Be Not Afraid: Updated for 2017

“Fear Not” appears in the Bible more than 100 times. In fact, the Bible talks a lot about fear. We are commanded to fear God and not His angels, not the world, not death, the list goes on. Why does God want us to fear Him? Because He wants our focus on what’s important, not the temporary realities (slings and arrows if you will) of living on earth. We’re inclined to be more concerned about our jobs, our financial situations, our health, kids, success in whatever way we define it, whether we’re loved. God has to remind us of what we should really be worried about – our heart and minds, our soul.

For a person struggling with anxiety, fear is a constant. It invades every-day thoughts. It’s an oppressive, unwelcome partner living only to sap a person’s strength, their contentment, their charity, and sometimes their sanity. It’s fear out of place and out of control. There’s nothing healthy about it. The kind of fear the Bible is talking about when it says Fear God, is not this. Not by a long shot.

Fear thou not; for I am with thee- be not dismayed; for I am thy God- I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. (1)

Fearing God is to focus on the eternal, not the ephemeral. Fearing God is to put your Faith in Him alone, not in the authorities of the world, not in your pastor, not in your partner. Sure, you can have faith in institutions, leaders, and even loved ones, but they have feet of clay. When you put faith with the big F in these you are not fearing God. How can you be? You’re raising them up to have equal value as if they are as complete, as perfect, as powerful. And when they fail you, and they will, it shakes your foundations, making you question everything.

Is fear of God respect and reverence? Not quite. Think of it this way, God alone can save you from your sin, from your fickle heart, from your doubts, from your anger, from the deepest, darkest evil thoughts you pretend you don’t have. God alone. Being God-fearing is to remember that, to put your full faith and trust in the only being that can save you from yourself. If you’re not afraid of what you’d do without God, then you are mistaken. You, on your own, are not a good person. There are no good people. We are all lost without Him.

In our current political climate many of the popular preachers and leaders in Christian media are telling us to be afraid. They’re preaching fear of progressive politics, of immigrants, Muslims, liberals, gays, transgender people, leftist professors, anti-fascist protesters, or other, more shadowy groups. They are telling us to be afraid of our neighbor instead of fearing for our neighbor’s salvation. This is not the Gospel.

The Bible tells us what we need to fear and it isn’t anything of this earth. It isn’t anyone’s opinion, or politics, or sin. The Bible tells us to fear God. It’s time we listened.

 

 

Pick Your Battles Wisely: Or Why Columbus Day Is No Hill To Die On

Since today is Columbus Day and the United States is still mired in political partisanship, your social media feeds are likely to be clogged with memes both praising and criticizing Christopher Columbus. Possibly one like this:

Columbus meme 2

Or maybe this one:

Columbus meme.
Yikes. Women are not a resource, dude.

Or this:

CC meme

Columbus day became an official holiday in 1937, but it had been celebrated for quite a while before that. Columbus was a venerated figure symbolizing exploration, progress, and the history of the founding of our nation. It was in the late 20th century that historians began to research the details of his life and voyages that were less savory; the treatment of native peoples, the start of the Atlantic slave trade, etc. An established fact is that Columbus had been replaced as governor of the territory he explored due to accusations of tyranny. In 2006 a document was discovered in an archive. It had the record made by his successor that detailed those charges and the evidence discovered and boy, was it grim.

Rethinking Columbus Day as a holiday to venerate a man who was a brave and skilled explorer, but was also a flawed and maybe even terrible human being, is valid. We should question our choice of who we hold up as heroes for our kids. We should not sugar-coat our history to make the rise of the United States look better. In order to form this union, a lot of native peoples died. To say it was a genocide is not that wide of the mark. Asking questions and acknowledging the facts of our origins is not erasing history, it’s being truthful to it.

Today you may see a meme that makes you angry, or begs to be refuted. Maybe it’s a post that makes you want to pull one of these:

ANGER_Render

you’ll be tempted to argue one way or the other.

Don’t.

