Old pictures and fond memories

My dad with me and my brothers, Tim and Jim, in Bowen, Ill., sometime in the early 1960s.

Because you are sons and daughters, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba, Father!” Therefore, you are no longer a slave but a son or daughter, and if you are his child, then you are also an heir through God. (Gal. 4: 6-7, Common English Bible)

I’ve been scanning old family photos and it’s been an entertaining experience. Besides coming across such classic 1960s images as my brothers and I in Indian headdresses (not sure why we had those) or me wearing my light blue cat-eye glasses, I’ve found some sweet photos of my parents as young parents themselves. There’s one from the early 1960s of my dad with the three of us out in our yard on a sunny Sunday morning. It might have been Easter, judging by the rather pristine quality of my brother Tim’s suit and my dress. Jim looks like he’s about 2, so Tim must be about 4 and I would be 5 ½. Dad is looking at the camera, but he’s also got his fingers on Jim’s shoulders to keep him from wandering off. (Jim seldom stayed still for long.) It’s a cute picture, but it also reminds me of how much my family’s life revolved around the church. Dad was a minister, so I suppose that was natural. But we grew up understanding that even if Dad had been a carpenter or a farmer, we would have been in church every time the doors were open. While I may have resented it at times, I’m thankful now that my parents modeled a life of faith for us. They loved and served God and taught us to do the same. I know not everyone has had a father that modeled the Christian life, but we all have a heavenly father who has chosen us as his sons and daughters. Because of Christ’s sacrifice, we can know true freedom. I hope on this Father’s Day you’ll remember that God offers healing and hope no matter kind of family we come from.

CSFF Tour: Offworld

No, this isn’t going to become a blog celebrating all things Robin Parrish, but I do want to highlight Offworld once again. One of the things I thought Robin did well in this story was the gradual development of faith in the characters. It wasn’t heavy handed, it wasn’t preachy — it was organic. If you came home and found everyone gone, you’d have questions, too! If events so bizarre and unexplainable were happening around you, and to you, you’d wonder where God was in all of the chaos. A couple of weeks ago, Robin commented on his facebook page that some Christians complained that the book wasn’t Christian enough, but to non-Christians it was too Christian. I think that’s a good dilemma for a writer to have — it suggests that the writer is telling the truth and it’s making people uncomfortable.

Of course, a lot of people just want to read a good story. And that’s another way that this novel succeeds. It’s a rousing good tale that keeps the reader hooked from the first page. Robin does a good job of weaving the elements of the story together so the reader learns new things along the way, but not too many new things at once. This is the kind of story that depends a lot on the author’s ability to engage the reader — if the reader can’t buy into the premise of the story, then the author has lost him. Robin never lost me, even at points where I was afraid the story might be headed off the rails a bit. But the story world held together and I rode the roller coaster to the end.

One of Robin’s strengths is that ability to tell a fast-paced, wildly imaginitive story. The flip side of that, though, is that the breakneck pace can leave a reader feeling out of breath. And sometimes the characters can be somewhat less than fully realized. I prefer character-driven stories, so if I don’t like the characters in a book, it won’t hold me, no matter how thrilling the tale. I would say that for the most part, Robin did a good job of pacing in Offworld and the characters developed as the story progressed. I was intrigued by them and wanted to know more about them. I cared about what happened to them.

So, if you’re looking for a good read that doesn’t shy away from the spiritual development of the characters, Offworld is for you. If you don’t normally read Christian fiction, give this one a try — and then find Robin’s Dominion Trilogy and read that, too. Then you’ll understand that good Christian speculative fiction is not an oxymoron.

And if you’re interested in joining the discussion about Christian speculative fiction, visit the other fine blogs listed below.

Brandon Barr
Jim Black
Justin Boyer
Keanan Brand
Gina Burgess
Melissa Carswell
Valerie Comer
Karri Compton
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Linda Gilmore
Beth Goddard
Todd Michael Greene
Katie Hart
Ryan Heart
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Dawn King
Melissa Meeks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Eve Nielsen (posting later in the week)
John W. Otte
Lyn Perry
Steve Rice
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Speculative Faith
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Dona Watson
Elizabeth Williams

15 books … (more or less)

I’m a sucker for memes and facebook quizzes. So when Chris tagged me in a note called 15 Books That Have Shaped You (for better or worse), I had to make my list. It’s on facebook, but I’ll post it here, too, with a little commentary. (And these are probably not in any particular order, other than roughly chronological.)

1. Black Beauty
2. King of the Wind
I read these two horse stories more times than I can count and I loved them every time.

