Friday, January 02, 2015

Can You Find Complete Freedom In Christ In This Life? (The Answer Might Surprise You....)

On October 14, 2012 I lost a very dear friend to cancer. The following January, I moved in to a new state and left my home of eleven years (and my entire support system). Needless to say, 2013 was a really sucky year. Everything made me cry. And I mean everything. Commercials. Songs on the radio. Silent moments. Small frustrations.

Now, as my regular readers know, I'm a Christian. I love Jesus. I don't just believe--I know--He is in control and that He is coming back and is going to kick some serious butt in the suffering department. He will wipe every tear away and show us something so awesome that nothing we have suffered will matter.

But that's then....

I have to live right now. In this time. In this place. In this mess.

And so do you.

Sometimes (okay, always) it's hard for me to try to explain my burdens and sorrows to other Christians because I’m afraid I’m going to get some kind of pat, "versish" answer, like, "Just cast all your cares on Him and He will set you free." Or, "You just have to trust in Jesus to get you through it." Or, my most favorite (NOT!), "Well, you know God will never give you more than you can handle."

(OK, that last one is not even in the Bible. Look it up. I don’t care if there’s a popular song by Group 1 Crew right on the Christian stations that say it. It’s still false. The Bible says He will not tempt you beyond what you can bear. (I Corinthians 10:12-13) It even says He can’t tempt anyone to sin. (James 1:13) And most suffering—unless it’s actually God disciplining us, which is rare—doesn’t and can’t come from God anyway, (Job 34:10-12) so that misquote is seriously messed up. So let’s all just stop saying it.)

The fact is, in this life we will suffer. (That’s actually in the Bible—John 16:33. Not surprisingly, it’s one of Jesus’s less quoted promises.) But, that fact is not what I really struggle with. I expect to suffer and I know Christ suffered, died, and rose again to conquer the cause of our suffering—to break sin’s hold on the world and our own allegiance to it. But the Christian can find a sort of eternal perspective for most bad things that happen. When my friend died, I knew I’d see her again in Heaven. It doesn’t make me not miss her now, but I can look forward to a time I will no longer miss her. And Christ can bring amazing healing in what seem like insurmountably bad experiences—broken marriages, abuse, neglect, addictions, etc. Granted. (But it’s still pretty awesome and amazing!)

…But I still have some burdens that I feel will never go away. What about all those people who do not know Jesus? What about all of my friends and family and the strangers in China or down the block who suffer needlessly because they either don’t know or have rejected Him? I have this incredible burden for the people who share this world with me, and yet I often feel so incredibly powerless to really help them. I have cried and prayed about this often lately. That even if I am being incredibly blessed (which I am), I yet constantly grieve for those around me—I wear my sorrow for them like a heavy blanket I can’t put down. This doesn’t feel like “freedom in Christ.” It feels like being burdened by Christ. How can I find joy in my salvation knowing so many don’t yet know Him and, maybe, will never know Him?

The other day, as I was again contemplating these things while driving home, I was suddenly struck by a thought.

Jesus, too, was deeply emotionally burdened for the lost and suffering people of the world.

Duh, right? I mean, it’s pretty simple. It’s not like this is new information. But, to me in that moment, it was like I was seeing it for the first time. When the Bible says we have “freedom in Christ,” it’s talking about having freedom from our own sinfulness (if we so choose to accept it), it does not mean some kind of blanket freedom that means we should always be happy or jumping for “joy in the Lord.”

Even Christ didn’t have that kind of freedom in Christ!

He was a seriously miserable guy a lot of the time. (He weeps: John 11:35, He loses His cool: Matt. 23:33, He really loses His cool: John 2:15, He is in so much anguish His sweat fills with blood: Luke 22:44.) And I believe He STILL feels that way—for every man, woman, and child who is suffering in this moment, who feels rejected, who is fighting cancer, who is being cruelly abused, who is blinded by sin or pride, who has lost someone they love… who has not recognized God’s saving grace through Jesus’s sacrifice.

Freedom in Christ is not complete freedom from any and all feelings of despair or sorrow or longing. Christ mourned for the lost (John 11:35), He felt deep sorrow and anger at the lack of faith of His own disciples (Matt. 16:33), He longed for our salvation so desperately that He was willing to die a horrific death to make it possible (John 3:16-17).  

Some sufferings in this life we get over, we heal, we see beyond. Some we don’t. Sometimes we have to wait and trust and hope even as we go through it. And that’s okay. God wants us to be burdened by the sufferings of those around us (Col. 3:12-13 & a boat-load more). He wants us to empathize and sympathize with those who need help, a leg up, a word of encouragement, a second chance….

