn’t have been in positions to need His later intervention. But our God is one who sees far ahead…and into all the crevices.

We don’t know yet what Big Deals will be coming later in our lives, do we? We don’t know what moments of life-or-death will await us. We don’t know if or when we’ll be in a position where we need to cry out to Him for our very survival. But we do know this:
Our God doesn’t just move on the grand scale–He moves on the small.
Our God doesn’t just reveal the big secrets–He reveals the tiny.
Our God doesn’t just direct the movement of kings and prophets–He directs the faithful widow.

Our God doesn’t just heal the generals–He heals the servants.

My family’s in one of those places where our feet are pointing toward new, unknown paths. That’s stressful. Not life-or-death. But stressful. And as I contemplate Daniel this week, I’m reminded anew that we all find ourselves in those places, right? We all have been and will be there. But the God who foretold the rise and fall of the greatest kingdoms of the ancient world is the God of this too. If nothing’s too great for Him, then nothing’s too small either. He’s the God of the infinite…in both directions.

More, the God who holds us all in His hand will fill us when we ask. He’ll give us what we need to know to take the step He wants us to take. Now, He doesn’t usually reveal EVERYTHING, right? When Daniel prayed for revelation about Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, God didn’t show him that if he revealed this to the king, he’d be given a promotion, but that it would make him enemies so numerous that they’d start plotting ways to kill him and his friends so that, for the rest of his life, he’d be miraculously avoiding other death sentences. That may have been too much even for Daniel!

No, God told him what he needed right then. To save his life. To take the next step. And because he was faithful in that, more followed.

My friends, we don’t always have to know what our grand calling is. We just need to be willing to take one step with our hand in His. We just need to trust Him in this mystery, knowing that the rest will follow.

Whatever unknowns keep you up at night, know this: they’re not unknown to Him. He is the Revealer of Secrets. And, more importantly, He loves you.
Throwback Thursday – The Difference We Can Make

Throwback Thursday – The Difference We Can Make

Original post published January 24, 2019

When God created the earth, what did He say? That it was good. What do we yearn for at the end of our lives? That He’ll say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Not only in the Bible, but in pretty much every piece of literature, ancient and modern, we can find this familiar theme. This yearning. This basic condition of humanity.

We yearn for approval. For praise. For confirmation.

This is not a matter of wanting to think we’re better. Just a matter of needing–yes, NEEDING–that basic encouragement. That we are good. That we’ve done well. That our efforts are noticed and appreciated.

Given how basic this is, I’m sometimes surprised by how easily we seem to forget that others have this need as surely as we do. But all too often, this is something we neglect to give those around us–our spouses, our kids, our coworkers, our underlings, our superiors, our pastors, our teachers, our students, our…fill in the blank. And yet, it’s been proven, time and again, that people respond better to encouragement than to chastisement. Sometimes we have to correct, yes. But if we don’t also add those positive words, people aren’t inspired to actually improve.

This baffles me. Kind words, encouraging words, edifying words are no more difficult than harsh ones. They don’t cost us anything. So why are we stingy with them?

When I was in college, I worked in the admissions office of my school, and I would make it a point to give my coworkers compliments. It didn’t start as pointedly. It just started as an honest exclamation. Something like, “Oh, I love those shoes!” But this coworker seemed a bit startled at the compliment. And very much pleased. So I started looking for things to compliment her on as the weeks and months and years rolled by. At one point, she mentioned how she appreciated my attitude, and I replied with a laugh, “Hey, compliments are free! Why not spread them around?”

This holds true with all encouragement. It costs us nothing to praise our family when they do something well…even if they’ve also done something else not well. And you know what? When we receive praise for the thing we’ve done right, we want more of it. So we’re going to do a better job on that other part too. We’re going to try harder. Over and again this has been proven as a better tool for motivating than just correction.

And I think that, as believers, this is even more important. We’re called upon to speak nothing that will tear each other down, but rather only that which will build each other up (Ephesians 4:29). Are we doing that in our churches? In our Bible studies? In our classes? In our committees?

As a writer, I’m keenly aware of the power of words. And as a reader, I will steer clear of authors whose stories don’t offer me hope, edification, and encouragement through their characters’ lives. But this is something I need to remember in all aspects of my life.

Our words make a difference to those around us. So are they making a difference for good…or for ill?

I’ll leave you with this wonderful quote from a Quaker missionary. Something to keep in mind–that we need to seize each moment’s opportunity to share those good words, because now is the only time we know we’ll be able to.

