Winner of the American Christian Fiction Writer's Carol Award for Dauntless!!!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Can You Be Better than the Bible?

I have an odd question today. Can you be better than the Bible? I suppose most Christians would summarily respond "no, of course not." Yet often people's lives and theology seem to suggest that they secretly think yes. What is it with Christians trying to sanitize everything and pretty it up and make it nice? The Bible isn't always nice. Recently during our morning devotionals I read the scripture in Galatians where Paul suggests that the circumcision advocates go all the way and chop off a certain key body part. LOL. I looked at my thirteen-year-old son and said, "I guess Paul was throwing a bit of a temper tantrum." And as a popular facebook meme suggests, when asked, "What would Jesus do?"--throwing over tables is an option.

Here's the thing. The Bible is not always neat and pretty and tied up with a bow. Sometimes daughter-in-laws seduce father-in-laws. Prostitutes make it into the lineage of Jesus. Men who are said to be after God's own heart also commit adultery and murder. Prophets smear poop on things. Then there's the Song of Solomon, a rather erotic book that I sometimes wonder if Christian parents even allow their kids to read.

I recently saw a facebook post by a fellow author asking someone to explain to her why Ruth lay down at Boaz's feet. She said this seemed rather risky and risque, and of course twenty or so comments tried to explain why it wasn't. Eventually I couldn't take it any longer and replied, "I think it was risky and risque, and I think God has a message for us in that."

If the Bible is indeed (as we claim we believe) God's inspired Word to mankind, then we need to accept all of it, even when it's messy. And if it is indeed God's inspired Word, we can't be "better" than the behavior recommended in it. Of course I'm not talking about bad behavior of specific individuals, but rather the Bible's prescribed behavior, particularly in the New Testament. When we try to be better, nicer, more pure, and more sanitized than the Bible itself, what we actually are is out of balance.
For example, while certain aspects of life like drinking alcohol or dancing can in some cases lead to sinful behavior, the Bible never says that either of these are sinful. Still, some denominations of Christianity try to turn them into sins. If someone chooses not to drink alcohol, that can be a wise decision, but if they judge others and treat it like a sin, they're out of balance. When they contrive elaborate theologies of why the wine Jesus turned the water into wasn't really wine, they're out of balance. And when you're out of balance, another word for that is: WRONG!

Paul says it is for freedom we've been made free. Satan wants us bound, God wants us to feel free to enjoy life so long as we follow the Spirit and stay within certain general guidelines. Getting drunk is a sin. Drinking wine is allowed if you can do it with self-control. Dancing with an intentional goal of seducing anyone but your own spouse would reasonably seem to fall outside of those prescribed guidelines (although I don't think it's anyone's job to judge the motives of another persons heart), but dancing as worship is encouraged, and dancing to enjoy life and music and community is fine.

Or let's take kissing before marriage. The Bible never says it's wrong, yet some Christians today treat it like a sin, or a lack of purity. The Bible DOES say not to have sex outside of marriage, and yes, excessive and indiscriminate kissing could lead one down a wrong path. But that doesn't make kissing before marriage a sin. You can't just go around making up sins for expediency. The same goes for dating. Adult Christians should feel free to make those sorts of choices for themselves and not be judged by other Christians.

Again, remember that when we try to be better than the Bible, something is dangerously off course. I have an acquaintance who recently wrote a book called Courtship in Crisis about the problem's within the new Christian courtship movement. Here's my thoughts on the issue. When young men and women are taught to feel impure every time their bodies experience natural, God-ordained sensations, they are being set up for problems later on in their marriages. How are they supposed to magically retrain their minds in one brief ceremony to enjoy what has been causing them perpetual guilt and turmoil for years? Guilt and turmoil that the Bible doesn't require.

Feelings aren't sin. Physical sensations aren't sin. What we do with those feelings and sensations determine our sinfulness or righteousness. If we choose to revel in them and fantasize over them, or worse yet to dive into them, that is very different than experiencing them and then making good decisions concerning them. It's very different than saying, "Dear Father God, I'm having these feelings and don't know what to do with them. Please guide me through this situation."

And even when we make poor decisions, God is there to forgive and restore us.

Of course I realize that some of my readers are teens, and so I remind you that children are instructed by the Bible to obey their parents. That message is clear. And adult children must still show their parents honor and respect, but they must also make their own decisions before God and take responsibility for their own choices.

On the flip side, to parents and church leaders I would say this. I grew up in the church, and trust me, kids who grow up in the church have excellent "b.s." detectors. They know when the adults in their lives are giving them rules that go beyond the Bible. And all that serves to do is undermine their credibility. When people try to make rock music, black fingernails, blue hair, and the like into "sin," they risk pushing others away from the true gospel message of freedom, grace, and redemption.