3. Little Women — I think I related to bookish Jo, always the outsider, the most. The four March girls old friends I like to visit now and again.
4. Jane Eyre — I first read this when I was about 13 and I think this is the book that really awakened me to literature. (up until then I read a lot, but I don’t think I’d tackeled anything very challenging) Sure, it’s gothic romance, but it’s gothic romance at its best, with rich characters and thrilling conflict. I was enthralled.
5. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Stranger in a Strange Land (both by Robert Heinlein)  — I should probably also mention a book by Andre Norton, but I don’t remember what it was called. But it was one of the first science fiction books I ever read. I was probably about 15 or 16. Then it was on to Isaac Asimov and  Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke. I was hooked on science fiction.
6. The Left Hand of Darkness (by Ursula K. LeGuin) — I first read this one weekend while I was in college and it was one of those books that so completely sucked me in that when I would come up for air, it was a bit of a shock to find myself in a college dorm room and not on the planet Gethen. LeGuin is a master storyteller and in this book she was at her best. I still love it.
7. The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings — I discovered The Hobbit in high school and had never read anything like it. So then I tackled the Lord of the Rings. It took me a couple of tries to read it all the way through, but I’ve been a resident of Middle Earth ever since.
8. The Chronicles of Narnia — I didn’t discover these until I was in college. We were fond, at my little Christian college, of using passages as devotions. But I think even if you never knew anything about C.S. Lewis or about Christianity, the beauty of the stories would speak to you. They’re all good, but my favorite is The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
9. To Kill a Mockingbird — I actually read this in high school and I’ve returned to it many times since. I love the voice and the way Harper Lee wove the story. It’s as if someone were sitting on the front porch and telling it to me.
10. Mysteries by Agatha Christie — My mom is a mystery lover, so I suppose it was only natural that I’d start delving into her collection. I’ve read most of her books and enjoyed them a lot, though I have found that they aren’t the kind of books that hold up to rereading. But she was very good at writing mysteries and I don’t think I ever figured out who did it very much  before the end.
11. Mysteries by Ngaio Marsh — I discovered Ngaio Marsh after I was grown and found her stories to be a little meatier, at least in some ways. Her characters seemed deeper than Christie’s. I think I liked her later books better (especially the ones where Inspecter Allyn’s wife appears).
12. Gaudy Night, by Dorothy L. Sayers (as well as her others, but this one’s my favorite) — and then I discovered Dorothy Sayers and most English mystery writers have paled in comparison ever since. I can reread some of Sayers’ books, especially Gaudy Night. I realized that a mystery story could be good literature, too, and I just loved the way she told the stories. Some of them are a little rambling and seem dated, but the characters and scenes are still vivid.
13. Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger — it’s beautiful and what else is there to say. Enger has a way with words and with characters.
14. On Writing, by Stephen King — I’ve read a lot of books about writing, but this is my favorite. And I’m not even a big Stephen King fan. But I liked his approach — telling his story and then telling about writing. It all fits together somehow and it’s entertaining as well as instructive.
15. In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden — I think I first read this in a Reader’s Digest Condensed Book and loved the story of nuns in Britain. I’m not Catholic, but Godden brought that faith tradition alive. But it’s also full of very human characters and it’s a good story.

I could go on and on (and have sometimes). But I would say that these are some of the books that have had the most lasting affect on me. What about you?

Where have I been?

My daughter, grandson and dad, with me, as we celebrate Dad's 80th birthday.

My daughter, grandson and dad, with me, as we celebrate Dad's 80th birthday.

As you can probably guess from the picture above, we had a great time celebrating my dad’s 80th birthday in May. Most of my immediate family (siblings, kids, etc.) were able to come and we had a lot of fun. It was chaos at times, but my parents were so glad we all came and I know we were all glad to be there, too. Dad got lots of nice cards from people, too, and he still enjoys them, I think.  It’s a memory we’ll all treasure.

Earlier this month, I got to spend a week in beautiful downtown Des Moines, Iowa (and that’s only a tiny bit of sarcasm you here). I was at a conference for work and it went well, other me forgetting my poster and having to recreate it. Fortunately, the FedEx/Kinko’s downtown was very helpful and I was able to do an acceptable job. I completed the ACE Leadership Institute, too, and I think it will help me in a lot of areas, as well as my job.

Now I think I’m home for the forseeable future. So maybe I’ll do a little more blogging. I know I’m going to do a couple of blog tours this summer for Robin Parrish’s new book, Off World. It sounds good, so stay tuned.

I’m finishing up the layout for Relief 3.1, and I can tell you it’s a good issue. A little edgy, but that’s OK. And I’m working on a time-travel story of my own, so maybe I’ll be able to finish that. But in the meantime, I’m trying to stay cool.