“I shall pass this way but once; any good that I
can do or any kindness I can show to any human being; let me do it now.
Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”
~ ETIENNE DE GRELLET, Quaker Missionary
Throwback Thursday – Soul-Tidying

Throwback Thursday – Soul-Tidying

Original post published 9/19/19.

I’m not the world’s best housekeeper. This is no secret–I mean, I put it right in my official bio. 😉 Yes, “pretending my house will clean itself” is part of my charming naivete. Ahem. Or at the very least, keeping everything put in its proper place isn’t my priority. That goes to educating my kids, writing books, designing covers, feeding the family, exercising, reading…pretty much anything else, LOL. I do keep up with the dishes and laundry. Just not with putting everything away.

Over the weekend, even I had had enough of the clutter, so I spent a few hours reorganizing the utility closet, breaking down boxes that were trash, and clearing off counters. And, as usual, as I did so, I kept coming across things I’d forgotten were there. “Oh, so that’s where that was.” Or “Why in the world didn’t I throw this away yet?”

Even the neatest people probably have little corners or drawers that gather clutter, right? We’ve all experienced this. And as someone who has experienced it more than, say, my sister (LOL), allow me to explain how it happens:
When something’s been there for a while, we cease to see it. It becomes part of the background. Normal. Our eyes adjust to it being there, and it no longer strikes us as wrong, as worth fixing…until eventually, the mess gets too big to be ignored.
When it comes to the empty boxes that pile up in my kitchen, this seriously isn’t that big a deal.
But what about when it comes to our souls?

Sin, my friends, works a lot like clutter. It sneaks its way in, and maybe when we see it the first time or two, we think, “Oh, that won’t do. I’d better take care of that…” But then we don’t. Why? Because it’s easier to ignore it. We’re busy. Because, frankly, clearing out sin is no fun and usually involves a bit of humility (much like cleaning out my junked-up counters does). It’s easier to say we’ll take care of it soon. Tomorrow. Sunday. Next week. Sometime when we’re not running out the door or overwhelmed by “more pressing” matters.

But then we cease to see it. It becomes part of the background. Normal. Our spiritual eyes adjust to it being there, and it no longer strikes us as wrong, as worth fixing…until eventually, the sin gets too big to be ignored.
And then where are we? Exactly where I am when my house has gotten to that point–in for a long clean-up effort.
Because let me just tell you, it’s a whole lot easier to nip jealousy in the bud the first moment it rears its ugly green head than after we’ve let it fester into resentment and hatred. It’s easier to apologize for that nasty thing we said right away than after we’ve walked away and let it keep on battering the recipient.
It’s easier to choose to love and forgive the moment we’re hurt than to have to wrestle with it years later.
Hmm…not sure of that one? I wasn’t either when the example popped into my head. And I’m not going to say it’s humanly easier. But isn’t that exactly the example Christ gives us? While He’s still hanging on the cross, He’s forgiving those who put Him there. What would our lives look like if we forgave those who hurt us while we were still suffering the first throes of consequences?
I try to find little ways to train myself into better housekeeping habits–things like watching something fun while folding laundry, and vacuuming the floors before I sit down on them to do that. Things like certain days being Bathroom Cleaning days. 
But far more important is tidying my soul. What are we doing to make sure we stay clear of the clutter of sin? Are we vacuuming up the filth of this world from our selves, keeping our spirits white as snow?
We know we need to tidy our houses…but let’s not forget to tidy our souls with far more care and attention.
Throwback Thursday – The Inspiration

Throwback Thursday – The Inspiration

Original post published January 10, 2019

We serve a gracious God, don’t we? Not only has He given us His Son, His Word, but He continues to speak and minister to us today. As a creative, I can tell you in all honesty that there are many days when I just have to squeeze my eyes shut and say, “Give me the words, Lord. I’m not sure I have them otherwise.” And He does. Because He is oh-so-faithful.

As someone who pretty much lives and breathes the publishing industry, I know this is pretty common. And I know many, many of us have been given  stories to tell by the Lord. Now, that’s not saying these are Scripture. But they still contain Truth. They still have something in them that will minister to His children. This is a sacred calling, in my mind.

But this can come with danger, too. As an author, editor, and designer, I talk to a lot of authors. Whether they’re working on novels, non-fiction, screenplays, poems, or songs, writers are always going to be seekers of inspiration. And there’s something I’ve heard more often than I can count. Some variation of:

God gave me this story.
God downloaded this story straight to my brain.
God told me to write this.

