Monday, May 25, 2015

Finding Beauty

The Dandelion Field by Kathryn Springer, Zondervan Publishers, 2015

What can I say? I’m a girl. I have an appreciation for and attraction to things that are beautiful. That includes books. I’m not talking the cover either – though the cover of this book is certainly beautiful! It’s the story that draws in me again and again. I’m a sucker for a beautiful story and that’s what The Dandelion Field is. It starts with an ugly, ugly scenario: Good Christian hometown boy, son of a fall hero firefighter, popular with and kind to all… he gets attracted to her… trailer trash, just traveling through, doesn’t even know her dad since he abandoned the family years ago, hardened teenage girl. Despite all the differences between them, Cody falls in love with Raine. And he falls hard! Now they’re sitting in the living room announcing she is pregnant. 

But the story isn’t really about them. It’s about their parents. Sort of. Dan isn’t really Cody’s dad. He’s Cody’s dad’s best friend and partner in fighting fires. He grew up as a playmate to Cody’s dad and mom. In fact, Dan noticed Cody’s mom had suddenly turned into a young woman first. So twelve years ago, when Cody’s dad died, Dan stepped in and took over the role of father. Dan is exactly as Cody was described above: he’s the fire chief, grew up in this small town, admired by and kind to all, a strong Christian and very attractive. Geneieve however is exactly as her daughter was described. The abandonment of Raine’s father was the final straw for her. No more trusting anyone or making any attempt to lay down roots. She’s just passing through – like always. 

But the God of Dan and Cody has plans to turn Gen & Raine’s world upside down. And He wants to use Dan and Cody to bless these two women in ways they could never have imagined!

How could I not be drawn to the gentle, tender love story of two men who want to woo the women they love in such a godly manner? Even as Dan tries to pursue Gen, he hears that still small voice guiding him and he heeds it, though it causes deep pain. Cody is every bit the hero his dad was and Dan is. He takes full responsibility for his mistake – long before Raine finds out she’s pregnant. It only takes giving in one time for Cody to repent and recommit to doing what is right. When he learns she is pregnant he is even more determined to do what he believes God wants of him. 

Some would bash this book for being so filled, not just with good morals, but with a very clear faith. That’s where I find the beauty though. The author uses a tender love story to preach trust in God, even as it shows how sin can have some pretty strong consequences – even if that sin was giving in to one small moment of temptation.
One of my favorite children’s videos compares the movie Finding Nemo to the Bible saying how we like “stories like this because we are in a story like this. Our world is broken. It doesn’t work quite right.” We try and try to restore it, to make things right. Who can’t relate to feeling lost, confused and hopeless? Dan and Cody can not fix the hurt in Gen and Raine’s lives, but they can help point them to the One who can and show a picture of the great love that God has for them!

So how about you? What story shows beauty to you? Where do you see stories of God’s redemption?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Where Is God When Bad Things Happen?

  “I’ve seen plenty of bad that has happened without any glory to God. There’s a lot of suffering in this world. I find God cruel for not stopping it… or at best, insensitive to our pain.”

“The apostle wanted them to know this love that surpassed their knowledge and understanding, that they might filled as only God could fill them.” Reverend Lawrence gave a little laugh. “Sounds good doesn’t it? But I’ll bet that Seth and Becky Farley didn’t feel that kind of love when Becky was diagnosed with cancer. And what about you, Mayor, when your grandson nearly died from a tractor accident. It sure didn’t feel like God’s loved when the doctors told you he might not make it, did it?” “No sir, it did not.”

“I don’t understand why he died. I don’t know. It makes me think that the world is a terrible place when things like that can happen. I mean, how could God let Nick die? How could God let those baby birds die?”

Why grow a rebellious girl like Dinah into a wonderful woman of God," Tyler offered, "then let disaster rip through and take her and her unborn child?"