So I can now pray, “Lord, break my heart for what breaks Yours,” and know that I’m not giving up my joy in the Lord. I’m just sacrificing some of my temporary happiness so I will be motivated to share that lasting joy with as many people as I can, while I can.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

An 11-Year-Old Speaks Out About Inappropriate TV Commercials

Television Commercials Should Be More Appropriate

                “AAAAAAARG! There are children in the room for goodness sake, just wanting to watch a movie!”

            This is how I react to the dumb rated “R” movie commercials. If someone has a rated “R” movie commercial, they shouldn’t be allowed to let it be shown during a family friendly movie. That just doesn’t make any sense. Family friendly means that it is more than likely that a child somewhere will be watching, and that almost seems abusive for children to endure that insane commercial. If someone wants to post their commercial on TV, they should just put it on an already “R” rated movie. If there is a “PG” movie or TV show, have “PG” commercials. If there is a “PG-13” movie, have “PG-13” commercials, and so on. “R” rated commercials in my opinion shouldn’t even exist, let alone “R” rated movies.  Maybe people aren’t satisfied with how they are currently living, and think they need that inappropriate stuff to make them feel satisfied; I suppose they need that nonsense to fill in what God can easily fill. My conclusion is that children, really small, young, dependent, innocent people are being scared by the stupidity of people’s actions on television, and it needs to stop. I know, because I am a kid. Please get rid of the gross stuff from being on TV, because I still need to grow up in this world.
By Novik Isaiah Thomas, age 11

Sunday, October 12, 2014

What a Christian Critique Group Looks Like

This post is not an exhaustive "what to do and what not to do" list; rather this information comes from an email I send out whenever I start a new critique group or invite a new person to one that is already going on. I have been leading Christian critique groups for over a decade now, so I have learned some things that work and some things that don't. Basically, below you will see how I format my meetings, my basic expectations of the members, and a bit of my philosophy.

You will notice that I have not listed a time or date in this which, of course, you would want to include if that information has already been decided on by a group that is already meeting. At the time I wrote this, it had not been, so I included a section a the end (omitted here) to request a consensus on that.

My opener usually goes something like this:

First of all, let me share my personal vision for this new group. I have served as the president for an ACW critique group for about 8 years in Moscow, Idaho, and it was an incredibly valuable part of my personal growth as a writer and as a person. But, there are also some strategies I've learned along the way that I feel are important to adhere to in order to get the most out of the group, so I will list them for you.
And here's the basic rundown:

1. Christian: This will be a writers' group for Christians only, although I reserve the right to invite non-Christian guest speakers from time to time. I don't expect us all to be of the same denomination or to agree on everything. However, I do expect the primary focus for both ourselves and our writing to be to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ--whether it is done in an overt, obvious way or not. We will be holding one another to this standard.
 
2. Cost: You are responsible for providing your own beverage, but otherwise this group will be completely free of fees or dues. Writers spend enough to support their writing habit already.
 
3. Frequency: We will meet twice a month.

4. Location: [NAME OF SOME COFFEE SHOP] (This is subject to change, if necessary.)
 
5. Meeting Format: This is a critique group, not a free-writing group. So, please try to bring one piece of your writing for critique every week--either a 1-3 page, double-spaced work to be read aloud at the meeting OR 5-6 copies [CHANGE DEPENDING ON NUMBER OF PARTICIPANTS] of a full chapter or half-chapter of whatever book/short story you're working on to be handed out to the members to take home with them (where they will critique it and bring it back to you next time we meet).

6. Accepted Writing Styles: Both fiction and non-fiction are acceptable; however, if you are writing non-fiction, we prefer creative non-fiction, such as theology, memoirs, etc. Please don't bring in a technical manual on aviation for us to critique. We're also not interested in proofing your Music History 101 papers for you.
 
7. Who's invited?: Serious, Christian writers aged 15 and older. Please leave your kids (and pets) at home. (Feel free to forward this email to others who you think might be interested.)
 
8. Purpose: To glorify Christ, first of all. Secondly, our purpose is to engage with our writing with a genuine desire to improve it to a publishable level. Thirdly, we desire to encourage and challenge one another in their writing careers. So, if you are just writing your memoirs for your grandchildren or writing letters to cousins, this is not the group for you. But, if you have a desire to become a published author, even if you're just starting out, we'd love for you to check us out.
 
9. Critiquing Techniques: Different writers have different editing strengths. Some edit for punctuation only. Others edit for content errors only. However, no matter what your editing style, we ask for you to be both honest and charitable. In other words, identify the work's strengths as well as its weaknesses and be gentle in how you phrase your comments.

