In Stitches: Contentious Clothing

She couldn’t believe her sister. It was just a sweater, and it hadn’t even shrunk that much in the drier. And she’d given it back, hadn’t she? Her sister probably wouldn’t have even noticed it missing in the first place, if she had kept it.

His daughter must be trying to kill him; that’s all there was to it. Why else would she try to go to the movies wearing that? He was just glad he caught her before she left.

How many times did he have to hear his mom gripe about his favorite jeans? It seemed that everything in life was changing, but the jeans still covered the important parts and were too comfortable to throw away. So what if they had a few holes?

do all thingswith love (6)
graphic made at https://www.canva.com/

Maybe you’ve never had an argument over clothing before. Maybe you have. But most of us have likely watched a scene in a television show or a movie in which there was some sort of argument over clothing.

Something that is necessary for survival in the elements, something that was a gift from God to grant us modesty after the fall, (like most gifts) isn’t off-limits where Satan is concerned. Where he can stir up contention, he will.

And trust me! This isn’t a new thing. As we mentioned last week, and as the writer of Ecclesiastes says, “There is nothing new…” It was even happening in Genesis.

We learn through the later chapters of Genesis that Jacob, whom God gave a new name of Israel, married two women, and favored the younger, Rachel. She was barren, while her elder sister Leah bore Jacob many sons. When they were older, God opened Rachel’s womb and she had Joseph. Playing favorites is always a dangerous game, but this is an instance where a piece of clothing, meant as a gift to a beloved child, plays a part that Jacob certainly wasn’t anticipating.

Please read Genesis 37:3-4.

Let’s pause for a moment to consider how color was added to clothing in the ancient world. In addition to the wool being shorn from the sheep, carded and cleaned, spun and woven, it would be soaked in boiling water with whatever dye would make the desired color. Various stems, leaves, roots, and blossoms might have been used, or shells or rocks ground into a powder, or even secretions from a snail or other creature.

Imagine doing that enough to make many colors! Even if, say, Jacob had saved pieces of many other dyed things (say some red from a tent, some blue from a tunic, some yellow from a headcovering, etc), he would have to save and store all of those things for some time, and then stitch the pieces together. Either way it happened, he put a lot of work into it.

And Joseph’s brothers were jealous. Not only of the coat, though that certainly didn’t help matters. But we know from the verse we already read that Jacob loved Joseph more, and it would be difficult to imagine that Jacob hid it very well. Heap onto that the fact that Joseph had dreams that indicated his family (and brothers!) would some day bow down to him. Looking back with hind’s sight, we know that they did indeed bow down before Joseph, years later, when he was in Egypt after God blessed him and used him as an instrument to save many lives in the face of a terrible famine. But first, Joseph has to be sent to Egypt.

Read Genesis 37:18-28. There’s a lot happening in this account, and while we could spend hours delving into it all. Consider, though, how quickly the brothers’ jealousy devolved into hatred, and eventually murder. Reuben is an exception, and those verses concerning him are worth further study. We’ll have to save that for another time, though.

Think of the coat of many colors, and what it represented for Joseph: his father’s favor, safety and security, a place of honor. When the brothers took the coat to use as proof of Joseph’s made-up fate (being eaten by a wild animal), they also took those things the coat represented as Joseph would be uncertain of his future and separated from his family.

Spring Sale (5)
graphic made at https://www.canva.com/

Isaiah 61:10 also speaks of a robe that instead of being removed, is placed on someone. Where are we clothed with a garment of salvation and a robe of righteousness? While the removal of Joseph’s coat symbolically represented the apparent removal of the good in his life (though not really, for God was still orchestrating things for a greater good), we are given, in our Baptism and in the faith there planted by the Holy Spirit, a robe of righteousness.

We’ll close there, but I’d love to hear, in the comments below, your thoughts on this question: What other places in Scripture use clothes as symbolic or even literal blessings?

In Stitches: Leaves and Hides

The clothing industry is a big one (to put it mildly), and many people really enjoy putting together fun and stylish outfits. For our generations, most of us don’t need to make our own clothing, and it’s not always a cost-effective endeavor. Two hundred years ago, you’d either have to pay someone to make clothes for you, or make them yourself. Two thousand years ago, most people likely had one or possibly two sets of clothing only, traded or made by the wearer; shearing the sheep, carding the wool, spinning it into threads, weaving it into a garment…it was a lot more work than driving to the store or clicking “place order” on a website!

do all thingswith love (5)
graphic made at https://www.canva.com/

As integral as clothing is in our world, and how styles and fabrics define cultures and societies, it’s easy to forget the reason for our clothing…the Fall.

