Monday, December 08, 2008

Rebellion on Terra 5

Here's a story to you for Christmas. I was going through some of my old files and stumbled across this retelling of Mark 12:1-10. It was first published eight years ago this month and can now be found in my book Astonishing Tales. Merry Christmas. I pray this will be a season of hope and light for you and your family.

Rebellion on Terra 5

Ambassador Lansing gripped the throttle and jerked his ship back on course. The flight computers were off-line and he hadn’t flown manually since he was at the academy. To make matters worse, the ship had been heavily damaged in his escape.

C’mon! C’mon! You can make it!

Up ahead he saw Phoenix Station quickly approaching. It wouldn’t be long now.

C’mon, baby. Ease in there… Just a little further…

The rear thrusters finally disengaged and his pod began to slow down. He veered sharply toward the left side of Docking Bay 12-C7. He knew he was coming in way too fast, but he didn’t have a choice. Not this time.

No… It’s not right!… The trajectory is too steep!

Everything was getting foggy for the Ambassador. He’d lost too much blood. And he was so dizzy--dizziness was one of the symptoms of the Demarian Plague. He’d most certainly been infected. If only he could make it into the docking bay to deliver his message!

He heard the warning blaring from the com device near his ear, but it was too late. As the ship careened wildly to the side, everything seemed to blur together like a dream. Like a nightmare.

You’re not gonna make it! You’ve failed. The Emperor will lose the colonies…

The last thing he saw before his ship exploded in a flash of light was the metal exterior of the space station zooming toward him.


“Sir? Sir? Can you hear me?”

The man lying on the operating table blinked his eyes.

“Your majesty, I believe he’s coming to!” said Dr. Exeter, Phoenix Station’s chief physician. He leaned over Ambassador Lansing’s body, prodding gently at the artificial limbs he’d just attached.

The Emperor stepped forward. “Excellent. That’ll be all, doctor. You may leave us alone now.”

Dr. Exeter nodded, bowed twice, and quietly backed out of the room.

“What? Where am I?” mumbled the Ambassador. “What happened?”

“We pulled you from a nasty wreck, my friend. But the good doctor found enough of you to piece back together...” The Emperor smiled. “By the way, you dented my space station, Ambassador.”

The man on the table closed his eyes. “My life for my mistake, your majesty.”

“No, no. I forgive you...” The Emperor leaned close and lowered his voice to a whisper. “Now, tell me about those burns on your leg and how your right foot came to be severed from your body… It wasn’t from the wreck was it?”

There was a long and uncomfortable silence.


“No, sir. It wasn’t from the wreck. I was tortured. It was the rebels.”

The Emperor’s eyes narrowed. “The rebels did this to you? To my personal representative!”

“Yes, sir. They refused to listen to anything I had to say. And they wouldn’t hand over the antitoxin. They’re trying to keep it all to themselves, sir.”

“And what about the others--Ambassador Lege? Dr. Akersby? Sir Magel, the Honorable Envoy from Nebus?”

“Dead, sir. I was the only one to escape… I had to gnaw off my thumbs to twist my hands out of the shackles.”

The Emperor turned on his heels. “You serve me well and you will be rewarded for your loyalty. We’ll speak again soon. For now, rest. I have much to think about. I need to speak with my counselor.”

Ambassador Lansing bent his head slightly and glanced at his new thumbs. Better than the originals… he thought, as the dizziness returned. And then he was asleep again.


Four earth hours later he awoke in a hoverchair. Dr. Exeter was guiding him down the corridor toward the Emperor’s High Chamber. Counselor Pax and the Emperor’s son, Lucan, were already assembled in the council room. The Emperor motioned for them to sit down. Then he turned toward Ambassador Lansing. “Thank you for joining us on such short notice, Ambassador. Could you give us a status report of the rebellion on Terra 5?”

“Of course, sir,” he propped himself up with his arms and addressed the three dignitaries. “The rebels have taken control of the plantations that produce the antitoxin for Demarian Plague--” He glanced at Dr. Exeter.

The doctor looked grim as he added to the Ambassador’s report. “As you all know, it’s highly contagious and… quite fatal, I’m afraid. Everyone in the Terra System has been exposed.”

Ambassador Lansing swallowed hard. That “everyone” included him. He cleared his throat and continued. “They’ve refused to turn over the antitoxin. Every messenger that’s been sent has been killed or tortured... As I see it, your majesty, we have only one choice...” There really was only one option left--send in a squadron of Elite Force soldiers. Annihilate the rebels, seize the antitoxin, and then distribute it throughout the colonies.

But before he could propose this, Counselor Pax cleared his throat. “I suggest you send in Prince Lucan.”

“What?” roared the Emperor. “My son? My only son! You propose I send the one I love more than anyone else to those murderous rebels!”

Prince Lucan stepped forward. “I’m glad to go, Dad. The antitoxin can save whole worlds. Billions of people--your people. I’d gladly lay down my life for them–”

Counselor Pax spoke up again. “Certainly the rebels will respect your only son, sir. And then this entire incident can be resolved peacefully. They wouldn’t dare attack the son of their Emperor. Lucan will arrive in an unarmed ship. No weapons. Bringing only your undeserved offer of mercy.”

The Emperor gazed around the room. “What do you think, Ambassador?”

Ambassador Lansing shook his head. “Sir, I don’t see the wisdom in it. Knowing the rebels, they’ll try to assassinate your son. They’ll reason that if they can kill the heir to the throne, the entire galaxy will be theirs. I suggest an Elite Force offensive, instead.”

Everyone stared at the Emperor awaiting his command. A long moment passed. Then another. “Thank you Ambassador. Your suggestion is duly noted. But this time I must go with Counselor’ Pax’s proposal.” He drew a deep breath, and, despite himself, the Emperor clenched his fists in intensity. “But if they lay a hand on Lucan, I will bring them all to a wretched end. By peace or by force, the antitoxin will be taken from them and entrusted to those who’ll share it willingly with others, rather than keep it only to themselves.”

Ambassador Lansing couldn’t believe it. This is unheard of! Never has an Emperor allowed his only son to enter enemy territory in the middle of an uprising! He could be captured! Or even killed!

“When shall I leave father?”

“At once. Time is of the essence.”

“But, your majesty!” blurted the Ambassador. “It’s a suicide mission!”

“Perhaps,” said the Emperor. “But love will prevail in the end. It’s the only way to save the planet. It’s the only way to save… you.”

Prince Lucan turned toward the Ambassador. “I’ll be back,” he said, laying his hand on the Ambassador’s shoulder. “And I will bring you the antitoxin. I promise.”