Remembering God’s Faithfulness

(This is my May 2009 column)
Psalm 77

In the early 1970s my father preached at a church in Linton, Indiana. I was just entering my teens and it was a good place for me. My brothers and I had friends in our neighborhood and there were a lot of kids in our church. What I was not aware of though, was that it wasn’t such a good place for my dad. There were good people there, but it just wasn’t a good fit and after a couple of years he resigned. I think it was the only time my father resigned before he’d been called by another church. I’ll never forget our parents telling us that we were going to be moving, but we didn’t know where or even if we would be serving another church. I think we were all a little scared, but our parents told us that God was with us and we could trust him.

My parents understood, better than my brothers and I, what the psalmist is talking about in Psalm 77. Sometimes God seems far away, sometimes we enter a desert time in our lives when the path is rocky and hard to follow. Those are the times, though, that we can say:

I will remember the deeds of the LORD;
yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
I will ponder all your work,
and meditate on your mighty deeds.
(Psalm 77:11-12)

By remembering what God has done throughout history, and in our lives, we’re reminded of what a great God we serve and can be comforted. We know we can trust him because he’s never failed us.

And all those years ago, when we wondered what God had in mind for our family, he proved himself faithful once again. Within a month, my Dad had been called to another church in southern Indiana, where he would have a fruitful ministry and our family would be at home once more. And ever since, when the path seems uncertain, that time in my life reminds me of God’s faithfulness and I know I can trust him.

True Riches

(this is my April 2009 newsletter column)

Mark 10:17-27

Whenever a group from our church returns from a mission trip to Mexico or Nicaragua, someone always mentions the joy they saw even in the midst of great poverty. Our brothers and sisters in Christ in other countries experience real joy and peace from knowing Christ, maybe because they understand very well what it means to totally rely on God’s provision. When I see the pictures from Nicaragua and Mexico, and hear the testimonies of those who went there, I’m reminded how wealthy I am compared to most of the world. I don’t usually think of myself that way, but I have everything I need and much of what I want.

So when I read the story of Jesus and the rich young man who came to him for guidance, I realize I have a lot more in common with that young man than I usually like to admit. Jesus told the young man that even though he’d lived a good life, there was something lacking. He needed to sell his possessions and give to the poor, and then follow Jesus. The young man apparently found this too hard and went away sad, and without making any changes in his life. Jesus used this opportunity to teach his disciples about what it means to follow him. They didn’t find the teaching any more comfortable than the rich young man did.

It’s not that having wealth is a bad thing, but too often our material comfort leads to complacency. Our possessions can get in the way of our walk with Christ. Jesus told his disciples it was harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. The disciples were somewhat dismayed by this statment. In Jewish culture, as in ours, wealth was considered a sign that a person had done everything right. They were blessed. So if a wealthy person couldn’t get to heaven, who could? But Jesus reminds them that nothing is impossible with God.

I, like the rich young man, could say I’ve lived a pretty good life. And I, too, am uncomfortable with the idea that I might have to give up something to follow Jesus. But my salvation isn’t dependent on what I can do or on what I possess. It’s because of the saving work of Jesus Christ. And because of that I need to be willing to do whatever God asks of me. That’s the only way I’ll ever know the true riches that come from a life lived for Christ.

Good news and basketball

A couple things.

First, I’m excited about a volunteer opportunity that has come my way. As Coach Culbertson announced last week, I’m the new layout editor for Relief Journal. This is very cool. (And, apparently, I’m continuing a tradition of Coach’s Midnight Diner authors who like to volunteer to work for Relief.) I’ve worked in journalism for nearly 20 years and a good bit of my experience involves page design and layout. So I think I have some skills that could be useful to a publication like Relief. Sure, I do this in my day job, but I’ve been praying about and keeping my eyes open for opportunities to use these talents for God in some way. So when Coach put out a call for a layout editor a few weeks ago, I fired off an e-mail before I could lose my nerve. Now I get to layout something like 170 pages between now and early May. A little scary and but I’m looking forward to it. And I’m helping a good cause.

I’ve also been putting together an annual report for the Midwest Covenant Conference Women Ministries (I’m on the board) and that’s been fun, too. It’s short and it’s almost done and I think it looks pretty good. A few more tweaks and it’ll be ready for printing.

Now on to basketball. Yes, the time has come for me to give myself over to the madness that is the NCAA tournament. I’ve made my bracket picks, knowing full well that my bracket will be shot to pieces before the first round is over. But it’s fun anyway. For once, I have not picked KU to win it all this year — they’re good, but I’m not confident they can do it this year. K-State’s men’s team is in the NIT and K-State’s women’s team is in the NCAA tournament, so I’ll have multiple teams to cheer for.

