Tag Archives: obedience

Imagination

You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.

— Mark Twain

 

It’s probably time for an update.

A lot has been happening around here. The end of the school year kept me hopping for a couple of weeks. Not only were we swamped with school programs, field trips, and end-of-year parties, but we also had to fit in a fundraiser, an award ceremony for my AHG troop, and a birthday party.

And the garden still languishes.

I’m digging out, slowly but surely. And it feels like it will probably just always be that way, at least until I can finally let go of some of my volunteer duties.

But that’s not the most significant update, nor is it the reason I was prompted to finally write a blog post.

The biggest update I have to share is . . .

I put my books back on Amazon about a week or so ago.

I’m still not sure how I feel about that.

And this is where I don’t know what to say next.

[An hour later . . . .]

I’m ambivalent and anxious and stuck. I have the books up there, and with that act comes the implicit promise of at least a sequel for the novel. But when I try to re-read the novel, I am only struck by how amateurish and poorly written it is. I can only hear the whispers of negative reviews and the criticisms of readers past and future who think the story is too dull, too traditional, too . . .

[fill in the blank]

It’s hard for me to remember that self-flagellation is a form of pride. This has dawned on me before. Many of us–especially women, I’ve noticed–mistakenly equate humility with self-deprecation, scolding, reminding ourselves and others of all the things were bad at, etc. We somehow mistakenly got the idea that humility means thinking less of ourselves.

As the great C. S. Lewis reminds us:

“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”

So I stand again at the gate of pride, beating myself bloody over perceived mistakes, imperfections, flaws, etc. that may or may not even be in my work. And it is pride, because yesterday, I found myself in a spiral of “this sucks–I hate this–my work is hideous–who would like this” and on and on.

That’s not thinking of myself less. Indeed, it’s thinking of myself more.

My eyes were on the wrong place. Once again, they were back on me–my work, my writing, my stories. Even my pronouns are wrong.

Where should my eyes and heart be?

On Jesus, the great Author and Storyteller Who asked me to write these stories in the first place.

I have no idea what He wants to do with this stuff. Maybe it’s nothing. Maybe the entire point of having my stories out there is to grow me for some future task. Maybe this is just about building my obedience muscle.

But the point is, that’s not up to me. That’s up to Him.

I ran across this Mark Twain quote earlier: You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.

My imagination was out of focus yesterday. Not my creativity–not my ability to put words together or create worlds or envision what happens next.

No, what was out of focus was my perspective on Who I belong to, Who owns my talent, and Who I’m writing for in the first place.

Dictionary.com says that imagination is “the faculty of imagining, or of forming mental images or concepts of what is not actually present tthe senses.”

It’s not my creativity that was out of whack. It was my imagination–my ability to form a mental image or concept of my Heavenly Father’s delight in my obedience, or of the moment when He says “well done, good and faithful servant,” or of the glory of Heaven itself. My imagination was conjuring mental images and concepts that were not heavenly, but earthly–and more than earthly, they were so earth-bound that they kept me from doing what God has asked me to do.

That’s pride. And more than pride, that’s allowing the Enemy to hijack my usefulness and my joy and my strength.

I won’t give him that power any longer.

And so when my imagination is out of focus, I can’t trust my eyes. Yesterday, my eyes were telling me that my work was amateurish, unsophisticated, boring, ugly, and all the rest.

But if my imagination had been properly focused, my eyes might have said, “yes, it’s imperfect, but that’s okay. Some of the imperfections can be fixed. Some can’t. Some make it more beautiful. Some are just subjective. The point is, you wrote the story you were supposed to write. And whether you were obedient then or not, you’re being obedient now. That’s the point. That’s what counts.”

This is not a clean, tidy, perfect journey, but then, what journey is? And isn’t that the point of my stories–that none of us have perfect journeys? That redemption is a messy, uncomfortable, beautiful process of fits and starts and loss and gain? That sanctification doesn’t happen overnight?

Well, most of you probably don’t know the point of my stories. But let me tell you that yes, that’s pretty much the point of most of my stories.