Okay, I may have fallen into rambling a bit, but this has been niggling at me for a while. So here's what it all comes back to. Can you be better than the Bible? No. Not if you believe it's truly God's Holy Word, as we Christians claim to believe it is. So let's get real, authentic, maybe a little vulnerable. Let's stop living nice, safe, clean, pretty lives and not be afraid of the riskier existence of walking by the Spirit of God. Let's present a version of Christianity to the world that is not based on rules and limits, but on the immeasurable gift of God.

We can't be better than the Bible, we can only be out of balance. And out of balance is just plain wrong.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Me and Merry Olde England

I now have three published novels set in England, which probably raises the question, what is my experience with England? First of all, I feel like England is a big part of my heritage. Although in many ways I am the typical American "mutt," the majority of my roots are from the British Isles. I have ancestors from England, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. Altogether, those make up for well over half of my origins. I have a good dose of English blood on both my mother's and my father's side. Supposedly, I even have an English nobleman somewhere on my mother's side of the family. When I look back over time and imagine how my ancestors would have lived during the middle ages, I mostly think of England.

And although I can't afford research trips before writing my books (trust me, if I could I would be on a plane to England tomorrow!) I have in fact spent a summer in England. In 1990, when I was twenty years old, I went on an international mission trip to England with my Christian university. That might seem like an odd place for a mission trip, but Christianity has been on the decline in England for some time. And it was a great trip. We worked with an organization that did a lot of church planting and street ministry. I learned so much about how to evangelize and had many weeks to completely immerse myself in British culture. We worked with Brits all day, reached out to Brits, and slept in British homes most nights.

Taking the ferry to the Isle of White.

During my summer there we traveled around the country, spending time in London, Cambridge, Southampton, and the Isle of White. Although I did not have the opportunity to go very far north, I met people from all over England. One of my favorites was a guy named Ashley from Yorkshire. He had the most delectable accent, and we couldn't get enough of trying to copy it.

My team at the London Hard Rock Cafe

Although touring was not high on our priority list, we did get to walk throughout all those cities. We saw lots of old buildings, especially from the outside, and all the major sites like Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Piccadilly Circus, and London Bridge. We also visited a medieval church, which was definitely one of my highlights. Sadly, I don't have a picture of it, but I also loved these little canal boats the we road on.

As I searched through my old pictures, I found a surprising number featuring cute British guys. What can I say? I have a soft spot for both Brits and missionaries. This one also shows my favorite outfit that I purchased at a boutique in London. While most of my teammates were shopping at Laura Ashley (anyone remember those awful flowered, puffy dresses?) I found this very mod little number that I wore regularly for at least a decade. If you can tear your eyes away from the gentlemen in the background, you can see the outfit below in black and yellow.

So that's me and merry olde England. Have you ever been to England? What's the most interesting place you've ever visited?

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Sneakiest Sin

While writing Chivalrous, I had the challenge of taking the nearly perfect spiritual paragon, Allen of Ellsworth from Dauntless, and giving him a flaw that he needed to overcome. As I considered my options, I decided to go with that sneaky character issue that tends to creep in when someone, especially a Christian, is pretty much doing everything right: the sin of pride.

The truth is that we all need a savior, and none of us are good enough on our own. But many Christians fall into the trap of thinking that they have to do things through their own strength and self-determination. It's almost as if Christ saved them once, and it's been their job to save themselves every day since.

Allen was easy pickings for that spirit of pride to creep in due to his subtle issue of insecurity. He had been born and raised a peasant. He had been told that his place was to do nothing more than work the land, and that he would never be good enough for fine ladies such as Merry and Gwendolyn. So when he was offered more than he could have ever dreamed of, it was easy for him to become confused and put his pride and sense of duty before that still, small voice of God that had always led and guided him in the past.

I've noticed that a few reviewers that hadn't read Dauntless weren't sure if they liked Allen because of that pride. And not surprisingly most of them mentioned that they were not Christians. It's easy for Christians to overlook pride, but the truth is, it is very ugly to those outside of the faith. I think pride, judgmentalism, and hypocrisy are the three main downfalls among Christians that the enemy uses to drive people away from faith in Christ. That is why it was so important to me to include this issue in Chivalrous.

Fortunately, Allen overcomes his pride just in the nick of time. But if you think you've got your act all together and that you're an awesome Christian, watch out! None of us are perfect. We all need Christ, and if we start to think we can do it on our own, chances are that sneaky sin of pride has crept in.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Some Knight's Tale Fun

It probably won't surprise you to learn that one of my favorite movies is A Knight's Tale. Although it takes significant liberties with history, it's just so much fun! I admit I might have watched it a time or two while writing Chivalrous. Based on the ages of Chaucer and the Black Knight, this would have to be about 150 years after my story. The armor was different and many of the tournament rules were different. But I definitely got some ideas for how a tournament ground might have been set up, and I tried to pull some of the energy and excitement from the movie. Of course this was also blended with more scholarly research, reading other medieval novels, and my own trip to Medieval Times. Since my story was set in a fictional area, in the end I made up my own brand of tournament that fit the story.

I thought you might want to join in on some of the fun today.