Where is God when bad things happen? It’s the question of the ages isn’t it? All the way back to Job, a book of the Bible that many say happened in early Genesis, people have been asking this question. Many theologians and preachers have attempted to answer this question through the years. God has given some answers straight up in the Bible. He says things like, “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you”. But we don’t feel that way when in the midst of tragedy.

Christian fiction is supposed to be stories that help point people towards the Bible and the God of the Bible. So it’s not surprising that many Christian fiction authors tackle this huge question. It’s interesting to see what sort of answers they give.

I decided to write a post on this topic after recently reading 3 books that addressed this question. Two pointed readers towards truth, one took a very different approach.

Here’s the first book: Along Came Jones by Linda Windsor, Multonomah Publishers, 2003

Deanna is a fool. She fell for a classic move. A good looking employer paid the compliments, dropped the hints and got her to do his bidding. How was she to know he was getting her involved in a scam? Now the police suspect her and so she’s on the run. When she crashes, Shep finds her on his property and takes her in till her car can get fixed. Her stupid, foreign, expensive car that will take weeks to get the right parts for. It’s a romance story so of course Shep and Deanna start falling in love, the bad guys and the law both come chasing Deanna and lots of excitement occurs. But in the midst of that Deanna starts finding faith and asking the questions. Here’s the answers given in this book:

“When bad things happen to good innocent people, when we are pushed to the very limit of our endurance, I don’t care how strong your faith is, doubt can shake it, and you will become involved in a spiritual battle between good and evil that will take no prisoners. One or the other will win.. My question to you is: Which one will triumph over you?”

“God how can I separate this hurt from the ruins of my hope when I can’t even think straight? Emotion collided with reason, feelings with knowledge. Yet, above the confused clamor, there was one voice that, like Shep’s plea, would not be lost in the fray. ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.”Deanna seized at it like a lifeline. ‘Then hold me, Lord. Help me to see what is right. Give me strength and courage to do what You’d have me do. You alone are the Rock that will not shift beneath my feet. You are all I have left.’ ‘God is enough.’ Shep’s reassuring words came back to her, words of truth. ‘Amen’.”

Linda Windsor’s answer to the question is that bad things WILL happen, but the TRUTH  must be remembered and clung to in those emotional moments: God will NEVER leave us and is willing to give us strength to endure any trial we face.

The next book I read was part of a series: Winter's Tide (Sisters in All Seasons) by Lisa Williams Kline, Zonderkidz Publishers, 2012-2013

Two teenage girls become sisters when their divorced parents remarry. The sisters couldn’t be more different. Stephanie is a kind sweet girl who is a major people pleaser. Dina could care less what anyone thinks of her and is quick to let her emotions control her speech. Stephanie assumes God is real and kind of tries to intentionally live a moral life. Dina sees suffering in the world and assumes God is not there.
Here’s the answers she is given.

”Why do bad things like this happen? This is why I don’t believe in God,” I said.
“We don’t know why this whale beached itself,” Mom said. “But I know what you mean. Last night when we were in the hospital talking with Grammy, I was thinking about how much pain Grammy was in and how hard it was to see that.”

“‘And I don’t believe in God. And one reason I don’t is because there is so much evil,’ Diana added. There was a silent moment, and I held my breath. What would Daddy and Lynn say?
Finally Daddy said, ‘One of the wonderful things about poems is that we read them year after year, and as we get older and wiser, we still get profound meaning from them. You will memorize this poem, and it has a meaning to you now. Ten years from now, you will still remember the poem, but what it means to you by then may be completely different. That’s the amazing thing about great literature.’ And that was all anyone said. For whatever reasons, the moment passed by peacefully. Diana looked at Daddy and nodded.”

Lisa Kline does not give any real answers. She makes no attempts to communicate truth, only to portray a picture that teen girls question faith.