10. Punctuality: People arriving 5 minutes late is one thing. People coming in (particularly if it's the leader) 20 minutes late is something else altogether. As your leader, I will do my best to arrive on time, if not early, and I humbly ask for the same effort from the other participants. (Of course, life does happen sometimes, so we can be flexible as needed.)

11. Group Size: 5-8 people is ideal for intimate discussion. But, if more people show up, we will just split into smaller groups after announcements for the critiquing portion of the meeting, so don't let number limits keep you from inviting or bringing friends! The more the merrier!

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

"Longing for Rest" Read the First Chapter for FREE!


e Chapter One f

Crystal sunlight blinked through tree limbs, painting splotches of white across the blankets in the gray of the room. Amy stirred and breathed out heavily through her nose as if to chase the morning away. The speckled pattern of light played on her arm and half of her face each time the breeze blew. The window stood open. The gentle rustling of the leaves and that same annoying crow cawed loudly and repeatedly from a branch of her mountain ash tree. He was chasing away her dreams… strange, lost dreams. Part of her wanted to be rid of them and another part wanted to stay and straighten things out. But it was hopeless. She was nearly awake now.

One particularly brilliant bit of light glared down on her right eye. She opened her eyes. Only then did she realize that her left eye wouldn’t open all the way. It struggled against crusty, dried tears from the night before. And suddenly she remembered.

A terrible weight landed on her chest. Without even looking she knew she was alone in the bed. Reality forced confirmation on her even as she tried again to return to the release of sleep. But there was no going back. She was fully awake now and she knew. Devon was gone. He was with Darla now.

Amy raised one weary hand to wipe the crust from her eye and found the flesh around her eye swollen and tender to the touch. As she rubbed, new tears flowed. Surprising. She thought she had used them all.

The blankets felt heavy. Her arms, too. The very air in the room crushed her. Breathing was a struggle. Amy rolled over onto her other side and realized the motion had been a terrible mistake. With it, her head began to throb with blinding intensity—her reward for giving into the racking sobs that had claimed her through much of the night.

How could this happen to me? How could Devon do this to me? What did I do to deserve this? Isn’t he supposed to love me? Did he ever love me?

The questions repeated themselves in her mind as though put there by someone else. She fought them. She did not want to wrestle with them anymore. There were no answers. There might never be any answers.

Amy forced herself slowly onto one elbow against the protest of her throbbing head and weary body. She caught a quick glimpse of the clock before letting herself fall back onto the damp pillow. 6:57 AM. Thursday morning. In three minutes the alarm would go off, and it would be time to get the kids ready for school.

Why do I always wake up before the alarm? Why couldn’t I sleep even a little longer on this horrible morning? Why do I have to wake up at all?

And then another horrible thought came to her.

The kids! They don’t know yet! How am I going to tell them? What in the world can I possibly say to them? ‘Kids, your father left us.’ ‘Kids, your father fell in love with someone else and moved out.’ ‘Kids, your father doesn’t love me anymore and…’

A new wave of anger washed over her.

How dare he! How dare he leave me to explain all of this to his children! How dare he leave me at all!

The alarm blared. Amy wiped the fresh tears away and swung a heavy arm to turn off the buzzing. Michael and Cassandra still slept soundly in their beds, unmindful of how their world had toppled. Amy dreaded waking them, as she had never dreaded anything in her life. For fifteen minutes she stayed under the covers, trying to think of how she might tell them—what she would do, what she would say. But nothing sounded right. Nothing would ever be right.

Amy remembered with renewed dread that Devon had told her he would come by today on his lunch break. He wanted to collect some of his things. He’d be lucky if he didn’t find his things sitting out on the curb when he drove up! But even that thought was not fully felt. Anger had not fully settled on her yet. It was all just so… unreal. No… maybe it was too real. And she didn’t know how to understand it—how to believe it. But he would be there soon… too soon. How could she face him? And how could he face her? How could he come and look her in the face after what he had done?

I guess I’ll find out soon enough.

Forcing herself from the bed, more of the scene from last night threatened to replay itself again in her memory. She pushed it back and stood, only to lean again on the side of the bed. She noticed a line of tight pain across her left side. She still wore her bra from yesterday. In fact, she had slept in her clothes—a blouse, now covered with wrinkles, and jean shorts. Amy stumbled against a new onslaught from her headache and made her way into the bathroom where she tried to avoid seeing the disheveled hair and the wan, puffy aftermath in the mirror. She downed four ibuprofen tablets. Amy then ran a washcloth under cold water and held it to her face. She pressed the coolness against her swollen eyes, hoping they would return to normal. How she wished everything would just return to normal.