I have no time at all to devote to writing or editing fiction right now, and yet, here I am–staring down the gaping maw of a sequel that I promised years ago, a sequel that, apparently, a dozen or twenty people still want to read.

So I take a deep breath, and I repeat to myself the verse that took me through the last year as a first-year Troop Coordinator: “And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, NASB)

Till next we meet . . .

J M

Calling

It’s been an interesting week.

I’m not sure where to begin, so I’m just going to stumble into this and figure it out as a go.

I haven’t been shy on this blog about my anxiety over writing and returning to writing fiction. In fact, that’s pretty much what this whole blog is about–or at least, it has been a huge piece of this blog. I thought I’d finally found a place where I could be comfortable with the position of my fiction in my life–that I could be happy to just write it and not share it, that I could acknowledge my need to tell stories, even if I didn’t share them.

But I still had a restlessness in my spirit. I wasn’t sure how to account for it. I explored a lot of different thoughts, but none seemed right. I prayed about it, but the “answer” was unsatisfying. Why?

Because the answer I kept getting seemed to be directing me toward writing–and not just toward writing, but toward sharing.

I am always really hesitant to look for “answers” in the nudges and leanings and such that other people seem to be sensitive to. I don’t trust myself. I am too prone to seeing the answers that I want rather than the answers I need.

But this time, there was only fear, tension, and anxiety at the thought of following through with the answer. “Share my writing? God, you have to be kidding me. Don’t you remember what happened last time? Don’t you know what people will say? Don’t you understand how everything–everything!–I write is different from what’s accepted, appropriate, allowed in the church?”

I’m always amazed at how I continue to ask God if He knows things as if He doesn’t know things. I have a very short memory. I seem to assume that He does, too.

In any case, the very idea of sharing my writing again caused nothing but anxiety, fear, and dread. I argued with God a lot about this. For a couple of weeks, this was the bulk of my prayer–when I prayed, that is. A lot of times, knowing the wrestling match that would occur, I just avoided praying altogether.

But the Hound of Heaven is nothing if not persistent.

Everything came to a head on Tuesday. I found myself having multiple conversations about magic in literature–specifically, I found myself once again defending Harry Potter. The purpose of this post is not to rehash the debate over Harry Potter but rather to share my frustration over the entire discussion about the role of magic and such in literature, and specifically, in Christian literature. My frustration stems from what I think are very poor arguments against the magic in Harry Potter. In my opinion, one could use many of those arguments as justification to avoid C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkein as well, but many Christians who refuse to read Harry Potter adore Lewis and Tolkein. I found myself in a very weird place on Tuesday where the same people who were refusing to read Harry Potter were encouraging me to write my worlds. I could not help but think, “how can you encourage me if you find fault with Harry Potter? Do you not know that my work and my magic systems will very likely offend you as well?”

I took to Twitter to rant. I finally tweeted the following stream:

I should not have to be braver in front of my Christian brothers and sisters than I am in front of the world, but that’s where I end up–I constantly have to defend my artistic decisions (the art I make and the art I consume) because I don’t fit the proper mold. Again, I’m too clean for the secular art world and too inappropriate for the Christian art world. One is a place I don’t want to live, and the other seems to be a place where I can’t live if I practice art the way I think I’m called to practice it. If Jesus doesn’t give me some baseball bat therapy soon, I swear I’m giving this whole damn thing up and burning my effing hard drive.”

“What’s baseball bat therapy?” you might ask. This is the form of therapy whereupon Jesus smacks one with the proverbial baseball bat to get one’s attention. This is also the form of therapy that seems to be the most useful for me. I can be rather hard-headed.

I went to bed Tuesday night ready to wake up on Wednesday and spend the day deleting documents from my hard drive. I had no intention of ever going back to my writing at all. If I was being called to share, then I just wouldn’t write. Period. Because the only way I could see to write the stories in my head–the stories that I’m quite certain God put there–was either to keep it to myself or risk being ostracized by my own brothers and sisters.

Wednesday morning, the hubby and I were lying in bed checking e-mail and Facebook and the like, and he started telling me about a weird dream he had. At the same time, I was scrolling through Facebook and noticed a status update from a writer friend for whom I have great respect who writes in a similar genre. My husband said, ” . . . and they told me I had to pick up my cross and be crucified . . . ” for his beliefs in creationism.