Then Lucan nodded to his father and the others, removed his royal sash and robes, laid his weapons on the table, and left the room to save Terra 5.

From itself.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Being Loved Forever

Recently I spoke in Florida and North Carolina and mentioned Ephesians 1:4-5, then on Tuesday evening our small group Bible study ended up studying the same verses. So, since I don’t believe in coincidences, here are the verses and a few thoughts for you:

“Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.”

Paul is writing to Christians, and it strikes me that even before God made the world he was in love with me. He was thinking of me. And that his unchanging plan all through the ages has been to bring me into his family. That was God’s dream, and it brought him joy. (The symbol above is the symbol for eternity. I thought that would be apropos for this post.)

As I consider these things, it strikes me how silly it is to walk around trying to affirm myself like the pop psychologists suggest—"I’m a good person. I can feel good about myself. I should have high self esteem. I am capable and unique."

If God himself has been in love with me for an eternity, and dreaming of adopting me into his family, what greater sense of acceptance, belonging and love could I ask for?

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Heartbeat of the Universe

I've been teaching this week at a novel writing retreat in North Carolina. As I've been thinking about writing and art and truth, I've been reflecting on mystery as well, and how our relationship with mystery affects our relationship with God.

I think that theology is the greatest threat to spiritual pilgrims when it becomes the game of defining God and gets in the way of letting God define us. In one of the great ironies of faith, the more we try to pin God down, the less spiritual we become.

God doesn’t want us to be comfortable analyzing, categorizing and theorizing about him. Jesus shatters us the moment we try to make him reasonable. He refuses to become our pet. He must be our master or our nothing at all.

Yet when it comes to getting to know God, for some reason Christians all too often try to break him down into bite-sized pieces that fit neatly into one-page doctrinal statements and three-point sermons. We call it Systematic Theology, but the problem is, theology isn’t systematic. It’s narrative. God isn’t a subject to be studied, he’s a Person to be encountered. And we get to know people (and God) best by listening to their stories not by reading their resumes.

I guess that’s why the Bible is the story of God and not the lesson about God. The minute we try to draw lines through the story to explain it all in easy-to-digest morsels, it unravels. You can never experience the full flavor of a story by dissecting it, only by devouring it with the wide-open mouth of your soul. God isn’t an algebra problem to be solved. He is the heartbeat of the universe.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Become a Victim Contest - July 31, 2008 Book Release Event for The Rook

Just a quick note and in the next post I’ll jump back into the competition conversation.

July 31, 2008, is our official Book Launch Party for The Rook, which will be released at bookstores nationwide on 08.01.08.

The event is in Johnson City, TN, from 7:00 - 9:00 p.m. at the Oasis Coffee House (call 800.527.8679 for directions). Free munchies, souvenirs, and discounted signed books.

At 8:00 p.m. we’ll be having a “Become a Victim” drawing. If you’re present, you can sign up and if we choose your name, I’ll write you into my next thriller and kill you off. It’s your one chance to get murdered and then live to read about it.

It should be a blast. If you’re anywhere in the area, please stop by.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Competition Revisited

I’ve had some good discussions about competition with friends over the last few weeks and I’ve come to realize that many people confuse competition with participation. People might say, “Yes, OK we’re not supposed to try and put ourselves above other people, but what about just having fun… or doing your best… or trying your hardest… or getting some exercise… etc.”

To participate is not the same as to compete. For example, if I take a friend canoeing, we have to work together to have a successful trip. We accomplish a mutual goal. If we were to enter a canoe race, now we have entered the realm of self-promotion.

I should mention that a few weeks ago prior to the Christy awards, my Bible study small group asked what they could pray for me about and, even though I wanted to ask that I would win, I remembered this discussion on the blog and said, “Pray that it wouldn't’ matter to me one way or the other.”

As it turns out, I didn’t win and the prayer worked--mostly. I still wanted to win, but found more peace with it than I would have.

So on closing, here are the two questions I’ve been asking myself:

1) Why do I desire first place?
2) Does the desire to place myself above another person (in honor or position) promote humility?

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Bare-Naked Prayers

Sorry to drop off the radar screen for the last two weeks. I was working on completing my next non-fiction book, Bare-Naked Prayers. I just sent it in last night and over the next couple months, I will be dropping some of the prayers in here in the blog. In my next post, we’ll get back to competition. I have some new thoughts to share. Until then, here’s one of the prayers that will be included in my new book:

O Wind of Truth,
O Breath of Comfort,
O Spirit of the Living God,
you have sought me through
time and space
Captured, enraptured me with your love.
Now the earth chains lay heavy
around my feet.
What else can I do?
I blossom at your touch.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Sleeping with My Basketball

I’ve been thinking about competition this week and I should mention that it isn’t the first time I’ve really considered the implications of participating in events in which my success depends on your failure and your success depends on mine.

If you ever read my book How to Smell Like God, you may remember my story of striving for success in high school basketball. To this day I’ve never met anyone who was more competitive than I was in high school: I kept track of every minute I practiced over the summers, averaging more than three hours a day between my freshman and junior years. That means if I missed a day, I would practice six hours the next.

If I missed two days for a family event, I would have to practice five hours a day over the next three days. Also, I slept holding my basketball for four years so that I would be holding it eight hours a day longer than my competitor. It was my life.

I told all of this to a girl I was hoping to date in college and she said, “Steve, let me ask you something.”


“What was your god in high school?”

That question was one of the steps that led me from being a churchgoer to being a believer in Christ.

After becoming a Christian I realized I’m supposed to seek the good of others, love them, serve them, and seek humility rather than honor (see Matthew 23:6-12).

Since then, I’ve been asking myself a question that I’ve found over the years few other Christians seem to ask themselves when it comes to competitive events, and the more I honestly answer it, the more I’ve changed the way I view competition.

Try asking it of yourself and see where the answer leads. Here it is: How can I love, serve and honor someone above myself whom I am wholeheartedly trying to defeat?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, June 20, 2008

You Can't Spell Competition without "Self"

This last week I was speaking at a camp for about 1300 preteens. The students and staff were great, but one aspect of the program really struck me this morning and got me thinking.

The staff had a contest to see which group of children had the most spirit (not the spiritual kind, the excitement kind). As you can imagine the children went wild and the ones who won at the end of the week went crazy.

When they announced the winning group and I saw the excitement of the winners I realized that the best way to motivate people is to appeal to self-promotion.