Not now. Not this morning. I can’t tell them this morning. There’s no reason it has to be now. Let them go to school. I’ll find some way to tell them later.

She took a deep breath and decided. Now she focused on hiding the effects the night, with its many sorrows, had left on her.

 

à à à à à

 

“We will be touching down in Spokane, Washington in about ten minutes. Please return to your seats and fasten your seatbelts. Return seat backs and trays to their full, upright position. Please turn off and store all electronic devices. Thank you for flying Delta.” The flight attendant’s nasally voice clicked off the intercom followed by a ‘dong’ indicating that the seatbelt light again demanded obedience.

“Okay, kids,” Monica said. “It’s time to put your seatbelts back on.”

Charity, sitting by the window to Monica’s left had already latched her tray back into position and fumbled for her seatbelt. Monica glanced to the right at her son, Angel, and saw he hadn’t even heard the announcement. He sat listening to Toby Mac through the earphones of his IPod while simultaneously reading a skateboarding magazine he had picked up during their layover in Salt Lake City.

“Angel…” No response. Monica pulled on one of the speaker wires until the speaker head popped out of his left ear. “Angel,” she said too loudly, “it’s time to turn off your music and put your seatbelt back on. We’re almost there.”

Angel obeyed by pushing the tiny button on his IPod but fought a scowl. “No me gusta cuando me llames eso,” he mumbled just loud enough for her to hear.

“Please speak English. This is a good time to start practicing. None of my family speaks Spanish, you know, and I won’t have you being rude to your relatives. And I’m going to call you by your name, not that silly nickname, so you might as well get used to it.”

It had been a long trip, and Monica was in no mood to get involved in the same old argument with her fifteen-year-old son. She realized she had snapped at him and, while part of her felt guilty, the other part just felt tired and annoyed. His name was Angel—not an uncommon name for a Mexican boy—but he disliked it. He felt it wasn’t masculine enough. Monica couldn’t understand this since, to look at him, he was perhaps the most masculine of any in his circle of friends. Though tall, he had long since lost that spindly look. And his habit of weight-lifting since age eleven had added meat and muscle to his already broad shoulders. When standing next to him she already felt dwarfed. Monica was petite, slender and no more than five feet, three inches in heals. Her son looked like a man of twenty while most of his friends looked like they still needed babysitters.

Regardless, his friends had given him a nickname, which—for a reason unbeknownst to Monica—he seemed to prefer. They called him “Negro” or, sometimes, “Negrito”, which means “Black One” or “Blacky”. He had earned it due to his dark complexion, black eyes and jet-black hair. Though Monica was white, she had the darkest complexion of her family—dark brown, wavy hair, just past shoulder-length, and chocolate brown eyes. Whatever fair-skinned genes she had missed Angel completely. He was as dark, if not darker, than his Mexican father.

All the boys his age had nicknames—at least any boy who had friends—and these names generally centered on their less than admirable qualities. Only the lucky few received names that were due to a skill or an accomplishment. Most ended up fighting for -respect throughout adolescence. One of Angel’s friends had been given the nickname “Cinturas” which means “Belts”, because, though he wore belts every day, no one could ever see them under his large roll of belly fat.

Monica tried to remember Cinturas’s real name but couldn’t. She had started calling him “Cinturas”, too, she realized. But Cinturas didn’t seem to mind. In fact, none of the boys seemed to mind their nicknames, preferring instead to wear them like hard-earned badges of honor. She supposed it was a way to feel accepted by the group—like they had good enough friends to be mercilessly teased, or some backwards philosophy like that. Oh, well. She didn’t mind when they called her son “Negro” but she certainly wasn’t going to call him that. Let alone around her family! She could just hear it now—Louisa saying in her gringa, militant voice, “Negro! Who is Negro? Why in the world would you call your son that?”

Louisa. Monica sighed. Will Louisa be there yet?

Louisa had married Monica’s brother, Kevin. Monica often wondered how those two had managed to stay married all these years. Now she wondered if what she had heard from her mother the last time they had talked was true. Were they really doing better, or had they just put on a happy face to please Mom? She would soon find out.

Lord, please help me deal with Louisa and watch my mouth, she prayed. And maybe You can help her watch her mouth, too, she added.

Kevin and Louisa were probably already there, she realized. In fact, they might even be waiting with Daniel in the baggage claim area in Spokane.

Daniel was Monica’s oldest brother. He lived in Moscow, Idaho, where her mother also lived. He had told her he would pick up her and her kids, and that the drive to Moscow would take about an hour and a half. It would be nice to see Daniel again. She had missed him.

Kevin, Louisa, and their youngest son were supposed to be driving up from Texas. Monica hadn’t heard if their oldest was coming. He attended grad school in Florida.