Let’s turn to Genesis 3:7. We read it last week, as part of the larger story of Adam and Eve’s fall into sin.

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

We wear clothes to preserve modesty, because of sin. For me at least, it’s weird and uncomfortable and strange to think about clothing as being tied to that. And yet, Scripture makes a point of including this detail of the Fall. Imagine, if you will, what would have happened to Adam and Eve’s fig leaves…the durability of even the most tenaciously sturdy leaves is temporary at best, and short-lived at worst. Theirs was a “quick-fix”.

After detailing the consequences that their sin would bring, we read in Genesis 3:21 that God isn’t going to leave them in their flimsy fig leaves.

And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.

It’s a relatively brief verse, and fairly easy to skip over. But let’s see what digging a little deeper might show us.

Right away, we can see that God is caring for them, providing for their needs before they even know them, and before the needs arise. At this point, Adam and Eve are still in the Garden of Eden, but in the next verses, we see that God sends them out from there. We also see God doing this at the expense of the life of an animal. It points first to the sacrifices that will take place and ultimately to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. In the aftermath of Adam and Eve’s sin, we see God’s mercy being poured out. In providing for them in spite of their sin, God sets the pattern for the rest of His interaction with humanity.

He cannot ignore sin, because He is just. Because of His mercy, He will not leave us in our sin, because He is love. Even before we could begin to comprehend what it would cost, He had in the works a plan for our salvation.

Spring Sale (4)
graphic made at https://www.canva.com/

God clothed them.

And He clothes us.

We’ll explore that more in the coming week…in the meantime, I’d love to hear in the comments below about your favorite article of clothing and why.

I’ll go first: I love sweaters; they are very comforting to me. In Texas, I don’t get to wear them all year, so for the few months that it’s chillier, I’m so happy to be able to snuggle into a cardigan with a cup of warm coffee or tea and a favorite book!

PS Sorry this post is a day late! Look for today’s post later today! (Thank goodness they’re short, yes? ;))

Creativity in Vocation

do all thingswith love (4)
graphic made at canva.com

Yesterday, we talked about God taking the broken and ugly and messy, and bringing something beautiful from it. Today, we’re picking up where we left off.

Let’s look to 2 Corinthians 5:16-19 for the “after” of this “before and after”. Read it in your Bible, follow the link, or keep going to read it in sections with my thoughts in between. 😉

Whew! That’s quite a bit, and so packed with wonderful grace and motivation and creativity. Let’s unpack it a bit.

Verse 16 – From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.

This is about perspective and how we see things, and more importantly, how God sees things. And isn’t creativity so often about seeing what isn’t plainly visible? Let’s turn to 1 Samuel 16:7 (but keep your finger or a bookmark in 2 Corinthians 5…we’ll be coming back in a moment!). This verse sits in the middle of God showing Samuel who He has chosen to be king of Israel after He rejected Saul. Samuel is expecting someone whose presence will command respect and authority. But God tells him that “man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart.”

We can’t see into one another’s hearts, like God does, but a key component of creativity is seeing beyond the obvious. God’s vision extends beyond what we can see or sense or imagine on our own. By the Holy Spirit, we are able to see a little like God does. And what does He see? Let’s read on…

Verse 17 – Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Here’s the key to all of this, what clears our eyes and cleanses our sins: Christ. Christ is what God sees and Christ is what we see in others. Christ is acting through us to help others and acting through others to help us, in what we call vocation. Whether it’s the vocation of mother or father, sister, brother, friend, or neighbor…whether it’s your profession, your volunteer position, or something else. Any place that you serve others is really God using you as His hands and feet to serve those people.

Vocation is where creativity finds excellence in purpose.

Do you remember talking about purpose the other day? It’s what drives creativity. Why do we do what we do, whether it’s thinking creatively about a problem to solve, planning the front flowerbeds, choosing the colors and stitches of a blanket we’re crocheting, or deciding how to design a greeting card for someone. Is it to share beauty? That’s certainly an excellent purpose. Is it to show caring? That’s also an excellent purpose. Is it to share Christ? That is the most excellent purpose, and the purpose given the Body of Christ.

Read Luke 19:10, to see why Jesus says He came. Well? That’s pretty clear. And in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20), He shares that mission with His followers, with us. This is pretty exciting and humbling stuff, isn’t it? Being called to this mission. And yet we remember that it isn’t us that will change hearts, but God. Let’s keep reading.

Verses 18-19 – All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

What comfort! It doesn’t depend on us. God provides it all. Read 1 Corinthians 3:6-7 to see how Paul says that “it’s all God”. See? The new creation, the changing of hearts, the reconciliation, the skills and the willingness and the heart for ministry. He’s doing it all, but choosing to use us, poor, weak human vessels that we are, holding the greatest gift that could ever be.