Was Christopher Columbus a Christian? Maybe. But the holiday isn’t for his faith, it’s for his exploration. Simply put, Christians do not have a dog in this fight. For far too long American Christians have taken the flag and wrapped it around the cross. We’ve defended traditional Americana as if it was the Gospel. It’s time to stop.

We have one main job on this earth – to spread the Good News that while we are yet sinners, Christ died for us. His perfect sacrifice has atoned for us and all we need do is repent, place our faith in Him, turn from our sin, and follow Christ. Our secondary job is to love one another, love our neighbors, and even love our enemies. Don’t let the petty squabbles of today get in the way of sharing the Truth or actively loving the people that God has put in our lives.

You might have strong opinions about this, but what do they serve? Are you an authority who can bring clarity to the debate? Or is this another argument that will push your neighbors and friends who think differently than you further away? There are so many forces trying their best to pull us apart. Don’t rise to the bait. Let it go.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the early Christians. Ours was a faith derided as one practiced by and only fit for ‘slaves and women’. Those early believers traded their status for the Grace of God. They were about as counter-culture as you can get. When I find myself in the middle of a social media dust up, I think of them. What deserves my passionate defense? My energy? My time? They risked their lives to save children literally thrown away. They spent their time and energy promoting the Gospel. They ministered to the sick, the outcasts, the stranger, and the poor.

Putting that frame around the current discord has been helpful. I’ve found myself bowing out mid-argument because it’s not where I should be in the first place. And I’m a lot more careful with my tone. Christians do not mock. I don’t think we should be snarky or dismissive either. Christ saved his anger for the men turning his Father’s house into a temple of greed. He flipped tables and drove them out. But look how he dealt with sinners? He sat down with them and talked. He had dinner with them and talked. He traveled to their town and talked. We need to be careful in our rhetoric, to follow his example.

So, sit this one out. Enjoy the day off if you have it. Read a book (mine, maybe) and enjoy your friends and family. Spread a little love around and have a Happy Columbus Day.

HelloKitty-PeaceOut

 

 

 

Christianity and Culture: One Woman’s Worldview

As an ardent citizen of the United States of America I enjoy politics and debate, but the current climate is so very noxious that no true discourse seems possible.  We’re all at our keyboards in our little offices, caves, couches, and rumpus rooms tweeting, FaceBooking, and commenting, and it’s all filled with…Hate.  The four-letter word that poisons our happiness, destroys relationships, and ultimately builds a thick wall between us and anything good, not to mention between us and God.

If you’ve read my About page you know that I am a Bible-reading, hymn-singing, Jesus-loving, evangelical Christian, and either you’re cool with that or you’re about to run screaming for the hills. Don’t run. I don’t bite. Really.  I’m not going to shout scripture at your or hit you with my Bible.  I believe firmly in being in the world, but not of it.  The world can do its thing.  I believe the Church (being the true people of God) should stand apart, a contrast, a place of refuge from the world, not forcing it’s way into culture and setting up shop.

I don’t care whether the dominant culture of the place where I live reflects my faith or not. People worry about the de-Christianification of the country.  They worry that our Judeo-Christian foundations are crumbling, our Christian-ish roof is aflame. I say let it burn.  That’s right.  Let it burn.  It’s fake; an artifice; a facade.  I’m calling BS on all of it.  If you find this shocking then I suggest reading this: Spurgeon on Christians who Rail Against the Times.  Worth the read, and does a better job of explaining this view than I probably just did.

There’s ‘Christian culture’, and then there’s the actual ‘Christian faith’.  They are not the same.  There are thousands and possibly even millions of incomplete Christians in this world.  These are folks who buy into the culture, but reject the actual faith.  That’s why I welcome the end of the culture.  It’s the cheerful little light on the path at night leading off to our destruction and away from the true light, who gives light to everyone.