Maybe people say that because they want everyone else to be as excited about it as they are. But…here’s the thing. All too often, people use inspiration as an excuse for laziness. They think that because God provided the idea, that they don’t have to do anything other than write it down.
Oh, my friends. Please. Please don’t treat the Lord’s whisper so cheaply!
There’s a story of a missionary who, as a young woman, realized that God was calling her to serve as a doctor to the women of a remote area of India, where the women were otherwise not permitted to seek medical care if it would involve a male doctor tending them. This came to her like a bolt. An epiphany. A sure calling.
But she did not, therefore, stroll out into the village at the age of eighteen and say, “Okay, y’all, God told me to be your doctor, so here I am! Come be doctored!” That would have been ridiculous, right? She had to first go to college, then to med school. She had to do internships and residencies. It took her years before she was ready to make good on that call. That inspiration. And she did it because that’s what it took to answer God’s call. It took WORK.
Why do authors sometimes think the stories or ideas He gives us deserve less? Or that they can never be changed or edited or tweaked?
Here’s what I’ve discovered: God gives us the inspiration we need to get started. But that just the beginning. Not the end.

My own example exists in A Soft Breath of Wind. If you want to talk about God “downloading” a story to your brain, this is the one I’d had that experience with. We’d just moved back home after living in Annapolis for years. Xoe was a few months old. A Stray Drop of Blood was just a few months older. I’d had no intention of writing a sequel to it, but as I rocked Xoe one morning, it came to me. Who Quickens the Dead, it was called. That sequel I hadn’t planned to write.

Benjamin and Samuel, all grown up. Two young women, one with the gift of discernment, one who was demon-possessed. In the course of the next two days, this very long and involved story came to me in full detail. I’m talking, sit down and write pages and pages of notes detail. I had full scenes in my head. The complete cast of characters. The themes, the plot, the beautiful Truths I wanted to draw out.
In that lovely frenzy of inspiration, I sat down and wrote a chapter. And then I screwed up my nose. Because it stank. I knew enough to know that. This, though it exactly followed the inspiration God had given me, was not good enough.
Years went by. I wrote other books. This one was always there, waiting, and a few times I drew it out and fiddled with it. I learned more, I wrote more, I did more, I got other contracts, Stray Drop began genuinely selling. But every time I considered this God-given story, it didn’t take long for me to realize that the time for it wasn’t ripe yet. I wasn’t ready. Maybe I had the inspiration, but I didn’t yet have the ability to make it what it deserved to be.

Seven years later, the moment finally came. And in such a way there was no mistaking it. I was hard at work on a historical romance, just getting started on it, when I had a Skype call with a book club who had just read A Stray Drop of Blood. Now, it had been seven years since that book released–let’s just say, my brain wasn’t really in that mode. But as I talked to these ladies, He moved me to tears at how He was still using this story. And when they asked me if I had a sequel planned and I gave my usual, “Yeah, I have one planned out, I just haven’t had a chance to write it” speech, something stirred within me.

It was time. In the next week, I came up with a more compelling title and designed a cover. I drew out those old notes, and I gave it an overhaul to make it more powerful.
And then God gave me the time to write it…in the form of a cancellation of the contract I’d been under. Not exactly how I expected that to happen, but He really couldn’t have been any clearer! I’d prayed, “Lord, I know You want me to write this, that I’m capable of it now, but I just don’t have time…” and there we go–He made time for me, LOL.
So I wrote the book, WhiteFire published the book. And I’m pleased with how it turned out. But you know what? It’s not identical to that idea I got when my daughter was a baby. Things changed as I wrote it. And they changed for the better. What God gave me was raw material. I had to cut it and polish it and turn it into something worthy of the passion He’d given me for it.
I think we often have this idea that, when God whispers to our spirit, if we change anything at all, we’re disobeying.
I can’t believe that’s true. God gives us what we need. But as we work, we grow. The visions and ideas that got us started often evolve into something even more amazing that we could have imagined–because that’s how God works. He takes our humble offerings–our time and hard work and passion–and adds His glory to them.
Our job isn’t to cling to the raw materials and claim they’re the end-all, be-all. Our job is to work them. To give them the love and care they deserve. To make them the best they can be. And to admit that maybe we don’t always know best–which might mean we don’t even know exactly what He gave us.
Sometimes it’s only through the exploration of a calling that we truly learn what it was He gave us at the beginning.