Spring Sale (3)
graphic made at canva.com

Creativity for the sake of creativity is great. It’s beautiful and wonderful and amazing to see what people are capable of coming up with. What an excellent thing, though, when our God-given creativity is put to work for the Kingdom of God: visual art and song and crafts and more, as tools for Kingdom-work and sharing the Good News with one another and with a hurting world.

In the comments below, I’d love for you to share with me either how you use your own craft for the Kingdom-work, or how you might begin to. And if you don’t have a craft, maybe consider how one that interests you could be used for the same!

The Fall and Creative Redemption

To be up-front: today’s study is going to be a bit shorter than the last two; in posting every day, my goal is to make shorter studies than the last one, but we had a lot of ground to cover when talking about creation…

We’ve touched on the effect of sin on our creativity, but we can learn a great deal more by looking at God’s action in response to the Fall.

do all thingswith love (3)
graphic made at canva.com

Digging right in, please read Genesis 3, the whole thing. We knew it was coming, because we aren’t living in Eden now, are we? The world around us is broken, crying out for restoration and healing. Easter was a week and a half ago, and being Easter people – Christians – we know the great lengths God went to for our restoration. But there’s still the fact that we’re living in a now-and-not-yet reality, where we’ve been forgiven, cleansed, and restored…but still struggle with sin, still find that we can’t do everything we’d like to, still struggle against the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature.

What message of the Gospel, the good news of salvation, can you find here? Let’s read Genesis 3:15 again, together:

I will put enmity between you and the woman,

and between your offspring and her offspring;

he shall bruise your head,

and you shall bruise his heel.

It’s really a portion of poetry, which when set inside the prose of the previous portions, makes us sit up and take notice. It’s different…dare I say, something new? And, of course, it’s also God speaking…so that should also draw our attention.

To whom is this portion of Scripture addressed? You may need to glance up in your Bibles, or scroll up on the online source.

God is talking to the Serpent. So really, it isn’t being delivered as good news for him. Perhaps Satan felt the icy fingers of dread close around him at this time. Perhaps he was too arrogant in his pride to recognize that in this, his fate is sealed. Either way, what is delivered as a foretelling of what would happen to him, translates to Gospel for us.

Isn’t that just like God? To take something ugly and nasty and awful and turn it into something beautiful?

And when we consider the details, the intricately-woven plan, of our salvation, we can’t help but be in awe. Like when considering the creation of all things, it’s amazing. From the prophecies throughout the Old Testament concerning His birth, His life, His suffering, His death, and even His resurrection. And then we look to the ways that all of these things come together for us, to bring us back into a close relationship with God Himself… who could have imagined these things, but God Himself, the Creative Creator and Re-Creator?

Let’s look at Isaiah 43:18-19. In this passage, God is addressing Israel, who is again being disobedient. But He is talking about bringing hope to hopeless places. This happens repeatedly throughout the Old Testament, as the people’s disobedience carries them to hopeless places, and God goes in and rescues them.

Spring Sale (2)
graphic made at canva.com

He takes the ugly and nasty and awful and turns it into something beautiful. It happened in Eden in the shape of a prophecy. It happened at Calvary in the shape of a cross. It happens today in more ways than we can count, as He is still active in our lives, working and renewing and re-creating.

In the comments below, please share either your favorite “re-creating” moment, or share your favorite project that starts with something old and turns it into something new (colloquially known as “upcycling”).

Made to Make

This study has been a long time coming. Before I recognized what “creativity” was, I enjoyed it. Some people are wired that way. When not actively using their creativity, they don’t feel fulfilled or feel that something’s missing. Others don’t consider themselves a “creative sort” because maybe they can’t draw or don’t have a good sense of what colors work well together when decorating a room. And there are still others who just don’t enjoy it, who would rather work with numbers than a paintbrush or read about past historic figures than experiment with flavors in the kitchen.

Even so, I would contend that creativity is at least a part of each of us, made in the image of the Creator. It just manifests in different ways. This doesn’t necessarily mean being able to make something brand-new that will amaze anyone who looks at it. Let’s take a look at Ecclesiastes 1:9-11.

This passage states a basic truth that, if we apply logic, we will come to the same conclusion that Solomon did. Nothing is new. Whether we’re looking at a tree or a color or a meal…we aren’t doing anything new with our crafting. The tree, even when a sprout, came from a seed that another tree dropped. We cannot invent a new color. Food, while able to be prepared in a variety of methods and combinations, is still the same things that have been used for ages.

So what’s the point? Why pursue creativity?