It isn’t just at camp, and it isn’t just for kids. Every sporting event appeals to self-promotion—you’re trying to win, which means you’re trying to place yourself above another person. Commerce and capitalism appeal to self-promotion—the harder you work the more you benefit at the expense of others (although we typically don’t put it so bluntly). Every time I encourage someone to have me come speak, or to buy one of my books, or to read my blog instead of someone else’s, I’m promoting myself.

In fact, this appeal to self-promotion is so pervasive in our society that we’re like fish who don’t notice that they’re underwater. If you want to get someone to do something, have them compete with someone else.

And then Jesus comes along and tells us that to be great, we need to serve other people's interests instead (see Matthew 20:24-27). And Paul wrote, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others," (Philippians 2:3-4).

Imagine what our world would look like if we weren’t constantly trying to put ourselves above other people.

I can’t even picture what that would look like.

So here are my two questions: If I’m supposed to follow Paul’s advice and do nothing out of selfish ambition, should I ever compete with others? If I can still compete, how would following his advice change how I do so in the different areas of my life?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Thinking About the Story

Great comments for the last posting. If you haven't read them, scroll through them. See what you think.

I added discussion questions for my book Story: Recapture the Mystery in the sidebar on the right. (I realize how lengthy the list is, but it was meant to cover the whole book. Just scroll through the questions, and think about any that catch your eye.) Even if you haven't read the book, I'd love to hear any responses to the questions. Some, I believe, are quite challenging and thought-provoking.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Benefits of Author Shopping

More than once I've heard sermons on how we shouldn’t sample different churches, like sampling appetizers, floating from one church to the next, trying to find out what makes us comfortable or what’s good for our personality. In fact I can’t think of a time I’ve ever heard a pastor refer to ‘church shopping’ in a positive light.

I understand the need for a commited community of believers as well as for churches to faithfully teach God’s Word and the mystery of salvation in Christ rather than pandering to public opninon, but I believe sampling different churches can be one of the most helpful things in your spiritual life. Many denominations are ingrown and the members don’t have a broad perspective of the Christian community and the way that their brothers and sisters worship.

Making someone feel guilty or unspiritual for trying different churches on for size would be like asking someone, “Do you still read Steven James’s books?”

“No, they don’t really speak to me anymore. I’m trying out some other authors for awhile.”

“What?! You’re author shopping? But reading’s not supposed to be about you, it’s supposed to be about God!”

“I know, but Steven James’s style doesn’t really connect with me.”

“You don’t go to a book to get something out of it, but to give something into it!”

“But he’s boring. I fall asleep reading him.”

“You're not supposed to go to a book to be entertained, that's not what reading is all about!”

“But really, the only reason I’m reading him is my parents read him to me as a kid. Are you saying once my parents introduce me to one author, I can’t switch?”

“You need to be faithful to your local authors. It shows a lack of commitment when you just start jumping around from one to the other.”

“Oh. I see. Well you know what? Then I think I might just give up reading for a while. If that’s how it’s going to be.”


Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Doubt and Faith

I’ve been thinking about Christianity and belief lately. Here are two thoughts: First, in Romans 10:9 (NIV), Paul wrote, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

So, God doesn’t say, “If you are happy all the time,” or “If you obey me all the time,” or “If you never have doubts or questions or heartache. . . then you will be saved.” It gives me reassurance to know that even if we have come to God with the wrong motives, or let the right ones slip away, he does not forget us or condemn us for that. He continues to love us and invite us closer to him.

Second, I just watched a very engaging debate between Christian philosopher Alister McGrath and atheist author Christopher Hitchens at Georgetown University. You can watch it for free online and I think you'll enjoy the issues brought up.

Personally, I was surprised by the presentations the two men made. You can decide for yourself who answers the questions more cogently. It's about an hour and forty minutes long (but you can watch as much or as little as you like). Very much worth the time.

After watching the debate, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Groaning to God

Continuing the last post, here are some more thoughts on prayer.

Tell God your secrets. Show him your shame. Shout out his praises. Beg for his presence. Bring him your questions. God cares about the details of your life. Nothing is too big for him to handle, and nothing is too small for him to be concerned about.

Let joy dance on the edge of your heart. And when you need to give voice to your pain, don’t worry if you don’t know the right words to say. Open your heart up to God and his Spirit will do the rest, “And the Holy Spirit helps us in our distress. For we don’t even know what we should pray for, nor how we should pray. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will,” (Romans 8:26-27).

If the Holy Spirit himself groans when he prays, why are we so concerned with sounding articulate and eloquent to God? We don’t need the right words. We just need the right attitude.

Prayer is the process of shedding our lies, our masks, and our inhibitions, and standing in God’s presence as we really are--neither proud nor ashamed, simply accepted and loved and heard.

That’s how Job prayed. That’s how David prayed. That’s how Paul prayed. That’s how Jesus prayed. And that’s how we need to pray.

For then, in the midst of the turmoil, suddenly, taking us by surprise, comes the calm that we longed for. Peace within the storm. Within ourselves. Peace and comfort from the hand of the Spirit. A calmness and stillness that we wouldn’t have noticed unless it was surrounded by the gusts of hardship and sheets of slanted, cleansing rain that we call prayer.

God dwells there. Where all of life is sacred. All of life is worship. And where every moment can be spent dwelling in the center of a prayer.

Prayers with Teeth

A few weeks ago I pulled out a project I'd shelved for two years. It's a collection of prayers that I'm writing, so I thought I'd spend the next two posts sharing some of my thoughts on prayer.


Let’s be done with these tidy, packaged, sacred-sounding speeches once and for all. Real prayers are unvarnished. They’re not soft, cuddly little kittens. They’re more like thunderstorms, windy and ragged.

They flash with insight and rumble with complaints. Wet and soggy sometimes, but opening to rainbows at the end. Real prayers express inspiration and drudgery. Fear and glory. Joy and praise and roaring truth. With God in the middle and all around.

Real prayers are not flimsy and weak, but big and round and bold. They don’t worm their way into heaven, they pound on the door and knock it down. A thousand volumes of dull, timid, pale, lifeless prayers will never move the heart of God like a single sentence exploding from the honest places of your life.

“How could you let this happen!” we scream into the unknown.
“Why, God?” we weep in our loneliness.
“Are you there?” we shout, shaking our fists at heaven. “Are you even listening to me!”
“I failed you, God. I don’t deserve your love,” we mouth, afraid to even speak the words aloud.
“So you are real. And I am so small,” we whisper in a moment of revelation.
“God, show me your mercy,” we beg, “I’m so, so sorry for what I’ve done....”
“God, can I be completely honest with you....”