You may be wondering, why on earth is she on a tear about Christianity and culture?  Well, my next book,  BITTERSWEET, is firmly Christian fiction, and I wanted to share a bit more about my worldview so nobody freaks out when they read it.  Everyone (seriously, everyone) has on a set of glasses through which they see the world.   My faith shapes every aspect of my life and how I view the world.  Contrary to what you might assume, I’m not a traditional conservative.  I’m what I like to think of as  ‘Teddy Roosevelt Progressive’ – I’m for a small, efficient government that does it’s job in ensuring national security, keeps corporations from pillaging, provides a social safety net, and stays out of any other social issues whenever possible.  I’m a firm believer in the separation of church and state.  Again – in the world, but not of it.  I’m not sure Christians have a place in politics at all. A voice, yes, but should we hold public office?  I’m really not sure.

One of my concerns about publishing in the Christian market is that I don’t tick a lot of the boxes on the ‘Traditional Christian Wife and Mother’ checklist.  For starters, all of the above.  A member of our church once said to my husband, Steve, “Christa’s really… political.”  I think he meant ‘opinionated’.  I’m cool with that.  For another,  I work full-time and I’m the primary breadwinner.  I don’t do all the school stuff – Steve does (and he’s so much better at it).  He arranges the playdates, he handles the sports stuff, he drives them to scouts, YMCA outings, sledding and the rest.  And that’s by design, not by accident.  A few years ago he took his ambitions and shelved them, choosing a rather humble, part-time job that allowed him to be Super Dad so that I could fully pursue an opportunity that sort of landed in my lap.  Even now that I’m working on a second career as an author, he’s making sacrifices yet again so I can give it a real shot.  This is definitely counter to the traditional model, and we’ve both had to deal with how that has made it harder to participate in a Christian community that is often geared towards traditional households.

At times those within the Christian Church can be fearful of strong women.  This annoys me because the experiences I have had in my life – the ones that have given me a softer heart, made me a better mom, a better wife – have also made me strong.  I can’t undo any of it.  My husband and I have said all along that if we felt God leading us to make changes to our household, we’d do it.  That leading has never come.  In fact, we’ve felt the Refiner’s fire over the years but never a nudge in a different direction.  At times I’d love to quit my day job because for various factors – it’s more difficult than it was a few years ago – but I still feel that thrill sitting down (or sometimes standing – I’ve got a convertible desk.  They rock.) at my desk and facing a day of what looks like impossible challenges and thinking, ‘bring it’.  When that thrill is gone, it’ll be time to go.

What I try to avoid in my writing and in my life is the trap of thinking that my faith makes me a better person than anyone else.  I am a sinner, and it is by grace that I am justified.  Sanctification is a work in progress, and my sin is no better or worse than the sin of any human on this planet.  All have sinned, all have fallen short, and God does not measure our sins.  White liars are no different from liars.  Sin is sin.  I’d love to digress here into a few hot topics, but I’ll leave that for another post.

It is truly important for those of us who are possessed of an opinion and the platform to express it that we do so carefully and as honestly as possible.  I strive to do that with absolutely everything I write.

So, there you go.  Not my statement of faith, but my statement of worldview.  I’d welcome any comments or opinions you have.  I love hearing from you.

Language Most Foul: Profanity vs Vulgarity

True confession? I swear. Sometimes a lot. Usually in my car when no one is around, but sometimes at my husband.  Sad, but true.  It’s also true that profanity and vulgarity are like the toxic twins of modern speech. They are everywhere and pretty well tolerated in most situations and definitely in most entertainment. Take the ubiquitous Facebook.  It can be a bit dangerous to have your kid read your feed over your shoulder because you never know what’s going to pop up. Twitter feeds are the same and even on TV a good amount of what could be called ‘cussin’ is shown.

Books are no exception, in fact, they have always been a medium that accurately reflects reality so the profane or vulgar speech of every age has been depicted in them. In order to create real, three-dimensional characters authors have to mimic the speech patterns of real live humans. But what if the author is a Christian?  Think of Ephesians 4:29 “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths…”  It’s been struggle for me since my books tend to be mainstream fiction, not Christian fiction where the expectation is for the work to be swear-free.