Because it’s a part of how we are wired. Read Genesis 9:6. It’s couched in a passage about God blessing Noah and his family after the Flood, and God tells them that while eating animals is acceptable, they need to not eat animals before the life – the blood – has been drained from it. Further, man’s life is of greater import and God will require a reckoning from the one who spills the blood of man. Why? Because man is made in the image of God, the end of the verse tells us.

What in this verse stands out to you, whether in relation to creativity or in relation to life in general?

Not only is this verse a clear statement of the value of human life, but it also is a reinforcement of the fact that we are indeed stamped with the image of God, with the image of the Creator. This is why our lives have such value, because of whose image we bear. This is also why we are creators and makers. Because God is. Plants and animals and the rest of creation is beautiful, but it is not creative. It doesn’t make things in the same way that we do.

do all thingswith love (2)
graphic made at canva.com

Let’s hop over to Colossians 3:9-11. As you read, remember that right before this passage, Paul is reminding the Colossians that they must put away the things of darkness, of sin. This is the other side of creativity—it isn’t used just for good. Sinful humanity’s minds can come up with a lot of ways to dress the sins of pride and selfishness. But as followers of Christ, who have been called by Him, we are called to put away those practices and to put on the new self, the restored image of our God, that we bear.

My good friend, Heidi Goehmann of I Love My Shepherd, recently authored a video and book Bible Study on Song of Solomon called Altogether Beautiful. It’s available today, from Concordia Publishing House (yay! I’m so excited for this, and love how beautifully it fits with our study today!) One of the central themes of her study centers around the fact that because of sin, our ability to see beauty rightly has also been broken. But we are beautiful, each of us, in and out, because God made us, put His image on us, and redeemed us in Christ.

Creativity is about beauty. Maybe not visual beauty always, though often it is. But remember, even the broken is beautiful. A mosaic is comprised of tiny, broken pieces of glass or stone. Yet these are some of the most amazing works of art, possibly because they take something broken and create something lovely.Spring Sale (1)

Creativity allows us to see something in a new way. For those of us who don’t feel very creative most of the time, I encourage you to try exercising your creativity in a small way. Color a picture in a coloring book—it’s a great stress-reliever. Try a cross-stitch kit—it tells you exactly what to do! We’ll be having tutorials in the coming weeks, geared toward people who aren’t experienced in each craft. Give them a try. And if you don’t like it, don’t worry—there are plenty more to try!

Tomorrow, we’ll dig more into the Fall into sin and God’s creative answer to that. In the meantime, I’d love to hear about what creative endeavors you’d like to try, or that you tried and just couldn’t get into. We can’t all be experts in everything, and that’s ok. Until tomorrow, dear friends.

Three Ps of Creation

 

do all thingswith love
graphic made at https://www.canva.com/ 🙂

As I considered the idea of creativity and what it means to have been created by a creative God, I began to realize that making things, that working to produce things, is probably tied up more in who we are as humans than we realize. As I mentioned in the post last week introducing the study, we’ve lost a lot…most?…of the making that for year, humans had to do for their survival.

If wheat wasn’t planted, cultivated, harvested, separated from the chaff, ground, mixed with other ingredients, and cooked…there was no bread. If the sheep weren’t sheered, the wool cleaned and spun, then woven and made into a garment…there was nothing to wear. I’m sure you get the picture, so I won’t go on.

It suffices to say that our generation has seen a rapid increase in conveniences that might make life easier, but perhaps doesn’t make it fuller.

I believe that in losing the labor of making things, we’ve lost a large portion of how we were wired to be. Before we can explore this further, though, let’s turn our eyes to God. It’s where they should be pretty regularly, anyway, and we can learn a great deal about our creativity by observing His. We were made in His image, after all. In a moment, we’ll be reading of the first display of creativity; it bursts forth gloriously in unimaginable splendor.

As we read, let’s pay special attention to the Three Ps (the process, the product, and the purpose) in God’s creativity. Each day, He is building on what He did in previous days. I’d say “from the ground up”, but He began without ground. He began with a void and spoke things into existence.

Process…

When we want to make something, we must first gather our supplies. Want to make a meal? Get out the ingredients, the cookware, and turn on the stove or oven. Want to paint a picture? Find a surface to paint, set up your colors, and choose your brushes. Want to sew a dress? Choose a pattern (or, if you’re really talented, draft one!), choose fabric, get your needle and thread or sewing machine ready, and scissors. We’ll stop there, but the gist is that when we want to make something, we have to prepare, we have to start with something already there.