 He was smart to get away from them, she thought and then regretted it.

But the truth remained that their oldest, Clark, seemed to be doing better than their youngest, Kenneth, who, at 21 years of age, still lived with them and had no ambition nor sense of direction at all.

Maybe things have changed, she told herself. It’s been three years since I’ve been home. Too long. I should’ve come sooner. I just didn’t think I’d have to say goodbye to Mom so soon.

Monica tried to silence that thought. She didn’t want to think of her once vibrant and energetic mother lying in a hospital bed with tubes coming out of her. She didn’t want to face losing her mother while her husband was still stuck in Tijuana trying to get his visa renewed. It had all happened so suddenly. She hadn’t been ready for that early morning phone call or for Daniel’s voice on the other end telling her their mother’s kidneys had failed, and that she was in critical condition in the ICU.

Monica took a deep breath and steadied herself. She couldn’t cry again—not now. They were almost there. What would the flight attendants think? And Angel was embarrassed enough by her already. She looked past her daughter out the window and watched the ground getting closer and closer, faster and faster. They heard the roar of the engines and both felt and heard the bump and then a bigger bump as they touched down.

Charity yawned and Monica found herself imitating her daughter, waiting for that satisfying feel of her ears popping and sounds becoming clearer. They still moved quickly along the ground, but she could feel the gentle tug of the plane slowing.

Charity stopped looking out the window long enough to return the book she had been holding to the backpack under the seat in front of her. Monica glanced at Angel as Charity zipped it closed. He looked back at her and must have read the worry in her face. He smiled. An encouraging smile. Monica had often thought her son to be short on smiles. She felt particularly grateful for this one. He had forgiven her for snapping at him, and she knew that even though her husband couldn’t be there yet, Angel would be a support to her.

Such a nice name, Angel… I can’t understand why he doesn’t like it. It just suits him somehow.

 

à à à à à

 

How could he bring her here? Amy stood in her kitchen watching as Devon pulled up. He actually had Darla in the car with him, and they seemed to be having an animated discussion, hands flopping about, mouths agape. Devon opened his door and got out as Darla turned away from him with a look of annoyance. She rolled down her window and found a magazine.

Suddenly, the anger that had eluded Amy yesterday came upon her with a force that robbed her of her sanity.

How dare this woman come between my husband and me? How dare she step into my life and rob me this way? I hate her!

Amy experienced an overwhelming desire to run outside, reach through Darla’s window, grab her by the hair and start banging her head on the windowsill of the car. She may have done it, too, if Devon hadn’t opened the front door just then. Her attention shifted for a moment. There he was. Devon stood before her, eyes cast to the side and downwards, not looking at her.

A part of Amy rebelled against the way he had just walked into the house—claiming ownership of a space they had shared—a space he had forfeited. He said nothing. He kept his eyes down and seemed to be waiting for her to say something—perhaps to yell at him or even throw something.

Amy looked at his familiar face, light brown hair, dimpled chin. But she saw only a stranger.

Who is this man? Do I know him at all?

Devon cleared his throat and shifted from one foot to the other.

“Well,” he said, “I came to get my things.”

Amy found she could say nothing. All that had been swirling through her mind and tormenting her through the night—the many angry accusations, the questions full of hurt, the pleadings for him to come back. None of them seemed appropriate somehow. They all demanded an intimacy that no longer existed. The only thing that mattered right now was that he seemed intent on continuing with his plan to leave her, to move in with Darla, and to do his best to forget the fifteen years he had spent married to her.

Devon must have decided she had nothing to say to him. He turned abruptly on his heal and headed to their bedroom—no, her bedroom. Amy heard him opening drawers and then realized she had been holding her breath. She released it and it came out in a tattered, ragged sob. She quickly covered her mouth with her hand, fervently hoping he hadn’t heard. She didn’t want him to see how deeply he had wounded her. But she couldn’t get hold of herself. A second sob followed the first. Then another and another—each more devastating to her composure than the last. Amy realized with unexpected rationality that she was becoming hysterical. She grabbed a chair and sat down heavily at the kitchen table.

Stop it! Stop it! Get a hold of yourself!

She put a hand on her chest and pressed, focusing all her strength and willpower on getting herself under control.

More rustling noises came from the bedroom. She realized they had stopped for a moment but now the sounds of packing resumed. He must have heard. He must have. She covered her mouth again, now only whimpering through heavy, sob-like breaths. She fought for control.

I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay.

