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Why the Bible?

August 10, 2017

Perhaps this seems a strange question coming from a biblical novelist. I’ve spent most of my life surrounded by the reading, teaching, and study of the Bible. I grew up believing it to be the inspired Word of the Living God. And as I’ve said many times before, biblical fiction helped me to see that Scripture was real because it filled in imaginary details that showed me the culture, the times, and how things might have come together. Story helped me hold Scripture in high esteem.

But the Bible isn’t viewed today as it was when I was young or even as it was during the years we were raising our children. It is not respected as it once was, as it was by our founding fathers and generations to follow. Instead of letting the Bible shape our lives, we too often let culture shape our view of the Bible.

One of our teaching pastors once said, “Our cultural glasses can blind us to God’s truth. Take off the glasses and we can again begin to see and honor God’s Word above all else.”

Do we do that? Or have we become cultural Christians who have taken a low view of the Bible and a higher view of our world around us?

Perhaps people will call me simplistic for believing an ancient book. I’ve heard many arguments against it and am not unaware of the skepticism of things that seem problematic within its pages. I’ve had my questions too.

I will never believe that it is wrong to question, to study, or to try to understand. We aren’t going to surprise God by our doubts.

But as I mentioned in the post on prayer, I think we need to pray about everything, including the need for a spirit of understanding when we read His Word. After all, if He is the Author, as the book claims Him to be, then He’s the best person to ask what He means in some of those difficult passages.

Could be He will reveal truth as we learn to read and understand the whole of Scripture.

Human authors enjoy being asked about their books. They like explaining things that seem confusing to the reader. Truth is, only the author really knows what they intended, no matter how many English teachers or professors try to tell us otherwise. (No offense intended to English teachers out there!)

So often we don’t approach the Bible that way. But we can’t crop Scripture like we can a photograph. We can’t scrub out the wrinkles or red eye or that extra person in the background we wish hadn’t been there. We have to take it as a whole and study it with a heart set on seeking what the Author is trying to tell us.

Arguments against Scripture fall short if we understand the purpose of the Book. From beginning to end it tells an amazing, almost scandalous story of grace. It is history set to the music of the beauty of the only Son of God. It breathes redemption and hope into the broken, sinful human condition and carries the only words that can offer us what nothing else can.

Eternal life with a merciful, just, loving and forgiving God. It teaches us the meaning of redeeming grace.

The Bible has been the best-selling book of all time. If you own a copy, I urge you to read it without cultural vision. Pray and ask God what He meant by what He said. True seekers will find Him if they seek Him with all of their heart.

Be blessed.

#livegrace

by Jill Eileen Smith at 11:00 am in ,

August 2017 New Releases

August 10, 2017

More in-depth descriptions of these books can be found on the ACFW Fiction Finder website.

Action/Adventure:

Imperfect Lies by Elizabeth Noyes — When another woman emerges from the past to claim Mallory Cameron’s happily ever after, she cuts her losses and sets out to find a headline-worthy story to launch her journalism career. She embarks on a whirlwind journey that takes her across the United States, to the blue-green waters of the Caribbean, on to sunny Mexico, and deep into the dangerous parts of Africa where terror reigns. James Evers turned his back on a life of power and privilege to carve a place in the world for himself. Now that he’s finally discovered his niche as a small-town sheriff and found the woman he wants in his future, a past indiscretion struts in on high heels and sends his newfound love fleeing headlong into peril. His mission: neutralize old enemies, defuse new threats, resolve past mistakes, settle family disputes, and—most importantly—find and rescue his woman from terrorists before the unthinkable happens. (Action/Adventure from Write Integrity Press)


Contemporary Romance:

The Bachelor’s Unexpected Family by Lisa Carter — Young widow Kristina Montgomery moves to Kiptohanock, Virginia, hoping it will give her and her teenage son, Gray, a fresh start. She longs for the peace and quiet only a small town can provide. But her plans are thwarted by her new neighbor, Canyon Collier, a former Coast Guard pilot and a crop duster. Gray is instantly drawn to the pilot and his teenage niece, Jade—and Kristina’s not far behind. She and Canyon are soon bonding over parenting their charges and their spark becomes undeniable. Could it be that the spirited pilot is just what Kristina needs to teach her heart to soar again? (Contemporary Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