At the exact same moment–and I’m not even kidding, literally the exact same moment–I was reading “pick up your cross and die” on my friend’s status update.

The exact. same. moment.

That, my friends, is baseball bat therapy.

Because here’s the part I haven’t mentioned: I have always–always–felt a strong pull to write fantasy from a Christian worldview for a secular audience. I want to tell God’s story through myth, symbol, metaphor, and magic, but in a way that makes God’s story appealing and accessible for the secular audience. I have always thought that might be my calling–to be a witness through story for those whose hearts are longing to meet the Ultimate Storyteller.

But I feared that calling because I knew–because I know–that my work will not be well-received by those I rely on for my spiritual support. So it becomes a choice of playing it safe, keeping close to those who share my worldview, and putting all of my writing away (or at least keeping it hidden) for fear of the condemnation I will receive from the church, or . . .

Or . . .

Be obedient to the call God has placed in my heart and on my life.

This is my cross. This is the cross he has given me–the risk I have to take.

And it’s not just a risk with the people in my community–it’s also with those in the secular literary world. They will find my work too clean, too pure, not edgy enough, I’m sure, because that’s some of the criticism I’ve heard before. They might detect my worldview and hate me for it. They might slander me with all manner of insults.

But this is the risk that God has asked me to take–to carry this particular cross.

I realize how this sounds. I realize that I sound like I’m trying to be a martyr here. That’s not my intent. I’m just trying to wrap my head around the idea that God has called me to live in-between these two spaces–one that’s safe for my content but unsafe for my worldview, and the other that’s safe for my worldview but unsafe for my content.

So this is my baseball bat therapy. This is my calling. I will still pursue restarting my freelance commercial writing business, but it looks like I’ll be working on re-editing and republishing my short stories and novels. This won’t happen overnight, and there’s a lot of work to do here, but . . .

God has really left me no other choice.

And so, I will be obedient to this call. I will pick up my cross. And I will remember that I carry it for the One who carried it for me first.

Resolved

I surrender all, I surrender all,

All to Thee, my blessed Savior,

I surrender all.

— I Surrender All, Judson W. Van DeVenter

Once again, I find myself driven to my knees before the Throne of Grace, begging for forgiveness. This time, though, it’s different from the last time–the time when God pried my writing out of my clenched fists.

This time, I have begged forgiveness for depriving the Body of Christ from something I am uniquely qualified to give.

Once again, I have been prideful and arrogant. I thought I knew best. I thought God was a fool for giving me the desire to write and the gift of the written word. I thought He made a mistake. I thought I could stifle this gift (or curse, as I often considered it) and these stories by serving, by engaging in other hobbies, by focusing on any one of a hundred other things.

But this week–this time–I have realized that I was wrong.

So, here I am with open hands and heart, resolved to take and to give whatever He wishes. I am tired of fighting Him. I am tired of giving the enemy a toehold in my heart–a way to keep me distracted and unfocused on the Savior. I am tired of my pride, fear, busy-ness, and all the rest coming between me and what my Lord wants me to do–how He wants to use me.

Only a fool would fight the Living God and assume she could win the argument.

I have been meditating this week on how often the Bible mentions fear and exhorts the members of God’s kingdom to put aside fear and trust that God is for us. God knew how weak-willed we would be–how fearful we are. I asked myself this week–what is it that I fear in God’s Kingdom?

Death? No. I don’t fear death.

Missions? No. I intend to participating in some kind of foreign mission at some point–just waiting for the right open doors.

Serving? No. I serve Him daily, weekly, at American Heritage Girls. While my position was terrifying at first, I’ve sort of settled into it–and indeed, have rested upon the assurance all along that His strength is made perfect in weakness.

Being called a fool, a bigot, a liar, a moralizing prude? Yes, a bit. But while such words sting, they are only words. Christ was called worse. I can stand it, given a bit of time.