God, when He created the earth, started with Himself. His Words. His creativity. And He spoke all things into existence from nothing. Incredible. Amazing. Incomprehensible. Now read Genesis 1. The whole chapter. After, let it sit in your brain, in your heart, for a moment. It’s worth sitting with, silently, isn’t it? He is the Creator of creativity. And He provides all we need to get creative with His creation.

Product…

Look back through the passage and take a look at what is being made. Each day has something (and sometimes “somethings”!) happening. What is produced each day?

Here’s a fun place to explore for those of us that consider ourselves to be “creative” types. What colors do you see as you imagine Creation unfolding from the Word of the Creator? What shapes and textures might you feel? When we read about it, sometimes the whole thing can feel very flat and text-book-ish. To help understand, creatively, what’s happening, think about what each of your senses would take in.

sight — colors and light and movement of a burgeoning creation…

hearing — the rush of waters being separated and newly-formed animals testing out their new vocal chords…

smell — freshly-turned earth and sprouting plants and animals…

touch — warmth from the new-burning sun and soft grasses and leaves and rough bark on trees and fluffy hair or scaly skin or hard shells…

taste — fresh fruits and tangy salt air of the seas and green plants and earthy flavors of nuts and seeds…

There is such a huge variety in all that He made, and He calls it good! The things of creation have inspired so much creativity in people, from landscape paintings to scarves in colors of the sea to foods prepared to gardens planted.

What creative endeavors do you know of or have you made yourself that you can see the influence of Creation?

Purpose…

Something worth noting is the purposefulness of God’s creative activity. Creation isn’t the end-point, but serves a purpose beyond itself. From nothing at all to a world teeming with life, what does God do last in His Creation? (see Genesis 1:26-278 for a hint!)

When God creates man, in His image and to have dominion over the earth, He not only forms him and gives him life, but breathes His breath in to him (Genesis 2:7) and blesses him.

Creation was made for man, for humanity, for each of us. Now, of course, we have responsibility to care for it, but it was made for our enjoyment and sustenance. It wasn’t made “just because” or without purpose.

Spring Sale
graphic made at https://www.canva.com/ 🙂

When we get to talking about our own creativity later this week, we’ll look again at these Three Ps, so tuck them into the back of your mind. Tomorrow, though, we’ll be exploring how our creativity is connected in a vital way to God’s creativity. And for those of you who don’t consider yourselves “creative types”, don’t worry; we’ll be exploring some of the different ways that creativity can manifest itself. Chances are, you just haven’t discovered yours yet!

In the meantime, I’d love to hear some of your thoughts on how our own creativity reflects God’s. What projects are your working on that show you bits of Creation? What projects has a friend made that really showcases some part of Creation?

Crafting

I’ve long had an image in my mind when it comes to the word “craft” and it involves pompoms, popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, glitter, and lots and lots of tacky glue. It’s the “Craft” that follows “Gradeschool” or “Vacation Bible School” or “Daycamp”.

In the last few years, though, I’ve been challenged to expand my ideas surrounding that word. It first began with my publication journey. I’ve been writing since shortly after I could do “crafts”, but it wasn’t until I wanted to try to get a novel published that I started to think of writing as a craft: a skill to be honed through practice and even a semi-apprenticeship as I read other author’s books not just as an avid reader, but as a fellow writer asking questions:

What works well about this storyline? How does this character seem so real? I felt like I was there in that scene; how’d that happen?

Coupled with learning to see writing as a craft was also this recent resurgence of craftsmen and craftswomen. Artists in their field of making and using a skill to either eke out a living, supplement income, or simply do something with their hands that they really enjoy (which is no simple thing at all!).

I’ve long dabbled in a plethora of various “crafts” and crafts…I’m an amateur in many and an expert in none. I’ve developed a theory, though, that there’s an innate need in each of us to create, to make, to craft. Working with our hands not only can lower stress and boost brain function, but when we find something we enjoy making or doing, it can be fun, too!

You may ask, “Why are you telling us all this?” That’s a good question!

twitter
graphic created at canva.com

Next week, I’m starting a new study, called Masterfully Crafted. We are not only made by the Creator, but inspired by Him to create! There are so many possibilities that we could explore, but here’s how I broke it down: We’ll look at a different area of creativity, of making, of crafting each week. I’ll post four mini-studies Monday through Thursday, and every Friday will be a guest-post by an expert in the field we’re looking at for the week. And their guest-posts will be a tutorial, explaining how to get into that particular craft if you’re interested. Don’t worry–each of them are at a beginner’s level and won’t take a huge commitment of finances. And if you aren’t interested, that’s ok, too!