I was raised to believe that both profanity and vulgarity were evil and no girl with any kind of class used them. This belief was strengthened by attending a Christian college where you’d be fined if you did. Imagine my shock when I got my first real job. It happened to be where the staff was mostly male. I’m not saying all men swear more than all women. I think it depends pretty heavily on your age and socio-economic background, but in this instance…yeah, the boys swore a lot. And some of the words they used I had never heard before and couldn’t even define.

The guys usually reined it in around me and that was a measure of the respect they had for me.   In fact, they waited until I was out of the room or gone for the day before they used the truly vulgar phrases, told a dirty joke, or shared a porn video (thanks guys!) But for the most part profanity and vulgarity peppered their speech. This was their language. These words were part of their lexicon and using them actually improved understanding. This was peer to peer speech though. They did not speak like this to their boss, their mom, or a client. Eventually I even got in the habit of the occasional f-bomb myself. I’m not sure if it was just catching or I wanted to be better understood. Most of the time when I did that it made them laugh.

Years later and I’m writing a novel with characters not unlike the men I used to work with. In life these characters would use both profanity and vulgarity regularly.  I found myself asking where the line was between being honest to my work and honoring my faith.   In the end I realized that I already had the answer in what I myself, deemed appropriate.  I divide ‘profanity’ and ‘vulgarity’ this way: Profanity is speaking the lord’s name in vain, Vulgarity is just that, vulgar and coarse speech.  I might occasionally indulge in a bit of vulgarity, but you will never (never) hear Profanity out of my mouth if I can help it.

Modern humans rarely swear in the way Matthew 5:34 addresses “But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King”

The way we profane God’s name is almost banal. We’re careless with it, stripping it of all meaning and using it like it’s nothing, a throw-away, hollow.

If there is one thing I would like to eradicate from modern dialect it would be the use of ‘God’ and ‘Jesus Christ’ as anything other than nouns referring reverentially to the being they represent. It hurts to hear them used as curses.

When I encounter a coworker who says them on a regular basis I actually tell them I’d rather they say Mo***F***** instead. Really. I’d rather hear the foulest vulgarity than to hear Christ’s name spoken as a curse.  Typically they laugh, but also… they adjust.  They honor my request and they censor themselves which just goes to show what awesome people I work with.

In my writing for the mainstream market I never use profanity, even though it could be argued that it makes my work less “authentic”. In fiction there is the big T truth and the little T. I will always honor the big T and I pick and choose when it comes to the little one. I get to. This is my world, my characters and they bend to my Will. Bwaaahaaaa. But seriously, they do.

This is the same beef I have with authors of historic or fantasy novels set in medieval times or dark ages that frequently depict sexual violence against women.  These same novels don’t address dysentery or the other less than appetizing realities of pre-modern life. I believe they choose to depict rape in part because it’s an easy (lazy) plot device and frankly, because it’s titillating. But I digress. We’re talking about swear words here. My feelings on rape in fantasy novels (and some Romance novels) is a whole other rant.

In THE STRONGEST CHAIN I do use what some would consider vulgarities, but never anything that would garner more than a PG rating in a movie. Why include them at all? Because I want my characters to be as real as possible, as rough as they are. Why not just use profanity or nastier vulgarities? Because these do the job. I might use the stiffer sort of vulgarities in other books, but I will not use profanities. Ever.

I know it seems I’m drawing an arbitrary line, but if you are a member of the flock, if you are a professing Christian, these words wound and they demean the God that we love. Would you let a friend, a coworker demean your partner or your child or your friend? No. You wouldn’t. You’d stand up for them. You’d put a stop to it.

And that’s where I find my line. This isn’t me defending my faith. The author of the universe does not need my backup and my tiny whisper against the shouting of the world doesn’t matter much. This is me revering my God and honoring him in all I do. This is me being true to God and true to my work.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on profanity, vulgarity, and the written word.  Sound off in the comments about your own struggles with dialogue.  What are your thoughts on keeping dialogue real?  Where are your lines?