My Response to Steve McSwain’s Six Things

Last week, I read an article in the Huffington Post, Six Things Christians Should Just Stop Saying, by Steve McSwain (Feb. 28, 2013). It had been written by a Christian who challenged the beliefs of many of his fellow believers. I found the article interesting, and while it expressed nothing new, it may have been the first time a Christian voiced those opinions in such a mainstream, and perhaps defiant, way.

I thought others might be interested in reading the piece, so I shared the link on facebook. I share things all the time, things I find inspiring, interesting, or informative, as do many of the people who “friend” me on facebook. I shared the link and then I hit the road, thinking nothing of it.

With our windows down, our radio up, and the sun in sight, our family headed for the hills. We spent most of Spring Break unplugged, hiking remote mountain trails, and feeling incredibly close to God. But when I returned to the world of wifi and facebook, I realized I had left many of you with an article that surged your emotions.

I appreciated reading your reactions to the article, and I can tell many of you put much thought, time, and energy into your responses. For each of you who responded publically, there were many others reading quietly in their living rooms either agreeing or disagreeing with your viewpoints (some of whom contacted me privately to express those views).

I intentionally have not shared my personal beliefs about McSwain’s article. Why? Because they are irrelevant. I was not trying to point out a right way or a wrong way to interpret Christianity, and I certainly wasn’t trying to offend anyone. I was simply sharing another person’s point of view…because I enjoy hearing other opinions, stretching my mind, and exploring different angles. And because many of my friends do, too.

While the author’s tone may have been a bit crass, I honestly don’t think he wrote the article to stir emotions or cause anyone strife. Instead, as Cherise Olson pointed out in her poignant facebook comment…he was highlighting the fact that Christianity encases a large range of beliefs. And that it’s all okay.

Yet, we continue to argue among ourselves.

What happens to a group whose members argue? They eventually split, which is exactly why we have so many different denominations within our Christian faith…and even within those denominations, teachings vary greatly from pulpit to pulpit.

I have been blessed to travel a little in my life. I have lived in many places, attended many churches, and observed many different interpretations of the Bible. Some Christians view their personal interpretation as the only right way, but many of us listen to other viewpoints respectfully, acknowledging we are all trying our best to live a life of faith and to engage actively in spiritual growth.

Like everyone else on this lovely planet, I am flawed beyond description. I have human moods, physical and emotional limitations, and I make mistakes. But I try, every moment of every day, to live in a way that exhibits a deep faith in something larger than myself, a belief that we are each here for a reason, and a trust that this earthly trek is only a small part of our eternal journey.

I don’t seek out reasons to judge others, or to criticize others, or to convince myself I’m better than anyone because of X, Y, or Z. How awful would that be?

It seems that sometimes, people are inclined to find all sorts of reasons why they are better Christians, why they are more worthy of God’s acceptance, why so many people are worse than them. But I have to ask…who are we to judge? When those in the Bible wanted to stone a woman who had committed adultery, Jesus spoke up. He said: “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7 NIV).

Honestly, I believe every single soul on this planet is worthy of God’s love. My job, as a Christian, and as a human being with a heart, is simply to love everyone. EVERYONE.

It is not my job to rate sin, to determine one mistake is worse than another, to categorize human souls in a ranking order of good to bad, or to wage war against those who believe differently than I do. I honestly do not believe that is why any of us are on this rotating globe. I believe we are here to learn. To listen. To love. Without exception.

I have spent thirteen years as a Christian writer. I learned a LONG time ago that writing anything in this arena was likely to cause offense to someone along the way. It’s in our nature to criticize others…which is one of our human flaws we should try to overcome. As Jesus tried to teach during his time on earth, “You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one” (John 8:15 NIV).

One of my earliest assignments, as contributing editor to a Christian magazine, was to write a monthly activities calendar for moms with young children. One of my suggestions was to engage in mother/child yoga. My editors supported me, but boy did the hate mail stream in.

I was told in every manner of “Christian” expression that I was evil, sinful, and encouraging people to stray from their Christian faith.

I refer to this as one example of how differently people interpret teachings of faith. I happen to believe God is BIGGER than yoga. He’s bigger than whether I cut my hair, wear dresses, or cover my skin. He’s bigger than anything any of us can mentally process, and that is where I place my faith.

If we believe we were created for a purpose, and that we were given the ability to make choices on our own, then nothing…nothing we do as human beings can be shocking to God. He understands more about the human condition than any of us will ever understand, and he loves us anyway. That’s the beauty of God’s grace. That, my friends, is the miracle.

I don’t write this response to argue for or against any interpretations of your faith. I write only with the hope that we can all find a way to acknowledge that we are commanded to love one another. Jesus tells us clearly: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” John 13 34-35 (NIV).

Maybe it really is as simple as that.

Peace to all.

The Christian Left: Yes, We Do Exist

More than 700 attendees enjoyed the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference 2012

I just returned from the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference in Dallas, TX. I admit, I was a little worried about what I might find at my very first ACFW event. Would everyone be eating a certain franchise’s chicken sandwiches with or without a pickle? Would I be expected to donate stacks of cash to some gilded offering plate? Would I have to walk to a stage and let some shiny man in a purple suit touch my head and bless me?

In a world of spray-tanned, bleached-teeth televangelists selling credit-card salvation, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. Not to mention the onslaught of angry Facebook missives and vicious talk-radio chatter that sadly shines a hateful spotlight on the Christian worldview.

So…after boarding a plane and bulleting myself through the atmosphere (in what amounts to not much more than a metal sleeve with pretty wings and a drink cart)…I am happy to report…all the Christians I met at ACFW were wonderful, compassionate, fun folks! Better yet, I was reminded that liberal-minded Christians aren’t such a slim minority after all.