Gift of the Magpie by Zoe M. McCarthy — Amanda Larrowe’s lack of trust sabotages her relationships. The English teacher and award-winning author of middle-grade adventure books for boys has shut off communication with friends and family to meet her January 2 book deadline. Now, in the deepest snow accumulation Richmond, Virginia, has experienced in years, Camden Lancaster moves in across the street. After ten years, Amanda’s heart still smarts from the humiliating aftermath of their perfect high-school Valentine’s Day date. Camden may have transformed into a handsome, amiable man, but his likeability doesn’t instill trust in Amanda’s heart. When Cam doesn’t recognize her on their first two encounters, she thinks it’s safe to be his fair-weather neighbor. Boy is she wrong. (Contemporary Romance from Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas)

A Mother for Leah by Rachel L. Miller –It’s been ten years since Leah Fisher’s mother died in a buggy accident. But when Leah’s father shows interest in Naomi Yoder, Leah isn’t ready for a new mother. Will Leah be able to let go of her own ideas and realize that God truly does know best for her or will she allow love to slip through her fingers, destroying Samuel Fisher and Naomi Yoder’s happiness at the same time? (Contemporary from S & G Publishing)


General Contemporary:

Freedom’s Ring by Heidi Chiavaroli — An antique ring reunites a Boston Marathon bombing survivor with the man who saved her. Together they unearth the two-hundred-year- old history of a woman who suffered tremendous loss in the Boston Massacre, a woman torn between the love of two men – one a patriot, one a Redcoat. (General Contemporary from Tyndale House)

 

Fresh Faith by Elise Phillips — Joy Abbott had been trying to start her life over for years– and failing. Then a letter summoned her to Texas and everything changed. (General Contemporary from Desert Breeze Publishing)

 
 


Historical:

Enchanted Isle by Melanie Dobson — In the spring of 1958, Jenny Winter embarks on a two-month adventure to a quaint village in England’s magical Lake District. With a new camera and an eye for capturing the beauty others miss, she can’t wait to explore the heathery fells and mystical waters. Adrian Kemp, a handsome and enigmatic local, makes the sightseeing even more beguiling. When Adrian shows Jenny his late father’s abandoned dream, a deserted island amusement park, she glimpses a kindred spirit in this reckless, haunted young man. Yet as she opens her heart to Adrian, the two stumble into a mystery leading back a generation to an unforgettable romance and an unsolved murder. As long-held secrets come to light, it’s left to Jenny and Adrian to put the past to rest and restore a lost dream. (Historical from Waterfall Press)

Titus: The Aristocrat by Katheryn Maddox Haddad — Titus intends to become a famous lawyer in the Roman Empire. Instead, he is sent by Paul to arbitrate between arch enemies in wild Corinth, wilder Crete, and wildest Dalmatia. In each place he suffers. But, long before that, he suffers from guilt over the death of his mother when he was eleven years old. How does Titus survive it all? (Historical from Northern Lights Publishing House)


Historical Romance:

To Wager Her Heart by Tamera Alexander — With fates bound by a shared tragedy, a reformed gambler from the Colorado Territory and a Southern Belle bent on breaking free from society’s expectations must work together to achieve their dreams – provided the truth doesn’t tear them apart first. (Historical Romance from Zondervan)

 

The Second Chance Brides Collection by Lauralee Bliss, Angela Breidenbach, Ramona K. Cecil, Pamela Griffin, Grace Hitchcock, Pam Hillman, Laura V. Hilton, Tiffany Amber Stockton, and Liz Tolsma — Meet nine women who each believe their chance for lifelong love has passed them by. From the girls who lost their beaus to war, to the wallflowers overshadowed by others, and the widows deeply hurt by their loss, the desire to love and be loved spans American history from 1777 to 1944. Experience the sweet pull of romance on each life and the blossom of faith that leads them to brighter futures. (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

The Promise of Breeze Hill by Pam Hillman — Anxious for his brothers to join him on the rugged frontier along the Mississippi River, Connor O’Shea has no choice but to indenture himself as a carpenter in exchange for their passage from Ireland. But when he’s sold to Isabella Bartholomew of Breeze Hill Plantation, Connor fears he’ll repeat past mistakes and vows not to be tempted by the lovely lady. The responsibilities of running Breeze Hill have fallen on Isabella’s shoulders after her brother was found dead in the swamps along the Natchez Trace and a suspicious fire devastated their crops, almost destroyed their home, and left her father seriously injured. Even with Connor’s help, Isabella fears she’ll lose her family’s plantation. Despite her growing feelings for the handsome Irish carpenter, she seriously considers accepting her wealthy and influential neighbor’s proposal of marriage. Soon, though, Connor realizes someone is out to eliminate the Bartholomew family. Can he set aside his own feelings to keep Isabella safe? (Historical Romance from Tyndale House)


Romantic Suspense:

Chasing Secrets by Lynette Eason — When a photo leads investigators in West Ireland to open a twenty-five-year-old cold case, Elite Guardians bodyguard Haley Callaghan’s life is suddenly in danger. Haley knows how to take care of herself; after all, she’s made a career out of taking care of others. But after she has an uncomfortably close call, Detective Steven Rothwell takes it upon himself to stay with her–and the young client she has taken under her wing. A protector at heart, he’s not about to let Haley fight this battle alone. In a sweeping plot that takes them into long-buried memories–and the depths of the heart–Haley and Steven will have to solve the mystery of Haley’s past while dodging bullets, bombs, and bad guys who just won’t quit. (Romantic Suspense from Revell [Baker])

Plain Retribution by Dana R. Lynn — Ten years ago while on rumspringa, Rebecca Miller and her friends were kidnapped and held captive…and now, living in the English world, she’s nearly abducted again. One by one her friends who once helped send their abductor to jail are targeted, and she is next…unless police officer Miles Olsen can stop a killer. Deaf since birth, the only person on the force that Rebecca can communicate with is Miles, and he needs this case to redeem himself of past mistakes. When the relentless killer tracks them deep into the heart of Amish country, protecting Rebecca must be Miles’s sole focus. Because a mistake this time will cost something worth more to him than his job—the woman he’s falling for. (Romantic Suspense from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

Cold Blooded by Anne Patrick — Detective Gwen Jamison has the highest closure rate in her division, but a string of armed robberies is about to take over her life. Not only will her job be on the line, but the troubling case also wreaks havoc on her personal life. Lieutenant Ian McKean knew he would have his hands full when he took over leadership of the detectives unit. He wasn’t prepared for the headstrong Detective Jamison, though, who quickly becomes a thorn in his side. If they can stop butting heads long enough they might realize they are more alike than either imagined. (Romantic Suspense from Anne Patrick)

by Jill Eileen Smith at 6:30 am in

Why Pray?

August 3, 2017

I grew up expecting to pray. My dad prayed before every meal, and I knew my parents prayed in private. We didn’t have family devotions or family prayer time, but I knew prayer mattered.

Why PrayBut did it change anything?

In high school prayer interrupted my desire to date a particular boy. I had a crush on one of the juniors. I was a freshman. He wasn’t a Christian. I was. If you know anything about Christian teaching, you know it is frowned upon to date someone outside of the faith. But the school dance was coming up, and I had hopes of him asking me. So I asked my mom in advance if I could go if he asked.

She said she would pray about it and get back to me.

Truth is, though my parents often gave into my desires—privilege of being the youngest—I fully expected her to tell me no. Dating someone who didn’t believe could lead to trouble. And honestly? I didn’t know this guy very well. I just thought he was cute. But to my surprise my mom came back and told me that if he asked, I could go.

I will admit, I was a little crushed when I heard he had asked someone else. But after the event? I was relieved. Turned out this guy was a bit of a charmer, and I would not have wanted to be put in that position of having to fend him off or worse.

I never did ask my mom why she said yes. Perhaps she had confidence that God would answer her prayer that he not ask me! If so, she got her wish.

But is that really what prayer is about?

I’ve thought much about prayer throughout my life. I have “journal prayed” for so long I could probably fill a small bookcase with my journals. In those journals, I’ve gotten pretty honest with God. I’ve poured out my heartache, my anger, my thanksgiving. (I could always improve on the grateful part.)

But it has been in those moments of emotion-packed honesty with God that I began to understand what prayer was meant to be.

Prayer is our intimate conversation with Almighty God. For the believer in Christ, it is our door to the Father’s house, that place where we are privileged to call Him, “Abba – Daddy”.

Prayer is Conversation

Some of us can’t quite relate to that because our earthly fathers were nothing like a dad to us. And daddy is one step closer to a father’s heart. Daddy is a child’s name for a beloved parent. God is our beloved parent, and He wants us to crawl into His arms in prayer and pour out our thoughts, our hearts, our longings, our hurts to Him.

Does prayer work?

I could as easily ask, “Does conversation accomplish anything between two close friends?” Of course it does!

We are closest to the people we spend the most time with, to the people we talk with and listen to. That’s what prayer is for those who love God, for those whom God loves.

When we pray, we enter His invisible presence as though we had entered His home and sat down to tea with Him. Does that sound disrespectful? I don’t think it is at all because even Scripture teaches that we will dine with Him and He with us.

Prayer can change circumstances because our loving Father knows when something isn’t right with our world and He cares how it affects us.

But prayer also changes our perspective on those circumstances and can give us the strength to endure them for as long as God allows them to last.

Perhaps He will respond in an instant. I’ve seen it happen when I prayed for one of my kids. And I’ve also waited twenty years for an answer when it seemed as though God was going to wait for an eleventh hour change.

