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.