The purpose here isn’t to turn everyone into a “creative type”, because some are more comfortable with numbers or nonfiction than with paint or novels. God gives us each different gifts and interests for a reason–we all fit together, supporting and complementing and encouraging one another. But creativity surpasses the arts. It’s about tapping into a part of ourselves that is suppressed in this technically-advanced world. We don’t have to make our clothes in order to have something to wear, so many of us don’t. We don’t have to cook if we don’t feel like it, because there are restaurants all over the place! We don’t have to even write with a pen, because we have computers for emails, reports, and stories and phones for the same, plus notes and text-messages.

We’re missing out friends.

Now, I did mention “study” and we will be digging into the Word. Not only to see where some of these “crafts” appear in Scripture, but also to see what we can learn about how to use them in a vocational manner in light of what God says in His Word. In short: we’ll see how to use our craftiness in the service of God and one another, and look at how these crafts can remind us of deeper truths taught in Scripture.

We’re starting next week, so I hope you’ll join me! Download the outline here and subscribe to the blog to receive emails in your inbox every day!

Moving Forward

Hello.

It’s been a while. Not as long as other hiatuses that I’ve taken on this blog, but still…longer than I’d wanted or planned.

I’m sorry for not finishing the Lenten series, I had some other deadlines that fell in the same time-frame, and I couldn’t keep up. Ever feel like you’re drowning in your favorite beverage? That’s where I was this past month. I love to write — and in a way, I need to write — but I had too much going on. So I met my other deadlines and this one lapsed. I needed to step back, evaluate and reevaluate, and am now ready to move forward again.

Isn’t so much of life like that? Pause. Breathe. Take stock. Move forward.

New, exciting things are on the horizon, and approaching at what seems a break-neck speed. Because of this, my plan for The Gift of Repentance series has changed. I plan on coming back to it next Lent, finishing it, and then having a PDF available after that on a “resources” page.

Now on to the new.

I’ve recently made the decision to pull my two self-published novels for editing. I had them edited, but since putting them out, I’ve grown a lot as a writer and want them to reflect my best writing. I know of enough places that I’d change that I’m not happy with them as I was when I first published them.

Now, those of you who grew to care for and love Penelope, Violet, and everyone else: don’t worry too much. I don’t plan on changing anything intrinsic to the characters or plot. But I believe I can execute it better now than I could two or three years ago. The plan is to edit over the next year, re-work the covers with my designer, and re-release in about two years, in six-month increments. Book Three will be released on the tail of those two.

And now…the big news. Much of my growth as a writer has come as a result of an amazing opportunity I’ve had to write a novel that will be published in June by Concordia Publishing House. For those of you not familiar with CPH, they’re a small but long-standing publisher that typically does more with Bible studies, school and Sunday school curriculum, and church resources. But they’ve been expanding their fiction, and were willing to take a risk on an idea I had for a novel set in Reformation-era Wittenberg, Germany. Over the past year, the amazing team at CPH has been working with me to get my novel ready for publication. And when I say “working with me” I mean that I wrote it, but the excellent editors and doctrinal (and historic) reviewer helped tighten up the manuscript, and I’ve just given a few thoughts as to the cover. They’ve done the rest.

Flame in the Dark

Here’s the cover. Isn’t it gorgeous? Warm and inviting and so much a reflection of the feeling I want the story to convey that I may have cried a little when I saw this final version. The novel is available for preorder on Amazon now, and will be soon on CPH’s website (I’ll post when that happens–right now, the product page isn’t quite ready).

The story follows Heinrich, a student of Dr. Martin Luther’s at the University of Wittenberg, in the wake of Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses. This bold action changed the course of history, leaving its impact felt in so many ways. But the reality is that there would also have been repercussions in the lives of regular people at the time. Wherever the Word of God is taught, He is active and moving. His Word impacted people history as personally as it does us now.

I’ll be sharing more about the novel in the weeks to come, leading up to its release on June 12. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts! Comment below on what you’d be sad to see go from the Regency novels (Penelope’s Hope and Violet’s Daybreak), or what you’re hoping to see in A Flame in the Dark or in Book Three of the Regency Silhouettes series!

Testifying to Repentance

Paul’s life is a study in repentance and faith.

He eventually becomes God’s instrument for reaching the Gentiles, but his beginning is rocky. Saul is his Jewish name, and Paul is the Greek-ized version of it. We learn later that he is a Roman citizen and very learned in Jewish culture and Scripture; his family most likely had a good deal of wealth at their disposal.

We first hear of him in the account of Stephen’s stoning. Stephen was one of the very early martyrs in the life of the Church. Read Acts 7:54-60.

Did you notice the “young man named Saul” in the second part of Acts 7:58? He’s easily overlooked, especially with the heart-wrenching events taking place in the foreground. But this is definitely foreshadowing something to come.