A Sensible Arrangement (Lone Star Brides) (Volume 1) by Tracie Peterson, Bethany House Publishers, 2014
I’ve always categorized Tracie Peterson’s books as “Ok, not great, not my favorite, but I’ll read them.” But this series really stands out to me. The main characters have definite incorrect beliefs about God or the world and they aren’t allowed to stay there. Those with the truth challenge and encourage. And in one book, it’s not even the side characters, but a realization herself that starts changing them. In this book, Marty has lost her husband to an accident years ago and while she’s recovered from the hurt and is now remarried and has a life full of blessings, she’s still mad at God. Her maid has a strong faith despite very recent tragedies that continue to very negatively impact her, including a horrid scar on her face from the attack that left her as a poor orphan. She says

“As the pastor said at church just a few Sundays back, God isn’t in the business of doing things without them having a purpose that will lead to His glory.”
“Well, I don’t know about that.” Marty generally kept her religious thoughts to herself, but with Alice she felt she could be honest. “I’ve seen plenty of bad that has happened without any glory to God. There’s a lot of suffering in this world. I find God cruel for not stopping it… or at best, insensitive to our pain.”
“I beg to differ,” Alice said, surprising Marty with her bold stand. “There will always be cruel and insensitive people, but those are not qualities that can be assigned to God. The Bible says that God is love. Love is never insensitive or cruel, so therefore I cannot believe God capable of such… human attributes.
“So you believe God had you attacked and injured for His glory, and it wasn’t an act of cruelty?”
“I don’t think God had me attacked at all. I think the men who attacked me didn’t much care what God wanted.”
“But God could have prevented the entire situation.”
“He could have,” Alice agreed. “He could have done any number of things. And while I believe God did allow this to happen to me, I don’t think it was His desire. I don’t think He took any delight in the occurrence.”
“Then why didn’t He intervene to stop it? The Bible talks about how Jesus and the Spirit both intercede for us. Why not intercede to prevent an evil man from harming an innocent one?”
“Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and not receive evil?” Alice countered.
“Isn’t that Job?”
Alice nodded. “It is Job. Second chapter, tenth verse. Job is suffering and his wife wants him to curse God and die. That’s how he answers her. To my way of thinking, evil will always be with us because of the sin of Adam. The world is not a perfect place.”
“So your injury was just one of those things that happened because the world isn’t perfect? Doesn’t that alleviate God’s responsibility in the matter?”
“And what would God’s responsibility have been?” Alice asked.
“To keep you from harm. To save you.”
“But He did save me, Mrs. Wythe. I nearly died from loss of blood and then an infection.”
Marty shook her head.
Alice gave a brief nod before her face lip up in a smile. “I suppose you could say that it was my fault or my father’s fault for putting me in a position of danger. god didn’t force us to go out that dark ingith. In fact, my father had commented that it wasn’t a wise idea. However, he wanted to take care of business that evening. I decided to accompany him, even though he had suggested it would be better for me to remain at home. So who is at fault?”
“But my point is that if God truly is love, He would intervene and keep such bad things from happening to the innocent.”
Marty turned and looked up at Alice. “Why? You ask why God should keep the innocent from harm?”
“Yes. He didn’t keep Jesus from harm, and Jesus was completely innocent. He was beaten and spat upon and crucified. Does that mean God didn’t love Him?  Jesus is a part of God – how could He not love himself?”
Marty frowned as she considered the young woman’s words. “You don’t think that God… well… that He should keep the innocent from harm?”
Alice shrugged. “If you are suggesting that God somehow owes it to us, then no. I think God has given us a great many blessings beyond what we deserve and yet has withheld a great deal of the punishment we DO deserve.”