Those kind of prayers have teeth. And guts. And heart.

Sometimes we throw our hands up in wonder. Other times we weep and pound the table. We’re broken. We’re angry. We’re amazed. We’re lonely. We’re inspired.

And we’re changed. Something happens during the storm. We’re washed clean again, shocked by the cold, but thankful for the reality of being alive in the middle of his love.

You can’t escape the raw experiences of life when you’re standing in the middle of the storm. Real prayers ache with the truth and pour from your heart with anger and agony and awe.

That’s why prayers, true prayers, reveal both God and ourselves. We stand naked and honest before him and become clothed and real. No more masks in the storm. No more gentle, rational excuses piled on top of each other like coats of paint; each trying its best to conceal the wood. Prayers scrape us clean and bare before God, where we can finally rest as calm and unashamed as a child in the arms of her father. In the arms of our Father. Who wipes every tear from our eyes.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Good News from Christy

Just a quick note I want to share with everyone. Last week we found out The Pawn is one of the three finalists in the suspense category for the Christy awards, which is the top award given out to a novel published by a Christian publishing company.

I share this because in our conversations over the last few posts, we’ve been exploring art, faith and writing. I’m encouraged that The Pawn is a finalist, not just because I wrote it, but because it shows me those evaluating the novels are moving away from agenda driven stories that are really sermons in disguise toward books that are written from a Christian worldview that are not necessarily moralistic or didactic.

Check out the list of all the Christy finalists by clicking here.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Dropping Formulaic Prayers

So often when I pray I end up in the "God, I praise you for..." or "God, please help me..." or "God, I'm sorry for..." trap. But then the other day I realized that when I talk to my friends, even though I might compliment them or ask for help or apologize for something, I also do a lot more. In fact, if all I did were those three things, I can't see how our friendship could really grow very deep.

My friends and I talk about what's on our minds. Sometimes we laugh or complain or remember good times together. And sometimes we don't talk at all all, we just hang out.

So, since I want my friendship with God to grow deeper, I've started trying to relate to him in a more balanced way. Rather than getting caught up in my typical formulaic prayers, I've started talking to him about the dreams I have, the stuff that frustrates me, the things I'm struggling with or concerned about and where I'm hurting and what I'm hoping for and what I'm thinking or planning or remembering.

Think about it for a few minutes. Let us know some of the ways you connect with your friends that we could add to the spectrum of ways we communicate with God.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Non-Christian Fiction of Jesus

As I've been considering all the great comments people have left over the last few posts on art, story, and spirituality, I started thinking about Jesus. After all, he didn't teach the crowds anything without telling them stories (Mark 4:33-34).

And the stories he told weren’t warm-n-fuzzy, feely-good fairy tales where everyone lived happily ever after (or where everyone got saved). In his stories people got beat up, imprisoned, tortured, killed and even sliced into little pieces. The good guy sometimes lost. Hard work didn’t always pay off.

Some of his stories are downright chilling, haunting even--like the one about the demons who slipped back into a careless person after a successful exorcism, or about the people being left out of the party and trapped in the darkness forever, weeping and gnashing their teeth.

And although his stories carried strong messages, almost none of his stories were overtly religious.

So here's the irony: by today's standards, a good number of Jesus' stories (maybe even the majority of them) wouldn't be considered Christian fiction.

If we need to label a story 'Christian' let's use the term to refer to stories that tell the truth about the world, not just ones that have ' little objectionable content' or 'good family values' (whatever those are).

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Paradox of Art

All art, by its very nature, comes from some sort of moral grounding, some view about the world. Some novelists write from the perspective that life is ultimatly meaningless, that in the end, our choices don't matter. These are the depressing stories.

And they are partially right.

Other writers come from the perspective that we should pursue our dreams, follow our hearts and shape a new destiny for ourselves. These are the Disney-ending authors.

And they are partially right.

Art that speaks the truth about the world and about the human condition doesn't compromise and land in the middle between despair and puerile optimism, but embraces them both and expands on them.

It's true that life is meaningless--without God. And that should be a truth that is explored in fiction, but it's not the whole truth and so it can be misleading. It is also true that life is glorious and the future holds promise, but only because of God's dreams and the destiny he offers. The way I understand the Christian message, we shouldn't follow our hearts, because they are deceitful. And we shouldn't pursue our dreams, but rather tune in to God's.

And we shouldn't give up hope, because the best is yet to come.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Agenda-driven novels

Following up on my last post, I thought I’d mention that last week I had a cup of coffee with Paul McCusker and he shared some of the same frustrations that (apparently) most of us do.

He said that in his seminars he'll ask people, “How many of you like agenda-driven fiction? For example, gay and lesbian fiction, or pro-abortion fiction?" (I might add, 'or fiction that slams religion, such as The Golden Compass series?') He said that nearly everyone will reply that they can't stand agenda-driven fiction, and then he’ll say, “That’s how people react when they read so-called ‘Christian fiction.’”

It makes sense to me. I saw a movie a few years ago called The Life of David Gale. The movie was basically anti-death penalty propaganda and, despite some fine acting, I was totally turned off from the movie. (This has nothing to do with my views about the death penalty, only my view about art.)

So here’s my question: What novels have you read (or movies have you seen) that have approached sensitive topics honestly and well; what agenda-driven novels (or movies) would you like to unrecommend for the rest of us?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Excusing Mediocrity

First of all, thanks for all the great comments over the last few postings. I’m so impressed by the depth of insight and the lively discussions.

Last week I spoke at a scriptwriting conference in North Carolina and then at a writer’s conference in Delaware so I’ve had writing on my brain. Both events were for Christian writers and at both of them I made a comment that several of my writer friends took offense at. Here it is, I’ll be interested to read your responses:

“How many times have you talked to people and they say, ‘I don’t read to so many Christian novels, or novels by Christian publishers; mostly I just read ones by secular publishers.” And when you ask them why they’ll say, ‘Well, the Christian ones aren’t that well written. They’re like sermons in disguise.’”

Then I said, “It’s our job to change that around so that people say they prefer the novels by Christian publishers and when you ask them why they say, “Well, it’s obvious. They’re just so much better written.”

All too often Christians excuse mediocre art by explaining that it’s Christian. I think we should be producing art that reflects the excellence of the Creator, not agenda-driven writing that causes us to be marginalized.

Monday, April 07, 2008

A Brief Conversation

"The idea that God is everywhere, all the time, is either the most comforting or the most unsettling teaching of all."