Failure? Now we’re getting closer to home. Yes, I fear failure. But if I am obedient, then am I ever really a failure? If I trust God with the outcome, then I have to trust that His outcome is the successful one, whatever form that takes.

Sharing my writing? This is the fear that paralyzes me. And this is where I had to open my hands and realize that I was still clinging to my writing.

Still. After all this time. After all this pain. I was still holding onto it.

A hard truth.

So, this week, I am resolved.

I am resolved to trust God. Right now, He’s only asking me to write. I can write. I can be faithful with the gift He has given me. And if I am faithful in this small thing, then perhaps I will eventually be trusted with bigger things.

I am resolved to ignore the whispers of the enemy in regard to current literary trends. It does not matter that much of modern fantasy is trending dark with dark antiheroes. It does not matter that the self-publishing trend has flooded the market with a plethora of truly awful, yet successful, books. It does not matter that editors at major publishing houses said my work wasn’t worth buying. The publishing trends don’t matter. They don’t affect what I write. I will just write the stories God has given me to write.

I am resolved to make good art–to write the best stories I can write, using all of the tools at my disposal, and actively work to improve my craft.

I am resolved to move forward with a spirit of courage, putting aside a spirit of fear and kindling afresh the gifts that God has given me. As Craig Groeschel recently reminded in his sermon series on Fear, we are responsible to be obedient; God is responsible for the outcome. I can be obedient.

I am resolved to believe, actively, on a daily basis, that God has given me a gift, and that to squander it is as disobedient as idolizing it.

My hands are open, Lord. Place in them the story you want me to tell, and I will give it back to You daily as a sacrifice. Do with it as You will. And when it is ready–when it is told to Your satisfaction–I will share it, if that’s what You ask of me.

I surrender all, Lord.

Gifts

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

— 1 Corinthians 12:4-7, NASB

I have a friend who is struggling right now with a sudden physical ailment that, if it turns out to be chronic, will affect her ability to do a lot of things that she is very gifted at doing–namely, speaking and teaching. She is a woman of deep spiritual conviction, a woman who lives her faith unapologetically in a thousand different ways on a daily basis, a woman who walks in obedience to God in every facet of her life while still maintaining a degree of humility that makes her approachable and open.

In short, she’s not the type of person one would think of as needing to be disciplined by God.

Sometimes, stuff just happens–I realize that. This is a fallen and cursed world, and sometimes people get sick or injured just because.

Because nothing is perfect.

Because our bodies are fragile.

Because life isn’t certain, even when we live and walk in obedience.

I saw my friend this morning, and in a group of women who all prayed for her healing, I could only think one thing: “I need to tell her that this isn’t her only gift.”

I don’t know why that came to mind. I don’t know if God put it there, or if it was just a rare dollop of wisdom hard-won through my own painful journey of the last year and a half, or if it was just . . . coincidence or a random thought.

I fought it, but it didn’t leave. In fact, it crystallized into a more complete thought.

“This is not your only gift. You are a communicator and a teacher and a leader. Those things are internal. They aren’t dependent on your ability to physically speak.”

(Physician, heal thyself.)

I don’t like saying these kinds of things in front of others, and I hesitated to say it to her at all, because I didn’t want to sound like I was giving prescriptive advice or telling her, without saying, that the struggle would make her strong. But the idea wouldn’t leave, so when our group broke up, I approached her and told her what would not leave my heart or mind. “I don’t know why I’m supposed to tell you this, and it will probably come out wrong, but . . . ”

And I told her.

“Your gifts are inside. They aren’t dependent on the external things. As someone who had her “gift” wrested from her pried-shut fists, I have to say that this isn’t the only thing you are. You aren’t a speaker; you’re a communicator and a teacher, and those things are internal. Those things won’t leave.”

She thanked me, and we shared a hug. I have no idea if what I said was meaningful to her, but maybe I wasn’t supposed to say it to her.

Maybe it was for me.

Most of the time, I feel like a very ungifted person. I belittle the gifts I do have, and assume that whatever I am capable of doing could be done by someone else in a far more competent way. And when it comes to spiritual gifts and the work of the Body of Christ, I am always willing to say what I’m not good at: “I’m not good at prayer. I’m not good at joy. I don’t have gifts of hospitality or teaching or shepherding. I’m not an encourager.”