Acts 8 begins with “And Saul approved of his execution” before going on to detail Saul’s role in the persecution of the Body of Christ. Read Acts 8:1-3. Consider how zealously Saul pursued what he believed to be God’s will. If Jesus had not been the Messiah, Saul would have been a great champion of God’s truth and justice.

But he missed something very important. And in His time, God placed before Saul exactly what he had missed.

Acts 9:1-19 starts by showcasing Saul’s zealous persecution and ends with his being baptized into the faith. Only God could affect such an extreme turn-around. Light, blindness, scales, water, and most of all – the Word. You can read more about Saul, who starts going more by Paul when he begins his ministry to the Gentiles, beginning in Acts 10.

Right now, though, we’re going to explore a moment in his life, recorded by St. Luke in Acts 20:17-27. At this point, he had already traveled extensively, declaring everywhere he went the good news of Jesus Christ. He is headed toward Jerusalem with such urgency that rather than stop at Ephesus on the way, he sends word to the elders in Ephesus to meet him at Miletus, a city south of Ephesus. When they arrive, he addresses them.

Paul starts by reminding them of his service in their community with his words of exhortation and encouragement, sharing the Gospel message of Jesus Christ both in public and in their house-churches. He says that he was “testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Paul knew that both repentance and faith were blessings given him by God. He’d never have had either if Christ had not intervened and come to him on that road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-19). Because of the repentance given him and the faith given him, he was emboldened and enabled to share that message he heard with so many souls.

Repentance is indeed a turning away from sin, and when God enables us to do that, He urges us to turn to Him. In Him, we are given faith that gives birth to so many wonderful blessings – hope and love, peace that surpasses anything we can understand, strength and boldness and courage that carries us through the trails that this broken world throws at us as it rages again the perfect and holy light of God’s love.

Repentance (7)
Graphic made at https://www.canva.com/.

Paul continues his address to these elders, these shepherds he himself had shepherded, in Acts 20:22-27. He tells them that the Spirit has been urging him to Jerusalem, so he goes, not knowing what awaits him there. He anticipates trial and persecution but also knows that God’s grace will carry him through whatever difficulty he will face. He tells the elders, though, that whatever awaits him, he knows he won’t see them again. Facing the knowledge that this is his last opportunity to encourage and exhort these elders and shepherds of the flock of God’s people, Paul continues to do so in the verses that follow.

When facing the end of our lives, there is a stripping down of the excess that really allows us to identify the core of what matters. For Paul, as for many Christians, this is the Message of the Gospel and the ability of the Christians to continue sharing it at the moving of the Holy Spirit.

There is an interesting juxtaposition with Paul’s words in Acts 20:20-21 and his BC life. Before Christ came to him, he was going from house to house, hunting down followers of the Way.

Acts 8:3 tells us, “But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.”

In Acts 20:20, Paul describes himself as again going from house to house, but for a different reason. Same action. Different intent, purpose, and outcome.

It’s amazing what a shift in perspective will accomplish. When eyes are turned in repentance from following after sin and death, and brought to focus in faith on the only source of full forgiveness and redemption.

It is vital that we keep in the forefront of our minds that repentance isn’t the goal. The goal is forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. That’s why we keep our eyes fixed where they need to be: on the cross.

Read Hebrews 12:1-2. Let’s unpack these verses a bit; they’re so full of good things for us.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,

The word “therefore” is a clue to check out what precedes this passage. Hebrews 11 is a long list and description of so many faithful people from the Old Testament. The writer points to the faith given to them, and what God did through their lives. These people and so many others make up the “cloud of witnesses”.

let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely,

None of us will be free of the struggle with sin this side of heaven. This is where repentance comes in the life of a Christian. As we remember our Baptism, where in the water and the Word of God we were washed of our sin, we come back to that font in daily repentance. When we are allowing room in our lives, in our hearts, for sins, we aren’t allowing room for the working of God’s Word.

and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,

Christian life is here compared with a race. Just as a runner must train and condition his or her body for the task, as well as watch what feeds the body, so as Christians, we train and condition our souls and hearts and watch what we feed our hearts and souls.

looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith,

And here is the heart of the verses. The Answer to repentance, the Creator of faith, and the Hope that allows us to keep running the race.

who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame,

Here’s the why of Christ’s actions on our behalf. He endured the shame of the cross, the utter desolation of paying that price. But not for the sake of paying it – He didn’t owe it. We did. And He paid it for us, because we couldn’t. He passed through the shame of the cross for the joy of bringing salvation to the world.

and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Having passed through His suffering and having made atonement for the sins of the world, He was raised from the dead and is now glorified!