Theology. It’s a beautiful thing. Alice answers Marty with great wisdom. The reality is that Scripture makes it quite clear that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and deserve nothing less than His wrath and condemnation (Romans 6:23). Yet, God, in His mercy, grace and love offers us salvation – eternal life. We still suffer on this earth because sin is present and God does not make us robots. He gives humans a choice. Some reject Him and do horrid things to innocent people. And the earth itself was cursed after the fall of man. Every horrid awful thing that God prevents is way beyond what we deserve. Instead of blaming God for the bad things that happen the blame needs to lie with the evil one and the horrid destruction he has done to God’s beautiful creation. Some day God will wipe out all the evil and create a new Heaven and a new Earth. Till then, there WILL be suffering and pain and death. But God’s promise is to help us through all of it and for those that choose Him, to grant us a perfect life free of all suffering, pain and death, when this life is over.  

The final book is Bad Girl Days (Brio Girls) by Lissa Halls Johnson, Tyndale House Publishers, 2005
Years ago some authors connected with Focus On The Family got together and wrote a series based off of the Christian Teen Magazine, Brio. In this final book, one of the characters has lost her trust in God. A tragedy has happened to one of their closest friends and Jacie has realized that God’s first priority isn’t making us happy. How can she believe in a God who isn’t concerned with her happiness?

Do you believe God is good all the time?
Tyler took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. “I don’t know, Jacie. It doesn’t seem like it.”
Tears began again. “Then how are we supposed to believe?”
“Believe what, Jacie? The God we’ve made up in our own imaginations, or the God who really is?” Tyler moved to sit next to her. “We squish God into a tiny box, and when He pops out, we’re shocked and horrified. W e tell God what He looks like instead of letting God define Himself for us...  The way I see it” he continued “I have a few options in this world: Do things my way – trusting myself, a screwed-up human being. Do things the way someone else wants me to – trusting another screwed-up human being. Do things the way the enemy of God would have me do – trusting what I can see. nd you know, sometimes that option looks pretty good for a while. My last option, the way I see it, is to do things the way God wants me to – attempting to trust a Being we don’t always understand. One who does not always make sense in what He asks or tell me to do.
He picked up Jacie’s hand and began to rub her fingers one at a time. “I already know I make a complete mess of things when I’m in charge. I don’t trust what others think is right. Year, I can create my own god or spirituality the way they do, but really, who am I fooling? I’d still be ultimately following myself. And if I follow some human leader who thinks he has all the answers, I’m just following an arrogant egotists who is more interested in himself than me.
Jacie tried to listen.
“Like I said, I’ve seen what the enemy of God does, and it’s guaranteed to ultimately lead to some sort of life-sucking horrors. So what does that leave me? A God who is unpredictable, who claims He ultimately does things for our good. But what if that good often comes in a package that looks pretty lousy?”
Jacie thought of Tyler’s dad. He claimed to be a Christian but he used his ‘faith’ as a weapon to crush his family. “What if it isn’t really good and God is just trying to fool us?”
“I’ve thought of that. What if God is not ALL good? What then?” Tyler turned to look at her. “Jacie, it ultimately comes back to my options. No matter how you look at it, there’s only one who stands out as the least bad of all choices.”
Jacie nodded but hated the answer.
“It always comes down to a choice of faith, doesn’t it? Either we believe that God is perfectly good and we trust Him in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. Or we don’t believe God is perfectly good, but He’s the best option we’ve got and so we trust that some of what He does will be good.”
Jacie frowned. The options she had didn’t seem very good. But Tyler had a point. Either way, God was the best choice, either way she had to have faith enough to give Him her obedience. Or s he’d have to trust herself or someone else equally fallible.

Not very pretty is it? But these teens boil it down to one simple factor: faith. Either you believe that the Bible is true when it claims God is good or you look at the tragedies of life and choose to believe He is not. God will not force anyone to believe in Him. It’s a choice.

In conclusion, we have 4 very different books. Two youth fiction, one historical fiction and one modern/realistic/romantic fiction. Yet all 3 claim to be Christian and offer thoughts on why bad things happen to good people. The question is, do any of these fictional stories help you understand the issue better? Do they shed light on the question that causes so many to stumble? If so, please read the book, then write and thank the author for offering encouragement!