Then Amy made the mistake of glancing out the window. When in the kitchen, she often enjoyed a glance upon her front garden that bloomed all year round and the quaint stone path that meandered through bright green grass. Seeing these things had always given her a sense of pride to live in such a well-kept home. Now she only saw Devon's car parked in front with Darla sitting in the passenger seat—in Amy’s seat—looking bored.

The rage returned in an instant. Amy stopped crying. She stood up and a wrath-filled cry of fury wrenched from her. She sounded like a lioness on the hunt but this time gave not a thought to the fact that Devon would have heard her. Somehow her hand found a rolling pin that had been left lying on the counter. With weapon in hand Amy tore from the kitchen, out of the house, and toward the car.

That tramp thinks this is boring? Just some little inconvenience in her day? Does she think this is some kind of a game?

By the time these thoughts had processed, Amy was already at the car.

“What are you doing?” Darla screamed, terror distorting her pretty face.

“You’re going to find out!” was all Amy could get out before sending the rolling pin smashing into the windshield of the passenger side. “You think you can steal my husband?” Another splintering crash and a scream of panic from Darla. “You think you can come to my home and destroy my family?” Another crash. This time the rolling pin went all the way through, and shards of glass sprayed across Darla’s face. A few of them landed in her open, screaming mouth. “You think you’re playing some kind of a game?”

Amy raised the rolling pin to smash more of the glass but found that it caught in mid-air behind her. Before she knew what was happening, Devon’s strong arms wrapped around her, restraining her. His touch made her stomach turn and her heart feel like it might explode into flames. She struggled and kicked and screamed, “Let me go! Let me go!”

“Stop it! Stop it!” he yelled as he wrenched the weapon from her with his free one and threw it to the ground.

“Let me go! Don’t touch me!”

Devon released her, and she slumped to the ground. Sobs overtook her again, and she sat in a heap and buried her face in her hands.

What’s happened? How have I been reduced to this? What has become of me?

Darla had stopped screaming, and Amy thought she heard the sound of her whimpering, spitting—glass, probably—and brushing off her clothes at the same time. Devon stood over Amy for a moment, saying nothing.

He pities me, she thought, disgusted with herself but still unable to manage her sobbing. He pities me. I’m pitiable. I lost my husband and now I’ve lost my dignity. I have nothing left.

“Have you gone mad?” Devon finally said in an angry whisper. “What are the neighbors going to think? I mean, look what you did to the car!”

He’s crazier than I am, Amy thought with dismay, but didn’t look up.

“Get me out of here!” Darla finally got enough glass out of her mouth to screech at him. “Why are you just standing there? Your wife just tried to kill me!”

Devon glanced at her and answered in an annoyed voice, “She did not!”

Amy found his defense strange.

“Get your stuff and let’s go!” Darla ordered.

Devon seemed hesitant. “Look,” he said finally to Amy. “I’m going to get my things now. And for heaven’s sake, don’t do anything crazy!” He picked up the rolling pin before heading back to the house. He went quickly, shooting a nervous glance at her before disappearing inside.

A few seconds ticked by. Darla fidgeted in her seat. “Look,” she said. “I’m sorry this is so… so… hard on you right now.”

Amy ignored her, still crying, face in her hands, hiding from the world.

“It just wasn’t working out between you two,” Darla foolishly continued. “You’ll both be better off in the long run. He just needed to make a change, that’s all… he needed—”

“Shut up!” Amy said, pronouncing each word in measured staccato. She stood. Somehow her composure—or some of it—returned. She approached the window, and Darla scooted as far away as the seatbelt allowed. “Don’t think you can tell me anything about my husband! I’ve known him for eighteen years! I’ve been married to him for fifteen of those, and in that time I’ve gotten to know him a little better than you do! So, spare me the explanations! Spare me the advice! Spare me the—”

“Hey! What are you doing?” Devon’s worried voice came from the porch. He came swiftly to them, a suitcase in each hand. “What are you doing?” he repeated. “Get away from the car, Amy.”

“It’s my car,” Amy replied with deathlike calmness.

Darla stared at her with a mixture of hatred and fear. Devon stepped around Amy and opened the back door. He threw the suitcases onto the back seat and slammed the door shut again.

“Have you told the kids yet?” he asked as he opened the driver’s side door.

“I thought you should tell them,” Amy lied. She wouldn’t dream of allowing him to have a chance to lie to them, justify himself to them, or manipulate them—but she wanted him to squirm, to realize how difficult a position he had placed their family in.
He rewarded her with a look of anger and consternation. He seemed unsure of how to respond. “Fine!” he yelled. He got in and slammed the door. His anger intensified when he found prickly shards of glass under his buttocks. He started from the discomfort and then shifted to brush them away. He started the engine but, before driving away said, “I’ll call them tonight.”