It is in our focus on Christ that we are able to testify to repentance and faith, and all of the other blessings that are poured out so graciously on us by our Lord Jesus Christ.

For quiet devotional time, I invite you to pray Psalm 57.

For further contemplation or journaling: Consider what you would say to someone dear to you if you knew you’d never see them again, as Paul did with the elders at Ephesus. What words would you use?

Called to Repentance

Today’s study ties into our study on Repentance Proclaimed. Not only is Repentance proclaimed by John the Baptizer, by Jesus (and His Word), by the apostles, and by all Christians, but in that proclamation is a beckoning, a calling.

Read Luke 5:27-32.

Levi was also known as “Matthew” – the same Matthew who wrote the gospel account. We learn from this package that in his BC (before Christ) life, Matthew was a tax collector. In Jewish society at that time, tax collectors were seen as being on the same level as prostitutes. They were contractors who worked for the Roman government to collect taxations from their people.

If the governor needed to collect a given amount, tax collectors would bid for the collection, sometimes adding to them sum as an enticement for him to choose their bid. Let’s say in our scenario here that Matthew is awarded the collection. From his own resources, he gives the amount in full to the governor, then set about collecting the taxes from the people, plus a little extra for himself.

Because he’s already invested a substantial sum into this collection, he isn’t going to be patient, kind, and gentle in collecting. He will use threats and force when necessary. So not only is he supporting the occupying Romans whom the Jews don’t like, but he’s being terrible to his fellow Jews.

Matthew must have known that his life wasn’t right. He knew God’s Law. He knew the prophecies concerning the Messiah (Matthew’s gospel account sites more Old Testament prophecy than any of the others). He even had two Jewish names, maybe in some small attempt to atone for his life. But he still wasn’t on the good side of any of the religious leaders, which becomes evident in the passage. Before we get to that, though, let’s explore Matthew’s reaction to Jesus’ invitation.

Did you notice in Luke 5:28 what the Holy Spirit leads Matthew to do? He leaves everything. Now, if I’d invested a large amount that I knew I could never get back, I’m not sure I’d be able to leave it all behind. But at the Holy Spirit’s urging, Matthew does.

When big things happen in life, we tend to celebrate. Birthday parties, graduation parties, wedding showers and receptions, baby showers…Matthew celebrates this pivotal moment in his life by holding a feast, a party, and invites the people he knows.

Which, as it happens, includes tax collectors.

The Pharisees are not happy about this. More than most of the other religious leaders, the Pharisees despise the Roman occupation of the land that God had promised to their forefathers. And anyof of their own who collaborates with those occupiers? They are the lowest of the low. We can imagine how impossible it would have been for them to keep quiet when Jesus, this powerful miracle-performer and popular, compassionate teacher is happy to spend quality time with people of low quality.

Jesus answers their question of why He eats with them in a way that speaks peace to a sin-weary heart like Matthew’s. Like mine. Like yours.

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

Let that sit a moment. Breathe it in.

Here in Texas, it isn’t uncommon for our children to come inside with a fire-ant bite. They sting and burn, and in come cases, swell up with a painful reaction. My six-year-old came home from school the other day with one such bite. I slathered some ointment on it and told him to let it sit a bit, then wipe away the extra later.

Read Jesus’s words again. Let that balm permeate your heart.

Repentance (6)
graphic made at https://www.canva.com/.

We don’t have to make ourselves good enough for the Righteous King of all creation. Because we can’t.

We don’t need to cleanse ourselves of our sins by taking on a super-Christian identity like Matthew/Levi tried to do. Because we can’t.

Our sin is always more than we can handle.

But our sin is never too great for Christ’s blood to make atonement.

He calls us, as we are. His Spirit leads us to Him and works in His Word. He works on our sin-sick hearts with the healing balm of God’s abundant and lavish love.

Of course, the Pharisees don’t suddenly “get it” with the words of Jesus. They’re silenced for the time being, but ten chapters later, in Luke 15:1-2, we see them once again grumbling about the same thing. “Why is He surrounding Himself with these unsavory characters?” Ultimately, that grumbling turns to scheming for the death of this upstart teacher Jesus.

But it is that death, when His holy blood was spilled, that full atonement was made. For your sins. For my sins. For the sins of all.

For quiet devotional time, I invite you to pray Psalm 42.

For you journaling sorts: Consider what in your life needs healing, what needs the balm of God’s Word. Pray to your loving Savior for the healing only He can bring.

NOTE: Again, I’m sorry for the delay in posting…I’m working on catching up and getting us to finish before Easter! Thank you for your patience with me. 😉