In all honesty, sometimes I wonder exactly why God wanted me in His kingdom.

So, here it is:

Writing was not my only “gift.”

And even if it was, and even if God did take it from me (which I firmly believe He did), it doesn’t mean it was forever. Like my friend’s illness, it may just be for a season.

If God truly did give me an ability to communicate through the written word, then that’s something that’s inside. It’s not dependent on the specific outward expression of that gift. It doesn’t mean that I can only use that gift through writing and publishing fiction.

God’s vision is so much bigger than mine. His Kingdom is so much larger than I can see. I get focused on my little world, my little brick in His big plan, and I can’t see how that brick might be vital to something else. The truth is that my brick might be a foundation, or a keystone, or part of a support column.

I have been so fixated on the “me” of my work that I have neglected the “Who” of my abilities.

There’s that prideful spirit again.

I don’t know what God wants me to do with my work. I don’t know if He wants me to write fiction, or maybe just to keep this blog going, or find some other . . . thing.

C. S. Lewis said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

The psalmist said, “Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”

All I can do is be faithful, and take the next step down the road, and know that God will illuminate my journey one step at a time.

Till next we meet . . .

J M

Comfort Zone

Whatever you do, He will make good of it. But not the good He had prepared for you if you had obeyed Him.

— C. S. Lewis

At dinner with my husband tonight, I found myself ruminating on the topic of stepping outside of a comfort zone. My thoughts were prompted, in part, by today’s sermon, in which our pastor gently but firmly reminded us all that staying in one place isn’t necessarily God’s plan for His people. From the beginning, God was all about sending people away from their comfortable places in order to further His purposes in the world.

I have certainly been challenged to go beyond my comfort zones over the past year. From the moment that I took on my current volunteer position with American Heritage Girls, I have been pushed to learn new things and function in new ways. It was never the administrative detail about this job that scared me–it was, rather, the realization that I would have to be “up front” a significant portion of time. First, because of my position, I’m the primary communicator for the troop. I give announcements, devotionals, information, and the like to girls and parents. I run leader meetings and board meetings. I act as liaison between our troop and our charter organization and between the troop and AHG in Ohio. That position is not a natural one for me. My nature normally relegates me to the back row, where I like to slide in a minute late, sit quietly and sing softly, and duck out a minute early.

But the second and more difficult position is the one where I am required to act as mediator between other adults. I can handle it between kids or young adults. I’m a mom. That kind of mediation is in my job description. But to be the mediator between people who should know better and be able to get along . . . That’s the tough part. I’m not good at interpersonal relationships under the very best of circumstances. When the circumstances are less than optimal, I fear I am positively dismal.

And yet, here I am, being pushed outside of my comfort zone, occasionally even surprising myself by some of the fairly reasonable and relatively calm words that come from my normally snarky and reactionary mouth. I know this must be the Spirit protecting AHG from me, and I thank Him for His mercies. Left to my own devices, I’m 100% certain things would be falling apart right now rather than coming together.

So here we were at dinner tonight, discussing comfort zones and the leaving behind of such things. Mr. P and I were discussing some of the current pushing we’re experiencing and what some of our own thoughts were during the sermon. And then I confessed that, while I considered my AHG experiences first, I eventually came back to my writing. What if I’m supposed to be outside this safe place–this place where I don’t write, don’t share, don’t publish? What if the safe place isn’t the right place? What if God does have something else in mind here, and I’m being stubborn and uncooperative?

As a side note, I have been in a place of being stubborn and uncooperative with God before. I am here as a cautionary tale: Humble yourselves, dear brethren. If you wait for God to do it, it’s so much worse than if you start the process yourself.

The truth is, I have every reason to think that if God really wants me to do something, He will most certainly make His wishes known in unmistakeable ways. But what I really fear is that He would love for me to be writing and sharing because what I have to say is important in some way, and because this is not a matter of real eternal significance, He’s simply letting me be stubborn, fearful, and stuck. God, being a gentleman and a great respecter of persons, does not seem to wish to force us to do anything. Rather, He wishes us to love Him so much that we choose obedience to Him, no matter what the cost.