Some of my prayers are still stacked in those journals, lining the walls of God’s waiting room. Some may never be answered in the way I hope.

And yet, sometimes God turns around and surprises me with reassurance to just keep trusting because He is doing His own waiting. Someday the joy will come for both of us.

Prayer changes

The thing I hope I pass on to those who think prayer is useless or not meant for those trivial things like should I date a certain guy in high school—please rethink the matter. “Pray about everything,” means what it says. “Everything” can’t get any broader.

What things big or small do you pray about? Are you able to be honest with God and share with Him the very intimate longings of your heart?

My prayer for you is that you can see prayer itself in a new light—that it won’t be a chore or something to mark off a to-do list but a pathway to relationship with the Creator of the universe, the Author of Grace and Love. There is so much He longs to teach us. But it takes two to communicate.

May we learn to communicate well with Him.

~Selah

#livegrace

by Jill Eileen Smith at 6:30 am in ,

She Speaks 2017

July 24, 2017

We are back from another whirlwind trip–this time to North Carolina. As we have never been to this lovely state, it was a nice, albeit different experience. Randy had fun seeing the sites while I went to a speaker’s conference. A novelist at a speaker’s conference? Um…well…yeah. I thought the same thing.

Let me backtrack a bit.

About a year ago, I signed a contract with Revell to write two non-fiction books on Old Testament biblical women, one of which is in progress now. Non-fiction is not at all like fiction, though it carries some fiction elements. And mine will carry fictional scenes mixed throughout. But the focus is on how the women of the Bible lived and what they can teach us by their lives. Working title of the first is When Life Doesn’t Match Your Dreams.

Naturally, a non-fiction book made me think–perhaps I should learn to be a speaker too. A logical conclusion, yes? Er…maybe.

At the time, I asked a friend who writes both fiction and non-fiction about all of this, and she told me about the She Speaks conference. I was too late for the 2016 event, but I stuck it on the back burner of my thoughts. Actually, I forgot all about it until my assistant said something that jogged my memory.

Fast forward to this spring. I waited so long to sign up that I missed it until this same friend happened to have connections that made a way. And yet…though I signed up and then saw door after door open, I still hesitated. I still don’t know if God is calling me to speak, but I thought it might be wise to learn. I mean, just in case.

The truth is, I backed into going to this conference. All the preparation exhausted me until I ended up crying the night before we left and vented all over my poor son – who listened so kindly, I might add. It’s amazing what excuses we make when we second guess ourselves and doubt God at the same time.

In the end, I got on the plane and we made our way there. The only glitch in the weekend was a hotel-wide, eight block-wide power failure that put us in the dark Friday night. But by then I was too tired and there was no way I was going outside in my pajamas unless there was a fire, so I asked God to please have the lights on by morning…oh, and could He please find my chap stick? Somehow I had lost it and silly as it sounds, it mattered to me.

I crawled into bed and what just happened to roll off the covers and onto the floor? That silly chap stick. So I went to sleep believing that God had the rest of it covered. He reminded me that He did at 4:20 a.m. when the light from the bedside table blinded us awake.

I learned a lot that weekend. A lot more than how to trust God in a power failure.

I went only because it seemed like God was pushing me in that direction.

What I really learned was that God sent me there to help heal my soul.

You see, When Life Doesn’t Match Your Dreams was born out of my own deep grief and personal pain.

And this weekend God brought the right amount of women into my life to show me we are all so alike in this. We all hurt, don’t we? Each one of us will experience broken places in life and if we don’t deal with them, if we don’t find ways to let God heal our wounds, we’re going to bleed to death–emotionally and spiritually.

God knew that. He knows us so well. Can you sense it, beloved?

I’m working on Hagar’s chapter of the book next, and what did she call God? The God Who Sees Me. And don’t you know that’s exactly what He did for me, and hopefully many other women in that conference hall this week.

I know this is long, but let me give you just one example of how much God cares for us. The author/speaker who helped me out and pointed me to this conference was teaching about speaking. I walked into her class a little late and was looking for a seat. I glanced over and saw a woman from Michigan that I knew! I hadn’t seen her in years, but there she was. So I took the seat beside her and hoped to talk to her afterward.

But then another woman walked in later than I did and she took the seat beside me. She was young, from California, and had the nicest smile. So comforting.

The talk began and toward the end the speaker had me in tears. When she ended, the California girl looked at me and told me she could feel pain coming from me and she took my hand and said, “I don’t usually do this…” then gave me some encouragement she believed came from the Lord.