Monday, September 29, 2014

"Longing for Rest" Now Available!


New Release! Now available at www.thedramaticpen.com and Amazon. Formats: paperback, Kindle, & Nook. Retail: $7.99 for paperback. $2.99 for e-book.

What Readers Had to Say About This Book:

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Monday, September 15, 2014

The False Teachings of Ann Voskamp's "One Thousand Gifts" (Video Series & Workbook)


I admit, I haven't read the book itself. In fact, I'd never heard of it until this past weekend when I attended a ladies' retreat with my church. The agenda said that, over the course of three days, we'd watch five video sessions and split into groups after each one to discuss the correlating discussion questions and assigned Scripture readings. Sounds great, I thought.

The first session was quite beautiful and insightful. Ann Voskamp has a unique and soothing poetic style that, though it was difficult to get used to at first, I really enjoyed. I'm a lover of poetry and of the written word, so it appealed to me personally. She talked about how important it is to make a conscious effort to recognize the everyday gifts God gives us--curls tied with ribbons, the smell of fresh baked bread, freckles on little boys' faces--you know, the beauties God has woven into the fabric of our existence--things we often overlook or take for granted, especially in times of trouble. Recognizing God's thousands of gifts (big and small), she taught, will multiply our joy and help us recognize God's grace. I agree.

Then we went on to session two. And I started to get uncomfortable with the direction she seemed to be heading. By the end of session three, I knew I was done.

Now, I don't know what she says in the book, but in the video in session two, she said, "What if our troubles are only feelings?" Um, no. Say that to a mom of young children when she has just been diagnosed with cancer and given only a few months to live (even with treatment). She'd be within her rights to give you a good punch in the face.

And a question in the study guide for that session (top of pg. 31) reads, "What if the things that feel like trouble are gifts of grace?" 

And, what if the things that feel like trouble, are actually trouble?

John 16:33 Jesus says, "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."

And, Paul writes to the Romans, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: 'For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.' No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:35-39)

These passages should make it clear that the troubles themselves aren't grace, but Jesus is the source of our victory over those things. If troubles themselves are gifts of grace, then what need do we have to be delivered from them? They must actually be good, right? What right do we have to acknowledge a loss? What right do we have to mourn? What need have we of comfort?

But Jesus said, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." (Matthew 5:4)

The video session for the third lesson got even more convoluted. Talking about hardships (in her case, the example was of watching her boys fighting at the table), she said (and I'm quoting from memory), "I feel like a greedy child taking candy from God's hands, but refusing the trouble." The implication here is that God doles out both blessings and troubles (I can only guess this means suffering, hardship, evil, and trials of all kinds, as she makes zero distinction between them), and we should be equally thankful for both.

She also said, still speaking of all kinds of trouble that, presumably God hands us, that we should, "give thanks for all things."

She uses no Scripture to support this--probably because the Scripture passages that come the closest to her subject say something very different.

Matthew records Jesus's words in Matthew 7:9-11 (which is also recorded in Luke 11:11-13), "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!"

So, would God give us trouble? Should we ever consider bad things as God's gifts? Obviously not, from what Jesus adamantly proclaims here.

So, if God doesn't give us bad things, why does Ann Voskamp tell us we should thank him for "all things?" The Bible doesn't even ask us to do that. I Thessalonians 5:18 tells us to "give thanks in every circumstance." That little preposition "in" is very important. It does not mean "for" which, when Ann uses it, means something completely different. God wants us to recognize God's victory and power within every circumstance--the good, the bad, the ugly. As David says, in Psalm 9:9, "The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble." But, He never asks us to thank Him for the bad or the ugly, as if He was the instigator or the source of the evil in the world.

According to Ann, God dishes out the trouble. According to the Bible, God is a refuge from it.

Ann uses very little Scripture that directly backs up this point, and the Scriptures she does use, she misinterprets. On pages 44-45 of the study guide, she has us read Luke 9:37-43, provided below:

"The next day, when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met him. A man in the crowd called out, "Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. A spirit seizes him and he suddenly screams; it throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him. I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not." "O unbelieving and perverse generation," Jesus replied, "how long shall I stay with you and put up with you? Bring your son here." Even while the boy was coming, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the evil spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father. And they were all amazed at the greatness of God...."

In reference to the above passage, Ann asks the question, "How did Jesus see good and beauty in situations where everyone else saw only a mess?"

No. Let's think about what actually happened here. Jesus didn't see "good" or "beauty" in this situation. He saw evil, and He cast it out.