Including the cost to our personal comforts.

And there is a second huge fear–namely, what message am I sending my children by resisting the pursuit of the one great vocational passion of my life? By saying that it’s not worthwhile, it’s not good, I’m not good enough to make a living, I don’t have time, I’m too afraid of sharing it, or any one of a thousand other excuses I’ve made in the last year, what am I telling them?

Whatever it is, I don’t think it’s what I wanted to teach them.

Mr. P surprised me. “I think you should go back to writing,” he said.

That wasn’t all he said, but it was probably the most definitive statement of his opinion about my pursuit of this chosen vocation since I left it over a year ago. Like God, my husband has been a gentleman about my struggle. He has not demanded or cajoled or wheedled or insisted or in any other way attempted to talk me into returning to my work. He’s simply listened, watched, waited, and quietly encouraged when I have dipped hesitant toes back into the creative waters.

So here I sit, on the edge of yet another comfort zone with a wilderness before me. In my honest moments, I confess that I knew I would end up here again. It was rather inevitable. The stories and ideas and need to write are still there.

The question now is . . . what do I do? Do I step into the wilderness? Or do I play it safe?

I fear that the wilderness isn’t the right place. But what I fear even more is that my Canaan is beyond the wilderness, and that I’d rather stay stuck in Egypt making bricks than find the milk and honey.

Till next we meet . . .

J M

 

Audience of One

“We can present beauty without being trivial, evil without being gratuitous, and redemption without being hokey.”

— John Stonestreet, Breakpoint

I have been on a quest of late.

After months of insisting that I could not, would not go back to writing fiction, the gentle encouragement of friends and my husband has begun to break down my self-imposed barriers. I feel, once again, the draw of the Muse, and I long to let the words pour out through my own chipped and battered soul and onto the page, where perhaps some semblance of sense can be made of this world and its fallen nature.

But I have remained hesitant to actually indulge much more than just a cursory re-read or edit of old works. I have been living in fear, terrified of falling too far into my imaginary worlds, petrified by the thought of trying to please an audience again.

When I had my self-published works live and available for sale, I attempted to reach a secular audience. I assumed that most Christian readers would not want to read my version of reality. Aside from the fact that my characters swear and curse, occasionally drink to drunkenness, struggle with temptations of a sexual nature (and yes, occasionally give into those temptations), pursue power, worship idols, and reject the call of a loving God, I also commit another cardinal sin of the artist: I do not accurately represent reality.

You see, I write speculative fiction–more specifically, fantasy. There is a vocal segment of the Christian book-reading population that firmly espouses a belief that anything even remotely touching on “magic” is satanic. (I have still not figured out how that segment justifies reading The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings.)

My quest began because I started to re-evaluate the criticism I had received about my self-published works. It’s interesting that I did not typically receive criticism about quality of work; indeed, most people complimented my craft, accuracy, attention to detail, and overall quality. No, the most biting criticism I received was that my work was “too traditional.” Themes of social justice bothered some; they believed that my treatment of slavery, human trafficking, and forced prostitution was “cliche” and “old-fashioned.” They believed that my characters were too clean, pure, and noble. And they thought I relied too much on “old-fashioned” fantasy devices.

Well, perhaps some of those criticisms are accurate. The one that I received most often–that I lacked finesse in building my worlds–was one that, while painful to hear, I could at least understand. I admit that’s my weak spot.

But oddly, those things mainstream secular readers complained about would quite possibly appeal to Christian readers. I think most of my Christian friends love a good, old-fashioned, good vs. evil hero story. Those stories are falling out of favor with mainstream fantasy readers.

The problem is . . .

I have long said that the Christian entertainment industry is more concerned with cleanliness than truth. Many Evangelicals will happily accept watery, shallow, or just plain wrong doctrine as long as there are no curse words and no sex.

My worlds are not very clean, but the truths in my worlds are absolute. I do my best to ensure that even when the worlds I create do not comport with reality, they at least comport with biblical truth. Sometimes, revealing that truth takes a long while. Sometimes, revealing those truths is messy and ugly.