I’m VERY lucky to have the most wonderful literary agent, Greg Johnson (Left) and the most amazing acquisitions editor, John Blase (Right) who dared to take a chance on Into the Free. I can’t imagine two better guys to have at my side for this journey.

I’m grateful I published Into the Free with a fabulous Christian publishing house, David C Cook. I’m thankful I got to know many wonderfully talented writers who choose to write work that inspires people. I’m excited to return home to use the skills I’ve learned, and I’m humbled by the many people who approached me about the impact Millie’s story has had on them.

I’m so impressed by the people I met this week, I’m eager to introduce them to you. So…watch for tons of fun interviews. In the meantime, here’s a sneak peek.

Meet: Lisa Wingate, my friend and ACFW roommate whose brilliant novel, Dandelion Summer, earned the very first PERFECT SCORE and sent Lisa home with a Carol Award.

You’ll LOVE these two brilliant debut authors, Nicole Quigley (Left) whose YA novel Like Moonlight at Low Tide is a must read, and Jordyn Redwood (Mid) whose suspense novel Proof is one you won’t be able to put down until the end. Plus, they are absolutely the sweetest most amazing people you will ever meet. I’m very, very lucky to call them my friends.

And just in case you thought Christian parties weren’t any fun…Meet the werewolf and the robot, two speculative fiction authors who brought the Gala up a notch. (And yes…they’re both super nice guys. I promise!)

Religion vs. Christianity: What do you think?

Watch this and tell us what you think.

 

Learn more about Jefferson Bethke and Chisel Season. Visit: http://chiselseason.com

Day 2: Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh – Three Reasons to Limit the Number of Gifts Under Your Tree

Image by SimplyCindyBlog.com

“On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.” – Matthew 2

As Christians, we celebrate the birth of Jesus in December. One of the things we learn about the birth of Jesus is that he was visited by wise men who offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Most scholars believe Jesus would have likely been one or two years old by the time they found him, and these gifts would not have been typical offerings to a young child. I won’t go into the theological arguments about how many wise men really existed, whether they originated from Yemen, Iran, or Egypt, or the cultural roles of Zoroastrianism and Judaism in the region at that time, but I encourage you to learn more if you’re interested. Religious history is a fascinating subject to study, no doubt.

What I will note is the number of gifts we believe were offered. Three.

Think about that for a minute. Jesus was being honored as a new-born King. He had been discussed in the scriptures by prophets, announced by a significant celestial event (referred to commonly as a New Star), protected by angels, and targeted by Kind Herod as a threat. He was kind of a Big Deal…and these visitors were not your average guests. They were wealthy, wise, and probably the equivalent of kings in their own regions. Yet, they offered only three simple gifts.

This is something I stress to my children each holiday season when their Wish Lists get longer and longer. I stole the idea from a dear friend many years ago, when she shared her family’s tradition of giving only three gifts to each of their children. “If it’s good enough for Christ, it’s certainly good enough for my kids,” she joked. But the thought has stuck with me as one that really makes sense.

Another friend shared a similar idea today on Pinterest, expanding the rule to Four Gifts (based on a blogpost by giventolove.com).

Image by Givetolove.com

In a world of excess, materialism, and a fierce desire to keep up with the Joneses, I hope you and your loved ones find a way to simplify this Christmas season and focus on the many, many gifts that really matter in your lives — including each other.

For today’s family activity, learn more about the Magi or wise men who traveled to find Jesus. Make the hand print picture shown above (originally found on SimplyCindyBlog.com).

Help your little ones play dress up using robes and dish towels to roleplay the wise men’s visit to Jesus. Discuss the importance of giving to others, and let toddlers “wrap” three “gifts” for Baby Jesus (have fun letting them chose various items around the house they think are special).

Older children can learn more about the nativity story and spend time looking at the stars tonight. Your family can learn about the traditional holiday calendar for Christians.

Advent – (11/28-12/24) Preparation for Christ’s arrival.
Christmas Eve – (12/24) The Night Before Christmas.
Christmas Day – (12/25) Celebration of the birth of Jesus.
The Twelve Days of Christmas – (12/25-1/5) Twelve days starting Christmas night until the day before Epiphany.

Epiphany – (1/6) Also known as Three Kings’ Day celebrates the visit of the Magi.

For more information about the religious reasons behind the Christmas holiday as well as a great list of links to helping kids understand these traditions, visit: http://kingskidstuff.com/christian/wise-men-epiphany/#comment-36439

Peace,

j

To Speak or Not to Speak

I’ve been quiet lately. It’s hard for those who know me best to believe it, but it’s true. In recent weeks, I’ve been blessed with a few spare moments of time to be alone. Not lonely. But alone. And it’s been an incredible gift.

I’ve had time to examine my life and my priorities, and I’ve had time to get to know myself again in a way I have missed for years. Most mothers are just like me. We run from one responsibility to the next, taking care of everyone and everything except ourselves. Not only had I been driving with my gas light on, my tank was beyond depleted. My engine had stalled, and it was time to make some hard choices. Some doors were closed. Some opened. And I ended up right where I needed to be.

Now, after catching up on peace and quiet and prayer and oh-so-sweet-and-sacred sleep…I feel rejuvenated and renewed. Physically. Emotionally. Spiritually.

The transition was complete yesterday. Our daughter was baptized and confirmed, and we all joined the church…our first time to make that committment since college years. While we have visited many and have even been very involved in some churches, we never took the jump. There was always something holding us back.

During the service yesterday, Claire Dobbs referenced St. Francis of Assisi with one of my favorite quotes. I thought I’d share it with you today, and then….I’ll go back to being quiet.

“Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” – Francis of Assisi