Now that might sound like an isolated incident, but it wasn’t. Everywhere I turned, God brought someone along my path and despite stories far worse than mine, they were praying for me?

And slowly, like a flower’s petals blooming, I felt the ache inside slipping away. My focus shifted. My heart yearned for more of Jesus, less of me. And on the flight home I read the Gospel of Mark on my phone, struck by the way Jesus was “amazed” by His own people when they doubted or when a Gentile showed great faith. You want to amaze Jesus? Show Him great faith!

I daresay all of those women in that huge conference room had stories to tell, and most of them or at least many of them were living lives they hadn’t intended. Some of their speeches or the books they wanted to write were about broken dreams and lives that didn’t go the way they were supposed to go. And yet…God had drawn them there. They mattered to Him.

As we all do.

Our goals matter. Our hurts matter. Our dreams matter. Whatever concerns us concerns Him…even something so small as a lip moisturizer. Call is silly, but I call it love.

Jesus loves us enough to let us stumble in the dark with just enough hope to see the light that is coming in the morning. He wants us to see, Beloved. He is the God who sees us, but do we see Him?

Do we want to know Him more than we want those unmet dreams? Do we want Him more than anything else this life has to offer us? Do we want Him enough to amaze Him with our faith?

That’s what sent me to North Carolina this past week. God had to send me miles from home to get my attention in a way nothing else could. And while I’ve posted some pictures of some wonderful people I met there, the real purpose and Person I encountered best…the One I brought back home with me with a fresh perspective of His grace, was Jesus.

~Selah

#livegrace

by Jill Eileen Smith at 9:40 pm in ,

The Blame Game

July 20, 2017

She was an old woman by my standards during the days of my youth, but as I look back now, I see my grandma as not much older than I am today. But to a ten-year-old, age can be so disproportionate.

She taught me a lot that summer—how to bake pie and play pinochle. And the most fun for me? When she would get out her box of pictures from bygone years and tell me the stories behind each one. I think my grandma might have been my first story-telling mentor without realizing it.

Of course, the best stories hold emotion or carry an emotional impact and some of Grandma’s surely did. Sometimes that emotion was laughter and fun—like when she dressed up in costume or climbed a tree or went swimming in those funny bathing suits from the 1920s.

On the other hand, there was a thread of bitterness that ran through her life and came out in her words. In one story, she blamed her mom for making her give up her only doll. In another the women in her circle made her feel guilty until she took in a foster child. There were complaints about caring for her mother-in-law, and the twinge of frustration the year she had to plan a funeral for a drunken brother-in-law on Christmas Eve.

But the one that hit me hardest was the bitterness she carried against my dad. To her credit, she stopped complaining about him the moment I refused to listen. He was my hero, and it wasn’t until much later in life that I understood that Grandma just lashed out because of hurt and loss of control. She had learned early to keep a tight reign on her circumstances or she might lose or give way to emotion. Something stoic Baptists did not do.

Grandma probably didn’t realize that bitterness is emotion, and she was teaching me how to hold grudges, how to hold hurts over past stories instead of releasing them to God.

Oh God, when will you show us how to let things go? How do we get over this endless guilt? How do we stop using guilt and blame to control other people? Will You ever restore what’s been broken?

Sometimes memories of past hurts mingle with the current pain of now. We can’t get past the gray to see the sun.

And so we blame whatever person or circumstance we think got us into this mess.

The blame game is as old as time, as vivid as the story of Adam and Eve and a slimy snake. Blame slithers into our hearts when we refuse to look at ourselves or admit the wrongs we have done. My grandma didn’t realize that she didn’t have to live her life out of guilt. And she didn’t recognize her tendency to take control when it wasn’t her place to do so. Whatever fears led to her actions, it took time for her to understand that she could trust God to handle what she couldn’t.

She was a woman of many talents, and I loved her dearly. And to her credit, she made things right with my dad before she went to be with Jesus. She gave up the blaming and the bitterness.

I’m slowly learning to do the same.

Blaming others comes so easily to us. Blaming God comes even easier because we know He has the power to make things right, and when we don’t get our way in our time, we can become like pouty children and take it out on Him. Adam did it, ancient Israel did it, organizations of every stripe do it, and individually so do we.

When we finally see the truth of who we are and who God is, we can stop looking at the people who let us down. It isn’t the people who are to blame for our lives. It’s not our past or our parents or our heritage or where we were born or anything else. Blame says, “It’s not my fault.” Blame builds walls between relationships.

Truth says, “I’m sorry. I was wrong. I confess. I admit it. Please forgive me.”

That’s when the blame game stops and the path to an abundant life begins.

Selah~

#livegrace

by Jill Eileen Smith at 8:03 am in ,