It was during my “quest” and over several e-mail exchanges that my friend Laurel suggested that I read Redeeming Love, by Francine Rivers. And while the majority of on-screen sexual activity is between a married couple (and it’s veiled, at that), and while there is no cursing (that I recall), I could see why my friend suggested the book. Rivers had no qualms about telling a story that involved child rape, forced prostitution, adultery, even forced marriage. The purpose?

To tell a story about how God woos those who are called to be His own.

The story of Redeeming Love, in my opinion, is not so much about Michael and Angel as it is about the love story between God and Angel. Perhaps this is why I enjoyed it so much. While I love a good love story, I am not typically drawn to the romance genre because I find romance for the sake of the romance rather tedious. But Redeeming Love is about so much more than just Michael and Angel’s romance; it’s about God’s relentless pursuit of Angel to the very gates of Hell, all for the purpose of winning her to Himself.

And so, my quest continued. What responsibility does the artist have, I asked myself, to portray reality? To offer a salvation message? To point directly to God? To do all of those things cleanly, neatly, with nary a hair out of place on any character except the villain, who is permitted to say “hell” and “damn” in only certain cases?

It was at this point that I read this post on Think Christianity, which led me to this John Stonestreet post at Breakpoint and finally to this fantastic post by Philip Ryken at The Gospel Coalition. All of these posts are so very worth reading, but let me just quote one paragraph about how the church discourages artists as summed up by Stonestreet:

First, they said, treat the arts as window dressing for the truth rather than the window into reality it’s intended to be. Second, embrace bad art just because it’s “Christian.” Third, value artists only for their artistic gifts, but not for the other contributions they can make as thinkers and servants with a unique perspective. Fourth, demand that artists only give answers in their work, but never raise questions. Fifth, never pay artists for their work—take advantage of them in ways we would never do with plumbers or accountants. And finally, only validate art that has a direct salvation application.

Can I get an “amen?”

(Also, as an aside, why do so few articles and posts about the arts neglect writers? With the occasional exception of poetry, I have not read much about the arts and Christianity that acknowledges that writing–especially writing fiction–is also an art. Could it be, perhaps, that it’s because those writing the articles are also writers? Do they not see the value and artistic application of their own talent and skill? It must be said, too, that I have read non-fiction works by Lewis, Sproul, Willard, and others that were so beautifully evocative and descriptive that there was no way they could not be considered “art.”)

And so, I come at last to my epiphany. My stories are my art. There is no getting around this. I have resisted this truth for years, but I cannot ignore it any longer. God infected me with these stories for a reason. He must intend for me to tell them. Whether I ever share them with anyone again is up for debate at some future point in time. I think I have to at least write them.

I have said many times that I am not a believer who gets messages by “burning bush.” I don’t have a conversational relationship with God. I don’t know if I ever will. But if this is the talent and the means and the process and the product that He gave me to communicate His truths to the best of my ability, then I must have some obligation to follow that path, mustn’t I?

So why was I hesitant? I think it’s because this was an act of obedience. I was obedient when I put everything aside. I believe that. I believe that I had to recenter myself on what was important. I absolutely had to rebalance my life.

But now, I come to the even greater act of obedience: returning to this thing–gift, calling, what-have-you–through which I can attempt to communicate themes of sin, redemption, forgiveness, love, victory, hope, faith, perseverance, goodness, and all the rest.

I can no longer be bound by worry about what secular readers think of my work. The really hard part is to refuse to be bound by what Christian readers think of my work. I think that, perhaps, I have come to the place where I should have started.

I must write, but I must write for an Audience of One.

Till next we meet . . .

J M

 

Obedience

“God sets moral standards for His glory and our good. Thus, obedience is an act of worship and brings about human flourishing.”

— Brett Kunkle, Stand to Reason

I have started this post about four or five times since I titled it. I typed “Obedience” in the space and stared at this screen, knowing I had the words inside but not being able to channel them into some semblance of coherence. And I came to a conclusion:

Obedience is hard.

It is quite likely that I will stumble through this post and still not manage to reach coherence. But because the words are stuck in the neck of this bottle, I have to remove the stopper and pour them out.