Throughout this session, both in the video and in the study guide, Ann keeps repeating the phrase, "All is grace." At first I had trouble wrapping my mind about what she meant by that... until I started analyzing all of the above misinterpretations of Scripture, mis-directions, and flawed assignations to God's character. So, let's look at that phrase in light of all the other things she's been saying. Naturally, if you believe that God is the sort of being who is the source of both good and evil, as Ann seems to, then this makes sense. Perhaps it could be true that "all is grace" if there is no genuine difference between good and evil. But even as she blurs the lines between them when she claims both come directly from God, she continues to claim that God is good. Wait... what's the definition of "good" then? And what is "evil"? Do these words even mean anything anymore?

When you take a word pregnant with meaning, like the word “grace,” and strip it of its opposites, the word ceases to mean anything. If "all is grace," that means that "grace" has no opposite. Evil is also grace. Sin is also grace. Intense, meaningless suffering is also grace. And it all came from God.

No, Ann. No.

What about the young lady whose father has been raping her from the time she was three years old until she turned 16 and finally ran away, only to be sucked in by a sex trafficker? Is that grace? Did God do that? Is that one of the "good gifts" from His hand?

A woman at my table during the second discussion said, "So, if that's true, then does that mean that God killed my babies?" She has suffered four miscarriages.

Do you see how insidious, how false, how dangerous it is when we start to blur the lines between good and evil? Do you see how God’s character is being maligned when we teach that He is the source of evil? Do you see how easily it would be for people to, not only get confused, but to grow to deeply loathe a god like that?

If “all is grace,” what moral responsibility could there be for us when we sin? After all, the suffering we cause others must really be just the gift of grace to them from God’s hand, right? So, nothing I do could ever really be blameworthy. And that poor raped girl has no right to feel angry or hurt by what Daddy did. Because it was really all arranged by God. And, in some baffling twist of logic, it was good.

If “all is grace,” what is Satan’s job? The Bible calls him “a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”(I Peter 5:8) Ann ignores him completely.

If “all is grace,” what need do we have for Jesus? Why did He have to die? If every good thing and bad thing are equally gifts of grace from God’s hand, then we would have no need of rescue. And when evil and sin lose their meanings, so do goodness and grace.

Actually, I could probably make a list of one thousand things that aren’t grace:

1. Fear
2. Hatred
3. Sin
4. Satan’s fiery arrows
5. Temptation
6. Denying Christ
7. Murder
8. Rape
9. Lies
10. Cursing
11. Unhealthy relationships
12. Disease
13. Envy
14. Lust
15. Manipulation

…Need I go on?

When Ann ignores Scripture in favor of her own view of God, she plays right into the hands of those who would use her arguments to deny God altogether.

Sometime between BC 341 and 270, Epicurus wrote these famous words, called “Epicurus’s Riddle.”:

"Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?"

How would you respond to him? Will “One Thousand Gifts” equip you to do so? No, it most certainly will not. It will do the opposite. It actually does more to prove his point. However, the Bible does equip us to understand that at the root of this argument is a great deal of brokenness and suffering caused—not by God, as Ann would claim—but by struggling through life in a world plagued by the disease of sin. And God’s Word goes further, to teach us how to gently speak the truth in genuine love to those who struggle with the philosophical and theological problem of evil. But most of all, God’s Word shows us that the answer to sin and evil and suffering—is not to adopt some Buddhist, Zen-like, attitude in which we try to distance ourselves from our desires and emotions, convince ourselves sin and evil and suffering are “just feelings”, and thank God for all of it—but to look to Jesus—God Himself, the definition and standard for good—and “cast all our burdens on Him” (I Peter 5:7) as we place our trust in Him. After all, He left His Heaven to step into this mess we created (Romans 5:12-17) and became the Solution to the problem of evil (not the source of it). He took on this life and then He gave it up again so that He could prove to us how much He loves us. Then He picked up that life again to prove to all of creation that death and sin and evil have been conquered once and for all.

If you are still not convinced that Ann is mistaken in how she very oddly credits God as the source of trouble and hardship and evil, making no differentiation between them, just look up the word “evil” in your concordance at the back of your Bible and glance through the verses that deal with the subject. Right away, in Genesis 2, we see that there is a tree called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The dichotomy between these two things is already present in the opening chapters of God’s Word. Then I see phrases like, “he feared God and shunned evil,” “Far be it for God to do evil,” “Beware of turning to evil,” “keep your tongue from evil,” “Turn from evil and do good,” “he who pursues evil goes to his death,” “wash the evil from your heart,” “Your [God’s] eyes are too pure to look on evil,” “who reject the truth and follow evil,” “Avoid every kind of evil.” And the list goes on and on. Obviously, God, in His Word, draws a very strict, thick line between good and evil. And so should we.

Isaiah 5:20 reads, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.”