"So, let me guess: the only difference is whether or not he's on your side."

"No. He's already on your side. The only difference is whether or not you're on his."

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Finding Your Place in the Story

Well, last week I took a break from blogging to go rock climbing and to rehearse my part in our church's rather unique Easter presentation last weekend. To say it’s not your typical Easter service would be an understatement. The service was based on my book Story: Recapture the Mystery, and I hope you’ll check it out and let me know what you think. Click here to watch.

P.S. I appear twice. Once in a role that suits me well, another in a role I was assigned when I missed one of the rehearsals. (Isn't that the way it always goes?) See if you can find me both times...

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Building the Church

In light of all the thoughtful comments from the last two posts, I thought I’d stir up the pot a little more.

Many churches raise money for building campaigns; the church I attend is doing so right now. And I’m conflicted, because, while I understand the need to minister to the growing needs of a congregation, I’m not convinced church buildings are the way to do that. After all, there’s no command in the New Testament to build a church.

I'm not interested in bashing any pastor, but I remember watching a TV special when Lakewood Church opened and Pastor Joel Osteen announced that they had just spent $90 million renovating the arena (I think it’s the Houston Astrodome) for their weekly services. As I watched, I remember thinking, What would it be like to have a building campaign to do something Jesus actually told us to do, like raising $90 million to care for the poor, or serve the homeless, or minister to those in prison, or clothe the needy, or help to the sick, rather than renovate an arena so that you can worship more comfortably? What would that be like?

Imagine that.

A church holding a development campaign to do something Jesus actually asked us to do. Imagine a church raising $90 million to feed the poor instead of carpeting the aisles and buying more video cameras.

How does that sound?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Countering Culture

The comments from the last post got me thinking about the question that's been gnawing away at me for the last couple years. Here it is: What does a follower of Jesus look like in an affluent society?

Here's what I'm getting at:

• I’m becoming convinced that Christianity is not what it appears to be in mainstream America. We don’t make choices that resemble those of believers throughout the world or in the early Christian church. We look and live pretty much just like the rest of society. Why? What have we lost? How can we regain a true passion for knowing and following God?

• Most people (including Christians) in American society spend their lives working in a job they don’t like, for a boss they don’t respect, with people they don’t get along with, to earn money to buy stuff that they don’t even need. And if they do this long enough we call them a success. Self-indulgence, materialism, greed are giant blind spots in American Christianity. How can we reshape our attitudes and lives, in the midst of a materialistic and consumer-driven culture, to reflect the beauty, truth, modesty, wonder and glory of living as children of the King?


Thursday, March 06, 2008

Secrets to Modern Ministry

OK, I admit I'm feeling a little cynical today, but here goes. Let me know if you think I went a little too far.

To encourage people to give to your church, be sure to put their names on a plaque, or a chair, or a brick in the new building. Forget what Jesus taught in Matthew 6:3-4 when he said, “But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.” He didn’t really mean that. He really meant: Make sure you get your name on a shiny little gold plate on a wall or a brick so people can feel good about your philanthropy.

Always, always have little blanks to fill in on your church bulletins. Don’t worry, adults won’t feel insulted to have you read them the answers. They enjoyed it in second grade and they'll enjoy it now. Besides, they aren’t really smart enough to come up with their own way of taking notes so it’s much better if you spoon-feed them the answers.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Discourse of Comfort

Comfort spoke to me.

“I'm a gentle goddess,” she said. “I would never ask to control you, but want only to set you free. Isn't that what you want? What all men want? The end of the struggle and the beginning of ease?"

And I had to agree with her. Most of my dreams and my plans and my choices were rooted in the idea of and desire for more comfort.

“I'm not like the other gods,” she said. “I'm not like the gods of anger or justice or mercy or jealousy. I make no demands of you. I'm here to meet your needs and fulfill your dreams, not to ask you to fulfill mine. I require no service of you. No worship. No fire. I serve you, instead."

The words of Comfort stirred me and moved me toward myself with their enticements.

“I'm an easy goddess to honor. Some gods try to wake you up with conviction or conversion or contrition, but I’m most satisfied when you’re asleep in my arms. When you make your choices, don’t ask yourself what I might desire, but only what you would desire of me. For I give you my all. And I’m here to meet all your desires, not just your needs.”

Comfort reached her hand to me and I took it. For she was lovely to behold and her smile encircled my heart. We moved toward each other in a lover’s embrace.

“Lean on me. Come to me. Set down your cross and take my hand. My road is easy and the path is smooth and every step is more relief from the harsh load of other gods."

She led me to her chambers.

“Throw away your yokes, for I seek to remove them one and all. And in your dreams, don't think of other worlds, but of this one. You deserve all that this moment can offer, all that I can give. I'll shield you from suffering, close you off from pain, and protect you from any cruel thoughts of grief or death.”

I smelled her perfume as she leaned her body against mine. Then Comfort guided me toward her bed. And our lips met and I found in her kisses, the soothing and unhurried promises of ease.

“I'm a pillow for your head and shoes for your feet and gloves for your hands. I protect you and soothe you as you move from one moment to the next. I whisper to you; hear my voice! I'm the goddess of today and the moments within it. And I gently cradle all my children, singing them to sleep in my arms.”

And that’s when I saw the chains hanging from her wrists and the shackles hidden in her bed.

So I ran from her. I fled from her and limped away from her side. And since that night I’ve been careful not to return to her arms.

Yet, my heart is still beating with desire. And her perfume still lingers on my lips.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Spirit of Nature

While I was reading the Bible this morning I noticed Psalm 104. The anonymous author spends most of the first half of his poem talking about the wonders of the earth and the interplay of all creation--from the creation of our planet, to the seas and the mountains, to the birds and grass and cattle and plants that produce olive oil, bread and wine (that he mentions, to all my teetotaling friends, “gladdens the heart of man”). Then he highlights the moon and the sun and the game of tag between day and night.

In verse 24 he writes: “How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.” He mentions that the creatures look to God for their food, and need God’s provision to survive. But what struck me most was verse 30: “When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.”

God didn’t just spend six days creating the earth and all that lives on it.

He spends every day doing it.

That got me thinking about the whole concept of “nature” and “the natural world.” How natural is it, if God’s Spirit is what gives life to all things?

I decided to look up the word “nature” and found out that it comes from a French word nature in the 1300s that means “creative power in the material world,” which comes from the Latin word natura which literally means “birth” or, the verb form, “to give birth.”