I believe in obedience. As a parent, I have to believe in obedience. Otherwise, I will raise children with no moral compass, no sense of right and wrong, of limits and authority. And sometimes, yes, I do give them the “because I said so” line. “I’m the mommy. I don’t care if you don’t like it. You will obey, or you will be disciplined.” And because my children are basically good kids who have had limits all of their lives, they usually make the correct choice. Usually.

So why is it so hard when I’m the child?

The Father looks down at me and says, “because I said so.” “I’m your Father. I don’t care if you don’t like my rules. You will obey them, or you will be disciplined.” And often, the discipline isn’t so much something that God does to me but rather a natural consequence of my disobedience. This is life. This is how things work when we’re grown-ups.

Or is it?

Our country is populated by entire generations of people who don’t believe in and refuse to accept consequences. Don’t want to follow God’s rules? That’s all right–redefine the rules. It’s okay to take the life of an innocent if the innocent is unwanted, inconvenient, or burdensome. It’s fine to sleep around, practice serial monogamy, engage in whatever sexual practices suit you for the day because we can just call God’s rules old, outdated, patriarchal, unenlightened. Don’t worry about cheating on your taxes, engaging in voter fraud, or lying to the government in order to stay in the country and receive government benefits–it’s all okay, because it’s a means to an end, and after all, don’t you deserve to be taken care of?

Lest you think, my church-going friends and allies, that I give you a free pass just because you might agree with me on the above issues, let me accuse you of some disobedience as well. You call yourselves Christians, and yet you helped elect the most pro-abortion president in our history. How can you say you respect the unborn–or indeed, any human life–when you justify that behavior? And if you think I believe that all of the purity rings I see mean that our teens aren’t sexually active, you need to wake up–there are a lot of teens who wear those rings to satisfy their parents, and there are a lot of parents who think those rings mean they can breathe easy and stop being parents. Oh, and we aren’t immune as adults, either; sexual immorality is rampant in the corporate church, and in the name of love and unity, we overlook things that elders and pastors of another era would have confronted head on.

If legalism is law without love, then licentiousness, perhaps, is love without law. And we are indeed a licentious church, preaching love and acceptance and kindness and warmth and tingly, feel-good charity, all the while forgetting the law.

I do not preach legalism. I have no faith that the law itself can save me. And I know legalistic “Christians,” and they are . . . challenging, at best, and offensive at worst. Following the letter of the law, having faith that strict adherence to the law can save me, practicing a lily-white perfect outward appearance gives us a Pharisee–a white-washed tomb full of pride and arrogance and rot. And I have been a Pharisee, and worse, and it’s not fulfilling. Legalism is sin, I have no doubt.

But likewise, licentious behavior cannot lead to salvation, either. We preach love. We want people to feel good. But when we forget law, we cheapen the gospel. Why would anyone wish to be saved if we cannot make a case that there is a reason they need salvation? If there is no law to be saved from, if the law is flexible and morally relative, what’s the point of the gospel at all?

We cheapen and disgrace the name of Christ when we conveniently forget the law.

People say that we cannot “legislate morality.” While I agree that we cannot force people to believe that anything is right or wrong, we have to recognize that all law is some legislation of some morality. We have laws against theft, rape, murder, fraud, etc. because when we use a moral code to determine what behaviors are proper, all of society benefits. What better laws, what better moral code, than the one we already have–the Bible?

Obedience is law and love together. Obedience is love with limits. And sometimes, when we start with obedience, love follows. It’s true that we risk legalism, but I would rather risk legalism than licentiousness. While an individual may not benefit from legalism, society does. There is no societal benefit from licentiousness.

I admit that I have erred on both sides. I have been licentious and legalistic. My heart is a scale that too often becomes unbalanced. But I am beginning to understand, if not fully experience, that the perfect fulcrum is obedience–law with love, love with limits. By practicing obedience even when I don’t feel like it, I grow in love for Christ. By loving Christ more, I long to be more in obedience to Him. I cannot have one without the other and still be in balance.

Till next we meet . . .

J M