And one more thing — it is definitely feeling more like spring outside and that’s a very good thing.

Receive Him

Matt. 2:9-12
John 1:9-13

Almost every Christmas pageant includes an appearance by the three wise men who came to see baby Jesus. Of course, by the time they arrived, Jesus was probably a toddler, not a baby. And there might have been two wise men, or five, or more — the account in Matthew 2 just says they brought three kinds of gifts, not how many men actually brought them. But even though some of what we think we know about the wise men is more legend than fact, there is one thing we know for sure: When they saw Jesus “they fell down and worshiped him.” And in doing so, they offer a glimpse of what is to come — a time when all people, not just the Jews, can know and worship God.

John writes in his Gospel that Jesus “came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God …” (John 1:11-12) Among the earliest worshipers of God’s son were lowly shepherds, a poor prophet and prophetess in the temple (Simeon and Anna), and these men from a foreign country. The ruler of the day, King Herod, feared Jesus as a threat to his power. It seems to have beyond his imagination that what Jesus had to offer was worth far more than any earthly throne.

Who are we most like? The wise men who sought Jesus and offered him their worship and their best gifts? Or are we like Herod and the religious authorities of Israel, who, seeing only the threat to their way of life, rejected the son of God?

As we start another new year, let’s think about the wise men. Let’s try to be like those who welcomed Jesus and offered their hearts and lives to him. His gift to us is far greater than all the gold or power in the world.

~ Eutychus

Shaped by God’s Word

Psalm 119:1-8

When I was growing up, my youngest brother looked up to me. He followed me around, he liked the TV shows I liked, he played pretend with me and followed my lead. We are still close and like a lot of the same books and movies. Several years ago he told me that when we were kids he even tried to emulate my handwriting. This was not such a good thing since my handwriting was atrocious (and still is). I feel bad that in at least that area, I wasn’t such a good influence. I think most of us can relate to the experience of either looking up to someone and wanting to be like that person, or being the person someone looks up to. But as humans, we’re far from perfect and can (often unintentionally) lead someone astray — or least into very poor penmanship.

But there is one model we are given that won’t lead us astray. In fact, it will mold and shape us into the kinds of people God intends us to be. The first three verses of Psalm 119 say:

Blessed are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the Lord!
Blessed are those who keep his testimonies,
who seek him with their whole heart,
who also do no wrong,
but walk in his ways! (Ps. 119:1-3 ESV)

The Hebrew word we translate as “keep” carries the idea of paying close attention, or treasuring. If we give close attention to God’s word, if we treasurer it, if we seek him, he will not lead us astray. Instead, he will give wise guidance and we will find our way in his ways.

All of Psalm 119 is a celebration of God’s Word and a reminder to us of the importance of being immersed in his Word. I plan to spend more time in Psalm 119, as a start to learning to walk more closely in God’s ways. I hope this year you, too, will treasure God’s Word and walk more closely with him.

~ Eutychus

The Messiah We Need

I Samuel 8
John 1:29

How often have you wanted something very badly, and yet when you finally got it, realized it wasn’t what you really wanted or needed after all? The Israelites were often that way. In I Samuel 8, they beg and beg for a king. God tells the prophet Samuel to give them what they want, while warning them that having a king might not be a such a great thing after all. God knew that Israel was not willing to let him be king over them, even though he had brought them out of Egypt and provided a wonderful land for them. They wanted a king like all the other countries. So, Samuel found a king for them — Saul, the first in a long line of kings in Israel, some good, some bad, but mostly bad. By the time Herod the Great was king, the country was under Roman domination, and now the people longed for the Messiah. Surely he would come and kick the Romans out, depose Herod and restore Israel to its former glory.

God certainly heard what the people wanted. But he also knew what they needed — a Savior. They didn’t need a king to rule an earthly country, they needed the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” as John the Baptist says in John 1:29. So God sent his son to be born a baby in humble circumstances, to grow up and teach and heal and show a new way to relate to God. Then he would die for our sins and rise again, conquering death and bringing hope to world.

Because of Jesus, our hope doesn’t need to rest on earthly rulers. Governments come and go — some good, some not so good, some downright evil. But our hope is in Christ and our citizenship is in the Kingdom of God. We have an eternity of communion with God to look forward to.

Sometimes, like the Israelites, we think we need something other than God to make our lives better — maybe a new car or a new house or a different spouse or a different president. But all through the Bible God is teaching us that all we really need is him. I don’t know about you, but I find that comforting.

May your Christmas season be filled with the peace that comes from knowing Christ.

~ Eutychus