So I guess I do believe there’s such a thing as nature. And it’s evidenced by the touching of God’s life-giving Spirit on every leaf that buds, every bird that hatches, every newborn animal and planet that awakens to the light of day.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Becoming a Calf Again

So recently I was going through a rough time and I was praying to God, whining like we sometimes do, telling him, “Oh, God! People tell me I have to sacrifice for you, people tell me I have to give up something in this situation, but the only thing that keeps coming to mind is my happiness. Do you really want me to give up my happiness?”

Now, I should mention that God doesn’t normally speak to me--at least not like someone on a loudspeaker at a baseball stadium, but sometimes I do hear his voice whispering to me, telling me things I would never have thought of on my own. Jesus said that his sheep hear his voice, and this was one of those times when the Shepherd spoke, because when I said, “Do you really want me to give up my happiness?” God said to me, “Are you willing to give up your unhappiness?”

So I decided to try again, “But God, sometimes it feels like disappointment is the default setting for my life!”

And he said to me, “Would you be willing to let it be joy?”

Why does he have to do that to me.

I haven’t heard much from God since praying those things, probably because he’s still waiting for my answer. Am I willing to let go of unhappiness and disappointment, and simply accept the gift of joy?

Well, sometimes yes. Sometimes no.

When I was considering all this one day, I stumbled across a Bible verse tucked in the corners of the Old Testament: “But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall,” (Malachi 4:2 NIV).

A rising sun with healing wings. Freedom. And a wide open pasture. That’s what I need more of.

So lately I’ve been praying that God will help me to stop letting my failures make me feel guilty, and just let my weaknesses make me humble. I’m praying that he’ll help me focus not on the times I’ve let him down, but on the ways he has lifted me up. To default to his promises rather than my circumstances.

To give up my unhappiness.

To let joy back in.

And to run in the open-gated fields of his love once again.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Riddle of Temptation

“Oh, wise Teacher!” called the students. “Speak to us of Temptation!”

“What do you know of it already?” he asked.

“I know it’s like an avalanche,” said one of the students. “Starting with only a small snowflake and burying the person in cold death.”

“Some temptation,” said the Teacher. “But not all.”

“Then it’s a piece of driftwood caught in a current. And the driftwood doesn’t notice it’s moving at all until it has been carried far downstream,” said another student.

“Yes, that is true of some temptation. But only of some.”

“But what of all temptation?” they cried.

“All temptation looks as the rose, with promises sweet and fragrant, and they are beautiful to touch, but once plucked, the thorns on the stem wound the picker of the rose. Yet every day, the person returns to pick another rose, and is wounded once again by its thorns.”

“But why would the picker not stop picking roses?” asked the students.

“Because the rose remains beautiful, even through the pain,” said the Teacher.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Tuning the Instrument

Often in my writing seminars I'll talk about how the imagination is the instrument of the writer. And how, the more we hone and enhance our ability to think clearly, to visit worlds that only we can see, to make the jump from the visible to the invisible, we are tuning the instrument.

There's an old story about an archer who was giving a monk a hard time because he would take so many breaks walking in the mountains. "Sir," said the Monk, "please pull back your bow." The archer did and the monk told him to hold it... hold it... hold it... until the archer said at last, "But if I leave tension in my bow all the time, it will break."

"Precisely," said the Monk.

Sometimes the best way to grow a mature imagination is to give one part of your brain a break while you engage another. So the next time you take the afternoon off to watch a movie and someone gives you a hard time just tell them, "Hey, I'm just tuning the instrument, baby. Just tuning the instrument.

Now, time to get back to watching Babel, the movie I paused ten minutes ago so I could write this.

See? It works.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Sleeping Beauty

It wasn’t until my daughter became a teenager that I realized “Sleeping Beauty” is not a fairy tale. The princess didn’t sleep for a hundred years because of a curse, it’s just that her alarm clock didn’t go off.

Today I was tempted to see if my daughter could break her record, but then I realized I’d miss all the wonderful joys of watching her grow up, get married, have kids of her own, and then try to get them up at 6:30 a.m. for school.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Painted Veil

Last night I watched The Painted Veil (2006, starring Naomi Watts and Edward Norton). Wow. It's a stunning film. The story, based on a novel by W. Somerset Maugham, takes place during a cholera epidemic in 1925 China, but it’s a timeless story and, with the outbreak of infectious disease angle, the film feels remarkably current. The cinematography and acting are superb and apart from some clunky editing the movie is altogether brilliant.

But what makes the film so striking to me is its honesty about life. The characters are flawed but real, multi-dimensional and struggling with misconceptions about others, a deep need to love and be loved, and a quiet urge to live a life that matters.

Watch this movie but don’t study it. Let it draw you in and wrap you up in its moments--both the painful ones and the redemptive ones. It does all that we could ask of a film: it entertains us as it reveals to us what being human really means.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Road to Siloam

So, I heard them talking.

I heard what they were saying and I’m wondering if maybe it’s true. It might be--that I’m this way because God is punishing me. Either for something my parents did or something I did. Or was going to do.

Or something I’m doing right now.

So maybe they’re right.

But he told them no, that a bigger reason was at work, and I wondered if his hint was a riddle or a promise. Then he touched me. With mud on my eyes and strong words in my ears, “Go to the Pool of Siloam,” he said. “And wash.”

And so I left him. In the darkness I’ve always known, I left him. And now I’m on the road wondering why.

The people around me, the ones I’ve been asking for directions, they tell me I’m close. The pool is just up ahead.

I took the first few steps full of raw excitement. I really hoped he could do something for me no one else could ever do, but eventually, with more steps came more doubt. Maybe this was all just another joke that those with eyes to see were playing on me. All a game to mock the man born blind.

So why am I still walking? I’m not sure. The trip has become something of an obligation. A way of going through the motions so that those who heard his words won’t ask me, “So why didn’t you go all the way? You never know. He might have actually opened your eyes.”

I can hear the splashing water. The pool is just ahead.

Something will happen when I wash my eyes. Either my infant hope will die forever, or a new kind of life will be born.

They tell me I’ve arrived. The pool is at my feet.

I bend down.

I’m not proud of the trip, my doubts, my weak efforts to hold onto the faith I first had in his words. But now I’m here.

My fingers tremble as I reach forward and feel the cool water swirling, swirling right in front of me.

Either simple water. Or a mystery as deep as my past. All I need to do is wash. That’s what he told me to do.

I don’t know what’ll happen.

As I lean forward I feel a flicker of fear that I’ve made the journey for nothing.

And so now, my hope and doubt mix together into a fumbling prayer as I dip my hands into the water.

And lift them to my face.

(See John 9:1-7)

Friday, February 08, 2008

Believing the Things We Know

Recently, as part of a grant application, I had to write my artistic statement for my art form--fiction. For what it's worth, here are a few excerpts...

We don’t seem to believe the things we know.

We know that we’re not promised a thousand tomorrows, that eternity lies only a heartbeat away, that love is worth the risk and worth the pain, that relationships are more important than paychecks, that every moment matters… We know these things, but only the prophets and poets and mystics seem to live as if they believe them. The rest of us tend to need constant reminding. And therein lies the calling and role of the arts.


The arts capture the essence of the world, the truths of human nature, and allow viewers, or readers, to enter that moment, that elusive moment, when truth finally touches time; when revelation finally occurs. The arts open our eyes to the world we so often miss--the world of truth lying hidden under the daily barrage of facts.

When we “suspend our disbelief” during a fictional story, whether performed theatrically by actors or linguistically by words, we actually open ourselves up to finally stop suspending our disbelief in reality and to begin--if only for a moment--to finally believe the truths we already know. So in a sense art, in my case writing, uses a pretend world to help readers see the real one more clearly.

Authors of fiction are engaged in the work not of telling facts, but of speaking the truth--the truth about life, about human nature, about the role that we each play in shaping the way the world is and the way the future will look. Fiction that matters is fiction that honestly explores the paradoxes of the human spirit, the human condition and the questions that influence our lives and our destinies.

I believe that passion and truth are the two clarion attributes of great fiction--passion that embraces the wounds and dreams of life, and truth that guides us toward experiencing them more fully. I’ve found that it takes unsettling courage to write stories that bite deeply into my soul, but these are the only ones that ultimately satisfy me because I know that I’m doing more than simply entertaining readers. I’m touching their hearts through their eyeballs.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The T and the Y

Lately I've been reminded once again of how easy it is to slip into the trap of image-management. Of trying to get other people to like me, to respect me, to think about me.

But here's what struck me the other day—and yes, I do believe God told it to me, partly because I would never have thought of it on my own, partly because I believe he does speak to us. Anyway, here's the thought, "From now on Steve, delete the t and the y."

So, instead of thinking, "What will they think about me?" or "What will they say about me?" My goal is to delete the t and the y and instead, think about the thing that matters so much more than public opinion in the eyes of Jesus.

I’ve realized I’ve got a lot of deleting to do.

It’s hard, but it sure is freeing when I actually manage to do it.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The Pawn Makes a Move

Just a quick note to share some good news. My latest book, The Pawn, just hit #10 on the CBA fiction bestsellers list. Here's the February bestsellers list for fiction:
  1. (10) Between Sundays Karen Kingsbury, Zondervan, c, 0310257727
  2. (14) Sabrina Lori Wick, Harvest House, p, 0736920781
  3. (16) Home to Holly Springs Jan Karon, Putnam Adult (Penguin), c, 0670018252
  4. (26) The Parting Beverly Lewis, Bethany House (Baker), p, 076420310X
  5. (36) Just Beyond the Clouds Karen Kingsbury, Center Street (Hachette), p, 1599956772
  6. (45) Cassidy Lori Wick, Harvest House, p, 0736916180
  7. (48) Summer Karen Kingsbury, Tyndale, p, 084238748X
  8. Redeeming Love Francine Rivers, Multnomah (WaterBrook), p, 1590525132
  9. Skin Ted Dekker, Thomas Nelson, c, 1595542779
  10. The Pawn Steven James, Revell (Baker), p, 0800732405
  11. On Her Own Wanda Brunstetter, Barbour, p, 9781597896108
  12. Marks Story Tim LaHaye, Putnam Adult (Penguin), c, 0399154477
  13. The Christmas Promise Donna VanLiere, Thomas Nelson, c, 1595543325
  14. The Screwtape Letters C.S. Lewis, HarperCollins/Zondervan, p, 0060652934
  15. Sunrise Karen Kingsbury, Tyndale, p, 0842387471
  16. Blink of an Eye Ted Dekker, Thomas Nelson, c, 1595542876
  17. The Penny Joyce Meyer & Deborah Bedford, FaithWords (Hachette), c, 0446578118
  18. Redeeming Love Francine Rivers, Multnomah (WaterBrook), c, 1601420617
  19. Daughters Inheritance Tracie Peterson, Bethany House (Baker), p, 0764203649
  20. Going Home Wanda Brunstetter, Barbour, p, 9781597896092
Thanks to all of you for your support and encouragement over the last year!

If you haven't picked up a copy yet, you can get a signed one off my website, or a cheap used one on Amazon. Also, check out the video trailer if you haven't seen it.

Tomorrow I'll try to have something more profound to share, but I was excited by the news and figured why not let my friends and readers know?

More soon.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Song Around Me

This morning I was reading through Psalm 32 and I noticed that verse 7 says (about God), "You are my hiding place; will protect me from trouble, and surround me with songs of deliverance." A few verses later it says that his unfailing love "surrounds the man who trusts in him."

God sings around me. He surrounds me with love.

Today I'm going to remember that whatever else surrounds me--stress, frustrations, computer problems, car trouble, bad weather, bad breath and barking dogs, that I'm surrounded by something more powerful. Unfailing love.

And I'm going to listen today too. Maybe I'll hear snatches of the song. A few notes that will teach my heart a new kind of harmony.

And who knows. Maybe others will begin to hear it too.

(Click here for more info about the cool image above)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Peace on Fire

I’ve been thinking about the paradox of Jesus for the last couple weeks.

Here is a man of both sorrow and joy, of both peace and anger. And I think that the more we become like him, the more we’ll be filled with those things as well.

And while some people believe that when you start to follow Jesus you get to have joy and peace all the time (Galatians 5:22 says that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control), not even Jesus experienced happiness and serenity all the time.

Mark 14:33-34 says that when he entered the Garden of Gethsemani, he was “deeply troubled and distressed” and “crushed with grief to the point of death.” That’s not exactly a picture of pure happiness and tranquility. And when he made a whip and drove the loan sharks and swindlers out of the temple area, he wasn’t exhibiting the epitome of gentleness.

And yet, he was always filled with the Spirit. Always.

Jesus was closer to his Father in heaven than anyone else who ever lived. So, I think the closer we get to God, the more we’ll experience life and then process those experiences the way Jesus did. We’ll have more joy than ever before, but also more sorrow--joy because of what God has done, but also sorrow at the things that break the heart of God. We’ll have more serenity and more anger--serenity because of God’s forgiveness, but also anger at the things that enraged Jesus.

The more we grow in faith, the further we enter the fiery paradox of Jesus’s peace.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Truth about UnChristian Fiction

When The Pawn was first released, a woman emailed to ask me if it was a “Christian novel.” Her question really got me thinking, “What would make a book an unChristian novel?”

Hmm… well, maybe one that has lots of erotic sex, gratuitous violence, idolatry, blasphemy, cannibalism… then I thought, No wait, that’s the Old Testament.

I mentioned this little revelation at a Christian bookseller’s conference and I was relieved to see the attendees smile and nod. Then I added, “If the Old Testament were turned into a novel, I don’t think most Christian bookstores would carry it.” Yikes. At first I thought my audience might want to shoot me, in a Christian way, of course. But they seemed to all agree with me. It was refreshing, encouraging. And surprising.

I think they realized that the Bible is real and raw and earthy, and that it honestly tells us how far people can fall from grace, and how far God will reach to save us. Without seeing evil clearly, we’ll never fully embrace forgiveness.

Madeleine L’Engle observed in her book Walking on the Water that a Christian book is one that tells the truth about life, whoever writes it. And I think I agree with her, (although in reality a book can't be a Christian anymore than it can be a Buddhist or a Muslim or a Humanist, only people can). All too often today it seems that Christian fiction is most known not for its honesty about life, but for it’s avoidance of certain subjects--which is exactly the opposite of what the Bible does.

While I understand that some writing can be offensive, and that writing about some topics might lead people into certain types of sin, and that the goal of writing shouldn’t be to shock people just to shock them, I think fiction--especially so called “Christian fiction”-- should be honest both about evil and about hope, both about how lost we are, and about how far and how fervently God will come looking for us. Does The Pawn do that? Well, in a moment of shameless self-promotion, you'll have to read it and decide that for yourself.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Visiting the Land of the Calgarians

This weekend I’m in Edmonton, Alberta presenting at Breakforth Canada, a ministry conference with, the last I heard, over 15,000 registered. That's a lot of Canadians to pack into one auditorium. I only wish I knew more about hockey so I could actually converse with them.

Yesterday I heard someone call her friend a Calgarian, and I thought she was referring to some sort of race of aliens from Star Trek, but then I found out it just means someone from Calgary. I asked her if someone from Edmonton is called an “Edmontarian” but she told me no, if they were they wouldn’t be allowed to eat meat.

Well, there you go.

I was really moved by Erwin McManus’s message last evening as he talked about the beauty and tragedy of life--the paradox of the human condition. I felt a real connection, since I’d written some of the same thoughts in Story and Sailing Between the Stars. Check out his site, or the site of Mosaic, the church he serves in L.A. I think I've found a kindred spirit.

It's been a great trip, great people, and I even found a great little Indian restaurant that served great red curry chicken. Which tasted alot better than Calgarian stew.

I Hear the Eggs Cracking

Sometimes it seems to me that the past has a stranglehold on today. That the mistakes I've made and harsh words I've said and petty grudges I've held somehow reach up through time and wrap their course fingers around my throat. And squeeze.

This morning when that started to happen, I was thinking about the Bible verse that says that God’s mercies (or compassions, see Lamentations 3:22-23) are new every day, and I realized that those words mean the mercies are new for me this minute; but that's what the past can never promise. Second chances.

All too often I get caught up thinking "if only" I’d said this or done that or shut up before I said the things I knew were going to turn into daggers in the air. The past doesn’t offer a chance to take them back. But today God offers a chance to forgive and be forgiven, to start fresh, to let him unpeel the clinging remnants of yesterday and move forward instead of getting dragged backward.

New mercies were born this morning. I heard the eggs cracking when I woke up, saw their tiny heads poking through my regrets. I think I’m going to pick one up and carry it with me through today.

Who knows. By tonight it might be fully grown.

And be carrying me.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Those Who Worship Artists

Chris Tomlin is a gifted musician and songwriter. I like his music, his passion, and his faithfulness. I mention this because if you didn’t know it, you might think I’m dissing him in this blog. That’s not the intent. Bear with me. I think you’ll see where I’m going.

Recently he came to my hometown to perform. On the radio spots advertising his appearance, they announced that “Artist Worshiper” Chris Tomlin was coming to the civic auditorium.

I remember sitting in the car thinking, Artist worshiper? He worships artists?

Then, after a minute I realized what they were trying to say. No, I don't think Chris Tomlin worships artists. I think instead his publicity team was trying to make his job as a performer sound more religious or spiritual to us—Oh, he’s not just an artist, he’s an artist worshiper. Wow! Let's go worship with an artist!

I wonder it that’s what his business cards say. “Artist Worshiper, Chris Tomlin.” Maybe we should all have cards like that: “Plumber Worshiper” or “High School Drama Teacher Worshiper" or "Novelist Worshiper."

Other times in the past, when other Artist Worshipers have come to town to perform, they’ve been advertised on the radio as leading Worship Concerts or Concerts of Praise. It's a good thing they're not just performing a concert. That wouldn't be very spiritual of them. Of course, we still get to pay $18 to go to their Worship Concert. And $20 to buy their T-shirts for sale at the door.

Over the years I’ve seen more and more of an attitude in Christian circles that being a performer is not as spiritual or significant as being a Worship Leader--or wait, now they call them Lead Worshipers. Maybe they worship lead. Or silver. Who knows.

A comedian using his talents to make people laugh in a nightclub is as much a worshiper as a soloist in the balcony of the church. It’s time to stop all this semantic nonsense of trying to sound spiritual, and let all those who seek Jesus—including those people who just happen to be artists or performers—be known as God worshipers.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Spiders on the Web

Over the last few months I’ve been sequestered away working on my next novel, The Rook. Now, with final edits just around the corner I’m starting to reconnect with the parts of my life I’ve lost touch with--the outdoor side (more hiking, even in the snow, yes!), the dusting part (I finally took one of those air-blaster-things to the computer and, I kid you not, I found spider webs in my Dell), and the blogging part.

After recovering from two severe computer crashes (in my two remaining non-spider webbed computers), kids with strep, hundreds of emails, and the stress of finally turning in my manuscript… two months late, I feel like I'm shedding layers and layers of life and recovering myself.

So, thanks to all of you who have left comments and stopped by on this blog over the last couple months. I’m finally back, and I’ll be posting alot more regularly once again.

Even if ths spiders don't leave my computer.